Punishment Log by Alex Behr

Editor Carrie Seitzinger, Editor's Choice, May 23rd, 2017

"At couples counseling, the Kleenex box is on the side, half-empty."

Alex Behr Essay Nailed Magazine
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A personal essay by Alex Behr.

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What women do: they start personal essays with something “shocking,” something relatable, something outré: I could start with the middle ground: in 2016 I could have been spending my twenty-third wedding anniversary at the divorce attorney’s room. My husband wouldn’t care. He told me he has no sentimental attachment to that date (August 15). Instead, we will go to couples counseling and go to the attorney the next day. The table at the attorney’s office is wood. There’s a Kleenex box in the center. At couples counseling, the Kleenex box is on the side, half-empty.

I live with sleepers. My husband sleeps all the time. Today he napped with me, curiously, for he was so angry earlier at couples counseling. I felt his comforting arm weight on me. When he broke his hand in kung fu years before, when we were happier, I called the cast and his arm “the punishment log.” Now I take a photo of it. I know his freckles, the shade of his arm hair, and the two tattoos he gave himself at a punk-rock party. I used to draw those two small lines on my left hand, to match his, when he went on tour and I was lonely, moving Fisher-Price toys around a tablecloth map of the U.S. to mark his travels.

Now, I hope he doesn’t wake up. I take a photo of us in bed, him sleeping. I take a photo of his wedding ring. I had bought the wrong size back in 1993. I insisted on shoving it on his finger anyway. One of my many faults, but we got it enlarged, and I got it engraved.

He was too poor to buy me a wedding ring, so I wear my great-grandmother’s from 1904. What do you do with unused wedding rings? Do they go in the same drawer as tampons I so hopefully bought last year, the last time I had my period? Do they go in the tin box with the diamonds I’ve inherited, which won’t go into the “assets” of our marriage? The diamonds I have nowhere to wear? The diamonds are from my Granny, my dad’s mom, who went from a mansion growing up to a small subsidized apartment. The rooms grow smaller and smaller, especially after a huge financial blow. Gong-Gong, my dad’s dad, had a stroke around 50, younger than I am now, and lost his ability to speak, to tie his shoes, to work in mainstream America. So they lost almost everything. And my Granny stood by him. That was supposed to be my motto: stand by my husband no matter what. But I complained, I fretted, I offered opinions, and he fell in love with someone else. Someone he never told, but he told me. That didn’t go over too well.

My husband hasn’t worked in years.

His friend died in mid-July, and his body wasn’t found for several days. He hung himself. My husband regrets not talking to him, and stayed on the couch for a week in mourning. My husband said in couples counseling, “I knew what it was to be on the outside of something I always think about.” Death.

Some women worry about losing their looks in their 50s. Their “looks”: but that means a route to a job, a route to getting fucked, a route to exiting a life of hard-boiled egg on toast (my subsistence, with beer, when my husband and son are out of town). I worry what happens when my husband is gone for a long time, when he’s angry, and when he doesn’t answer texts.

Three months after the non-anniversary, my husband moved to China for his first job in years. Our son stayed with me. I don’t dare talk to him on WeChat for fear of seeing his hand with no ring. The “ex” I forced upon him. His hand naked, but for the tattoos. He lives in a high-rise apartment. I know his preferred method is to jump, and I know, as his wife, I would be the one to identify his body. Now, as his ex-wife, I am not “next of kin.” I am forever on the outside.

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Header image courtesy of Harry Byrne. To view his photo essay, “Hued Scars,” go here.

alex behr writer essay on international adoption NAILED MagazineAlex Behr’s debut story collection, Planet Grim, will be published in October 2017 (7.13 Books). She wrote about her experiences with transracial adoption in April 2016, you can read it here.

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Carrie Seitzinger

Carrie Seitzinger is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Seitzinger is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.
Learn more about her at her official site.