Third in a series of excerpts from my memoir Loveyoubye: Holding Fast, Letting Go, and Then There’s the Dog, released April 2014.
Quick catch-up. Larry, my husband of twenty-five years starts taking off for weeks at a time. No explanations, no apologies. In the following excerpt I’m remembering an incident when I almost killed him.
A twenty-something woman at work, someone who had a crush on Larry, once confessed to me that it was weird how he could sometimes hit a nerve with his teasing, like he had a sixth sense about some current or existing vulnerability of hers—but she refused to believe that he meant to hurt her. Another girlfriend told me how she’d felt “brutalized” more than once by how he would hone in on her dating life, knowing it wasn’t going well. His sisters and daughters had stories of how he teased them until they became hysterical. And then there was the time he wouldn’t let up on his brother-in-law, who, goaded to the point of desperation, floored his van down the block with Larry clinging to the side. He, too, didn’t hold it against Larry.
Because this was the guy everyone thought of as their particular pal, who had what one friend called an essential sweetness. I mean, this was a man who couldn’t pass a homeless person without a generous donation and a kind word. Who would chat for hours with the guy everyone else avoided because he was either an asshole or a bore. And those Seventh Day Adventist missionaries, how they loved him. One of them ended up dropping by every couple of weeks just to talk about cars. Outside the gate, of course—Larry never invited anyone in.
It was a head-spinner for me. I constantly found myself in a dilemma over this “other” side of him, the goading, aggressive side. It was like he’d taken leave of his senses. When I got mad or hurt by his aggressiveness, he’d make a face like I’d lost my mind, telling me I was way too sensitive. I half-believed him. Especially since he only teased people he liked, or so he said. Mostly I believed he felt emotionally vulnerable and teasing gave him some kind of control, a way to keep people at bay, while at the same time it allowed him to feel something. It was like he fed on the emotional distress of others. I could never decide if he truly believed that he was “just playing” like he insisted he was.
What puzzled me was how someone kind and generous in so many ways couldn’t see the effect his teasing had on others. But I expected that with my love and help he’d come to realize that what he was doing was cruel and harmful. I continued to believe this even after the time he goaded me to the point where I flipped out and almost killed him with an X-Acto knife.
It happened seven years into our marriage. I’d told Larry about a conversation I’d had with this guy at work about spirituality. I thought he would appreciate the sentiments expressed.
Instead, he launched in with, “You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”
“What?” I hardly knew the guy.
“Why don’t you just admit it?”
“Are you serious?”
“Come on, be honest now.”
“Stop messing around.”
“You love him, don’t you?”
“Okay, what’s going on?”
“You tell me.” There was something in the way he said this, a lilt to his voice. Was he “just playing?” I thought about how he’d once told me I was easy to tease because I took things so seriously.
“I don’t understand,” I said.
He stared at me, like he was waiting for me to confess. Despite myself, I couldn’t help wondering if he was picking up on something I myself didn’t even know. The thought unnerved me. We went back and forth, the conversation growing more and more insane, with him jabbing at me with insinuating questions. The angrier I became the calmer he grew. It was like he was watching a movie, curious to see what came next.
Finally, feeling overwhelmed and frantic, I flung the X-Acto knife into the doorway four inches above his head and then stood there, glaring at him, hands clenched. His mouth dropped open in that way he had of showing exaggerated surprise. He did a slow pan from me to the knife then back again.
“You tried to kill me,” he whispered.
I stared at him, my anger trickling away, replaced by guilt and frustration and fear.
“Didn’t you?” he insisted.
“Enough, okay?” I cried.
“Well, you did.”
Feeling the rush of tears, I pushed past him. He made an exaggerated staggering motion backward. “Remind me not to mess with you again.”
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