Jonathan Kessler



My wife and I have agreed, on her suggestion, to a temporary role reversal. I sympathize with her borne frustration, but this game of innocuous scandal was not, to my understanding, originally intended to extend beyond the bedroom. Our attempt to augment my wife's genital equipment with threatening toy attachments assured only amusement and severe discomfort at my expense. My wife in a three-piece suit roused in me not titillation but nostalgia for childhood raids of my father's closet. Frightening subway leers and the occasional octogenarian buttock pinch in checkout lines are painful proof I look better in her clothes than my own. Co-workers have been more tolerant than expected with our game, although there is a pending legal matter regarding restroom choice. My impatient wife is leaning on the car horn outside. Making myself beautiful has made us late again for dinner reservations, but some things cannot be rushed.


There is a bird in our bedroom. My wife and I nervously chart its frightened flight from armoire ledge to picture frame. This and pneumonia, she chastises, are all that my romantic notions of open windowed slumber can bring. She loves being even half right. My wife and I strategize methods for expediting freedom. I place bread crusts on the sills, risk infection by offering my hand as a perch. My wife performs a nude flailing dance that inspires in the bird sideways scrutiny, and in me, inappropriate erotic interest. Still, the bird slams into the glass. During stalemate moments, we admire its color markings, conjecture on gender and breed, brainstorm possible names. The bird's stubborn attempts and resultant concussions are a frustrating show. We could get used to regular visits like this. Why, though, so soon after arriving, must our bird always be in such a rush to leave?


Is it a crime to want someone happy? I ask my wife. My five years of 45-minute therapy hours qualify such an offensive intervention. Despite my delicate urging though, my wife refuses to admit she is depressed. No longer safe conversing without supervision, I scheduled tonight's awkward dinner to be interrupted with a psychiatric house call. What counseling can we expect, my ambushed wife counters, from a therapist who has more ex-husbands than degrees? Marriage therapy is only foreplay for divorce proceedings, but that is better than no foreplay at all. My wife's virulent thrum of complaints has trained me, I explain, to excavate redeemability from even the most distasteful experiences. I have even grown quite protective of her parents. Finally reaching the end of my grievance list, sated and exultant, pounds lighter, I allow my wife a turn at rebuttal. Mute with damaged love, the therapist helps her pack.


I am beginning to accept my wife's inability to bring a pregnancy to term as a personal affront. Smart and selfish with youth, we gave ourselves a decade of honeymoon, unlike other married friends, who had to give their unplanned mistakes names. We praised the daunting reliability of our contraceptive choice, even after its discontinued use. Our desire to be called parents gave our slack lovemaking taut discipline. Fertility manuals made us pornographic acrobats with the mirror reflection of our awkward exertion as our only audience. I was blamed before I could blame myself. My fear of sterility, though, is now a selfish hope upon learning from the doctor that this is not my fault. We are no longer teased by a second trimester miscarriage. Numb from trauma and friction, we hold funerals around the toilet the way people do for goldfish, and return to the bedroom to try again.


Each day of sobriety brings my wife farther away from me. She thanks a god that isn't ours for her recovery, and privileges a roomful of fidgeting strangers with her confessions. Faith, I argue, is as dangerous as drinking. My years of tolerance apparently make me part of the problem. Listening to her midnight phone conversations, I long for the less complicated emotions of adultery. Waking alone is something I always expected to inflict on others. Now she prepares coffee at meetings and hugs strangers before work, while our children complain about my burnt pancakes, and ask if Mommy is their sponsor. My wife even abstains from reminiscing about our embarrassing restaurant scenes, passionate fistfights and furniture throwing, and the intimacy of nursing hangovers, viewing our finest moments as catalysts for relapse. I liked her better drunk, I complain to the bartender after work, ordering another, and another, and another.



The "husbands", in Husbands Anonymous, lament, gripe, confess, and brag, in support group fashion, about the various crises, comedies and poignancies of their marriages. Each story is comprised of 150 words. The collection honors all couples in and around my life, happy and unhappy, innocent and guilty, and is indebted to those professors who taught me to pay attention to sentences. I guess I took them literally.