Men who demand obedience ought to be disobeyed on principle. After thirteen years—more or less—with Oso, I fully understood this. If I were his therapist, or thought it was my place to pretend such a profession, I would advise him to lend a hand to others rather than expecting others’ hands always to do for him. In case you’ve misconstrued my previous statement, let me clarify: Whatever adjective you might apply to my arrogant prick of a man, laziness doesn’t fit. No, Oso has always had a focus problem, not a laziness one. His work focuses on himself—how Oso can make money; how Oso can keep command of himself and others; how Oso propagates himself in the world.
He asked me to marry him the other week. Thirteen years and three children since our fateful meeting in the supermarket, and he finally asked the question. How could I say yes? How could I live with a man whose name hid inside the adjective overbearing? If you’re weary of these jokes, imagine how much more weary of them Oso is, and then imagine how often I secretly apply them to him.
He couldn’t put me off for thirteen years and then expect immediate elation on my part. Yes, actually, he could. When I failed to comply with his expectation, he demanded we attend couples counseling, and I obeyed, even though the principle required the opposite reaction. That was how I found myself sitting in front of a man with an intelligence quotient twenty points lower than either Oso’s or mine, squirming in my chair and wishing I could flee from the room. Oso was sitting closest to the door (squirming in his chair, too), and I feared he would catch me on my way out. He had the reflexes of an animal.
Last week, Oso and I argued through the entire first session over who was the one who didn’t want to marry whom all these years—Oso insisted I was the one who needed my own space, to which I insisted I would have preferred having my own office in our shared married abode. The counselor sent us away with an assignment to write a list of ten things we loved about each other and, conversely, a list of ten things we hated about each other. It seemed an assignment that could ruin any functioning relationship, but what did I know? This week, I stared at Oso’s scribbles in disgust.
Doesn’t have chicken legs Good mother; 2. Needs me; 3. Easy to talk to; 4. Gives me space; 5. Cooks my favorite lentil dish better than the Indian buffet; 6. Pays her own bills; 7. Doesn’t enjoy spending money; 8. Intelligent. He didn’t make it to ten.
Hates: 1. Intelligent (Huh? Obviously he was undecided about that point); 2. Dresses like she’s fifty. It’s impossible to tell she doesn’t have chicken legs unless I pull off her baggy pants, which is difficult because we don’t spend much time together; 3. Doesn’t ever tell me she loves me; 4. Doesn’t ever tell me she needs me, even when she does; 5. Doesn’t show her feelings, and I never know where I stand with her; 6. Pretends her job is more important than
I am my job.
Thank God he stopped at six.
That record of Janet’s, the one that fit neatly in its cardboard package of shiny golden girl—he played it repeatedly until he flew out to Australia and met up with the golden girl, herself. The song with the refrain, You’ve got to show your feelings, feelings. You’ve got to show your feelings, crooned through my head the entire two weeks he was away. When he returned, I knew immediately she’d turned down his amorous advances. I knew because I knew Oso; I knew he was exceptionally vulnerable to pain underneath his outward demeanor of money-making and pressed shirts.
For nearly a month, he avoided me except to pick up and drop off the kids. He avoided looking directly in my face. But I knew Oso, and I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to him, either, though I did refrain from gloating with the I could have told you so’s. I could have, too, because Janet was even richer than he was and, despite his overwhelming burliness, she was too young for him.
Then one Friday night, Oso toughened up again and set out to seduce me. He found a spare moment to pull off my baggy pants, which were comfortable and cheap, thank you, Oso. I shouldn’t have allowed it—review the principle of disobedience for further proof.
The counseling office was hot and stodgy. It was no place to mull over not-so romantic encounters with Oso. The counselor tapped his fingers and waited, and I knew the stupid little man with his brown suit and flared nose would soon break the silence and guide us through our lists. I watched Oso squirm, and I waited for him to react. The answer Oso needed, if he cared to pay attention to details, was there on the list of loves, which began with 1. Transplanted his start-up tech company to our hometown village (which he swore he’d never return to) so I could accept a job offer. My more humbling answer hid itself under number three: Asked me to marry him.
Finally, Oso raised his eyes from the page. “Really?” His voice cracked, but he cleared his throat in a hurry. A smug expression settled in his dark eyes.
“I’ve changed my mind,” I told him. “I’ll marry you after all.”
Oso rose from his chair, confident and tall—a big bear who always had his way. “I think we’re done here,” he told the counselor. “You can send your bill to my secretary.”
“Oh, I, uh…” the counselor coughed out.
Anger flashed inside, but as usual, I hid it. Oso couldn’t, wouldn’t win this game. Couples counseling? What a joke.
“Are you coming, Julia?” Oso held out his hand.
“No. You wanted me to attend counseling sessions with you, and here I am. I expect to be counseled.”
A nervous grin flitted over the counselor’s mouth area. Perhaps he, too, imagined Oso morphing into a hairy creature and lunging out with sharp incisors and claws.
“Have a seat, Oso,” the man tried a coaxing voice (even I was a little offended by it). “We have more to discuss, I think.”
Obviously, Oso didn’t obey him.
I was all out of patience. “Sit!” I deeply desired to add a few more words, such as you stupid @#%$*&% a-hole, but restrained myself.
Oso’s stare struck a direct path between me and the silly, little man he’d hired to foil me. The counselor gave in to the stare and fiddled with the folder on his desk. I didn’t give in, but stared back. Finally, Oso’s massive shoulders slouched, and he sank back in his chair.
How was I to show my feelings to this beast? I didn’t have a clue, but I suddenly felt things I should have demonstrated–sadness, shame. Oso’s slouched figure said it all. He was sad, too. Having won one round and lost the next, he exuded defeat. Our relationship wasn’t a game, though. Or, if it was, we should have been playing on the same team.
Had our relationship devolved to sports metaphors? How cliche! Sorry, Cecilia.
Let me try again. Our relationship was an image–a mysterious image of oneness, of rents in the fabric, of two people, one whose hand was lost in the pocket of the other, two parts of a fused form.
And we were wreathed in fog halos. We were back in December like a record needle scratched to its outer limit, the wine flowing, my heart breaking–Oso longing for a female on an album cover. That night was the crux. That was it, the deciding moment. It wasn’t a coincidence, just as Claire had said, because here we were.