Whoever said, “If you have lemons, make lemonade,” never met my wife. When you make lemonade, you can drink it, sell it, give it to friends who don’t really want it but take it just to be nice, or leave it in the fridge to become a chemical weapon. In any of those scenarios, by next week your lemons will rest in the mists of history.
My wife believes everything has an appropriate shelf-life. She watches expiration dates. If canned soup hits the “best if used by” mark, she tosses it. Aspirin that expires in November is in the trash by Thanksgiving. Consequently, she goes for things that will last a long time. When we buy regular milk it becomes clabber by the next morning. Organic milk stays good for weeks. Guess which one she buys.
My in-laws possess a lemon tree, and this year it bore enough fruit to fulfill any fertility commandment from the Old Testament. We ended up with lots of lemons. My wife didn’t squander them on something as ephemeral as lemonade. She went for shelf-life. We squeezed lemons, poured the juice into an ice cube tray, and made frozen juice cubes. We had one tray. It took about a week. But now we have zip-lock bags packed with lemon goodness that will fulfill our lemon juicing needs for years. Probably until I retire.
Knowing this makes me feel good. My wife has chosen me to fulfill her marriage requirements, despite the fact that we’re different in almost every way partners can be different and neither of them be a chimp. (If it comes to that, I will be nominated for chimp on the basis of my poor impulse control.) This is not a random happenstance. My wife thinks about these things.
Therefore, it’s my job to think of things she wouldn’t think of by herself. That’s a long shelf-life contribution, and it’s how I pull my relationship weight. For example, she’s been sick for a couple of weeks. She’s been coughing like a French Quarter junkie, and she had to work Saturday. Then one of her crowns popped off before she went to work.
In this situation, at the end of the day her thought process would go something like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = soup, aspirin and early bedtime
My thought process goes more like this: Illness + fatigue + pain + emergency weekend dental work = homemade brownies, scotch whiskey and dumb TV
Speaking as one of the slothful, unemployed wretches draining our nation of its vitality and self-respect, I enjoyed the movie Frozen. My wife and I saw the early showing, because the early tickets cost less, and what else do I have to do in the daytime, really? I’ve applied for enough jobs to form a new NBA comprised of tubby, nearsighted white guys. But thus far no one has needed my particular set of skills, which do not include stabbing terrorists in the eye with a screwdriver.
Lately I’ve been networking like Truman Capote at one of Andy Warhol’s parties, without the LSD, and it’s brought promising results in the way of people calling me about jobs. My wife listens with great patience when I describe the virtues of networking. I know she really cares because she loves me and she hates choking down store-brand peanut butter.
My sweetie has embraced the idea of networking and has begun networking on my behalf, something I appreciate quite a lot. The other day she mentioned my employment deprivation to a friend, and he asked what kind of jobs I’d had.
Rather than use my actual titles in the rest of this post, I shall henceforth use alternate titles evocative of my level of responsibility. In answer to our friend’s question, my wife said I was some kind of Sea Otter Wrangler.
As my wife and I walked across the theater parking lot, digging dollar bills and quarters out of our pockets, I felt perplexed. I told her that I had once been a Sea Otter Wrangler, but that was years ago. After that I became the Manager of Sea Otter Logistics, and I was subsequently promoted to Director of Whale and Dolphin Operations. Most recently I was Chief of Aquatic Creatures That Suckle Their Young. I paused to let that sink in.
My wife responded, “I know it seems like I don’t care about your titles and what your jobs are, but that’s just because I don’t.”
Now some fellows might have been surprised by that, and some might have gotten their feelings hurt. I laughed and clapped my hands so hard that I almost scattered quarters across the sidewalk.
She added, “It doesn’t affect my life.”
I told her that’s what I should have expected, and that’s one of the things I like about her. Her opinion of me has nothing at all to do with my job. In today’s world, that is a gift beyond price. It’s made this job search easier by an order of magnitude.
A lot of things aren’t too important to my wife. When we got engaged, she didn’t want a diamond ring. You can see that I won the fiancé lottery. She doesn’t care whether I remember her birthday, or if I watch TV shows about vampires with her. I bet she’s not even antsy about being unable to buy a shirt at Target.
She cares how we treat each other as people. How we talk to each other, do things for each other, touch each other. That’s what counts. It took me a while to grasp that, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to other people. It makes sense to us, so there it is.
All right, I’m lying just a little. She does care about whether I scoop the cat litter before she gets home. That’s true love, right there.
My wife and I subscribe to the “Oncoming Train” theory of relationship management. It’s based on the idea that every so often a gargantuan freight train of a problem will come along and try to obliterate your marriage. I mean a problem like losing your job, or a death in the family, or bouncing around the house for a year rearranging all the furniture by weight because you think the foundation’s moving.
We’re too puny to stop an oncoming train. We’re too sedentary to outrun it, and we’re too clumsy to dodge it. Our only hope is to keep our heads down and trust that the track won’t come apart.
Within our theoretical framework, my wife and I are each a separate rail on the track. I like to think I’m the right-hand rail, because that’s the side I sleep on and that’s where I sit in the car when my wife’s driving and I’m praying to Jesus. I’m not even religious, so that says something. Our theory states that rails must stay some distance from each other in order to be structurally sound. Really, if two rails are leaning all over each other, then you have mushy rails. What kind of weenie rails are those? A train will squash the snot out of them.
As an example of this, my wife invited me to see an exhibit of steampunk-inspired art. Since that sounded like as much fun as doing something nasty with a dirigible, I declined. But never in the grimiest depths of our psyches did we think that meant she shouldn’t go without me. She’ll go see the brass gears and crap while I stay home and sharpen knives. We’re both happy in our own little worlds.
(This also lets us believe different things without going to war with each other. Recently we’ve argued about issues like teaching intelligent design, and why we don’t just assassinate people we don’t like. We’re both still ambulatory and sleeping in the same bed.)
You may see the flaw here. Independent of one another, rails can sort of drift apart, and they won’t stand up to a Monster Train Assault when one is heading east and the other is heading to Vegas. So our theory contains railroad ties that keep the rails linked.
As an example, here’s how we behave when the other is sick. When my wife feels bad I bring her tea and snacks and the TV remote. I put her in the recliner, cover her with a blanket, and throw two or three cats on top. She seems to like this. When I feel bad, the first thing she does is ask whether I’ve taken aspirin/benadryl/pepto bismol. This is great, because I can say no and she can feel helpful, then I can go off and wait undisturbed for nature to either heal me or kill me. We each provide the nurturing that the other needs. It’s something we share.
Over the years my wife has created, refined, and frequently explained the “Oncoming Train” theory. I came up with the name, which by the standards of our society means I am the theory’s inventor. She says we’re two parallel, independent rails, but all along the way we’re tied by certain things we share. Whenever Hell’s Own Locomotive arrives, we plan to hang on and ride it out.
I believe that a kick in the shin is better than sex. I can argue this with unassailable logic. If we weren’t all impelled towards the sex act by our hormones and heritage, I wouldn’t need to argue. Everyone would see that I’m right, receive a hearty shin kicking, and agree with me.
Sex feels good for a little while. I won’t deny that. And a shin-kicking feels bad for a little while. But things that feel good aren’t necessarily better. If they were, then heroin would be better than sit-ups. So, I propose that the “sex feels good” argument isn’t by itself conclusive.
No one has ever contracted a disease, accidentally gotten pregnant, or been shot by an angry spouse because they were kicked in the shin. Good sex can be messy, while you don’t typically have to clean up after a good shin-kicking. A person can kick you in the shin almost instantly, but sex requires some time, otherwise someone is going to be unhappy. Sex becomes awkward when your children rush into the bedroom to whine because there aren’t any Pop-Tarts. But children already know what a shin-kicking is, and they probably were doing it themselves a few minutes earlier. In fact, the entire family can comfortably share in this activity.
When you kick someone in the shin you may hurt their feelings. Sex also presents challenges where feelings are concerned. Sex can make you happy. Sex can bring you closer together. But sex can also make you unhappy when someone treats you like dirt just because they want sex. That kind of unhappiness can last a long time, while unhappiness from a kick in the shin passes pretty quickly. Sex also can make people feel angry, guilty, and anxious. A shin-kick will never make you feel good, but it probably won’t make you feel too bad, and you always know what you’re getting.
When you don’t have sex you’ll probably feel frustrated. Unfortunately you’re just wired that way. It can cause all kinds of bad behavior like ignoring your partner’s requests to clean the garage, or making a pass at your co-worker. You may also experience frustration when you don’t kick someone in the shin, like your boss, or your mechanic, or the guy in line at the grocery store. But generally you can go a month without kicking someone in the shin and not be too frustrated.
I believe I’ve made my point. On almost every count, a kick in the shin outshines sex like the sun outshines a somewhat smaller sun. If we could eliminate the sex drive, I expect that every person on earth would limp like a three-legged rhino from all the shin-kicking going on. Finally, I admit that sex prevails for procreation. No number of kicks in the shin will produce a baby in nine months. So if you’re after a baby, go have sex already. Save your kicks in the shin so the mother can use them on the father in the delivery room.
My wife and I disagree on the fundamental nature of our bed. I think of it as a comfortable place to sleep, or have sex, or maybe read a book when more than two cats have evicted me from the couch. She thinks of it as a glorious retreat for nourishing the spirit in a harsh and callous world. If we each described our bed as a kitchen appliance, she would say it’s a variable-speed immersion blender trimmed in ermine, while I’d say it’s a spatula. I don’t mean a colorful, heat-resistant plastic spatula. I mean a steel spatula with a black handle that your granny might use to cook potato pancakes that taste like paste.
Our house has a big linen closet. If I lived alone, that closet would contain one set of white sheets and 72 cubic feet of unused computer components dating back to 1996. The other set of white sheets would be on the bed, along with a mattress pad and a green woolen blanket that some Marine slept under during the Korean War.
Instead, I live with my wife, which is a good thing for me. But it means that my linen closet contains 27 fitted sheets and 36 flat sheets in colors ranging from periwinkle to russet. They come in solid, striped, and flower patterns, plus flannel sheets with jumping sheep on them. Not one of those sheets is white. We also have over 40 pillow cases, some of which aren’t the same color as any of the sheets, so we can have contrast. The linen closet population is rounded out by three mattress pads, nine blankets, four spare pillows, and a duvet that makes a wonderful nest for cats.
This staggering mass of linen is arranged so that you can locate any item within five seconds. That’s because the linen closet was organized by my wife.
When we change the sheets, after the mattress-flipping ritual, my wife generally spends a minute or two picking out the two different colored sheets (top and bottom) that will form the foundation of our bed environment for the next week or two. A bright, cheery color combination will make her happy to be in bed, so I’m glad she takes her time. Sometimes she asks me to pick out sheets, which can be a problem. By reflex I look in the linen closet for white sheets. When I don’t find them, I peer into the closet as if considering which video card to buy for my computer, while I wonder whether brown and purple go together. I’ve never admitted it to her, but I often just pick the colors of a professional football team. The Cleveland Browns’ team colors—brown and orange—might not be the most popular combination at my house, but they work.
My wife likes to sleep, and maybe that’s what this boils down to. She wants to adorn the bed so she’ll be happy spending time there. Eight hours of sleep makes her optimistic and productive. Seven hours of sleep makes her stoic and determined. Six hours of sleep makes her grumpy, and five hours of sleep makes her act like me. I hate sleep. I resent having to give up so much of my life to sleep, and if I could get away with 30 seconds of sleep a night I would. Sleeping is like being sent to the corner of your mom’s kitchen and then waiting to be released back to your life. When you’re sitting in the kitchen corner, between the refrigerator and a dusty sack of potatoes, you don’t care if the place is dressed up like Disneyland.
In the end, I understand why our bed is decorated like a sultan’s bathrobe. I don’t grasp it on an emotional level, but I understand that it makes my wife happy. That’s worth a lot, especially when I’m searching for a place to stash two dozen worthless motherboards and audio cards, and the pantry is looking pretty good.
Most of the common wisdom about love is garbage. I know that’s a bold statement, especially since I admit that I don’t really know how love works. Well, I may not know how it works, but I can identify dumb statements about love. That’s just the same as me not knowing how an electron microscope works, but still being able to tell that someone is stupid when they say it’s powered by cotton candy and middle class guilt.
I present a few famous nuggets of “love wisdom.”
Love means never having to say you’re sorry. Unless love turns you into a saint who doesn’t care whether your spouse rolls over onto your hair in bed, this is just flat wrong.
All you need is love. Try getting five gallons of premium out of a gas pump by reading your impassioned love poetry to it.
It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. What if your first love was a strung-out street hustler who burned down your house before smuggling dope in your suitcase, stealing your credit cards, and leaving you stranded in Las Cruces, New Mexico? Wouldn’t it have been better never to have loved that son of a bitch at all?
Love is when you see a person’s flaws as perfection. I don’t care how much you love someone, you will never see toenail-picking and eating the last chocolate chip cookie as anything other than flaws.
If he loved me, he’d know what I want. Stop. Just stop already. Do I even have to explain why this is the stupidest thing anyone in love has ever said?
However, I admit that one piece of love folklore may be true. “Opposites attract” could be a true statement. In fact, if opposites do attract, my wife and I should be fused at the molecular level.
My wife and I aren’t opposite in any important ways, other than the entirety of how we interact with the universe. For example, my wife is more organized than me. I could write that sentence another thousand times and still not adequately emphasize how true it is. She’s the most organized person I know. Actually, she’s the most organized person I’ve ever heard of. She molds her world into an orderly existence. On the other hand, my existence resembles the inside of a clown car.
To illustrate how my wife approaches organization, we know that occasionally flipping a mattress is good for it. I know that. I owned a mattress for years before I met my wife, and I’m pretty certain I flipped it at least once. In my wife’s world, you flip the mattress when you change the sheets. You might skip it once if you have malaria or something, but otherwise it’s non-negotiable. Yet for my lovely wife, flipping a mattress is not enough. It has to be flipped end to end one time and side to side the next. And that’s still not enough. To insure that the mattress is flipped the right way each time, she ties ribbons to the mattress handles upon each flipping as a guide for which way the mattress must be flipped next time. No molecule of my being would have ever conceived that such a system was needful, nor even possible.
I’m not complaining. Our mattress is now ancient, yet it sags just moderately. Were it left to me, sleeping on our mattress would now be like sleeping in two foxholes. My wife has served us magnificently, but it shows how emphatically opposite we are.
In my wife’s world, secrets do not exist unless they are stamped “SECRET” in red block letters, and possibly given a code word like “Flapping Mudslide.” It’s okay if everybody knows everything, and all knowledge is shared indiscriminately. Things are far easier that way. I agree that secrets complicate matters, but sometimes I don’t want every single person we meet to know every fact, opinion, theory, and squiggly little detail about our lives. All right, I admit that I want hardly anyone in the world to know any of that stuff. It’s all right with me if three of our friends and a couple of family members know a few things, but even that makes me light-headed. Again, opposites attract.
Similarly, I tend to consider what I say to people before I say it. I don’t ponder my words, but I do pause to consider whether I’m about to say the most insulting thing ever spoken since Agamemnon called Achilles a “pancreas with pubic hair.” My wife dismisses such ridiculous delays in the flow of ideas, and her statements sometimes come across as blunt, rather like the Matterhorn falling on your foot. While this disconcerts some people, her friends value this quality. They’ve been known to ask each other something like “How do I look in this dress?” then be told, “You look great,” and then ask, “No, what would you say if you were Kathy?” That’s a level of frankness that few can claim. I know I can’t. Once again, opposites.
Over the years we’ve found that our opposite qualities often complement one another and sometimes drive us insane. I think the most fundamental way in which we’re opposite is our general approach to life. My wife strives to live a modest and wise life. She chooses things that will make her happy, and she works towards them by slow and relentless steps. I choose things that I think I’ll want, and that often have nothing to do with making me happy, and then I blast my way towards them. My wife embraces modest ambition and always succeeds. I expect I can accomplish anything. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I crash directly onto my face, leaving a trail of skin and teeth behind me in the gravel. I have never seen my wife fail when she committed herself to achieving something. She is incapable of quitting. I am eminently capable of quitting.
I’m not sure why opposites attract, and I’m not sure why that bit of love lore applies to us. But I’m glad it does. If it didn’t apply to us, then we’d both be developing intricate mattress-flipping schemes, rather than one of us standing by with his mouth open in astounded appreciation.
Some people have told me my blog isn’t very personal, but I’m not sure that’s true. A lot of the stuff I’ve posted is about what I think and do and experience. But I admit it’s not too immediate. I don’t tend to write about the fact that there’s a cat lying on 15% of my keyboard right now, misspelling words and opening unneeded menus with her ass. She’s keeping my wrists warm though, which is good because I got up stupid-ass early and it feels cold (yes, even here in Texas).
I don’t know if I’m comfortable with blog-immediacy, because that creates intimacy between me and whoever in the whole damn world runs across this blog and wants to read it. My wife likes to say that she’s an open book–what you see is what you get with her. She also says that if she’s an open book then I’m a closed book with straps that lock, and tiny print inside along with maybe some indecipherable drawings, and arcane symbols on the outside, and a general air of “get out of here, you god damn kids” around the whole thing. I used to be worse, but living with her has loosened me up a bit.
So, I’ll give this a try. Yesterday afternoon I was parallel parking, which I’m good at, while telling my wife a story about work. I don’t tell stories all that well while I’m parallel parking. I thought the story showed my fantastic qualities in my job, under insanely crappy circumstances, and I admit I was selfishly looking for some positive reinforcement. I was like a kid bringing my mom a watercolor that might be a horse or might be a Ferris wheel so she could exclaim how great it was and put it on the refrigerator. The main message of my story ended up being, “I didn’t kill anyone yesterday,” and her quite logical response was, “do you want reinforcement for not doing something illegal?” I need to work on my “pathetic plea for attention” technique.
We’d been invited by some friends to a “contra” dance. This kind of dancing is sort of like square dancing, except there’s a lot of spinning and stomping involved. The dancers behave less like the cast of Hee Haw, and more like cowboys off the trail in Dodge City, although they laugh more and shoot people in the head less. They were really nice. I’ve danced a pretty long time, so I picked up the steps easily enough. The style was harder for me. I danced like a flamingo who knew all the steps. But the night before I’d been a moron, and as I leaned over the side of the bed to kiss my wife I tried to be cute and ended up hyper-extending my knee. Yes, I’m fairly old.
So I danced one dance, sat one dance, danced one dance, etc. for a while, and I got to waltz with my wife (and we realized we need more practice). Then everybody took a break, so we talked with our friends and had a good time. This was three hours of contra dancing, which is really aerobic and just like getting your heart muscle kicked in the nuts. I wanted to dance some with my wife, but as soon as each dance ended somebody else asked her to dance within the time it takes for light to travel from my right nipple to my left nipple. My wife is a lovely and popular dancer. So I kind of hung back and rested my knee. Occasionally I drank water using a hand that shook to a moderate degree, which is something I’m led to believe I’ll be able to enjoy for many years into the future.
After the dance, we and our friends ate dinner at Chili’s. We chose it for its menu, which provides nearly everyone something they’d like to eat. That really is genius, you know. No wonder the place is always full. I ordered grilled salmon, which was charming and surprising. I’d have expected good grilled salmon at Chili’s just as much as I’d have expected good Beef Wellington at Taco Bell. Just goes to show you. After dinner we went back our house, which was close by. We all sat on the floor in our only room that has no furniture at all, and we played with cats and looked at art books for a while. Two of our friends intended to go back to contra dance for the second three-hour session, which proves that they are tougher men than me. My wife planned to stay home and work a while, so I weaseled another of my friends into going on a mission with me once we dropped the others off.
On the trip back to the Palace of Contra Dance Pain, I called my mom, who is in a rehab hospital. I’d missed visiting her that day and called to see how she was. She broke her 75 year old femur a month ago, and I’ve been trying pretty hard to help her rehabilitate. Unfortunately, she’s done almost nothing to help herself and thinks that as soon as she gets her cast off everything will be peachy. In the meantime she enjoys whining, groaning, laying in the bed, and looking pathetic. Honestly, she is worse than any 3 year old I have ever seen. I fully believe that she’ll never get out of the bed again and will be dead of pneumonia by Christmas (or shortly thereafter, since people often hang on until after Christmas).
After dropping off our other friends, I revealed the nature of our mission to the friend who was ferrying me around. This was a booze quest. More specifically, this was a quest for the ingredients to make fuzzy navels and pomegranate martinis. The former were for my wife and our friend, and the latter was for myself. I’d had such martinis in restaurant, liked them a whole lot, and wanted to know how to make them myself. I figured it was important to have the ability to make myself these drinks since the majority of my family members are alcoholics. We hit the grocery store for staples such as lemons and pomegranate juice. We laughed a lot about stuff that was really in no way funny. However, I was crestfallen to find that Kroger doesn’t carry a wide selection of pomegranate juice. In fact, they don’t carry any of that shit. They do carry a pomegranate/blueberry juice blend, with some other juices like apple and mango thrown in. My friend was for going to Central Market, but I figured, what the hell, my palate isn’t that sophisticated anyway.
We next hit the liquor store, looking for citrus vodka and peach schnapps. We looked for the cheapest damn liquor we could find, on the shared theory that all of our palates lacked sophistication. There were a few drunks in the store, virtually crawling on the floor to find the cheapest booze on the bottom shelves. I laughed a lot and fit right in, until I realized that my laughter was a little hysterical. I toned it down. We carried our goods to check out, and on the way I picked up shakers that both of us were nearly certain would be ineffective for any task we might ever have. The store closed up about the time we left, which astounded us since it was only 9:00 p.m.
Back at home my wife was wrapping up her work. She organized all her stuff for the next day, since she is the most organized person I have ever met or even heard of. Without her, my life would look like a stagnant bayou floating through variable gravity. My friend watched the digital picture frame in our kitchen, the one I finally set up in July after giving it to my wife for Christmas. Meanwhile, I began mixing drinks. That required an iPhone to reference the measures of ingredients, a knife and cutting board, several measuring spoons, a lemon, an iPad for generally browsing the web to locate miscellaneous information, several bottles of alcohol and juice, a steel chopstick for mixing, glasses, ice, and two useless shakers. As I attacked the drinks, my wife came in to converse with us. This was awkward since I have trouble thinking and talking at the same time. I sort of withdrew from the conversation and didn’t laugh hysterically anymore, which was kind of a relief.
I started with the fuzzy navels. I required about five minutes to make them, which was embarrassing since it turns out they’re easier to make than a glass of Alka-Seltzer. After delivering the fuzzy navels, I started on the pomegranate martini. It had just four ingredients, but it seemed more difficult to mix than a voodoo death potion, including chicken eyeballs. Finally I held half a glass of oddly lavender martini, which tasted pretty damn good to me, although when my wife tasted it she shook her head as if a bug had flown up her nose. Well, it was a bit strong, and I might cut back on the vodka a little when I make it again.
We sat around the dining table and talked for an hour or so. Mainly my wife and our friend talked. I’m a little slow on the trigger in casual conversation, so I didn’t find too many openings I could jump into. Occasionally I said stuff that made sense, but mainly whatever I’d been thinking had been rendered obsolete by the time a large enough break in the action came along for me to slip in. My thinking wandered away now and then, and I nursed my martini. It was nice to hear my wife talk so excitedly. She likes to converse when everyone talks on top of one another, and I was trained that if you did that then bad things would happen to you. Sometimes I don’t make such an energetic conversationalist for her.
After midnight we decided we’d had the required amount of fun, and our friend began packing up her crap. My wife noticed that one of our cats, not the ass-typing cat, was laying around lethargic for the second day in a row. This sucked because she has an enlarged heart, and for a couple of years the vet has told us she might throw a clot and keel over any minute. A couple of months ago the vet examined her and proclaimed her a miracle cat, with a moderately repaired heart. Why did it repair itself? No one has any god damn idea. But since we thought her death sentence had been lifted, this laying around like she was half-dead was concerning. We talked it over and decided to hold off on a trip to the emergency vet until the next morning, just to see if she got any better in the night.
Our friend left with hugs all around. I wandered to the bathroom to slam down my pills that would fly like pin balls through my brain for the rest of the night. I tucked my wife into bed and hung out in the living room for a bit, communing with the ass-typing cat and her friend the whipping-his-tail-into-your-eye cat. I sat a while in the recliner with my laptop, and before I crept to bed I contemplated a foolish Facebook post in which I mentioned the great job I’d done at work the day before, just in case any of my friends wanted to put the watercolor up on their refrigerator.
My wife had an enormous hole jack-hammered into her jaw yesterday. Her dentist implanted a post, on which a crown will later be placed. The procedure’s a bit pricey, but compared to what she’s worth, the cost is 1 divided by infinity.
The dentist numbed the area with a bucket-full of Lidocaine. My wife is one of the happy few whose mouth resists anesthetic. So by the time she was ready for the procedure, she was deadened from her esophagus to the back of her skull. Then they opened her jaw like she was an anaconda and worked on her with the world’s tiniest hammer-drill. For the final step they jammed a shiny silver post into the hole. It reminded me of the spike driven at the meeting of the transcontinental railroad.
The nurse brought her to me in a wheelchair. She needed it. The dentist had wanted to protect my wife from anxiety, so he’d prescribed Ativan for her to take before the procedure. One of my friends took this drug for anxiety a while back. The dentist gave my wife eight times as much as that fellow took, so she was unable to walk. However, she was able to stumble from the wheelchair into the passenger seat of our car. On the drive home she chatted with Buddha and the Tooth Fairy about what a bitch Glenda the Good really is.
We arrived home. As I guided my sweetie into the house she mumbled about needing to clean the litter boxes and wash clothes, as soon as she sits down for a few minutes. I told her it’s all taken care of, and that she’ll probably sleep the rest of the day. She then drifted into the kitchen, where she sagged against various kitchen counters and prepared her ibuprofen, her antibiotics, some tea, and other necessities, while I hovered, trying to aim her at a chair and making sure she didn’t put rat poison in her tea.
At last she sat enfolded in her favorite recliner, which we call “The Womb.” She had a small table beside her holding tea, water, ibuprofen, and an icepack. On the other side sat tissues, two TV remote controls, and an iPad. Two cats drowsed across her legs and tummy. I crept off to let her sleep. She called me back, wanting to know how long she should leave on the icepack, how long she should leave it off before putting it on again, and what time she could stop using the thing altogether. I answered her questions and resumed my creeping.
Over the next few hours, when I checked she was sometimes asleep and sometimes not. The TV played programs occasionally interesting enough for her to look at. I brought her some yogurt, which was good exercise since she had to repel a cat attempting to seize it. Evening found her vertical and in the kitchen, stable on her feet, and talking about food.
“I don’t know why I’m so tired,” she said with perfect sincerity.
“You went through a lot today. And you had a lot of Ativan.”
As she selected a tomato she did not reply, and she gave no sign that she accepted my hypothesis.
I tried again. “It’ll probably take a little while to recover. They carved a big hole in your head.”
She didn’t look up from slicing her tomato. “When I had my tooth pulled I didn’t feel like this.”
“Well, this was a different procedure. This was probably harder on you.”
She didn’t respond.
I considered reiterating that she’d swallowed enough Ativan to kill a pony. But I realized that my arguments meant nothing stacked against her determination to press on and function, even if wild dogs were chewing off her leg. She’s a rock. You can drill a big hole in a rock, and it just keeps rolling.
So, instead I kissed her head on the side away from the new hole. “I imagine you’ll feel better soon.”
She flipped me a smile that was a bit pained on the left side. “Thanks for doing the kitty litter.”
When I walk away and leave cheese-encrusted dishes in the sink, I know that it’s wrong. If I were a puppy, my ears would droop and I’d crawl under the couch. But since I’m not a puppy, I pretend it’s a simple oversight, and that my wife and I will forget all about it as soon as we sit down to watch TV. I pretend that all of this is true, but in fact I have done nothing less than given up the moral high ground.
By “moral high ground,” I don’t refer to big moral questions. I don’t mean whether I want to raise or lower taxes, whether or not I eat meat, or whether I advocate school prayer. (In fact, I prayed in school, but they were desperate prayers that I not get caught, so I don’t think that counts.) Instead, I mean the fragile yet devastating balance of moral superiority between two people who are intimate and feel that killing one another would be inappropriate.
Here’s an example of moral high ground. Say I’m working late, and afterwards my coworkers and I decide to get dinner. We spend an hour in a mediocre chain restaurant. I eat a Mesquite Chicken Platter with coleslaw, and I drink two beers. We hang out for another hour bitching about our customers, drinking more beer and eating stale dinner rolls. Then I drive home, walk in the door, and realize several things. I did not call my wife to assure her I hadn’t been killed in a Russian mafia carjacking. I did not stop at the cleaners or the drug store on my way home. And I did not bring her a chocolate lava cake.
I have just surrendered the moral high ground. I am wallowing through the mud of my bad behavior, enabling her to lob missiles of righteousness down upon me if she wants to.
Losing the moral high ground is easy. At least it’s easy for me, because I’m a dumbass. Taking the moral high ground is difficult because everyone starts off on top of Morality Hill. If your partner doesn’t tumble down the hill by himself, you must achieve moral superiority by kicking your partner down the hill when he isn’t looking. Once you’ve lost the high ground, it’s nearly impossible to take it back without help. And by help, I mean that your partner refrains from rolling any boulders down the hill at you while you climb up.
Now, let’s jump to the Saturday morning after my chocolate lava cake failure. I suggest that we go to the museum, since I figure my wife might like that better than watching more reruns of “The Unit.” As we drive up the tollway, physically we’re sitting together in cozy proximity. Morally, she looms above me like Zeus. She says, with perfect good will, “Hey, let’s go to the craft fair.”
I’d rather eat a scorpion than go to the craft fair, I think. But what I say is, “Sure, that sounds good.” I am so far down the side of Morality Hill that I would agree to go to a barbecued baby cookout, and I’d bring lemonade.
“Well, if you don’t want to go…” my wife says.
“I want to go!” I fling her my most sincere fake smile. Is she just messing with me?
“We’ll just stay an hour or so. They have really cute puppies.”
We don’t need a puppy! Does she want a puppy? She didn’t exactly say that… “I’d like to see the puppies,” I say. Because I’m such a moral invertebrate right now, I don’t feel I can entrench myself in a strong anti-puppy position. But I do examine the rear view mirror more than necessary and avoid further comments.
By afternoon I have trudged through the craft fair, visited the museum, and returned home puppy-less. We own some red ceramic roosters that may cause me to blind myself someday rather than look upon them, and I’m cleaning cat vomit off my pillow. I feel that my wife has allowed me to climb most of the way back up to the moral high ground, and I reek of gratitude.
The balance of moral superiority is delicate, but its power is undeniable. I’m hoping that my wife backs the car into the garage door soon. I’ve had my eye on a flat screen TV.