“You know, we really need to put more effort into having a date night every week,” my husband Jim told me as I breathlessly pushed the over-flowing basket of just-washed laundry past him so I could begin the titillating task of folding underwear, towels and socks.
“Great,” I replied as I struggled to dump the heavy load of laundry onto our disheveled bed, “That’s exactly what I need. You babysit and I’ll find a date.”
He looked at me with a gaze that was less, “I’m passionately bemused by you,” and more like a little boy who’s gone and got himself lost at the zoo and he’s scouring the crowd for the familiar face of his mother. The same look he wears when the mortgage is due, or when a kid in the playground mistakingly calls him “Daddy.”
“Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll babysit and you get a date. If you find someone with paid health benefits, I’ll even buy the two of you dinner!” I shouted after him since he had already turned and walked away. I even leaned over the railing and repeated my offer as he descended the stairs to find comfort in the storied arms of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars.
What happens as we get older? I mean, when I was in my twenties, if anyone looked at my man I would have unleashed my inner-Jersey on them. I guess when you’ve been together for as long as we have, it’s like going to war—you’re so weary that you can barely sit hunched in the trenches together let alone converse. Except the trenches in our war are in desperate need of being reupholstered. We’ve been through good times, bad times, two kids, one Bad Dog, holidays with a houseful of people when the town sewer backed up into our basement, unemployment, partial employment, sickness, more sickness, dog’s sickness…tell me when to stop.
Thinking back now, our marriage didn’t really begin until we had children. Prior to that, it really was one big endless date night interrupted only by the occasional major blow-out fight. When I think about those fights now I think two things: 1) Wow, we had a lot of time on our hands. I mean with kids, when do you have time to put a coherent sentence together let alone fight and indulge in a good post-fight three-day brood-fest (oh, how I miss those brood-fests!); and 2) we had money in our pockets, sneakers without holes, my ex-boyfriend’s rent-controlled apartment, and a weekly house cleaner so what the hell were we fighting about?
Once, only once, I threw my engagement ring at Jim’s head. It was after he dumped me at “pre-Cana.” For the uninitiated, pre-Cana is required pre-marriage marriage counseling that the Catholic Church requires all engaged couples to take part in before you can get married in the church. Having gone through 12 years of Catholic school and having, at that time, never missed a Sunday mass, I opted (yes I) for the pre-Cana weekend retreat (rather than the six-hour quickie session) that was being offered in a church somewhere on the foreign soil of Maplewood.
Mike and Carol Brady were our pre-Cana chaperones. I don’t think that it was physically possible for them to stop smiling. Now, that wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been older than me and Jim, but they weren’t. Nor were any of the other couples in attendance. And of course, we had to bunk with a same-sex partner (the only time the church condones same-sex anything) in assigned rooms in the rectory. Unfortunately, they had overbooked the weekend, and because we were the last to arrive all the men had already grabbed their partner and had claimed their room which meant that Jim didn’t have a room. Somehow I ended up in a three-way with two cousins from Kearney, but I think Jim’s 6’5” frame was too intimidating for any of the men to consider bringing him into their fold, so to speak. So, Mike and Carol assigned him to a loveseat in the rectory foyer and asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering the door and phone if someone should ring. The love seat was about 3’ long which is about 31/2 feet too short for him. Being the silent type, Jim said nothing.
We were the last to arrive because we had both got out of work late (I believe we were the only ones old enough to hold a full-time job) and not only did Jim not get a bed, we also got no dinner because they had already served the buffet and locked the food away in the pantry. Neither of us had eaten all day. When Jim told Mike and Carol he was going to run out to get us something to eat they told him he couldn’t leave the premises and gave him a pack of gum to stave off the hunger. Jim, being the silent type, said nothing.
There was a priest there; in fact, he had married Mike and Carol. He corralled us into a room to tell us what we could expect from marriage, which struck me as odd then, but odder now. He even discussed the woman’s role in sexual relations which, yes, was odd though I marveled at how many people were furiously taking notes. I didn’t even have a pen. Then the priest, Mike, and Carol gave us notebooks and sent us all off to find a quiet place where we could write to our betrothed our true and honest feelings. After 10 minutes of writing how much I loved him, and how excited I was to spend the next 50 years of my life with him, Jim arrived at the door to my room. Jim being the silent type, threw the notebook directly at my head and seethed, “Here read this,” and stormed out.
I opened the book and read, “I hate this fucking place; this is a big fucking mistake. I’m leaving. Love Jim.” I did what any other woman in my circumstance would do. I started sobbing. Not crying, not weeping, we’re talking deep, soulful my man gone done me wrong sobbing. Mike, Carol, the Kearney cousins, the priest and all the other pre-Cananites came running and before I knew it I was in the middle of some twisted group Kumbaya. Through heaving sobs I explained what had just happened and showed them what Jim wrote. Carol said this was a direct message from God that I shouldn’t marry him. As the group avidly concurred and started a prayer chain invoking Jesus to bless me, I snapped back to my senses and took a good look at the crowd. Then I, too, said a little prayer to Jesus, “Jesus Christ, if I don’t get out of here quick I’m going to be stuck with these crazy people.” I grabbed my knock-off designer duffel bag and ran outside to the parking lot.
Jim was sitting in his car, two lit cigarettes in one hand while the other proceeded to unwrap and chew each stick of gum as if they were pieces of filet mignon. I threw myself into the passenger seat just in time for him to peel out of the chain-linked fence parking lot. Except for the chewing, all was silent until we reached the entrance to the Turnpike. That’s when I took my engagement ring off and threw it, no, I mean wailed it, at his head while screaming, “You dumped me at pre-Cana???? Really??? What kind of sick fuck does that???”
He took me home where I brooded for a week. Ultimately I ignored the advice of Mike and Carol Brady and went through with the wedding. Thanks to a compassionate priest, we did a drive-thru version of pre-Cana in a church hall that had vending machines and allowed smoking.
And here we are, years later, still together. Thinking about this as I folded the laundry, listening to the kids screaming over the incessant barking of the dog, I shouted, “God bless you for still wanting to have a date night with me after all these years,” but he couldn’t hear me. Not even I can come between my man and his Pawn.