My wife has sworn off doors. I ask her what the hell that means. She smiles like she hasn’t in months, revs her little handheld drill.
“Pay attention,” she says. “You’ll figure it out.”
In quick succession, off come our bedroom door, closet door, pantry and bath. She moves swiftly, efficiently, faster than I have eye energy to follow: all I see is a blur of yoga pants, darting between rooms. Nothing is safe from her edict.
There go the cabinet doors! The fridge door! Bye, bye oven, au revoir cuckoo clock. I wave farewell from my papasan chair, beer sweating into my sweatpants, nowhere close to standing, to helping her. She drags the things outside.
When she reappears in the den, I say to her, “So it seems I’ve married a literalist.”
And she says to me, “Does literalism not turn you on?”
I don’t say anything, because what even the hell, and she strikes this kinky, ironic pose with the drill, sliding its bit up and down between her squished-together boobs. Out of seven billion potential partners, this is the special soul I’ve chosen to build a life with.
Not missing a beat, my wife unhinges the front door and gives it a coy, one-fingered shove, letting it fall—thwomp—to the floor. She stands hipshot in the liberated doorway, like a P.I. arriving at a crime scene, but also like a serial killer arriving at a crime scene, considering the drill. I raise an eyebrow and then, for emphasis, point to that eyebrow.
“The idea is to eliminate all barriers to communication,” my wife says. She has read like a million testimonials online. Message boards. Subreddits. O: The Oprah Magazine. From Burma to Baltimore, dissatisfied couples swear by it.
This is supposed to help.
In terms of schemes, this isn’t her first. There was the vegetable garden, the charity bike repair classes, and of course—be still my heart—couple’s game night. All very well intentioned, all utterly doomed. I’ve got no doubt this door business will soon follow suit.
But, as the old saying goes, sudden door removal doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Give our house an adequate dusting: you’ll find my guilty fingerprints everywhere.
Take last week. I discovered her soaking in our claw foot tub, crying not-that-quietly into the gone-cold water. My wife is a shower taker, always has been, so I didn’t ask what was what. I just took my clothes off and got in with her. We used to have a regular fuck in this bathtub, back when fucking was a tender, spiritually unifying thing we did. I remember her splayed toes next to the faucet, red nail polish gleaming.
My plan was to reassure her. Things are not as bad as blah blah blah, everything will be what have you—okay, okay? Really, super sweetly, I said to her that I was no less than 85% as happy as I’d ever been. Which was, if you haven’t already guessed, not nearly happy enough. Her eyes took on this blowtorch quality. She twisted bathwater from her hair braid like a dishrag, and then told me, by her latest estimate, that me saying I was 85% happy had just dropped her 80% happy to 60% happy. Thanks much and you’re welcome.
Now imagine a solid year of distressing scenes like that.
I apologized and stepped out of the tub, not bothering to dry. I’ve been hovering at 50% happy ever since. Where she’s at, as a part of our union, I can’t say. It remains unclear what percentages taking all our doors off will restore.
I stack the doors in the backyard, deck-of-cards style, because, in my mind, I’m still a good husband. I’m fully capable of generating a life-partner image of support, honesty, and caring, no matter what. After what I went through with my parents, divorce isn’t an option.
I’d describe the backyard as one big metaphor, but it’s actually pretty small, spatially. What was supposed to be our vegetable garden is instead a sad parallelogram of tongue depressors and brown weeds. The road bikes we never repaired, as a team, are stale pretzels of rust leaning against the side of the house. I cannot, for the life of me, get the recycling guys to take them.
What do the municipal recycling men want from me? How do I get them to take the bike skeletons off my hands? These are the profound existential questions that keep me up at night. Not my marriage. Recycling protocols. I’ve written no less than three explanatory signs. I drag the bikes to and from the curb every Thursday. What else can I do? The recycling center is like 30 minutes from where we live, not counting traffic.
It’s only a matter of time before my wife abandons her dumb door idea, before I’m charged with the laborious reinstallation. I’m already dreading the ask, the inevitable moment when she cops to her own silliness and I have to reset the changes she’s made back to their defaults. Once again, I will be forced to resent her more for her wanting me to resent her less. But, really, it’s not her I resent; it’s the ask. The ask is always worse than the doing, every time. Her voice gets so small it’s barely there.
So I resolve to nip this wholesale door removal in the bud. I step determinedly through the space where the backdoor used to be, thinking, Someone in this marriage has to put an end to quick fixes. I’m through waiting for my wife to man up. I will say and do say, enough. If it ain’t broke.
And as soon as I’m done with this, I’m recycling those goddamn bikes.
But then I’m standing in the middle of the den, smelling that petal-scented breeze through the doorways. I’m breathing fresh outdoor air in deep, restorative breaths. And here’s my gorgeous wife, gliding into the room unbothered. She’s got my favorite dress on, the color of ripe strawberries. Hey there.
I say to her, “If I never lay eyes on another door, I’ll die a happy man.”
And she says nothing, because she’s laughing, genuinely belly-laughing. She’s a radio playing a great song I’d until then forgotten. I apologize for ever doubting her. She kisses me forgivingly on the mouth. We embrace so enthusiastically we knock heads, topple into the papasan chair, and end up making love, fucking like people in love. There’s delivery pizza and split beers, DVR and no commercials, joys a stupid vegetable garden will never in a million years provide. For what feels like the first time, we sleep soundly through the night, facing each other as we rarely do, side-by-side.
The vagrants are there when we wake up. Overnight, a militia of filthy nomads has invaded our house. Now they’re slumped in every corner, adjusting their crotches on the chaise lounge, pawing at our leftovers with fingerless gloves. They stare at me with suspicious, bloodshot eyes, as if I’m the intruder, as if I’m speaking a dead language when I politely ask them to leave. They laugh at me, all of them, cackling like hoarse hyenas, phlegm in their lungs.
To my wife, I say, “Any of those testimonials happen to mention the vagrants?”
“No,” she says. “They did not.”
Over the next few hours, our marriage is subjected to a powerful new strain of misery, worse than any we’ve previously known. The men ruthlessly catcall my wife on her way to the shower, and they grin rotten gums at me when I command them to stop. I’m called names I haven’t heard since grade school, which sting now as they did then. The entire house smells like turned milk and body stink. And the cops won’t come; they say the place has “a reputation.” It’s a lost cause. No one in his right mind is going in there.
What can we do, my wife and I? Night is threatening to fall. Barrel fires are already ablaze in our tiny backyard. Reinstalling our doors is no longer an option: all the wood has been broken down to fuel barrel fires. Thanks to my wife’s genius plan, we are starving, scared, besieged at every turn in our own home. I wish I could say it’s unbelievable.
We agree to take turns sleeping, one watching over the other with a Ginsu knife. Being a good husband, I volunteer to take the first shift, and without a word my wife turns her back on me and pretends to sleep. I don’t press her. Instead I spend the next several hours listening between the low, sinister voices of the men outside and my wife’s anxious breathing—in-out, stop, in-out, stop. I can hear her so clearly—in-out—and it’s then that I realize—stop. In-out, stop, in-out, stop. It worked. It really did. Stop. We’ve never been closer.