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James R. Stout

The Red Eyes Have It

            There may be no dumber animal than a young and newly married husband. I should know. I once was one before I transcended that existence and eventually became what I am today - An old unmarried, but infinitely smarter man. But let’s you and I go back a few years. 41 years or so it this case. One day I got a call at work from my 18-year-old bride of about 6 months. Before you condemn me for robbing the cradle please keep in my I was only 21 years-old myself and, as I have been told by countless women for decades, men trail women in the maturing process. There may well be something to that. My bride said she had a quick question to ask me. I was then and would be for some years to come still in the phase of wanting to please my wife no matter what. She explained that a friend of hers had been given a “personal security device” by her husband and thought perhaps she should have one too. Well, given I was inflicted with the “Knight in Shining Armor” syndrome and would quite literally do anything to protect my young bride, and since I could not possibly be around all day every day, I simply asked “How much is it?” Wrong question.

            “Aren’t I worth whatever it costs?” she asked.

            “Of course, you are sweetie.” I replied. “I was just curious. Whatever it costs, go ahead and buy it.”

            Which she did. I didn’t even get around to asking what this device was. I was just glad to have escaped what could have been one of those dreaded things that all young married men fear. A newlywed spat. It was a time in life when I wanted to keep my wife happy at all costs. It would be a few years before I learned that there is no way to keep your wife happy all the time.

            So, that evening I pulled into the parking lot of our apartment complex in our 10-year-old Chevy expecting a happy wife to greet me at the door with a kiss, a hug, and possibly more. I walked to our apartment or perhaps I was floating on air and upon entering the apartment I realized there was a problem. There my wife sat at the dining table staring at something in her hands with a worried look on her face. There was no jumping up and embracing her shining knight. Instead, there was a concerned expression on her face and a light brush of her lips on mine on her way to voicing a perplexing frame of mind. That’s when I made my next mistake.

            “What is it, babe?” I asked.

            Never ask your young wife what the problem is. She’s going to tell you anyway so asking only exacerbates the problem.

            She looked at me and replied, “It’s this thing I bought. I think I may have gotten ripped off.”

            “Let me see.” I said. I then looked at the small can and read the words, “Pepper Spray”. Which at that point in my life meant nothing. Now, had it said, “mace”, then I would have understood that word. It slowly dawned on me that the “personal security device” that cost $12.50 (in a time when that was the cost of a pizza, two cokes, and money left over for gas in the 10-year-old Chevy) was in reality some kind of spray to ward off would be attackers. I kept my cool. Maybe it worked like the manufacturer claimed and it would indeed protect my young bride if so needed.

            My Bride says, “How do we know if it really works.” This was the point where bells and whistles and loud alarms should have gone off warning me of possible dire consequences if this line of thinking proceeded. But there were no bells or whistles or alarms. Just a pleading look from those big blue eyes and a snuggle upon my chest. As Bugs Bunny used to say, “What a maroon.”

            What came next is what I called “The Controlled Experiment”. Except there was nothing controlled about it. I suddenly found myself saying words that I immediately regretted saying. “Hey, I’ll try it on myself and then we’ll know.” Brain damage is my plea. If not before, then after. But I wasn’t prepared to do the test quite that moment. I simply said, “After dinner, I’ll give it try.” She seemed pleased with that answer and then announced we were having stew meat with navy beans and cornbread. 20 years later this “stew meat and navy bean” concoction, prepared in a crockpot all day, would be dubbed “The Gray Stuff” by our kids. Not exactly the tastiest of “last meals”, but I bragged on it anyway.

            Dinner was done. The kitchen cleaned. The time had come. Wifey would not be content with me telling her how things went. Nope, she wanted to watch. This should have been a clue about the years to come, but like I said at the beginning I was still in my “dumb animal” phase. I read the instructions again carefully. I completely ignored the part that said, “Do not try on yourself.” Besides, I had my invisible suit of armor on and how bad could it be? I tried a minor little test first though. I sprayed a miniscule amount onto my finger and sniffed. A little pungent, but nothing bad at all. But then it occurred to me that I couldn’t win this one. If the device didn’t perform as advertised, then an evening of consoling would be due. If it did perform as advertised, then there would still be an evening of consoling except the consoled party would be different.

            I moved to the kitchen and I turned on the water in the sink. I held the device out about two feet from my face and I took one last look at my beautiful bride in the event I was permanently blinded after the testing. I wanted to remember her face. A face that was smiling back at me. Was a smile really the appropriate response? I turned the spray nozzle toward my face and pressed down hard. For a split second I thought it failed. Then I thought for another split second “that’s not too bad”. Then I started to cough, spit, sputter, gasp for breath, wheeze, cry, weep, moan, splash water in my eyes, and generally wash my face and hands while in the throes of abject horror and panic. Yes, it really was that bad. I was vaguely aware of being slapped on the back and I wondered if this was being filmed for Candid Camera. A soft face towel was thrust into my hands and I wiped away the water from my face. I was indeed blind if only for about 1 minute. Slowly my vision returned but it was blurry. I was guided into the bathroom by the tender loving hands of my sweet bride (who was laughing hysterically) and I looked into the mirror. A diseased raccoon stared back at me. Instead of black around its eyes, the eyes were rimmed in scarlet. Tears continued to seep from my eyes and then I realized there was only one thing to do. Laugh. Which I did. I laughed hard and loud. I was apparently a bonified maroon. But it was funny. Very funny. My laughter brought more laughter to my bride and as the pain subsided, we laughed about it together.

            In the end, it was well worth it all. Nothing elicits more tenderness and love from a young wife than when she nurses her brave knight after he is wounded in battle. A final note to young would-be knights and other dumb animals, treasure the moments when she loves you on even your dumbest days. They may never pass your way again.

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