My wife does certain things, certain annoying things. I’m sure this is not uncommon. Many wives, I hear, do certain annoying things. I’m sure, too, that husbands do certain annoying things. What things? I’m not sure. The things I am sure about are wife-specific.
I’ve lived with my wife six years. We’ve been married almost five years. Marriage has not changed us entirely; I think it merely accentuated what was already there. Our arguments now seem more berserk and unpredictable; our tender moments, more simple and soothing.
I have noticed, though, that my wife is evolving in her quirkiness. What was once a set of charming little idiosyncrasies have now become a cluster of odd symptoms. Clearly, she has a disease. Maybe the disease is marriage. Or, more likely, the disease is marriage to Seth.
People ask my wife: How do you deal with this?
This, being me.
People, though, don’t see the entire picture. In public, I’m bombastic and rude; my wife is composed and elegant. At home, I see another side. I see my wife confront a centipede with a horror-movie shriek. I see my wife’s appalled and unforgiving expression just after I’ve woken her from nap.
I adore my wife. I adore her in public, and private. For better or worse, she has determined the man I am today: the foolish, but sincere husband; the aloof, but giving friend; the hard-working, fun-loving writer. My wife gives good things: affection, support. She also takes away bad things: fear, doubt. These things are large. I understand and cherish these things.
My wife also gives and takes small things—small, ant-like things. The sum of this give and take, though, mystifies me. Like ants, it also annoys me. It’s the essential cloying mystery, in fact, of my day to day life: the small things my wife gives and the small things she takes away.
Put another way, we live in an apartment in Ambler. Many new, useless things appear in this place and many useful things disappear.
My wife, I suspect, has something to do with this.
The Small Things My Wife Gives
I sometimes wonder if my wife has a side-business, a side-business in small, black, rubber-band-like things. These things, I’m told, are hair-ties. I rarely ever see them in my wife’s hair. I do see them, though, lonely and unattached to my wife’s head, sporting strands of honey-brown hair. These things just appear, everywhere, often in odd places: my jean pockets, for example; or, tortuously, in the garbage disposal; or in my desk drawer, wrapped around a stack of defunct credit cards, expired licenses, and old high-school IDs. I also find them on the living room floor, under the car seat, or, sometimes, in the corner of the shower, wet and tangled.
Fabric softener sheets are meant to be used in the dryer, right? Why, then, do I continue to discover one random, used fabric softener sheet under the passenger car-seat? I take one sheet away, sure enough one more shows up. Laundry never enters the car. Why, then, do I continue to discover one random fabric softener sheet under the car seat?
(Incidentally, how many different bottles of lotion does one bathroom really need? How does one acquire all these lotions? Are they gifts? Is there some sort of lotion fairy? )
There’s a sole apple sitting in my fruit bowl. It’s been there for about a week. I look at it. I think about my wife. I think about her adorable sense of ambition. When we first dated, nearly thirteen years ago, she told me she’d be a lawyer. I told her I’d be a writer. She’s managed to accomplish her ambition, even as she advocates mine. This is a large thing. The apple is small. Still, it’s there, sitting in the fruit bowl, this $2 organic Fuji apple. Will someone eat this apple? I doubt it.
How does this happen?
I see my wife, at Whole Foods, excited by her sudden resolve: I will eat more fruit!
She buys an apple. She comes home, places the apple in the fruit bowl. Then it sits there, like a sock in a corner, subtly annoying me each time I pass. Soon, it’s too soft to eat. And yet, no one seems willing to throw it out. It’d be like tossing $2 into the trash.
It is a useless thing, this apple; it just suddenly appeared one day. It reminds me of a hair-tie, a misguided fabric-softener sheet, a bottle of foot (foot?!) lotion. It also reminds me of a newspaper and its half-finished crossword, jammed into the sofa. It reminds me of a cool cup of Starbucks coffee, merely sipped, abandoned in the car’s cup-holder.
The Small Things My Wife Takes Away
My wife and I share a chaotic social life. Friends and family come over three, four, five nights a week. There’s wine, laughter, and arguments. People come and go. In the chaos, things go missing: wine bottles, wine glasses, random dishes. I look at this as a sort of friendship tax: enough people come over, glasses, even plates and bowls, are bound to be broken or lost. This is simply what happens.
The other night I walked into my wife’s garden. The garden is my wife’s secret spot. She’s growing gorgeous cucumbers, Swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelons, eggplants, peppers, and a bounty of herbs. The garden, though, seems incidental. It’s the secret she loves. In the garden, she calls Barb and Lis and Traci and Vitola. In the garden, I suspect, she smokes cigarettes and drinks wine.
Anyway, I walked into her secret spot the other night, and I was shocked, even scared, when I discovered a scattered assortment of mugs and dishes. It felt similar to the moment when, as a child, I came upon my father’s secret stash: I was excited and frightened and entirely confused.
I had been looking for those mugs! I had been asking about those dishes! I picked up one of the mugs; it was, weirdly, covered in plastic wrap. I opened the plastic and sniffed. It smelled like wine, rancid wine.
Oh, my wife’s ambition! I imagine my wife, at home, excited by her sudden resolve: I will sip this last bit of wine, in private, in the garden, with a smoke! What mystifies me is the plastic wrap. It’s almost as if my wife knows she’s not going to drink the wine.
I’ve bought four pairs of nail-clippers since January. I use one. I put it back in a specific, little basket. And yet, I look in the basket, no nail clippers. Where have all the nail-clippers gone? Also, why are all my razors always dull, when, clearly, my razors are meant for males and I am the only male in my household?
Where is my tank-top? Where is my special Burt’s Bee’s comb, the only comb that seems to work with my hair? I heard my wife took it to the beach; I haven’t seen it since.
Where is all the Pyrex?
I asked my wife this last one recently: Where is all the Pyrex?
I don’t know, she said.
You don’t know?
I haven’t seen it.
Are you sure? Because I need that Pyrex for work. I bring it home, clean it. I use it again the next day. Are you sure you haven’t seen it. I really need it.
Maybe you left it at work, she said.
Maybe you did, I said.
No, she said. Impossible.
I suppose I felt vindicated, then, when I received this text-message from my wife the very next day: “Guilty as charged.”
There was also a picture:
My wife and I share a small, strange life. There’s mystery. There’s secrets. There are accusations. And then there’s absolution.
We both have quirks. And coupled with the annoyance, I should say, there’s also a lot of fun and side-splitting laughter. There’s impromptu caresses and bottles of wine and giant, festive chicken dinners. Honestly, I walk around most days, inspired and fulfilled, not just by the laughter, but the annoyance too.
Our wedding ceremony began with these words:
“The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. And, as the poet Pablo Neruda tells us, ‘words give crystal to the crystal, blood to the blood, and give life to life.’ Karen and Seth meet here today to celebrate life, and to give the gift of words to each other.”
Writing, it seems to me, is a fundamentally optimistic activity. It assumes that people care to hear what you have written. It also assumes that you care to take the effort to write about something that matters to you.
I suppose I can forgive my wife her quirks, then, because even in annoyance she inspires my ambition. She gives me, daily, the gift that has always been the most important to me: Words.