ADULT THEME – LANGUAGE
Men are from Mars
John Thomas’s homecoming from Iraq was marred because he returned without his penis. He had lost it to a bomb detonated beneath the army truck in which he was travelling. A piece of his seat had neatly sliced off his reproductive equipment. Although medical staff had repaired the rest of his body, the doctors were unable to re-attach his most important part.
The psychiatrist who counselled John told him his wife knew of his injuries. John was not looking forward to confronting the situation with Cat. He had envisioned many times the conversation he and his wife would have. Almost every conscious moment was filled with thoughts of his loss and its implications.
Catherine’s previous marriage fell apart because of her husband’s philandering. The shame she felt in front of friends and workmates paled in comparison to the acute embarrassment she felt when tested for AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Before she married John, she asked him to promise that he would never cheat on her. If he should come to find life with her unsatisfactory, she would grant him a divorce. She could not again face the humiliation of a wayward spouse. John gladly made the promise and he renewed it when he recited his marriage vows.
The couple’s son had been born two days before John departed for Iraq. He now wondered if Cat would want more children and, if so, how he would feel raising another man’s child as his own. Would Cat feel strange about it? Would she feel she had a parental advantage over him because the child was hers, but not his?
Cat was at Sydney airport and she welcomed him home with hugs and kisses. She had tears in her eyes as she held him at arm’s length and checked him out. ‘She’s seeing how much of my injuries are visible,’ John thought. Then he chastised himself for allowing the negative thought to enter his mind. She always checked him out when he returned from military duty, be it active or not. “How’s little Michael? Where is he?”
“He’s fine, darling. Mum’s got him at her place so we can have some time together.”
John smiled, but a feeling of anxiety started to eat at the lining of his stomach.
During the ride home, Cat brought him up to date on all their domestic issues. John knew much of it from her letters and emails but he let her babble on because, whilst she talked of the inane, she was not saying how glad she was to have him home and how much she longed to get him between the sheets. He silently prayed the head-quack had been correct and she was fully cognisant of all his wounds. His body started to ooze perspiration and he was glad the hot August day provided him with a reason, despite the fact the air conditioner was blowing full blast.
Cat put her hand on his knee. “It’s so good to have you home, John. Are you uncomfortable at all? From your wounds, I mean.”
“No, no, I’m fine thanks. They say I’ll probably be able to tell when it’s going to rain but, other than that, I should be okay.” He felt reluctant to mention his functional problems.
Catherine turned her head to look at her husband. She smiled. “I love you darling and I’m so happy to have you back.”
John could not endure the tension building inside him any longer. “Have you been told about all my wounds?”
Catherine put her hand back on his knee. “I think so, darling. Are you concerned about you not having a penis any more? Don’t be. There’s more than one way to skin a Cat, pun intended.”
“What about children? Do you want to have more?” He held his breath.
“Not any longer. I would have said yes before but I’ve changed my priorities and I no longer feel a need for another child. We have Michael and he’s going to be spoiled to death, but a lot of kids who’ve grown up as single children have done well enough for themselves in this big, bad world.”
Relief flooded through his body in waves. He seemed to lose all his strength and he slumped into his seat. He was thankful Cat was driving the car. After a few seconds, an inner calm not known since suffering his wounds enveloped him like a narcotic. He wallowed in it until Cat broke the silence.
“Cat got your tongue?” She laughed. “Pun intended again.”
He sat up and smiled at his wife. He was pleased to see she was laughing with her eyes. A small laugh came from his throat. “Huhuhhhh, yeah. I feel so loved right now. Thanks, Cat. You’ve no idea how much I’d been dreading this conversation.”
“Don’t worry, sweetheart. Someone dealt us card from the bottom of the deck, but we’ll handle it. We’ll be okay. What about going to the bathroom? Can you urinate properly?”
“No problem with that right now. It might get a bit more difficult in later years but there’s nothing for us to worry about at the moment.”
“Good. Then we’ll be all right, won’t we.”
John leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. “You are one terrific woman and I love you. Thanks.”
“Thanks for what, darling?”
Four years later, Catherine asked her husband if he would object to her having an occasional sexual tryst with some unknown man. “I’ll never sleep with the same man twice darling, so there’s no danger of any attachment forming.”
The request was not a total surprise to John, but it still shocked him. He had envisioned such a scenario many times. He felt torn between a will to indirectly please his wife and the jealousy he felt. It would have been preferable for her to secretly make her assignations without his knowledge. The fact she wanted the idea out in the open seemed a positive sign – provided he did not dwell on what she was actually going to do. However, if she went ahead with her plan, he would feel a loss of closeness that existed between them. He knew he was about to lose the limited sexual intimacy he and his wife had shared, but he thought it would be churlish to point that out. How would the situation affect their five-year-old son? Probably not at all, unless Cat became emotionally attached to one of the men.
John’s greatest fear was that Cat would meet a man who, despite her promise, she decided to see again. If that happened, their marriage would definitely start to fall apart. Speaking of promises, wasn’t it Cat who extracted a promise from him never to cheat on her. Hadn’t she told him how devastated she had been by her first husband’s extra-marital affairs? Her request did make her look two-faced on the subject of fidelity, no matter what the excuse.
With every aspect of the suggestion considered, the reason for Cat’s request was still a direct result of John’s inadequacy and denying his consent would make him feel mean. However, he did not want to sit at home with their son whilst mother was out playing games. Was that a selfish attitude to take? As he had to make a decision, he grudgingly admitted his wife had silently accepted her lot for four years and perhaps he should allow her to have her way on a trial basis. Besides, what was their future if he denied her wish?
When he told his wife of his decision, her face remained expressionless. Cat kissed him on the cheek and sombrely told him, “Thank you darling. I promise to protect what we have together.”
John left the room without another word, went to the bathroom and cried.
Catherine seemed more animated after her first date. She laughed more and played with Michael with more joy than had previously been the case. She sang along with the radio, cooked better meals and paid more attention to the housework. The shirts she ironed for John were crisper and had sharper creases. When the two kissed, she was more passionate. John noticed every minute change in his wife’s demeanour and the improvements depressed him.
A month later, when Catherine arranged for her second date, John insisted they hire a baby-sitter so he could go out for a drink. He preferred the idea of seeking oblivion instead of staying at home and again allowing his imagination to run hurtful images across his mind’s eye. He went to the local VFW with the intention of making friends there. However, all the men in the bar were serious drinkers who didn’t allow the cost of clean bodies or clothes to reduce their alcohol budget. At a hotel, he found the crowd to be the same. The men seemed to be simple-minded or had addled their brains with booze. He took a taxi into the city and found a bar where the drinkers were smarter, cleaner and more amenable.
John propped up the bar whilst other customers came and went. In between conversations, the barmaid made occasional comments, told him a joke and asked after his life. He told her how lucky he was to have such a wonderful wife and terrific child. He told her about his job and his time in the army. The alcohol didn’t seem to be working. Visions of his wife romping with another man kept appearing in his head.
When all the businessmen had gone home, the place was nearly empty. John had drunk enough to give himself licence to talk freely and he told the busty brunette of the injuries he had sustained in Iraq.
“Are you sure you want to be telling me this?” the woman asked.
“Well, I have to tell someone and as I don’t know you, it makes it a bit easier. You know, I’m here tonight because my wife has gone to find a man with whom to have sex. She’s locked herself in a hotel room somewhere in this city and called for a gigolo to come and visit her. She says its okay ‘cause she only indulges in safe sex. No need for me to worry then, is there?”
The barmaid swallowed. “I’m sorry. I…I don’t know what to say.”
“There’s no need to say anything. I’m just telling you about my life and, because you’re a barmaid, it’s your job to listen to me. See, there aren’t many people to whom you can tell stuff like this. You seem like a nice, kind woman and I’ll probably never see you again so I can tell you all about it.”
“Have you tried sex aids?”
“Oh yeah, we’ve tried ‘em all. Strap-on jobs and the like. They just serve to underline my inadequacy.”
The conversation was becoming morose so the barmaid gave a couple of dollars to a young couple to put into the jukebox.
“Nothing too romantic or sentimental. Dance music.”
John heard the instruction. He straightened his back and smiled. “We’re trying not to make me a maudlin bastard.” He laughed.
The barmaid’s smile showed sympathy and relief.
“Maybe I’ll come in here again, next time Cat wants to go and do the dirty deed. See you then.” John got up from his stool, tested his balance and dropped a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. “Thanks.”
“It’s Janice. I may not be here. Why don’t you take my number and if you want to call me, I’ll let you know if I’m working. If not, we can go for a drink somewhere. How would that be?”
The idea appealed to John. “That’d be nice.”
Three weeks later, John called the number. “Janice?”
“Yes, who’s this?”
“My name is John. I…”
“Yes John, I remember you. How are you?”
“Well, I’m all right, I suppose. You?”
“I’m okay. Are you at a loose end tonight, so to speak?”
John let the remark pass. “Yes. Are you working?”
Many months later, Catherine found Janice’s telephone number.
“What’s this?” she asked her husband.
“That? Oh, it’s the number of a friend I have a few drinks with whenever you have one of your dates. I must have left it out when I called her last night.”
“Her? You meet with a woman when I go out?”
“Yeah. Her name is Janice. I met her the first time I went out and we struck up a kind of friendship.”
“And what, pray, do you and this Janice woman get up to?”
“Well that depends on whether she’s working or not. If she is, I just go the bar where she works and chat with her. If not, we go for a drink, or to see a movie, or whatever.”
“Whatever?” Catherine’s acidic tone got John’s attention.
“Yeah, whatever! What’s wrong with that? You know damn well I can’t cheat on you while you’re out having sex with a stranger.”
“Oh, this is going to be my fault is it?”
“There is no fault, Cat. What are you getting so uptight about? If anyone is the aggrieved party here, it is surely me.”
“There you go again, trying to put the blame on me. Let me remind you that I see a different person every time I go out. You, it appears, are seeing the same person all the time. It seems to me that I am the so-called aggrieved party.”
John sighed. “Cat. You know that I am not fooling around on you, so why are you getting so angry?”
“You are seeing the same woman over and over again and besides, how do I know what you get up to?”
“Cat! You know, because it is the reason you are going out every week and sleeping with all these different men!”
“That’s right! Different men! I am being true to you whilst you are having an intimate relationship with someone behind my back.”
“Intimate relationship? We have not kissed, not even held hands. You want to think again about who is having the intimate relationship here!”
“All right, all right, you may be right on that point, but I don’t like the fact you’ve been cheating on me.”
“Let me get this straight. You sleep with other men on a weekly basis but you’re not cheating on me.”
John held up his hand. “I’m not finished. I go out for a drink with someone who happens to be a woman. Believe me, that’s all it is. She could be a man for all the intents and purposes involved.”
“Shut up and allow me to finish! And my having a drink with this woman is considered by you to be cheating on my part?”
“Damn straight, it is! Did you tell me about her? Did you think to inform me you have been meeting a woman every time I go out? Did it cross your mind you were better off not telling me about her?” The truth of his wife’s words sickened John. He realised he had withheld the information because he knew Cat would become jealous of his actions. His wife saw the admission in his eyes. “See! I can see it on your face. You lied to me!”
John shook his head from side to side. “That’s not true. I never had anything but good intentions with the woman. I swear.”
“Yeah, well, you can try and convince yourself of that all you want, but tomorrow I’m going to see a lawyer about a divorce.”