The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2005 Peter Schulman

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The Taming of the Shrews

I had not been married before, so never in my wildest imagination could I have foreseen some of the vast changes that would occur just from going through the ceremony signing the papers. I suppose it differs from couple to couple but, for us, the biggest change was how we resolved our differences. It snuck up on us little by little, and before long the pattern had been established.

When we were single, even engaged, it was, "What do you think, honey?" Or, "That’s a really good idea, sweetie." It even lasted through the honeymoon. But soon we would hear, and say, "I’m not sure that’s a good idea." That became, "I don’t think so." Months passed and compromise no longer seemed to be in our repertoire. It wasn’t that there was no legitimate reason to compromise, or that the situations did not allow for it; we just gradually seemed to lose interest in doing it.

A few years in, the solution to an argument ceased to be important; we each had to win. I say argument because we really didn’t have discussions any more. We either agreed on an issue or we fought. Neither of us was so crass as to touch the other physically. Katherine did sometimes throw things, making sure to miss me. And one time I smashed a dish on the floor that she had gotten from her aunt as a gift. I won that one.

We would fight over anything no matter how inane. After all, the objective was to win, not to actually resolve anything. Since there was no useful purpose to the fighting, no topic was too stupid or too trivial.

"I’m making a stir fry for dinner. Could you make the rice while I cut up the vegetables?"

Not unreasonable. "Sure." I went to the cabinet to get out the rice.

"No, the brown rice."

"It takes more than twice as long."

"You’re not heating it with your body, use the damn stove."

"Why the hell the brown rice, Kate?"

"Because it’s on the diet."

"You can eat 5000 calories as long as it doesn’t include white flour and rice?"

"And no fruit with meals."

"And you learned this from Dr. Suzanne Sommers and her extensive scientific nutritional research?"

"It works for her and me."

"The white rice metabolizes differently with vegetables and meat than it does by itself. There’s no damn reason to banish white rice and make me watch the brown rice cook for twice as long."

"Sure, you’d like me to get fat wouldn’t you? You’re so jealous that all the other guys find me attractive."

Jealous? Where did that come from? I was happy to have her look good. Oh, right, this is an argument and logic need not apply. "You’ll do anything to get the guys to slobber over you, won’t you, tramp?" Tramp? Well this was an argument. It didn’t have to have any basis in reality.

"Projecting are you? I’ll bet you just can’t keep your hands off your secretary, you philanderer."

Mrs. Thompson? She’s retiring next year and I wouldn’t even have been interested in her thirty years ago. Too bad fighting isn’t an Olympic event. I think we would both bring home the gold.

Not every fight was about such trivial stuff. Sometimes we squared off over really serious matters.

"Don’t forget we’re going out tonight to Linda and Jim’s party. I’d like you to wear that blue suit you look so good in."

She had asked nicely. There was no way I could let her get away with that. "It’s the weekend. I wear a suit enough for work. I like to go casual on my days off."

"It’s their anniversary. They’re having a special party."

"It’s not my special party. What do I care why they’re having it? They’re your friends." There was no way she could win this one. I didn’t care what they thought and she did. I didn’t care what I wore and she did. It was sweet. The best she could do was to agree with me and let me wear whatever I wanted. I would be magnanimous in victory. I would not wear my overalls.

Somehow she seemed to miss the point of the argument - that I win. She messed up and started trying to apply logic. "They’re your friends now too. How insulting is it to them that you won’t come dressed appropriately? You’re a selfish, mean-spirited lout. Can’t you ever do anything I tell you?"

Foolish woman. She raised the ante, so would I. "They’re not my friends. I could live without ever seeing them again. If you want the pleasure of my company it will be on my terms." Checkmate!

"Fine, stay home. I don’t care. I’ll go without you and have a better time. They’ll all know what a bastard I married."

Oops. Perhaps it was only check. But she had made a big mistake. She should have known better than to challenge me to do something completely inappropriate. We both thrived on rising to the challenge to do something we absolutely should not do. "Have it your way. Enjoy yourself. I’ll be watching the game." I walked out. This was checkmate. Either she would have to suffer the embarrassment of going alone or come get me and beg me to go. She could not possibly win. She chose to go alone.

You might be concluding that things had gotten out of hand. Not so.

If we had gone on Dr. Phil’s show, he would have heard us arguing and he would have told us we were fighting about nothing. "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?" he would ask. And we would answer in unison, "Shut up, Dr. Phil. We’re fighting." And if he would ask, "How’s that working for you?" we would have answered, "Fine." We each won enough to feel gratified.

Eventually, Kate started to use her not so secret weapon, denial of services. She still cooked and cleaned when the spirit moved her. It was those other services. The denial became so frequent that it was unusual for us to make love in consecutive seasons.

I guess it was making love. I don’t know. We still loved each other. But when you reach that oasis in the desert, your skin cracked, you tongue swelling and splitting and parched, you don’t make love to the water, you devour it; you consume as much as you can as quickly as you can for as long as you can, not knowing when next you will get the chance. I’m not sure that in the face of that kind of urgency it is possible to express the love you feel for each other.

Oddly enough, it was in our constant battles that I found the antidote to the disease of denial. I would fight about it. Not for it, about it.

"What the hell kind of wife are you anyway? I could be living with a guy and get as much sex as I get from you. What happened to your marriage vows to love, honor and respect? You call this respect? You call this honor? Did I somehow miss the word ’Platonic’ when you promised to love?"

"And you’re any better? All you want to do is fuck. Do we have conversations? Do we go places? Do we do things? That’s all you ever want to do. Do you expect me to be in the mood all the time?"

"It’s been over eight months. You haven’t been in the mood for eight months. That’s almost long enough to have a baby. But you’d need to have sex first to make a baby."

"And the way your mother treats me. She never liked me and you never stand up for me. You call that honor and respect?"

She won a lot of arguments with that approach. Jump to something which has nothing to do with the argument; something that sounds really bad for my side. But I had finally wised up to that ploy used by women since the first, "You’re tracking dirt into the cave." I knew how to respond in kind. "You never get to go anywhere? I want to do something with you and you’re down the shore with Marci."

It happened once. And frankly, what I really wanted to do was stay in and do that stuff that we didn’t do in consecutive seasons, though I hadn’t expressed that. I would rather use this argument repeatedly than have my needs satisfied one time.

"Yeah, and you’re off watching ball games with your friends. And that cousin of yours drinks too damn much."

My cousin? She stormed off. That meant that I had lost this one since she left on an appropriate, if illogical, accusation. That was fine with me. I was delighted to lose this argument. I was furious enough to put my fist through a wall. I couldn’t stand her at the moment - the perfect antidote. Even if she had come back in and offered me my choice of sex acts I would have refused. I disliked her so much at this instant that the thought of being intimate with her made me nauseous. The more stupid the fight, the nastier she got, the more outrageous her position the more I disliked her. And the more I disliked her, the more content I was to be denied.

I’m not saying this was all her fault. Sure, Katherine would almost never back down and she reveled in starting fights, or at least that was the way it seemed. But I wasn’t exactly Petruchio and I made no attempt whatsoever to kill her with kindness. She returned the favor.

At some point I think Katherine caught on to my use of the antidote. She was faced with a dilemma. She couldn’t let me win a fight voluntarily. If I did it on my own, that was within the rules. But she could not just allow me to win. Her problem was: if she won, she couldn’t torment me by withholding sex. If she lost, however, I would be happy and in the mood. Then she could snatch it away to greatest effect.

That’s the situation we were in that day I made a huge, almost rookie, mistake. She tried to solve the antidote problem by calling upon the tried and true - she escalated.

"Peter," my pejorative name, "are you having an affair?" I guess if I were Italian it would have been Petruchio.

"What? Where did you get such a stupid idea?" No affair. I just had the antidote.

"You never want to make love with me anymore."

"You never say yes. What’s the point of asking?"

"You lose interest in me and suddenly it’s my fault?"

I suppose it was the surprise of having this sprung on me. I was unprepared to put up a good defense. I got sloppy. "You haven’t had any interest in years."

"How would you know? You never ask. I have plenty of interest. I want it all the time."

I laughed. "Only if the ’it’ is fighting."

"You talk a good game. You must be giving it all to your girlfriend. You have nothing left for your wife."

"Like there is any chance I would get to do it with my wife."

"Hey, there are plenty of guys interested if you’re not."

Don’t do it! You know what happens when you issue her a challenge. Do not do it!

"Yeah, like you would really get another guy." I just couldn’t help myself.

"You just watch me." I had issued a challenge and she could not refuse. It was a matter of honor. Or mental illness.

Just keep quiet. Maybe it will blow over. "I’d like to see that."

Between the two of us isn’t there just the slightest pinch of self control? Apparently not. "Get dressed and let’s go. I’ll show you."

I could have called it off. I could have admitted something or other and taken the loss. But that was not the way we played. She could have called it off too. There was no reason she had to do this stupid, potentially marriage-ending act of treachery. Maybe it wasn’t treachery. We were playing chicken and neither of us seemed to have the sense to know when to call it off.

I followed her out to the car and she got in the driver’s seat. I had no idea where she was going and I don’t think she did either. She drove around aimlessly into an area of town unfamiliar to me. She pulled up in front of a bar that had half a dozen motorcycles on the sidewalk. There would have been more if it had been a biker bar, but this was clearly not a genteel watering hole. I expected her to give me the chance to back down, but she just exited her door and headed for the bar. I wouldn’t have stopped her anyway. It was a matter of honor. Or mental illness.

I took my time getting out of the car and entering the bar. This was her show. We would see if she could handle the reality. This had the potential to be a big win for me.

It was a pretty large room with lots of round wooden tables of different sizes placed around an empty area I assumed was used for dancing. She was already seated on a bar stool with her dress up well above her knees showing off those gorgeous legs, looking around, and smiling at about half a dozen guys in the mostly empty bar. She didn’t have a drink yet but there was little doubt one of these gentlemen would accommodate her.

She was using her most flirtatious glances at a guy with his back to me. He got up and walked toward her. Had his skin been green, I would have thought he was the Incredible Hulk. His skin was not green but there was a lot of green in the tattoos that adorned his arms and neck. There were probably more hidden under his muscle shirt.

They had a brief conversation, their heads close together, and he ordered a drink from the bartender for her. He took her and the drink back to his table. I was fuming. But then when wasn’t I fuming at Kate?

A waitress came over to take my order. I felt like the tin horn ordering a sarsaparilla when I asked for a diet coke. I probably looked like it too. I’m five nine, one hundred seventy pounds. You could fit two of me inside The Hulk.

Kate continued to flirt. She was doing the hair tossing, the arm touching and leaning her head back to laugh lustily at his repartee, whatever that might have been. Hulk wasn’t flirting, he was getting touchy. He got up and put some money in the juke box. I didn’t recognize the song but it was slow. He didn’t take her in dance position, he enveloped her.

From the next table I heard a couple of tattooed beefy specimens laughing about Duke’s latest conquest. I was tempted to walk out and leave her to her fate, but then I would never know reliably what had happened, and whether we would be better off just calling it quits.

Duke had his hands on her ass as they danced. Kate made no move to remove them. In fact she was rubbing her torso against him. I wondered what she would do if he decided to take a proprietary interest in her. Kate is five six and weighs 128. She and I together were probably no match for one of his arms. For that matter, what would I do? I had no idea and would not have one until it became absolutely necessary. I might just let her reap what she had sown.

Duke put in another coin to play the same song. Brilliant repertoire, this behemoth. He took her back in his being. This time he removed his left hand from her right cheek and proceeded to fondle her left breast. That was the one that could be seen by everyone else in the bar. Duke wanted us all to know what a stud he was. I was almost surprised he didn’t lower his zipper and hang out a big dick for us all to be impressed by. But the night was young.

Ten, fifteen seconds later I saw Kate appear to have second thoughts for the first time in years. She blushed and tried to remove his hand. She was no match for his strength. She struggled with him for a while but was unable to budge the hand. She then tried to push herself away from him altogether, but he would not allow it.

"Please let me go. I don’t want to do this now."

Duke didn’t say anything.

Duke’s admirer’s joked about how he might be too much man for her.

The bartender watched impassively. Was this whole bar Duke’s fan club?

I didn’t do anything either. I wasn’t sure what to do. What would Duke think if he found out her husband had been watching? Was it all a set up to humiliate him? Would he take it out on me, on us? It didn’t look like the bartender would be much help if Duke decided to punish me. What a precarious situation we had gotten ourselves into.

Duke was no longer fondling her, he was pawing her. Nobody intervened. He started licking her face because he could. What a pig! Still nobody moved. At last the song ended. Duke put an arm around her waist and started heading for the door. She struggled to get away to no avail. Duke lifted her off the floor and continued on. She looked at me pleadingly. What did she want me to do? How could I stop him?

As they neared the door, she finally spoke, "Pete, please help me." There was desperation in her voice. I had won. She had backed down first.

What the fuck was I thinking? My wife was about to be taken out against her will and probably raped and all I could think about was winning. We’ve got to stop doing this.

"Let her go, Duke." I said it with authority, though I clearly had none.

"Says who?"

"Says me."

"You’re gonna stop me?"

"Yes." I hope. I hadn’t thought this through. Was I willing to risk or give my life for Kate? Did I still love her enough to make this sacrifice? Damn. I did.

He laughed. "This I gotta see." He tossed her back toward the dance floor as easily as if she had been a napkin. He stood up straight. Jesus. He had to be at least six seven and three hundred forty pounds or more. I was in serious trouble.

"Run Pete," shouted Kate! I couldn’t leave her.

I took a T-stance. "I’ve got to warn you Duke, I have a brown belt."

He laughed. "Not even a black belt? This should be fun."

"You don’t understand, Duke. A brown belt is more dangerous than a black belt." I didn’t know if I could convince him, but he hadn’t advanced yet. "A black belt would definitely beat you, but he would know how not to hurt you too bad. I don’t have the skill not to hurt you. I might not hurt you enough and then you would mess me up pretty good. I only know how to kill, not how to hurt."

He stood there considering it. Then he dismissed it. "Nice try pansy." He advanced.

"You’ve been warned." Why the fuck didn’t somebody warn me? What I had said was pretty much the truth. I didn’t know if I would skillful enough to kill him, but I was pretty sure I wasn’t skillful enough to hurt him just the right amount.

He got close, stepped forward and swung at me with his right hand. Excellent. When you pass white belt level, this is one of the key exercises to train you for sparring. The aggressor throws a right punch. Defender starts by doing an inside block and then throws some counterpunch. I was more advanced. I stepped left and powered his arm in the direction it had been going with my left. That cocked my hip and I turned and gave him a forearm to the chest. "Aieee." I focused my ki with the sound. It lifted him slightly off the ground and he collapsed like a house of cards with a whoosh as his breath left him. He groaned. I hadn’t killed him.

"Get me out of here." Kate was crying and trembling.

I took her hand and turned to leave. His two beefy friends were blocking the way. "You don’t want to do this," I told them. "Look at our sizes. You’re just going to wind up in jail. It’s not worth it."

They stood contemplating what I had said, posturing, puffing up their chests, flexing their biceps. Their muscles relaxed and I moved with Kate in tow. Something hit me hard in the back of the head and I went flying across tables and into a chair. It hurt. My head throbbed. I was dazed. My ribs hurt from where they had hit the table, my legs were bruised and my right shoulder ached from hitting the chair. My scalp and face were bleeding. I scrambled to my feet but I needn’t have hurried. Duke was in no rush to finish me off.

Kate was crying and babbling incoherently somewhere. I couldn’t see her. I remained focused on Duke. He slowly approached. I went back into the T-stance. I would not ignore him this time, if I had enough left in me to ward him off.

He advanced, I backed up. We were both in trouble. He clearly had the strength to kill me. I was pretty sure I had the skill to kill him, and this time I would try to if need be.

I made a mistake. I let him get too close to get off a good side or front kick. I hit him with a spinning back kick in the sternum. It knocked him back and took away much of his breath. I don’t know why the hell I didn’t attack then while he was at a disadvantage but the moment was lost. He growled. That was probably his primary language.

I heard sirens. The bartender doubtless had the good sense to summon the police. Unfortunately, they were not close enough to save me from the advancing bull. He started to charge. I took a stutter step forward on my right and launched a left side kick into his ribcage on the left side of his body.

I may have understated my skill. We practice for sparring by learning to stop short of hitting our opponent. The better you got, the closer you got. A black belt could choose very accurately where he would focus a punch or a kick. In sparring, that would be to hit the outside edge of the cloth of the opponent’s uniform. When you’re trying to break a board, you would focus near the back of the board. I tried to focus my kick around two and a half inches behind his ribs. I succeeded, as was evidenced by the crunch of his ribcage splintering. He had a very surprised and pained look on his face the instant before he collapsed to the ground like a popped balloon.

Two policemen ambled through the front door. They had no way to know there was any urgency.

Duke was having trouble breathing. I think his ribs had punctured his lung.

"Call the paramedics," I said. I had meant to shout but didn’t have the capacity. I was shaking, enervated. I collapsed onto a chair.

Someone rushed over to me. I deduced it was Kate. "Are you all right?"

"I think so." It was like the answer when someone asks how you are and you tell them you are fine. I was not all right.

"I’m so sorry. This got out of hand. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to play these games anymore. I just want to love you."

I didn’t respond. My head was aching and I was dizzy. I was lucky to have lasted long enough to kick Duke. I heard conversation. I recognized Kate’s voice. I think I heard the waitress. Was there a waitress? The beefy guys were speaking too. I heard more sirens. There was motion and commotion. I think they took Duke out of there. Someone was talking to me. I didn’t recognize the voice. I couldn’t make out the words. Someone was working at my face, cleaning up the blood. The commotion seemed to die down and I was becoming a little more aware.

I really don’t know what happened but I heard Kate talking to me. "Take me home and make love to me, Pete."

"Take me to the hospital, both of you, my head’s killing me."

"It’s only me. You told the paramedics you didn’t want to go."

"I have no idea what I told anybody and I see two of you. Just get me to the hospital, I hurt all over."

"Oh God. I’m so sorry. You could have been killed. You’re my hero."

"I just want to be your partner. No more fighting to win. No more fighting."

She helped me up and got me moving toward the car. She gave me that warm smile I had wanted to marry. There was something mischievous in her eyes, all four of them.

"I place my hands below my husband’s foot;
      in token of which duty, if he please,
      my hand is ready; may it do him ease."

I laughed, painful though it was. One of our favorites. "Why there’s a wench! Come on, and kiss me, Kate."