After yet another heated “discussion” with the man I call my husband I decided that it was time to take some definitive action. We couldn’t go on like this. This was inhuman, I declared. Who would want to live this this!
What I call discussions are actually also known as screaming matches. We are both high-talkers in Seinfeld’s words and things kept escalating when we both became impassioned at the same time. Ideally, if we were really a couple in-sync with each other, we would pick different times to be the dominant party in an argument. But we have always been so uncoordinated and discombobulated as a couple that we couldn’t even fight with some semblance of an organized and well put together affair.
But this was too much. We had been arguing more than usual and short of slamming our dinner plates into each other’s faces, we had pretty much thrown most things in the other’s direction. It was time to do something life-changing. And since I have always been the more pragmatic of the two of us, I decided to address it.
That evening, with a heavy heart, I brought out the heavy artillery.
“Forgive me for asking the same question that many women ask you daily and don’t get a satisfactory answer. One would think that after getting at least a hundred letters about domestic quarrels everyday you would come with a sure-fire technique to quell them. But, no! It hurts me to say that I’ve been reading your column since the advent of time or when my grandmother had no gray hair, both of which by the way seem the same time, and you haven’t ever been prolific in your troubleshooting. Your advice smells and tastes rancid and I’m baffled at the notoriety that you enjoy. Suffice to say, you’re a no-good, free advice service that has never done any relationship any good. However, I am here to give you another chance. You can’t botch this one because if you do, I promise I will launch my own advice column and give worse advice and will surely be more successful just by virtue of being an awful advisor. So read carefully and tell me something that you’ve never told anyone.
My husband and I fight a lot. Before you exclaim “same old” let me tell you that this is a unique situation. We fight A LOT. I’m sure if there was a metric to measure it, it would’ve scored the highest point on it. We fight so much that we have both lost our jobs due to the sheer amount of energy that had been going into fighting, rendering us unable to be of any use for anything else. We have fought to the point where we have lost all our friends and most relatives. We don’t go out. We don’t watch TV. We sleep in the same bed but only to continue fighting until one of us dozes off. This is bad for the other one because the early sleeper will wake up earlier and more energized and have a better chance at winning the next fight. Usually it’s my husband who sleeps first and wakes up with renewed vigor while I’m still trying to get my bearings. Of course, as even an idiot could predict, he wins the first round.
But all is not so glum for the late riser. I, because my awakening and coffee are later than him, also have energy that lasts until much later, which is why I fight for the longest after lunch and dinner. He sleeps earlier again however and that gives him a head start by a few hours the next morning. You get the gist.
Our marriage might seem bleak to others but it’s refreshing to us. We are the modern day Socrates and Mrs. Socrates. We have become bitter through our battles but have also gained tons of great insults and clap backs that would put the best of satirists to shame. My request is not about how to make my marriage better. We already have a great and successful marriage. Also because it’s just the two of us, sustenance isn’t a problem and we have enough money stashed away to live off of respectably for the rest of our days.
My request is to inquire into other ways in which our arguments could be conducted. I’m embarrassed to say that the furniture has taken the brunt of our passionate debates over the years and shows obvious signs of wear. We have kicked it frequently during our tirades. Same is with kitchen utensils. If they had landed on one of us they could have been saved but we are both good duckers and so they inevitably slam in the wall or the windows which brings me to the windows. They’re smashed also.
I would be eternally grateful if your esteemed services could be prodded to devise new ways of fighting. Ways that involve no breaking of things. Ways that are purely a stimulation to the mind and not the body. I have seen you give so much bad advice over the years that consider this the one project where you can actually atone for all the damage you might have inadvertently caused.
Yours in loving waiting,
A wife on a mission.
It seemed like Abby was particularly free these days because I scanned the newspaper precisely at eight o’clock two days later and my letter was there. And underneath it was Abby’s abysmal advice.
Dear Wife On A Mission,
Thanks for writing.
This is a unique situation and might I go so far as to say that probably unheard of too. I’ve heard of couples seeking someone smarter’s counsel so they can stop their fighting. I’ve also heard of couples asking for ways in which they can communicate without fighting. And some couples have asked me how to curb their temptation to fight. Guess I just recounted three similar scenarios. But my point is, there’s no way you could be guided in new ways of arguing. You’re actually ahead of me. I believe that like a clock you started at fighting and are now completing your trip around all the numbers and finally settling at where you started.
Might I suggest not fighting for about a week? This will recharge you and also, perhaps, will give me more time to think about this problem?
Yours in waiting,
How strange, I thought as I read it! She’s even more daft than I thought she was.
However, our fighting had become lackluster, there was no denying that. We weren’t squabbling like a couple and soon I realized that my husband was also looking somewhat defeated by how weak my attacks had become.
After a particularly civil argument we decided it wasn’t working and in a weak moment I shared my letter to Abby with him.
“What did she say?” He asked after reading it.
I showed him her reply.
“Makes sense”, he said to my surprise.
But it started to make sense to me too. May be we needed to reset this relationship. We had both gotten weaker with time and now we couldn’t fight at all. All this quarreling had zapped us of our energies.
“I can see the sense too”, I agreed, “This isn’t working”.
“If we stopped fighting for even a week”, he said, “We can really turn the clock back on it and come back with more vigor”.
“Yes. I’m up for it. We won’t need more than a week”.
“Oh I’m sure”, he said with a self-satisfied grin, “Before the week is up you’re bound to do or say something that will totally throw me off my pledge. We will be back. Don’t you worry! You’re just too stupid to not constantly make my blood boil”.
“The same could be said about you”, I retorted, “God knows which witch cast a spell on me that I said yes to you at the dreaded moment”.
“Which witch? What’s that? What does that mean? Like two witches or is that just plain wrong syntax?”
“I meant”, I replied patiently, already aware of how lame explaining an insult sounds, “W-H-I-C-H W-I-T-C-H. Get it?”
“Ugh!” He pulled a face, “Explaining a clap back is dreadful”.
“It is”, I said miserably.
“Let’s start now before it gets worse”, he said, suddenly alert to this problem more than he had been so far, “Let’s quit fighting. Immediately.”
We went to bed without much further conversation. We even faced each other in bed . I noticed that because we didn’t have the pressure of waking up early and fighting, we both stayed in bed for longer, enjoying a few lazy moments.
He woke up before me and made breakfast. I thanked him politely. Then we decided to go grocery shopping together.
This was unheard of. We had had so many arguments in the grocery store that we had been asked to leave on more than one occasion. But since we were trying to freshen everything up, this was pivotal.
Grocery shopping was alright and even, pleasant. We bantered but in a friendly way. We consulted each other before buying stuff and soon we were making plans of an early dinner at a swanky restaurant.
We dressed up for the dinner in our evening best and set off.
Dinner was equally nice. We ate some exotic dishes and looked them up on the internet. One was a rare fish and the other was actually just lamb. Dumbstruck by the prices we forgot to be snarky. We came home, dropped into bed and slept.
Soon the week was up. Not only had we not fought but a lot of dishes hadn’t broken either which brings me to the windows. The windows hadn’t shattered either.
We started liking the new camaraderie. He asked me politely if the coffee he made was too strong. I decided to let it go and spoke kindly of it. I took his shirts too when I was laundering my clothes. He thanked me by getting some flowers for me.
A month passed. We were sipping tea which had become something of an evening ritual when suddenly he said,
“I actually quite like the new program of not fighting. It’s so peaceful. I have so much energy. I’m talking to my friends more and”, he touched my hair lovingly, “You have been lovely too”.
“I agree”, I said, basking in the attention, “I’m having a great time. Let’s not fight ever again. Abby is so wise. Really I always thought she was a little bit of a dimwit but she really fixed it. Really she did! I want to send her a letter of thanks”.
“Not a letter”, my husband said, taken over by emotion, “We have to bring a present to her in her office. We have to thank her personally.”
I thought this was too much but decided to follow my new policy of not fighting for stupid things and therefore agreed.
We talked about Abby for the rest of the evening. Her wisdom, astuteness, readiness to help. How many people get into others’ problems these days, my husband remarked.
The next day was the weekend so the newspaper office was closed. We decided to splurge on a gift for her. After all, she had given us the greatest gift of all. The gift of happy companionship.
In my mind’s eye I could see us kneeling in front of Abby, a wizened woman who had traveled through time on her wise pony who looked a little like an ass in my imagination, and Abby knighting us with her sword.
“Go on, young ones!” Abby said, her toothless smile mesmerizing us and drawing us in, “Live your life to the fullest. I knew all along what I was doing. Not for nothing I get letters all the way from Timbuktu”.
My husband and I finally got her a cashmere shawl. Something that an old woman would like.
“She might get cold in the office sometimes”, he said, “You know how cheap these newspaper administrations are. They let their employees work in inhuman circumstances”, his voice rang with righteous indignation.
We slept early on Sunday night, waiting to be at the newspaper office earlier than most staff. I had a feeling that Abby probably got there before others. I shared this thought with him.
“Of course”, he nodded with mist in his eyes for the woman whose wisdom and experience changed our marriage, “People of values of yore! The olden days! The golden folks”. I slept as he was still counting Abby’s age in light years. Then he converted them to dog years and I laughed in my sleep. He hugged me before sleeping himself. I hugged him back.
We reached the newspaper office very very early. Turned out that these types of operations start much earlier than ten o’clock and the whole business was in full swing. People were bustling in and out of offices and cubicles. We went to what looked like the reception.
“Hello”, my polite husband said, “May we please see Ms. Abby?”
The receptionist was a warship of a woman who didn’t have time for nice people. She looked atop her thick glasses and asked brusquely,
“And who would Abby be?”
He cleared his throat politely,
“She’s the woman who answers the questions for the relationship advice column”.
She squinted at him and then a look of comprehension dawned on her face.
“Ah, Abby!!!! You see the column wasn’t doing great so we booted her. She insisted on still doing it so now she does it from home”.
I could sense my husband’s primitive rage coming over. Truth be told, I got majorly irked also by this comment this turkey-like woman made.
“Excuse me, madam”, he said, chewing every word with spit flying in her face, “I would hope that we revered people like Abby. I would sincerely hope that we had a special place for these wise people who save the world everyday by saving relationships. What would we be without the experience of these sage people, these pillars of our society? I think you have misunderstood and probably even miscalculated Abby’s stature in the eyes of her readers. She is an absolute legend. And I’m not just saying it because she crafted the marriage between me and this good woman here that we hadn’t been able to but I speak on behalf of all the people who, unbeknownst to you, have benefitted from her sage constitution. May I request you to show some deference to a lady whom we disrespectfully continue to call Abby when I’m sure she has a perfectly respectable last name too?”
The woman stared at him with her mouth open. Then she closed it, scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to him.
“This is where we send her correspondence and questions if they come in”.
Mutinously he collected the piece of paper and muttering obscenities left the place with me in tow.
“Let’s go meet this dear woman at her residence”, he said, teary-eyed.
I nodded vigorously, afraid to say anything that might not be up to Abby’s respect and honor.
We turned into the street that her house was supposed to be and soon found the number. We got down and rang the bell. A pretty woman opened the door.
Was this Abby?
“How can I help you?” She asked kindly.
“We’ve come looking for Abby”, my husband began politely again, “I’m sorry I don’t have her last name”.
“Erm”, the woman looked gobsmacked, “There’s no Abby here”.
“Abby?” I said, enunciating it differently than my husband, “She writes an advice column”.
The woman smiled.
“Ah, yes! Oh that’s Madison”.
“No”, my husband said with his face contorted into a forced smile, “Abby. The woman who…..”
“Madison! Madison!” The woman barked.
“Yes, Mom”, a girl came walking down from the inside of the house to the gate.
My husband and I knew there was some misunderstanding. Surely this woman had lost her marbles. May be Madison knew more. I thought may be Abby didn’t want to live a public life and so we might have to leave the cashmere shawl with her family.
“Hello”, Madison’s squeaky voice got in my ear.
She was a mousy-looking girl of about 13 or 14. Her hair was dyed a bright purple with some strands of a violent shade of blue. She was chewing what seemed like a wad of paper. Not only was she barely a teenager, she was also wearing a T-shirt that said,
“If you like Marvel, then this DC fan can’t be your fan”.
I stared at her. My husband had more presence of mind and so asked,
“We are looking for Abby”.
Madison blushed a shade of purple brighter than her hair. My stomach dropped. They have killed Abby, I panicked, and this girl knows.
“I’m Abby”, she said after a few minutes.
“No, you’re not”, my husband retorted.
“Yes I am”, she said defiantly and then challenged him with her eyes while tapping her right big toe.
He was dumbfounded. I decided I had to talk now.
“Are you Abby? The woman who gives advice in the newspaper?”
“Sure am”, she chewed paper shamelessly.
“But”, I stammered, “Aren’t you very young to be giving advice?”
“I’m turning sixteen next month”, she said proudly with a little snark, “Oldest of my mom’s side”.
“Right, right”, I said, unsure of what to say.
“Why are you here?” She demanded. “And who are you?”
“I wrote for advice a month ago”, I said, hating myself for coming all the way here and smashing Abby’s caricature that I had so carefully constructed in my head, “And you said we should take a break from the fighting and reset and then maybe when we start it again there’d be more heat and passion”.
“So you wrote to know how to fight more?”
As I nodded the woman looked incredulously at Abby/Madison. The girl rolled her eyes and said,
“Told ya! All sorts of crack pots write to me”.
“Well”, she finally said, “I don’t know if I solved your problem or not but they let me go. Not much was coming in for relationships these days and they didn’t know what to do with me because I was drinking all their diet soda and eating their cheap candy. So they said they’ll forward me whatever came. You know, for being an old employee and all! I’ve been there for four years. They felt bad firing me.”
So this girl had been advising people for four years?
We sat in the car dejected. Abby, her ass pony, the presenting of the cashmere shawl, the kneeling, the knighthood all went poof in the air.
As I was stepping out of the car I could tell my husband was angry. This was all for naught.
“Well, what do you know?” He said belligerently as we entered the living room and he moved to the kitchen to make some coffee for himself, “We bought an expensive present, went all the way to that stupid newspaper office, then trudged to that God forsaken place and what do you get? You get ripped off! RIPPED OFF!”
I was quiet but my blood had started to boil. Was he blaming me?
“How stupid are you?” He continued, “You didn’t get that you were communicating with a teenager? That’s because you’re just as simple as a teenager! Simple, Madam, you are a simpleton”.
Before I knew it my muscle memory had worked and I had taken the ashtray from one of the end tables and thrown it at him.
“Shut up, you heavyset monster!” I screamed, “You got all emotional and tearful at all this working out because of that SAGE woman. And now we are two hundred dollars in the hole with my sleep all out of whack because of no fighting. I’m making up for it during the day when I could be fixing your stupid ego”.
He ducked and the ashtray crashed in our china cabinet. Before long we were embroiled in a screaming match with occasional throwing of things also.
Two hours later I started to pant. I had been out of practice and it looked like my husband wasn’t doing that great either. He had missed ducking on the spoon I threw at him and now had an angry blotch on the side of his face.
“Let’s sleep for tonight”, he said finally, a sign that he was calling the truce, “Let’s start again tomorrow. We have to build our stamina slowly. We’ve been out of practice”.
I quietly agreed and went to bed. A few minutes later I felt him getting into bed as well.
We both woke up in the morning and I was charging myself to pounce on him when he said,
“Hey! Is this something that Abby Madison girl might have written?”
I looked over his shoulder. There in the advice column was her reply to us even though we hadn’t sent a question.
“Dear Wife On A Mission and The Husband Who Bought The Cashmere Shawl!
It was such a delight to see you both together. This was a victory of sorts. People probably benefit from my advice all the time but very few take the time to come to my place of residence bearing gifts. I loved the gift even though in your hurry you forgot to properly hand it to me. You can leave it in my mailbox, I’ll pick it up from there tomorrow. But a bigger gift was to see you both together, hand in hand. I have taken a lot of inspiration from your story. I was trying to fix something for a long time and I have decided that it’s possible if I put my mind to it. I quit school a few years ago due to a bullying incident. I’m going back to school. Nothing can stop me and I can change it. Like you did. I wanted to thank you for giving me that perspective. Also, I’m resigning from the column so this is my last advice. Always be happy. Arguments can be refreshing but if they cause a lot of bruises like I saw on both your arms, then may be a different type of resetting might be needed. May be you need someone more astute than me. Like a counselor.”