Kathy was concerned over the health of her marriage. After taking various quizzes in woman's magazines and consulting the self help section in the bookstore, she came to the conclusion that she had to do something if she was ever to get off this path leading directly to the doors of Divorce Court. That and she had to lose ten pounds. Ever since she had opted to stay home with the baby, things had changed. Guilt over not making money like she used to had compelled her take over what was left of the household chores. It had been at least two years since Steve had so much as placed a dish in the dishwasher. But still, it seemed she wasn't doing enough.
Watching the news on television one night, the two of them laughed about a segment on a new book that was taking the world by storm called "The Surrendered Wife." But privately, Kathy was as much intrigued as repelled by the idea of the book. The word "surrendered" scared her, at least at first. It seemed so final somehow. Even "submissive "seemed better than "surrendered." You could be submissive one day and not submissive the next; once you surrendered, it was over.
But she had taken note of the bright, shiny eyes and relaxed poses of the women interviewed in the program. These were the surrendered women. By surrendering they had set themselves free, they explained. By taking on a role akin to that of a child, by relinquishing their household finances to their husbands and replying "whatever you think" each time they were solicited for an opinion, they had given up responsibility for whatever happened. They could sit back and relax. And their husbands were happier too. So even as she laughed at these women, who were compared to the Stepford Wives by the reporter, Kathy felt a surge of an emotion with which she was overly familiar -- envy. Why couldn't she be happy and perfect like them?
The next day, she bought the book and read it secretly while Steve was at work. Then she practiced surrendering. Steve had tested her resolve that morning by presenting her with a wardrobe question.
"Which tie looks better with this shirt," he asked, "the paisley or the football helmets?"
"Whatever you think," she replied.
As Steve walked out the door, his best suit topped off with the tie featuring football helmets from every National League team (she had bought it as a joke for his last birthday), Kathy almost reconsidered and offered her opinion. But she kept her mouth shut, remembering that she had refused to be seen with him when he wore that hideous Hawaiian shirt or the "No Fat Chicks" baseball cap. Her marriage was more important than his horrible taste in clothing, wasn't it? There was Steve's manhood to consider....
She had more difficulty getting him to take over the finances. From the very beginning, it had always been her responsibility to pay the bills. It was a hated chore. Steve hated it too, which was why she took it over in the first place. He would put it off until they started getting phone calls and notices from the bank. But if putting off collectors was the price she had to pay for a healthy marriage, so be it.
The next Saturday, the weather was terrible so Steve decided they should go shopping at the mall. It would give them something to do. They didn't need to buy anything, but Kathy agreed. After she had endured a half hour at Radio Shack pretending to be interested in phone cables, Steve decided it was time to go home. Kathy agreed. She wasn't having any fun anyway. Going into a store that interested her was out of the question now that she had surrendered.
Steve started heading back towards Sears. While Kathy realized that they had parked at the other end of the mall, she made no comment. Steve's belief that the car was in the Sears lot was more important than the fact that it was in the JC Penney lot, she reasoned. After an hour searching in the cold outside Sears for a car that wasn't there, Steve began to lose his temper. Kathy kept quiet, only interjecting "Wherever you think" every now and then when Steve screamed to the heavens, "Where is the goddamned car?" Finally he stopped and stood still.
"Do you remember where we parked?" he asked, exasperated. (Kathy always noted where they parked -- she hated wandering around the parking lot like an idiot).
"We parked wherever you think we parked," Kathy answered, like a parrot.
"Why do you keep saying that?" he asked, "Are you fucking with my mind or something? I'm going nuts here!"
Kathy surrendered. This was ridiculous. Steve was obviously too stupid to live without her help and guidance.
"We're in the JC Penney lot, I mean, I think that's where we parked. Why don't we check?"
Steve calmed down immediately. "Why didn't you say something?"
Driving home, Kathy directed Steve to a short cut she had discovered one day while out doing errands. Getting home five minutes earlier and avoiding the backup on the highway, she felt better already. And Steve was impressed. Once home, she spied the bills in their disorderly pile on the kitchen counter. She paid them.
© Elizabeth MacMillan
Beth MacMillan is a former secretary who now lives in Denmark with her husband and two dogs. She does a little writing on the side while studying Danish, exploring Denmark, and looking for a job.
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