My beloved wife, Ellen and I will be celebrating our 15th anniversary later this week. (According to Ellen, the traditional 15th anniversary gift is a kitchen remodel. I, on the other hand, think a more appropriate 15th anniversary gift is to pay a kid to cut the lawn.)
15 years is a long time, and I am pleased to report that our marriage remains healthy, happy, and kissy. My son reports that it is too kissy, but he can stuff it.
In fact, Ellen finds only three things about me that might drive her to murder me in my sleep.
When I do chores, I like to have music playing in the background. It puts a spring in my step (and, occasionally, a splint on my finger). Music makes housework fun!
When I don’t play music, I hum. Ellen hates, hates, hates my humming and I can’t blame her. Nobody ever wants to hear another person hum.
The songs I hum vary and are prompted by any earworm-y song that finds its way into my orbit. A recent Catholic Mass put me on a non-stop In Christ Alone kick. This was replaced a few weeks later by Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls. So, yeah, musically I’m all over the place. (Once I even caught myself humming the theme to Wonderpets in the men’s room.)
Sometimes the hummable song consumes me for a day; other times it’s a week or more. But, no matter how catchy, sooner or later the song will dislodge itself from my brain and vanish from my hum jukebox.
There is one exception to this rule, however.
The one song that never leaves my brain is Deck the Halls. I don’t know why, but somehow, Deck the Halls has become my fallback hum song.
All. Year. Round.
I often hum it without hearing it, so I’m frequently caught off guard when Ellen storms up, jabs her index finger in my face, and says, “NO!”
“Oh, sorry,” I reply.
But five minutes later, I’m doing it again. Come to think of it, Ellen really should’ve beaten me to death by now.
NOCTURNAL NOTICING OF THINGS
I am a night person trapped in a day schedule. I think many writers are in a similar predicament. We want to go to sleep after the Late Late Movie (remember when there were Late Late movies?) and roll out of bed at around 11-ish to start the day, but we can’t. We have jobs. And families. And other things that force us up at the ungodly predawn hours. We learn to adjust. It is the price of being a grown up.
I can function in the morning, but my productivity sweet spot kicks in at about three in the afternoon and continues for about the next eight hours.
So by the time my dear wife is ready to go to bed at around ten, I’m still relatively alert. Sometimes this means I pepper her with stupid bedtime thoughts.
But I also pepper her with thoughts that are less stupid. I talk about the chores we still need to do. The calls we still need to make. The appointments we still need to prepare for.
For me, this is called “Winding Down.” Before I rest my head on the pillow, I want to have a relatively good grasp on what needs to be done the following day.
But what winds me down revs Ellen up.
“Why,” she growls into her pillow, “are you telling me all this now?”
Apparently, musing about the many, many incomplete tasks in our house makes Ellen anxious and cranky. She gets “overwhelmed,” which is a type of tired, I suppose, but not the type of tired that makes a person sleepy.
Ellen, when left to her own devices, likes to create piles of paper.
These piles are quite remarkable. Each paper in an Ellen pile is completely unrelated to any of the other papers in that same pile. Does a bank statement belong in the same pile with an ungraded essay or a takeout menu from the Tastee Wok? Apparently so.
Ellen creates lots of these incomprehensible piles. And she is always adding to the piles with new, completely unrelated pieces of paper. Phone numbers with no names. The water bill. Alex’s social studies report on the Leni Lenape Indians. Weather-beaten notebooks half-filled with handwritten algebra problems.
It is amazing just how many pieces of paper in our house are completely unrelated to any other pieces of paper.
I hate these piles.
I am an anal retentive person. I see a pile of paper as a personal affront to my existence. To me, a pile is a problem. Problems need to be solved.
Ellen does not like it when I mess with her piles and I respect that. So I ask Ellen to mess with her piles on my behalf.
“I will,” she says, but she doesn’t. Ellen is very good at ignoring her piles.
So I don’t ignore her piles. When the moment is right, I dig in. I throw things away and file things away until every dang, stupid, paper thing is away.
This makes Ellen grouchy.
“I said I’d do it!” she grumps. “Now I don’t know where anything is!”
“Everything,” I reply, with a bow of a Zen master, “is in it’s place.”
To be honest, I think my pile purging skill is the reason why Ellen doesn’t murder me for humming or creating unnecessary stress at bedtime. As much as she doesn’t want me to mess with her piles, there is a part of her that knows what would happen if I didn’t. The untended piles would continue growing, like a cancer, eventually reaching up to the ceiling, filling rooms, and spilling out into the yard.
No one wants to get crushed to death under stacks of expired coupons and back issues of The Atlantic. By keeping me alive, Ellen is keeping herself alive. And isn’t that what a healthy marriage is all about?
Here’s to the next 15 years! I love you, Sweetie!