“…let there be spaces in your togetherness, and
let the winds of heavens dance between you.”
Most of the time I’m up before my alarm clock goes off. One of the benefits and curses of old age: we can no longer sleep through the night without visiting the bathroom. Every once in a while, though, I experience a very vivid dream, or I’m unusually tired. On those days I’m grateful for the wakeup beeps and buzzes that keep me from being late.
A few mornings ago it was one of those days. I reached for the clock, but it wasn’t at arm’s length, like it’s supposed to be. I stretched some. Still not within reach. I make the supreme sacrifice: open my eyes. There’s the clock, one millimeter away from the night table’s edge. It’s one of those gadgets that gets louder the longer that it’s allowed to sound off. Now I have a sense of urgency: I must turn it off before it wakes Phyllis up. I angrily sit up, reach over, and push the “silence” button down.
I know that I usually leave the clock at arm’s length. There’s only one other person who lives in this house. During breakfast I decide that I need to express my displeasure to the woman who has just cooked for me.
The alarm clock was moved to the edge of the night table. Again.
“I’ve told you already. I move it so that I can clean and dust.”
I understand. Why don’t you put it back where it was before you cleaned?
“I forgot to measure how many inches from the edge you like to have it. I must do so the next time. Will remember to carry a tape measure with me when I clean.”
You’re missing the point.
“And you’re being silly. Move the clock yourself when you set the alarm. Besides, it looks better when it’s at the edge of the table.”
No one ever goes into our bedroom. Much less anyone who’s going to judge the room on its symmetry and proportion. I decide that I better not make that point. I eat my eggs, drink my coffee, and smile. Outwardly.
It all began with conversations on how the toilet paper roll should hang. Once you move in together, it’s fairly easy to, without saying a word, divide your home into separate geographical spheres of influence. My stereo room; her TV couch. My lawn; her garden. It went smoothly until we got to the bathroom. There was a guest bathroom, but it wasn’t very close to our bed. The compromise and bargaining started innocently enough.
“Is that how you hang the toilet paper? Over the top?”
Yes. Sure. Why do you ask?
“I like to see the edge of the roll coming from the bottom. It’s easier to grab.”
I love this woman, and I think that I’m lucky to have her. This is an easy fix. Who cares how the toilet paper hangs?
No problem. I’ll change it around.
She smiles. I congratulate myself. Until the next time that I’m sitting on the toilet. It just doesn’t feel right to have the loose edge hanging down. It was cut short by the last user. I can’t see it. If the roll had been placed my way, it would be easy for me to grab it. I wonder why anyone in her right mind would argue otherwise. I take the toilet paper roll out; I turn it around; I place it in the correct way.
The next time that I use the toilet, I notice that the paper’s hanging the “wrong” way. I change it. This goes on for several weeks. A noiseless, speechless battle. She finally got tired of this fight. Or maybe it was the new toilet paper hanger that we got. The one that doesn’t have a lock mechanism. One can take the roll out in a second, and put it back any way one wants.
We went on to more important things. The toothpaste. I like to squeeze the tube all the way from the bottom. Not one millionth of a millimeter of bulge can be left at the bottom of the tube before we squeeze a plumper part of the tube to let some paste out. She’s not quite as devoted to my routine, but I don’t mind. I find it fun to squeeze all of the tiny irregular areas that she leaves behind. It makes me feel a sense of accomplishment. This is one way that I can be frugal, I tell myself.
Until we get to the end of the tube. It takes quite a bit of exertion, and some pain, to squeeze one more wad out of this tube that’s running out of paste. The next time that I’m at the sink, I see that a new tube of toothpaste is out.
What happened to the toothpaste?
“It’s right there.”
No; I mean the old tube.
“There was nothing left in it.”
I think that I could have squeezed another round of paste out of it.
“Be my guest. I’ll get it out of the trash.”
Leave it alone. It’s just wasteful, to throw it away when there’s toothpaste left.
“Let me figure this out. Three dollars for the tube, and we get sixty uses out of it. Three cents per instance.” She walks to the tray where we keep our loose change. “Here’s three pennies. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
I’m overwhelmed by her logic. I know that it’s not accurate, but I can’t figure out where her argument’s flaw lies. I walk away.
When I was much younger, and older acquaintance told me that you never knew how well you matched with someone until you shared a bathroom with them. He was right.
We have most of the territorial discussions settled by now. Many women have no problem using a toilet in front of people that they know. I find that unappealing. She now knows that if I’m in the bathroom, she needs to stay out. I never barge in on her.
I see nothing romantic about having two sinks; two simultaneous tooth brushings. I don’t want to see her teeth full of froth. Our apartment only has one sink in the master bathroom.
She has this thing about cleaning and keeping things tidy. By the time that I finish showering in the morning, the bed is made. I’ve learned not to take a nap once I’m up. Five seconds after I’ve cleaned my plate, it disappears. It’s gotten to the point that I expect the plate to go away by itself when she’s not around.
To an outsider this kind of interaction may feel like a peace conference between nations at war. It’s much more significant and spiritual than that. Not long ago, I discussed these conflicts with Javier, my brother-in-law. Javier is one of the smartest men I’ve ever met. Definitely the gentlest and wisest. My sister has a severe form of dementia. Javier cares for her in exemplary fashion.
We were riding a train after a long day of sightseeing. I talked about all of the times that I’ve complained about my wife’s quirks, and how silly it all seemed in retrospect.
“It’s very human, what you talk about. Look: in a different time, your sister would have been here with us. We may have had a good day, or maybe something would have happened that made us upset at each other. Now that she’s unable to be here, we both wish that she could be with us, no matter what our disagreements may have been. We’re conditioned to react to the present. We rarely keep the big picture in mind. It’s normal. Nothing reprehensible about it.”
I try to hold a tear or two back. I promise to myself to swallow hard every time that I run into a misplaced alarm clock. I thank my lucky stars for the happiness that my wife has given me. I once again feel grateful for the winds of heavens that dance between us.