Love Letter at 32, on a Napkin
I conceived of this blog post last Saturday while wiping the tile floors of our apartment with Mr. Clean antibacterial multi-purpose solution, summer citrus scent. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing like Cinderella, while my wife marched among hundreds of thousands in downtown L.A. for women’s rights. If you think about it, that juxtaposition was a beautiful and pragmatic indication of my support for the cause. Also, I really did not want to go.
I wrote most of it on that day, to post on this day, my wife’s 32nd birthday. She had gently suggested earlier that I try blogging something nice about her for a change, this being her birth month. Revealing such editorial influence takes away some of the romanticism, but none of the sincerity. Besides, transparency is important these days and I refuse to be her puppet, the Trump to her Putin, as some of her fellow marchers might say.
It is true that this blog's focus on the absurd — most recently in Christmas cards, politics, wedding planning — leaves little room for nice things about the spouse. And the sum of the relatively brief mentions of her probably paints an unfair portrait for those who don’t know her.
Those who do know her, who really know her, understand what I mean when I say she is the best person I know. It’s not even close. She puts money in the tip jar at restaurant counters without anyone looking. When my dad does it, he waves his hand in a full crescent motion aligned with the cashier’s field of vision and makes a stuffing motion in the jar as if it really were such a strenuous effort to let go of paper in air.
But I don’t want to get into my wife's character. That’s not why we fall in love. I am not attracted to character. Sure, ante up with a baseline level of moral decency. But once that prerequisite is met, I am inclined to trade some generosity and empathy for more sense of humor and junk in the trunk.
Ultimately we fall in love because of how the other person makes us feel. I feel most comfortable hanging out by myself. I never get the urge to be around other people for socializing. I might seem like the life of the party sometimes, but I’m just drunk or purposefully manipulating the inflection in my voice to sound super excited.
My mind is usually elsewhere if my body has to be present. Without a whole lot of genuine connection, I’m left to wallow in my own world, population 1, and an acute form of neurosis. It takes a heroic kind of person to enter and navigate this world, the kind that would choose to work with children for a living.
From the beginning, my wife has considered me on the autism or special-needs spectrum. Rather than get offended… honestly, it makes me feel special indeed. She treats my idiosyncrasies with her own spectrum of responses, ranging from acceptance to support.
I brush my teeth multiple times as long as the average person. I don’t see how it’s possible to cover both sides of the gumline plus all surface area of the enamel with tiny circles in under 3 minutes.
Often I lose focus and take a break with the toothbrush still in my mouth. Recently I forgot about being in this rest state and tried to nuzzle her, instead stabbing her in the face with the stem. She was understandably shocked at first, then collected herself, gave me that look I’ve come to know well and hold dear, and resumed her life.
She didn’t leave me. Better men with a lot more to offer would never make that toothbrush mistake. I doubt Ryan Gosling ever has, and he gets more leeway for obvious reasons. I don’t look like Ryan Gosling, although my abs are pretty close when abstaining from sugar and flour for 3-4 days.
Speaking of which, I live by a simple rule. Run 20 sprints up the 24th Street hill every time I black out from drinking or binge on sweets or processed foods. Intense cardio intervals help combat the self-loathing a lot better than anything a shrink who had a lower G.P.A. in high school could tell me.
Like anything though, ostensible simplicity fails in implementation. The devil is in the details, the adage goes, and I can’t escape those demons in my warped mind. (The word “warped” was borrowed from a Jan. 14 conversation with a middle-aged woman after my sprints, which she watched from the base of the hill. I write down the date of every sprint session and post on the refrigerator, declaring each to be the final of my life, before having to cross out the date for the next one.)
The problem is I get obsessive-compulsive when defining a blackout, binge or sweet. After any drinking night, I interrogate myself and essentially have to reconstruct a comprehensive chronology of everything that happened or else pay the price. I spend inordinate amounts of time staring at nutrition labels in a trance. I researched throughout an entire night to determine whether raisins should be considered a sweet and still have not decided. I did the same thing with maple sap after demolishing a full jar of fig almond butter and feeling guilty.
Last week I examined the ingredients list of LAY’S Salt & Vinegar potato chips and was pleasantly surprised at how short it was. I made a case to my wife that this snack was natural enough for me to finish the last quarter of the bag. But I paused a few times before the first bite, unsure and stressed out. Then I scarfed the chips and threw away the bag, only to dig it out later to reassess. I also googled it each of the following three days when the bag was too buried in trash to retrieve again.
It can be a futile way to live. At some point I started wrestling with these thoughts out loud with my wife. It kind of feels good, to share and dilute the discomfort with someone who loves me unconditionally.
She dutifully listens in the evening while I rattle off the snacks I ate at work like a kid in trouble at fat camp. She asks her mom if her sweet potato dish contains added sugar. She reassures me that not remembering every detail of a night does not equate to an irresponsible blackout.
More than just a sounding board, she will even go as far as to participate:
I don’t understand why the world wastes so many napkins and paper towels. Millions if not billions are discarded every day without the slightest use. Even if partially soiled, there is more surface area. Resources were expended to create this area for consumption. Anyone who likes to talk about climate change should start with not wasting food, gas, water, electricity or just about anything else except calories. Ever.
So before throwing away a napkin, I use any remaining clean portion to wipe a counter, sink or floor. Sometimes I dry my hands with a paper towel and leave it on the counter for reuse. My wife tolerates this, despite hating clutter the way I hate waste. Occasionally, she even leaves her own napkins for me to utilize to completion.
That is a glimpse into our life together, utterly unremarkable and un-bloggable. The fights and rants are more interesting to write and read about. But in between and even during them are nothing but napkins and moments, a never-ending stream of reminders of what a wonderful life it is to be married to her.
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