It was the kind of incident that, had they been famous, the paparazzi would have loved to capture on film and sell to the tabloids: a sudden flare-up of violence behind the closed doors of a home where love and peace are the norm. The fact that it may have been born of frustration repressed for years does not excuse the assault.
Those of us in the family have been aware for a long time that she has a tendency to mind his business. We've seen her manipulate him to get what she wants. We've watched her lord it over him occasionally, and even, once in a while, make no attempt whatsoever to hide her embarrassment at his overly friendly interactions with others. We've talked about these things behind their backs, and we pretty much all agree that she doesn't behave this way out of malice. It's just that she has a strong personality, and she's always absolutely certain that she knows better than he does what's right and what's wrong.
Maybe he got tired of it. The thing is, though, he's never given us the slightest indication that her dictatorial nature might get on his nerves. He's an easy-going guy. He's always seemed to tolerate her affectionately, leaving those of us who know them well to admire his "don't-sweat-the-small-stuff" attitude.
There was no sign of tension between them at bedtime, when they passed by one another with scant notice as we all performed our nighttime rituals. Nor did anything seem out of the ordinary when I accidentally woke them at four-thirty in the morning. I got out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom, hoping not to disturb them, but by the time I was finished, they were wide awake. They answered nature's call, too, then poked around looking for something to eat. I was ready to go back to bed, but instead I gave them cookies.
She got comfortable and nibbled her cookies leisurely. He ate his quickly, standing up all the while, then moved amiably toward her to see if she had anything left that he might eat. I didn't specifically see or hear her reaction, but I'm guessing she expressed her unwillingness to share in a way that pushed him over the edge. All I know is that something I didn't see or hear sent him into a rage.
Instantly, he was standing over her, menacing her, threatening her in his loudest, angriest voice. I can't quote him directly, but the essence of what he screamed at her was, "I am SICK and TIRED of all your CRAP, and you'd better WATCH OUT, B----!"
It was surreal. I screamed at him, "Stop it! STOP it!" and he did stop it, just as quickly as it had started. He walked away to the other side of the room, but I could tell the fight was still in him. He stood tall, shoulders back and head held high. He didn't say it in words, but his body language said quite clearly that he wasn't sorry at all. "She had it coming," his posture seemed to say. "Enough is enough."
As soon as he backed off, I turned my attention to her. She had no physical injuries, but her feelings were hurt, and she was obviously shaken. She sat erect, her body trembling, for several long minutes. As I spoke to her in what I hoped was a soothing voice, her wide, fearful eyes locked onto my own. She looked at me pleadingly, as if to ask silently whether I'd witnessed what had just happened and whether I would have believed it in a million years if I hadn't seen it for myself. I felt really sorry for her. She seemed so shocked, so confused.
I talked to both of them -- to each of them -- trying, I guess, to reassure all three of us that the anger had dissipated enough that we'd be safe to go back to bed. Finally, he headed off to sleep where he always does, and she climbed into my bed, seeking refuge. It took a while for my heart to stop pounding, but once it did, I drifted off to sleep. I imagine they had a hard time getting to sleep, too.
The next morning, before I left for work, there didn't seem to be any major tension or hostility between them, though she did snap at him once. Fortunately, he had the good sense and self-control to leave her alone. I worried about them the whole time I was away, but when I got home from work, they acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.
Maybe they've mastered the art of living in the moment, but I can assure you that I haven't forgotten the incident. I find myself watching them more closely now, looking for undercurrents of emotion that might erupt in another explosion of violence. I never want to see that again.
I hope they can put the hard feelings behind them. After all the years they've been together, it would be devastating if their relationship broke down at this late stage of their lives. Kadi is 11 now, and Butch is 10. They've always had each other to count on, ever since they were puppies. This was the first time I've ever seen them fight.