I’ve been married now for twenty-five years. Twenty-five. Years. From my wife’s point of view, the horrifying corollary is that she’s been stuck in sacred matrimony with a water buffalo for just over a quarter-century, at last reckoning. The poor, long-suffering girl must just be resigned to it, I guess. At this point, a change must seem awfully disruptive, and anyway the moron just learned to empty the dishwasher, so it probably feels silly to chuck it all in now.
It’s not that I’m such a bad guy, as guys go. I don’t cheat, or lie, and I used to earn a good living, before retiring early. I’m good with money, and I try harder and harder every day to be tidy and maintain the place in the Prussian order that underpins some part of my wife’s tenuous peace of mind. Prime Household Directive – In every activity, strive only for this: at the end, it must appear as if it never happened. Never, ever leave the place worse than you found it – you can at least attempt that, right? – and remember, your keys go there, where they obviously belong, and not over there, where you think (inexplicably) you want to put them.
Sometimes I lose things, and search frantically before remembering that they’re not lost, they’ve merely been moved to where they belong, which makes it more the pity that I still can’t remember where everything goes. This is especially true of dishes and utensils, which I need to deal with as part of finally learning to empty the dishwasher. The grippy things go in the second drawer on the right, I know that. Glasses and bowls are easy. For one stack of drawers, I’ve crafted a helpful pneumonic: Towel, towel, glove, trivet. It’s like a name out of Star Wars, there’s the odious Jar Jar Binks, and his sidekick, Toweltowel Glove-trivet. But where the hell do the casserole dishes go again? The colander? Shit, these little tin measuring cups, where’s their home? I often wind up opening every drawer until I find the appointed slot. It’s important. It has to go there, that’s how you find it again later when you need it. You can see that, right? That’s obvious, isn’t it?
Yes, actually, it is obvious. I don’t rebel on principle. I merely fail.
That’s why the dishwasher thing is so momentous. Now, I mustn’t boast too much about my conscientious dishwasher performance, since I had to develop a technique fit for a six-year-old to help me remember to have at it. I use a stuffed bear. Walter. I call him Dish-Walter. The trick is to put him on the counter whenever you set the machinery going, and then he’ll be there to remind you later that it’s all done and you have to start finding the right slots for all the stuff inside. Here’s what he looks like when he’s on the job:
If it wasn’t for Dish-Walter, I’d never get it right. The manufacturer sure didn’t help, heartless bastard – the stainless steel monster indicates that the load’s all done by activating a tiny green LED so inconspicuous that I can’t even see it. Perhaps you can just make it out in the photo. Upper right, in the corner above the door handle. It occupies maybe a pixel. See it? Yeah, me neither. Dish-Walter does, though, and since he joined the crew I’ve cut my failure rate almost to zero. Yay Dish-Walter!
See? I try. I’ve even internalized the rules. I like it this way. If I need a cookie pan upon which to dump a melancholy frozen pizza, I know just where to find it, and that’s the way to live, no doubt about it. There’s real satisfaction in a tidy house. It might be altogether bonkers out there, but here inside everything is just where it ought to be, under control, not insane. It feels good to come home to such a place. Especially when you’ve been away. You stumble in exhausted after the usual travel bullshit, and ahhhhhh…disciplined organization…nice…
I really have gotten with the program. Unfortunately, there’s one mode of behaviour I can never improve: the way I carry on inside my wife’s head.
Not when she’s awake, understand. I don’t refer to the way she perceives the things I actually do, in the real world, as opposed to the way I myself think about what I’m doing. Every relationship has that noise. Like, the question might be posed: Why on earth would you deliberately leave a remote control where it doesn’t belong when you went to bed? Perfectly good answer: Because I didn’t! Not deliberately. I missed a step, that’s all. I was tired. Kathy understands that. Over the years, she’s learned that such things have nothing to do with me trying to annoy her, they’re just artifacts of what goes on – or, rather, fails to go on – inside the walnut that nestles within the 6-inch-thick armour-plated sphere that forms the bulk of my amazing skull. That’s as much ballistic protection as the gun turret of a WW II heavy cruiser! It’s a wonder, honestly, it should be studied, but there were the inevitable design trade-offs. To accommodate the armour, something had to give, and that was the brain pan. The volume for the thinking bits had to shrink. Maybe that was a bad trade-off? Perhaps, but if so it’s not my fault, really it’s nobody’s fault (except hers, I guess, for marrying me).
What I’m talking about here is the way I behave in her dreams. Her actual dreams. When she’s asleep. A character playing my part sometimes intrudes upon her dreamscapes, and that guy is a worthless, thoughtless knucklehead. A real pant load.
Example: my wife had a dream that she and I were getting off a plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Why are we even there? Some dream reason. Who cares? The point is, we’re there, we’re all alone in an emphatically unfamiliar place, and she’s having anxiety attacks about where we’re going to stay and how we’ll get there, when some gorgeous babe appears holding a sign with my name on it. “Graeme”. Just “Graeme”. Not “Graeme and Kathy”. Apparently, a limo has been ordered just for me, and I run off eagerly to follow the babe to my ride, leaving Kathy stranded on the foreign tarmac of a God-forsaken airstrip in Africa. I barely give it a moment’s thought, except to explain, as I rush off , that look, she has a sign with my name on it – whaddaya gonna do? Screw you Kathy! You can get your own ride!
She just had one in which we’re in the midst of a somber multitude, sitting on the steps of a grand staircase that spirals downwards to infinity within the shell of a gleaming glass skyscraper, way up high. We’re all just sitting there hopeless because a nuclear war has started, and we’re all going to die. She can see brilliant flashes on the horizon as other towns are getting theirs, and since the end is nigh, she turns to me and says that now, as we face death, she’s so glad that at least she had me in her life for the time that she did. To which, of course, I respond by shrugging and going “meh”.
Like, sure, thanks, that and nine bucks will get me a Grande at the Starbucks that’s just about to be vaporized along with the rest of us.
Such dreams attest to one of two propositions:
a) Kathy is sub-consciously anxious that she might have married a craven asshole; or
b) Kathy knows frigging well that she married a craven asshole.
I suppose that’s normal, but here’s where it gets unfair: when she wakes up, she continues to blame me for the awful things that the character playing Graeme did to her in her dreams.
I’m serious. The Addis Ababa fiasco was almost 25 years ago, and she still comes out with “you left me stranded while you ran off with some babe at the airport”. I think that as far as she’s concerned, she wouldn’t have dreamt it if I wouldn’t actually do it. That move at the airport was just like me, wasn’t it, and that’s why her sub-conscious cooked up the scenario. It was more premonition than fantasy.
Thus, I know that years from now she’ll be sitting there and say, apropos of nothing, something like ” ‘Meh’, is it? ‘Meh’? I pour out my heart in the final moment of our lives, and you give me ‘Meh’ ?”
No stuffed bear can save me on this one. Bears don’t pop in to help me out in the Kathy Cloud. Up there I’m all alone, unvarnished, unchecked, unadulterated, apparently being just like me.
What can I tell you, I was born this way and it only got worse.