I’m a better person than a particular author of a particular story says I am, and I won’t keep quiet about it any longer. One reason I can’t hold my peace is that the author is my husband. In short, I know him and know where his story came from. I was there and I spoke most of the words I said in his story and heard him speak his words. It’s in his interpretation of the words and events that the problem starts. But the problem continues as people read the story and accept his interpretation, not hearing my side and therefore not knowing how he slanted his interpretation against me. As in my husband’s story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty, but let me help you decide which is which.
Jerry and I were in the middle of a driving vacation in the mountains, and around lunchtime we pulled into a diner in a small town. We were tired of eating at fast-food restaurants and wanted some local flavor. The diner served breakfast until the middle of the afternoon and we both ordered breakfast. The place was busy, and as we waited, we browsed through a newspaper that had been left on the table. Time passed and we didn’t get our food, though people who came in after us were being served. Jerry finally flagged down our waitress and told her it had been thirty-five minutes since we ordered. She said they’d been running behind but she’d look into it. Ten minutes later, she brought our food and told us our ticket had been lost.
I thought the food was barely edible. My bacon was too tough to eat. Jerry claimed he didn’t agree with me, but he didn’t eat much of his bacon. Then the manager strolled up and apologized for the delay, but said they’d had so many orders they couldn’t keep up with them.
“How was everything?” the manager asked.
“The food was good,” Jerry replied.
We finished eating, paid the bill, leaving a small tip, and headed back to the highway. Jerry wanted to leave an almost normal tip, but I talked him down.
“The food wasn’t good,” I said once we were back on our route. “I’ve still got chunks of bacon in my teeth. And the waffle tasted like cotton. I bet it was washable.”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
“He didn’t even admit they lost our ticket. You let them walk all over us.”
“He knew we weren’t happy. He came over to apologize.”
“You didn’t tell him we’re on the road and his diner inconvenienced us.”
“When I said the food was good, I was implying that the service wasn’t. I don’t think we should let this make us angry.”
“It makes me angry that you’re not angry.”
“By getting angry, you just drag it out. We’re out of there, but you’re still there reliving it.”
“I’d rather be angry than take it lying down. Like a couple of days ago when you checked out of the hotel and paid for the dessert they put on our dinner tab.”
“He wouldn’t take it off the bill.”
“We didn’t order a dessert and we didn’t eat one.”
“You couldn’t get him to take it off the bill either.”
“When I talked to him, you’d already paid for it. And you weren’t angry. What’s the matter with you? You didn’t use to be this way.”
“I’m tired of being at the mercy of these situations.”
“You’re at the mercy of them now. You’re not fighting anything.”
“What is it in you that’s offended? Why fight over a dessert?”
“I was sticking up for myself and for us.”
“You stomped down to the front desk and argued about that dessert. It was embarrassing. And you’re still back in the diner grinding bacon in your teeth.”
“He asked us how everything was and if you’d said what you should have said, I wouldn’t be this angry.”
“Let’s change the subject,” he said.
We drove in silence.
That night, Jerry again left it up to me to do the standing up for us. He drove down the street for hamburgers and brought them back to the motel room, but as we opened their wrappers, we saw that they weren’t made the way we’d ordered them. I wanted Jerry to take them back and get what we’d asked for, but he didn’t want to be bothered with it, so I wrapped up the burgers and took off with them myself. I had a long wait getting them put right, and when I got back I started complaining about the place as soon as I walked in the door.
“It’s only a hamburger,” Jerry said.
“Are you trying to set me off?”
“I’m just trying to eat in peace.”
He pulled his hamburger from the bag, unwrapped it, and took a bite. He looked down at the burger as he chewed.
“Is yours right?” I asked, reaching in the bag for mine.
“It’s closer than it was. Thank you.”
“It’s still not right?”
“I’m happy with it. Please don’t go back.”
My hamburger was the way I ordered it, and since he said he was happy with his, we settled down to eat, though the French fries were overcooked and our drinks had gotten watery. We ate everything fast and without much enjoyment, and when we were finished, I put the wrappers and cups in the bag and went outside to put them in a garbage can. I didn’t want to be smelling that food all night.
Back in the room, I didn’t ask him what he thought of his meal and he didn’t ask me. I felt the lump of its weight in my stomach and heard it shifting. We sat up in bed but didn’t talk to each other.
When we got up in the morning, I think Jerry was afraid to mention breakfast. He probably asked himself if it was worth it to eat. I didn’t care because I don’t eat breakfast. I asked if he wanted to eat before we hit the road. He said he was still digesting his hamburger.
On the road we were quiet. I could hear his stomach growling, but he refused to admit he was hungry. If I’d been hungry I would have said something.
“I look at you and I don’t see anybody anymore. I don’t know where you are in there. You can tell where I am because I won’t let you forget it.”
“I don’t want to argue with you,” he said. “You’re so wound up in yourself you can’t see what’s around you. You can’t even look out the window.”
Not with him stirring me up, I couldn’t. It frustrated me to let the subject drop, but I couldn’t see any reason to keep on with it.
Later, for dinner, we went to a restaurant that our motel recommended. The place didn’t take reservations and people were jammed inside the front door waiting for tables, everybody in somebody else’s way. When our table was ready we followed the hostess, winding through people, and a guy who was on his way out bumped Jerry’s shoulder, knocking him back. The guy hadn’t been looking where he was going, but he looked at Jerry and said “Asshole,” as if Jerry had been reckless and bumped him. He kept going, oblivious to Jerry’s reaction, which was to act as if nothing had happened. But Jerry saw me start to say something to the guy, and he took a step toward me and shook his head to keep me quiet. I didn’t like it, but I followed Jerry to the table.
He opened his menu, but I didn’t.
“You didn’t defend yourself. You didn’t say anything.”
“What would I be defending?”
“You heard what he called you and you don’t see what you’d be defending?”
“If I argued with him and got in a fight it wouldn’t change what he called me and it wouldn’t change him.”
“It might change him. It might let him know that he couldn’t get away with calling you that.”
“I had a reaction to what he said, but I’d rather let it pass than escalate the situation.”
“I can’t let it pass. I don’t think I can enjoy my dinner after watching you do that.”
“You want to leave then?” He closed his menu.
“Where would we go?”
“You said you couldn’t enjoy your dinner. I don’t want you to suffer through the meal. We didn’t come here to suffer.”
“So you think it’s my reaction that’s driving us off.”
“I’ll stay if you think you can enjoy yourself.”
“You should have said something to him.”
He didn’t answer me. We sat there with our menus folded.
“That’s all you’ve got to say about it?”
“You can’t change the subject, can you?”
“I guess we should go,” I said.
We picked up some fast food on the way back to the motel. I could hardly stand to eat it, and Jerry didn’t seem interested in it either.
“Tomorrow morning,” I said, “I think we should drive home.”
“Okay,” he said.
It annoyed me how easily he went along with it. I could tell he wanted to continue, but not with me in the frame of mind I was in. Underneath it all, he wanted to make me out to be the bad guy.
We’ll never be the same, not after the trip and his story. In his story, he portrays himself as the reasonable one and I couldn’t let him get away with it. And I see his pattern. It’s only a matter of time for us.
Not long before we took off on our trip, he cut himself off from his parents. After years of arguing with them, he told them that he was sick of it, that his anger was hurting him too much. He told them in person that unless they changed their behavior toward him he would have nothing more to do with them.
Jerry’s father laughed at him, insulted him, tried to humiliate him. Jerry stood up to leave, and when he started away I followed him. I could tell he’d given his decision a lot of thought, but he hadn’t told me about it beforehand and it was hard for me not to answer his father. Jerry and I had spent years being angry at his parents, sometimes lying awake in the middle of the night talking about them. But Jerry left his father’s words unanswered.
“You don’t give up on relationships like that,” I told him when we were outside in the car. “Not with your parents. Not with people close to you.”
“Sometimes you do,” he said.
GlenPourciau‘s short-story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award and was recently published by the University of Iowa Press. His stories have been published in the Paris Review, the Barcelona Review, New England Review, and other magazines. His story “ Cake” was published in Guernica in August 2007.