Dead Man Talking

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Joe and JoAnne by Crad Kilodney

Joe and JoAnne by Crad Kilodney

July 2001

Joe and JoAnne had had a quarrel in bed — something embarrassing, by which I mean sexual. Joe had felt so demoralized he didn’t sleep at all. He was depressed all the next day. After dinner, he told JoAnne that he was going to bed early because he was exhausted. However, JoAnne informed him that they were going out to visit some friends of hers. “I’m too tired to go out,” said Joe.

“If you want to keep this relationship, you’ll go with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Do it to please me,” said JoAnne, knowing her choice of words would hurt Joe just the right amount.

So Joe agreed to go, despite his exhaustion. JoAnne’s friends turned out to be four unfriendly single women and two insipid, effeminate men. The conversation was academic and soon turned to feminism and the oppression of women by the male sex. Joe sat silent and passive, not comprehending that JoAnne had brought him to be scrutinized by this cabal. When Joe was asked something directly, he could only shrug and say he didn’t know or had never thought about the matter. He felt woozy and desperately needed to sleep. Despite his valiant efforts to stay politely awake, he finally told JoAnne he needed to lie down for a while.

“Is there a guest room?” he asked his hostess.

“Yes, but it’s strictly for the cats,” she replied ungraciously.

“Cats?” he repeated dully, his eyelids already drooping.

“Yes. They’re entitled to their space,” said the hostess. “There’s a sofa on the back porch, if you want to lie down there.”

Joe nodded and made his way unsteadily to the back porch. The sofa was a foot too short for him, but he lay down anyway and tried to get comfortable. It was chilly, and he thought of asking for a blanket but was too tired to get up again.

So Joe fell asleep and dreamed that he was lying in a squalid hotel room with no heat and a snowstorm going on outside. He wished JoAnne would bring him a blanket to show him that she loved him, but she didn’t. After a while, he was awakened by JoAnne, who pushed him on the shoulder and said, “Come on, get up. It’s time to go home.”

Joe mumbled his apologies to the others on the way out. The only thing that stuck in his mind was the unsmiling faces of the women and the smirking grins of the men.

When they got home, Joe could barely get his shoes off before collapsing on the bed. “Don’t even think of sex!” JoAnne spat at him, but he was already sinking into unconsciousness.

The following morning Joe learned that all of JoAnne’s friends had agreed that he was an insensitive male and that his falling asleep was a calculated act of hostility. They had strongly advised JoAnne to dump him or he would “drain all her life-energy.”

“So, like, you’re breaking up with me, is that it?” asked Joe, bleary-eyed over his instant coffee.

Yes, exactly. JoAnne had done a lot of painful thinking. The pain of this thinking was Joe’s fault, of course. Joe did not feel like having another argument with JoAnne. He felt that he might preserve a modicum of dignity by packing his things and moving out without the slightest fuss. “And another thing…” JoAnne baited him several times as he was moving his belongings, but each time he held his peace and let her have the last word.

So Joe moved to his aunt’s until he could get another place for himself. He was sad and lonely, but break-ups are usually non-fatal events, whose effects wear off in time.

Now, I know you will not let me end the story here. You want to know what happened to Joe and JoAnne afterwards.

Joe threw himself into his work as a way of restoring his morale. He was given a difficult and urgent assignment and performed so brilliantly that he was rewarded with a promotion and a big raise. He began dating a lady in another department whom he had known in high school. She was sweet and kind — just the sort of lady Joe had always needed. They got married a few months later. Today they have two little girls and live in a beautiful house in a good neighborhood and are completely happy.

JoAnne was consumed with contempt for Joe long after his departure — partly because he had not given her the satisfaction of a heated argument. She started hanging out at a reggae club and let herself get picked up by an unsavory Jamaican named Nat. He took her home and had rough sex with her. “This is the way we do it in my country,” he explained. “If you don’t like it, you can find somebody else.” She was fascinated with him and stayed. The physical abuse escalated. She accepted Nat’s view that if it didn’t feel like rape, it was no good for him. She definitely wanted to be good for him, so she submitted to every degradation. Even so, he cheated on her, leaving her hurt and confused. When she confided in her feminist friends, they were somewhat concerned about the physical abuse and encouraged her to be mindful of “cultural factors in male sexuality,” as well as the “historical victimization of people of color.”

Nat asked JoAnne to co-sign for a $15,000 loan so he could go into business. He wanted to open a record store. She signed gladly. This was followed by numerous personal loans to help Nat get by until the business grew. The money came from cash advances on her credit cards, and she was soon maxed out. Then, without any warning, Nat skipped town, leaving JoAnne on the hook for the $15,000 loan.

Today JoAnne is fat and lives alone. She thinks all men are rotten. She tried having sex with women but found that she could not get along with any of them for very long. I wouldn’t call her a stereotypical feminist, however, because although she buys lots of books on feminism, she never manages to finish any of them. Every year in April, when the new phone directory comes out, she looks up Joe’s name to see where he’s living. She does this out of morbid curiosity, hoping to see him listed on a bad street in a poor neighborhood. She can’t bear the thought that he might be happily married with a family. She wants him to be miserable. She wants him to be the victim of every conceivable misfortune. She wants him to call her out of the blue, to beg to be taken back, to crawl to her on his hands and knees, and admit he was wrong.





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