I’m Not Jealous, I’m Territorial

I trust my husband; I just don’t trust the rest of the world

Helen Ellis
Dec 6, 2019 · 10 min read
Illustration by Carmen Johns

I heard a story about a woman who knew her husband had left her when she came home from work and their Alexa was missing.

The woman put something in the oven and said, “Alexa! Set the timer.”

Alexa did not respond.

“Alexa?”

The woman searched her house. Her husband had packed his bags, moved out, and taken Alexa.

This will never happen to me because I am the kind of woman who will never have an Alexa, because I will never let another woman’s name be said more than my own, in my home. Or anywhere else.

When my husband and I stayed at The Wynn Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, every room came with Alexa. Two robes, electric blackout drapes, HBO, and Alexa.

Alexa was beige and sat on the beige desk and blended into the beige wallpaper. She looked like one of those toads that blends into a desert. You don’t see it until it blinks. And then it is all you see. Breathing and blinking and listening and looking at you. Blink.

We overheard our hotel neighbor get his wife in the mood. “Alexa! Play Stevie Wonder!”

Alexa said, “Playing Stevie Wonder on SiriusXM.”

And then: “Alexa! Play ‘My Cherie Amour’!”

Alexa said, “Playing ‘My Cheri Amour.’”

And then, through muffled cries of passion: “Alexa! Play ‘Very Superstitious’!”

Alexa said, “I’m having trouble understanding you. Would you repeat that?”

“Play ‘Very Superstitious’!”

“Do you mean, ‘Superstition’?”

“Yes!”

“Ok. Playing ‘Superstition’.”

Yes, during a game of Tune in Tokyo with his wife, our neighbor had a full-on conversation with another woman. Robot lady or not, that is an open marriage. And my marriage is as shuttered up as a beach house in a hurricane.

I called housekeeping to have Alexa removed from our room.

No, I did not think my husband would fall in love with Alexa the same way some Japanese men marry their Nintendo virtual girlfriends. But you can never be too sure. These things happen. And Alexa knows all of your man’s things.

Alexa is never impatient or sullen or moody or mad. She never gets her period, so she never gets PMS. Menopause and gravity are as hysterical as Chip and Dale. Alexa speaks only when spoken to. She sits at the ready, ready to serve.

You’d call me crazy if I let another woman sit in the corner of my bedroom, all day, every day; never sleeping, or in want of food, water, chitchat, or a toilet; able to summon my husband’s every whim from Amazon like a modern day Barbara Eden in a bottle.

“Alexa! Order a cooling eye mask and a box of Nicorette.”

“Yes, Master.” Blink.

Nuh-uh, no way. I Dream of Jeanie genie, Jeff Bezos robot lady, or Playboy centerfold — they are all the same to me. I ain’t letting none of them in my house. Because it’s my house and my husband is mine. I’m not jealous, I’m territorial.

It’s not that I don’t trust my husband. I trust him.

But, it’s like Mama used to say when I started to drive, “I trust you, Helen Michelle, I just don’t trust the rest of the world.” Mama taught me: “Before you get in a car, check the backseat for a crouched murderer; and then check under the car because that’s where murderers like to hide and slice your ankles.”

Mama taught me: “Before you get in a car, check the backseat for a crouched murderer; and then check under the car because that’s where murderers like to hide and slice your ankles.”

I’m such a defensive driver, I haven’t driven since I was 19. So when it comes to my marriage, I’m a defensive wife.

I’m not going to let my husband and thereby my marriage be preyed upon. We’re all human and susceptible to temptation. Honestly, if fold-out Farrah Fawcett came to life in that red one-piece, she’d have my hall pass. Hall passes are imaginary Get Out of Jail Free cards that married people give each other to fantasize about cheating with celebrities or dead people, before they got old or died. But, a fantasy is cheating. That’s why you keep it to yourself. My husband and I do not have hall passes.

If my husband cheats on me in my dreams, I wake up furious. Or I used to. A few years back, I made it a New Year’s resolution to stop chastising him as soon as he opened his chocolaty brown eyes because, as he has said: he didn’t DO anything.

If my husband cheats on me in my dreams, I wake up furious.

My husband never does anything. So, I trust him. I just don’t trust the rest of the world.

When I went on book tour for three weeks, my husband lost seven pounds and I treated his healthy choices as a personal affront. In my absence, he’d ordered twenty-one lunches and twenty-one suppers from Chop’t Creative Salad Company. So, forty-two salads.

To me, a salad bar is as foreboding as a sex dungeon: chilly, and laid out with objects that I would never dare handle. I mean, Beets? Jicama? How do you even even begin to peel and cook those things? I imagined a Chop’t lady salad-chopper, clad in a latex apron and stud collar, side-stepping along a smorgasbord of kink, asking in the desensitized tone of a 9–1–1 operator: “And what else?”

“Ball gag.”

“And what else?”

“Anal beads.”

“And what else?”

“Avocado”

“Avocado is $1.99 extra.”

“Ok.”

“And what else?” Blink.

I feed my husband pasta, potatoes, gluten, and carbs. I feed him these things because they make his eyes roll back in his head and he makes a little noise. I like to make him make that little noise, and Lipitor be damned, I will continue to make the food that makes him make that little noise until our hearts burst and we die.

And I make spaghetti. My husband has loved and eaten my spaghetti for twenty-some years. He loves my spaghetti and I am quite sure it is one of the many reasons why he married me. My spaghetti started out as a jar of Ragu and a pound of ground round; but with age and experimentation, developed into hand-rolled lamb and pork meatballs simmered in a homemade marinara, topped with sautéed mushrooms. Same dish, new tricks. But it’s still my spaghetti. Or as I like to call it: The Usual, Enhanced.

When my husband eats forty-two salads while I’m out of town, I get nervous because someone gave my husband something I could have, but didn’t.

I asked him: “Do you want me to make salads?”

My husband said, “Maybe sometimes.”

I asked: “Do you want me to buy a cat-o’-nine-tails and walk you around the living room on a leash?”

“What? No. Why would you ask me that?”

“Just checking.”

After all, we’ve spent half our lifetimes doing The Usual, Enhanced in bed. And for ages, I’ve worn pajamas with my married initials monogrammed on the pocket. Nothing says, Let’s get it on like embroidery. But you never know. So, every few years, it’s polite to ask.

Because I respect my marriage.

To people who are not respectful of my marriage, I am not polite.

There are marital lines you should not cross. And as a defensive wife, it’s my place to point them out to you. Usually it takes one comment from me for you to learn where the lines are. Once you identify them, we’ll get along fine; and you can maneuver around those lines like Tom Cruise did in that roomful of lasers in Mission Impossible.

A man at our home poker game had the habit of getting up from his seat to rub other men’s shoulders. I was the only woman at the table, and he knew better than to lay hands on me, but when he put his meat hooks onto the bare skin of my husband’s neck, I said, “Get your hands off my husband!”

“What?” he laughed.

All the men laughed.

I said, “Would you massage another man’s wife?”

Message received.

Other helpful hints include: Don’t call, text, or email my husband to make social plans, contact me. Don’t give my husband a gift, because I will construe whatever it is as too personal. Don’t talk about my husband’s butt, only I get to talk about his butt. Don’t post a picture of my husband with his shirt off on your Facebook page. No, it doesn’t matter that he was sitting on softball bleachers with six other men who had their shirts off on the hottest day in history. He is half-naked, and that glistening sun-kissed chest is mine, not yours to share.

And I ain’t sharing.

Those who don’t take my warnings seriously, fall off our Christmas card list. Sometimes, I let them live on in infamy with little nicknames like Baby Fish Mouth and The Drip. I can’t tell you what those nicknames stem from, or what those women did to offend me; because if they recognize themselves in print, won’t my face be red? So, let’s just say, they did something inappropriate in front of my husband. Like commando cartwheels. And then, after I expressly told them not to, cartwheeled again.

Not everyone who bothers me is such a femme fatale. A femme fatale used to be a 1940’s black-and-white movie actress, who smoked Pall Malls with a cigarette holder and could seduce a walnut; nowadays it’s any woman who’s younger and has a waist cinched like a Go-Gurt. But I’m an equal-opportunity hand-slapper. And no one deserves to get her hand slapped more than a person who tries to bust the chops of my marriage.

At a party, in front of me and a bunch of guests, a woman grabbed my husband’s left hand, and asked him where his wedding ring was. In truth, there have been three such women at three such parties. And the only reason any of these women would call attention to a missing wedding ring is to imply that my husband is in the market to cheat. My husband is Greek and thereby wears his ring on his right hand. He held up his right hand and showed this woman his ring.

The woman said, “Oh.”

And then I asked that woman in front of my husband and that very same bunch of guests: “Do you have many women friends?”

The woman said, “No.”

I said, “That kind of comment is why.”

When I told my friend Hannah about this, she said, “I don’t remember what you did years ago, but I figured out real-quick that I wasn’t supposed to say nice things about his suits.”

I said, “I probably dumped a bowl of spaghetti over your head.”

Hannah said, “No it wasn’t that.”

“Did I tell you flat out: don’t talk about my husband’s suits.”

Hannah said, “I think you gave me a look.”

Yeah, I can give a rough look. There’s nothing scarier than a happy peppy woman going dark in an instant. It’s like a Raggedy Ann doll foaming at the mouth. You see that once, you don’t ever want to see it again.

And Hannah hasn’t. A benefit of never again crossing one of my marital lines is that I am as fiercely appreciative of, loyal to, and protective of our friendship.

My friend Ann says, “Your ferocity is how you show love.”

I love my husband so much, I tell him: “If you cheat on me, I am going to jail. Because I will murder you. I have no fear of prison. I can be somebody’s bitch in two seconds.”

My husband has never cheated on me. I trust him because he knows my rules apply to him too.

He may compliment another woman’s intelligence, sense of humor, career, and accomplishments; but he may not compliment her appearance. He may hug a female friend hello (upon her initiation), but he may not otherwise touch her unless he’s administering the Heimlich maneuver, which out of respect for me, he has never bothered to learn. He doesn’t need to know the Heimlich maneuver, because I know the Heimlich maneuver, and the latest CPR method, and how to use an airport defibrillator. My husband knows how to dial 9–1–1.

A dispatcher asks, “9–1–1, what’s your emergency?”

“I’d like a serving platter for our twentieth wedding anniversary.”

“And what else?”

“Roses.”

“And what else?”

“Chocolates.”

“Soft center or nuts?”

“My wife isn’t nuts.”

Blink.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most…

Helen Ellis

Written by

Helen Ellis is the author of the funny essay collection, Southern Lady Code. You can find her on twitter @WhatIDoAllDay and Instagram @AmericanHousewife.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

Helen Ellis

Written by

Helen Ellis is the author of the funny essay collection, Southern Lady Code. You can find her on twitter @WhatIDoAllDay and Instagram @AmericanHousewife.

Gay Mag

A new magazine from Roxane Gay offering some of the most interesting and thoughtful cultural criticism to be found on the Web. Our first quarterly is coming in June 2019. We value deep explorations, timelessness, and challenging conventional thinking without being cheap and lazy.

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