You’re Wearing That?
When it seemed things might be getting serious, I told Rodney I’d choose my dog, Taubensee, over him if it came down to it. Now, you might think this an odd thing to bring up, and you’d be right. But earlier that week my co-worker Tara told me she was giving up the terrier mix she’d rescued from the pound. Her explanation was that her boyfriend “wasn’t really a dog person.” I wanted to make clear as early as necessary that no such fate would befall my Best Friend in the Whole Wide World.
“I only bring it up,” I whispered to Rodney while movie trivia questions flashed on the big screen, “in case you’re one of those jerks who thinks he can wait until things get serious and then pressure me into surrendering my dog to a shelter. It isn’t going to happen. I’m just trying to be fair to you, in case that’s something you expect.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied and squeezed my hand. The theater lights dimmed completely and “Scary Movie 3” started rolling. A few months later we eloped at a Victorian bed and breakfast in New Albany, Indiana. Rodney wore a navy blue suit, and I wore a crimson turtleneck sweater and slacks. A quirky retired pastor presided over the ceremony, and the owner of the B&B was our witness.
I’ve suffered too much trauma since then to remember the pastor’s name, but I do recall vividly the way he took a wad of chewing gum out of his mouth and stuck it to the antique table top in the inn’s formal dining room.
“This is your first marriage?” he asked Rodney as he looked over the details on the marriage license before signing it. “At 31? How’d you manage that?”
Rodney chuckled and said, “The right one comes along when the right one comes along.”
The pastor nodded approvingly, signed the marriage license, and put the glistening blob of Wrigley’s back in his mouth. A few months later, we moved out of Rodney’s crummy one-bedroom on the south side of Indy and into a three-bed, two-bath condo on the west side.
One evening I stopped just inside the front door and dropped my navy blue Jansport on the landing with a thud. “Ughhh,” I deflated, “Class was exceptionally dull.” I slipped off my shoes and tugged a sock back into place. “If my scholarship didn’t depend on it, I’d be really tempted to blow off that class. How was your— “
I looked up to see my husband chasing Taubensee in circles through the house. Down the hall, through the kitchen, around the dining room table, then across the living room and back down the hall again. He hadn’t changed out of his work clothes yet, and the thick soles of his Doc Martens boomed within inches of my dog every time he took another stomping stride. He held his arms out wide, trying to make himself look bigger and more intimidating. Not that it was necessary; Taub’s tail was between his legs, and he was searching for a way out of Rodney’s path. Instinctively, I ascended the half-flight of stairs to the upper floor of the split-level dwelling and put myself between Rodney and the terrified dog, planting my feet solidly so I wouldn’t be knocked down if Rodney didn’t stop in his bully tracks.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I shouted about six inches from Rodney’s face. I turned and crouched low to console a trembling Taub. “Hey, buddy, it’s alright,” I cooed, petting his head softly. His eyes were pleading. I stood and raised my voice again to a level more suitable for addressing an asshole. “You ever do anything like that again and…” my heartbeat drummed in my ears. “That dog is the most docile creature you will ever come across in your life! Why were you tormenting him like that?” I waited for an answer but didn’t get one. “What is wrong with you?” I demanded.
“We were just playing, weren’t we, bud?” Rodney’s voice was saccharin smooth. He peeked around me at the dog, as if he really expected a dog would corroborate his story.
That was a distortion of the facts if I’d ever heard one, but rather than press him for the truth, I decided to drop it. I had just witnessed my husband bullying a vulnerable animal—an animal that had intuitively consoled me through some of the hardest days of my life, by the way—and pushing Rodney in that moment seemed like a bad idea. For all of us. So I changed the subject in an attempt to defuse the situation. “I’m going to get ready for the concert. Did you pick up the tickets at will call on your way home?”
Rodney pulled two tickets out of his back pocket and waved them in the air. Brandi Carlisle was playing at The Vogue in Broad Ripple. “Great!” I did my best to sound upbeat. “I’ll be ready in a few minutes.” I changed out of my jeans and T-shirt and put on a stylish, well-fitting knit sweater. Honestly, it was kind of flashy by my standards, but it went well with the black tweed pencil skirt and knee-high boots Rodney had given me for my birthday. I smoothed my skirt, assessed my reflection, and decided to touch up my makeup. Nothing too daring for a Thursday evening, just bolder eye shadow and a little lipstick.
“You’re wearing that?” Rodney scoffed when I emerged from the bathroom.
“Uh, yes?” I held my arms out and looked down. Was there a stain on the sweater? Had I snagged the skirt on something?
“I don’t know why you’d wear something that nice. We’re basically going to a bar, you know. You’ll smell like an ashtray when it’s over.” His words were sharp and mean. Like he was jealous or something. He looked at his watch. “We’ve still got a few minutes before we have to leave. You have time to change.” He gestured toward the bedroom.
I didn’t move. “Are you mad?” I asked disbelievingly. I thought for a minute that he couldn’t be serious, but he looked at me the way my mom used to look at me after she’d given me a direct order. Was he going to count to five too? Whatever, I was nobody’s child anymore. “I’m not changing again,” I said. “We’ll be late. Besides, if the outfit gets smoky, I will wash it.” Judging by the way his right shoulder was twitching, my smart-aleck tone struck a nerve.
Sensing bad things were afoot, I avoided further confrontation while simultaneously embracing the Irish temper so generously bestowed upon me through my mother’s line. I slammed the bedroom door, retreating from Rodney’s presence.
Sitting down on the hope chest, I changed out of my clothes, first unzipping my boots and putting the boot shapers back inside, then folding my sweater neatly and putting it back in the dresser drawer, and finally hanging the skirt in the walk-in closet. When I emerged from our bedroom a few minutes later, Rodney was holding the front door open. He did a double-take when he noticed I was in my pajamas. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” I said. “You have fun.” I strode past him then grabbed the TV remote and flopped onto the couch. I scrolled through the DVR listings until I found reruns of Sex and the City. Rodney hated that show.
“Fine!” He yelled loud enough that I winced. “I’m leaving.” He paused for just a beat to see if I’d protest, but I didn’t. Moments later, the aftermarket mufflers on his pickup growled to life and then faded out of earshot.
I didn’t know it then, but after a decade and a half of reflection on this and countless similar scenes, I realize it wasn’t really my outfit Rodney objected to, after all he’d given it to me as a gift. What he despised was the self-confidence I projected while wearing it.
So yeah, we’d been married about a year, and the honeymoon was definitely over. I, being a mostly well-adjusted person, worried what that fight meant for our marriage. Rodney, however, having witnessed thirty-something years of lying and manipulation fueled by his dad’s Budweiser and exacerbated by his mom’s bipolar depression, figured that if we were yelling at each other in private and doting on each other in public, we must be doing something awfully right.
To Rodney, it was exponentially more important that people thought we were happy than that we were actually happy. I’d never in my life met anyone so Jekyll and Hyde-like, and didn’t intuitively know how to handle him. I was winging pretty much everything after the wedding because Single Rodney was apparently just for show, and Married Rodney was the real deal. From that point on we fought about everything. About how I didn’t make the bed when he told me to. About how I wasn’t bringing in enough money. And about how he was fucking Lucy, a Chinese exchange student in his graduate communications class. But I’m getting ahead of myself again.