Marriage Speak

Christopher Hickman

It came to pass that my wife and I could no longer communicate by sharing or disputing ideas, or by forming complete sentences that begged reflection,
rejection, or consideration. We could not bid each other adieu in the morning, as we went off to our separate jobs; nor could we greet each other in the early evening when we returned home. We could not discuss politics politically or leisure activities at our leisure. One of us could not relate to the other an incident they had seen on the news. We couldn't even talk about the weather, not even when it was mild.

This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Communication in most marriages breaks down around the second year. In sixty percent of U.S. couplings, the third year's conversations feature coughing, grunting, silent nods, and exasperated sighs. The more desperate among us have been known to turn to semaphore, morse code, even bell choirs, in a vain attempt to bridge the ever-widening gulf.

In the dating ritual, couples will explore the possibilities of language. They
are, after all, in the glow of love. Words come tumbling out of their mouths
like pachinko balls. "Constantinople," says he. "Philostrate," she replies.
"Maelstrom." "Marsupials balancing precariously on the precipice." You're
lucky, in year four, to be the recipient of a simple word from your partner,
such as "salad" or "lend." The most common word in year four of marriage is "die." Second is "an." I won?t tell you the third, for I am relatively young
and I still have dreams.

My wife and I lost our ability to speak in year two. Our courtship featured
florid turns of phrase such as you?ve never heard (although I'm sure all men and women feel this way about their language when smitten). Apart from original musings, we would quote Yeats at length, then Tennyson, then moved on to trickier passages, from the Bard, Millay, and Pound. All the while, we'd be skipping through a meadow, or skating along the boulevard, or rutting intensely in some back alley on a crazy, crazy, sun-kissed San Francisco Monday. By the time we got married, our speech had begun to halt. "I'm not sure," became common. "I know what you mean," was a glassy-eyed response. "Shut up now," was inevitable, and became standard.

Why does this happen? Why do our brains wither and crumble into powder, why does the powder spill out our ears, and why then does our head deflate like a jack-o-lantern in November, after we've agreed to marry? I asked a wise friend of mine why people would deign to marry, knowing full well that it destroys one's ability to reason and discourse freely. He reminded me that two members of the Bush family, Chester A. Arthur, and Herbert Hoover have all been president, that someone thought to produce Goober Grape, and that people play lawn darts. Reason and intelligence are burdens in this New Society. To be idiotic and monosyllabic is to be one step closer to God. Conversation, a disciple of reason and intelligence, must be sacrificed.

Year four I accepted that my wife and I would never again hold a conversation that could be understood. I began to speak in punctuation. My wife took a different tactic: she continually lit my clothes on fire. I was awestruck that we had reached this unfortunate point, but it was difficult to find a solution on my own, occupied as I was with extinguishing myself and then running out to Old Navy to buy more dungarees.

I was once an intelligent person; my wife was once something less than a
psychopath. Confronting her -- she no longer burned my clothes directly, but gave matches to a team of Polish welders and had them do it -- I urged a
reconciliation. I was so starved for actual conversation that I offered her a
honey of a deal: she could draft the terms of conversation, and I would follow them. If she wanted to debate the finer points of competitive archery, a sport I detest, then that's what we'd do. If she wanted to blather on about my faults, I would listen, agree, and point out faults she had skipped over, such as my fear of yams.

She rejected the proposal through a mediate (a young Polish man, who singed his eyebrows lighting fire to my sock drawer). This was all I could take. But then, a miracle. It turned out that this was that all that the Gods could take, as well. I stood before her, holding singed pairs of dress blacks in my hands, when I felt something move through me. I spoke, in a voice clear and proud:


It was a sound of force and power. I was not in control: this was a message,
sent through me, the voices of millions of dead married souls who were reduced
to counting the squares on the tablecloth in the morning and watching reruns of
Fish at night in a house of silence.


My wife, cowed by this celestial judgment, left our home, and my life, and
returned to her family. I had won a victory. A victory for words, and ideas.
For some reason, though, I couldn't quite bring myself out of the whole
"lalalallala" thing. Transcendent and celestial noise, funneled through your
body, isn't like tap water. I was bursting a lot of blood vessels in my eyes
and nose. Also, the feeling of connection to something greater than myself was tempered somewhat when I started peeing in my pants involuntarily. It was only a matter of time before I lost my job at the library.

I'm on the streets now, with other former marrieds, barking away, slobbering, bodies contorting in frenzied spasms. Free at last. Free to start over again, to meet a nice woman, sit with her on a park bench, and chat. Free. And alive.


Christopher Hickman lives in Brooklyn, works at Vanity Fair, and writes for magazines and newspapers all over this great land of ours.