They had been married for 38 years. But only two weeks into lockdown, she wondered if they’d make it to 39.
Posted in , Mar 26, 2021
My husband, Don, glanced up from his computer, which he’d set up in our kitchen. “That’s not how I’d do it,” he said.
I stuck my cereal bowl in the dishwasher, using perhaps a little more force than strictly necessary. “Didn’t realize I’d been loading it wrong all these years,” I said. “Thanks for letting me know.” If looks could kill, I would’ve spent the rest of my day burying Don in the backyard.
And this was only Week Two of the Covid lockdown.
I beat a hasty retreat to my home office. Lord, I prayed, now it’s the dishwasher! Please make Don lighten up or we’ll never get through quarantine.
Don’t get me wrong, Don and I have been married for 38 years—happily. But we’re polar opposites.
A Marine veteran and career accountant, Don has never met a spreadsheet he didn’t like. I’m artsy, more into painting a picture than balancing a budget, though I run a collectibles business on eBay. He might be hard of hearing these days, but Don jumps out of bed at the crack of dawn.
He used to wake me up by imitating the bugle cavalry charge. I broke him of that by refusing to tell him where I hid his coffee. Not that he needs caffeine. Don’s brain is on overdrive practically from the minute he wakes up. I stay in bed until he kisses my cheek at 7:45 and leaves for work. Then I fumble my way to the fridge to grab a diet soda, downing it on the couch in bleary silence.
When Don and I started dating, I liked how different he was. He seemed so put together. Not like the aimless guys I had been dating. We met while I was in art school and working at his parents’ art store. Don was their bookkeeper. One day, I visited the supply warehouse, which was also Don’s office. By the time I got home, I had a message on the machine from Don asking me out on a date.
His type A personality balanced my type B. Early in our marriage, I made a name for myself drawing landmarks around Oklahoma. Don framed my pictures and helped set up exhibitions. Later he encouraged me to pursue other passions. “You should try writing stories,” he said. “You’d be so good at it.”
Don and I were both working fulltime and raising our two kids. It was decades before I put pen to paper. When I did, writing proved an exciting new path, one of many I’ve walked with Don’s support.
For the past 15 years, I’d worked from home, running my eBay business and writing. With the kids grown, I’d gotten used to having the house to myself, save for a cranky parrot, Taz, and our loyal dog, Scooby. Don’s retirement loomed. I worried.
With him at home all day, would our natural differences clash? Maybe staying out of each other’s way was the secret to our happy marriage. I worried something—or someone—would have to change.
Then Covid-19 hit. Don’s boss decided that older employees should work from home until the numbers improved. I was grateful. I wanted Don to be safe. This was also a good opportunity to test our future retirement arrangements.
His first Monday morning at home, Don chatted about his plans for our yard. “Wait until you see it, Kristy,” he said. “I’m going to…” His words ping-ponged around my precaffeinated brain. All I heard was wah wah wah, like the adults in the Peanuts cartoons. I was tempted to shut my beloved husband inside our coat closet to work through some of his morning energy. Alone.
Somehow we survived the first week of lockdown. Week Two started with Don’s critique of my dishwasher-loading technique and my retreat to the home office. A desperate thirst for a diet soda refill finally forced me back into the kitchen. Making no mention of our spat, Don walked me through every step of his new spreadsheet.
“This column is for what we already spend, and this column is what we should spend. This column…”
A few days later, I noticed him reloading the dishwasher with crisp military precision, our plates all lined up perfectly like Marines during drill instructor inspection. Darn, it did fit more dishes that way. Not that I would ever admit it.
I knew I needed to chill. Don was just being Don, and I loved him…but. I shook the thought from my head. We’d been through tougher things than a little too much alone time.
We did our senior Walmart grocery pickup the next morning. Afterward, Don and I washed our hands at the kitchen sink.
“You should try my handwashing technique,” he said. I rolled my eyes.
“See? My bar soap lathers up much better than your liquid soap. It’s important that you soap more vigorously between your fingers.”
I could feel a headache coming on. “I’m going to lie down for a few minutes,” I said. “Could you bring me some aspirin?”
I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Lord, you’re not helping Don change at all. How am I going to make it to our thirty-ninth wedding anniversary?
Don came in and handed me a stack of napkins.
“You’re not wearing your hearing aid, are you?” I asked, bemoaning my lack of aspirin and pulling the covers over my head. Did God need hearing aids too?
After another two weeks on lockdown, I noticed an odd thing. Or maybe it was just odd that I noticed it. I was more productive with Don around. I constantly misplace things and waste time trying to find them. My tumbler. Glasses. Keys. You name it. “Cleaned your glasses,” Don would say, setting the missing pair on my desk. “Here, I filled your tumbler with fresh ice and Diet Coke.”
One afternoon, I walked past the bathroom and saw Don twisting on the toothpaste cap. Oh, crud! I’d forgotten to do it. I knew how much that used to bug Don in the early years of our marriage.
“Why don’t you get mad anymore when I leave off the toothpaste cap?” I asked, standing in the doorway.
“It’s a Kristy-ism,” he said, smiling. “You aren’t going to change, and I love you just as you are.”
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.
I pictured Don, maybe 35 years ago, standing in the same spot he was now, twisting on the toothpaste cap after I’d left the bathroom. Day after day. He must’ve reached a point where he’d chosen to accept me, warts and all.
Well, if Don could do it…
Scooby and I started joining Don on the daily trips to his office to pick up mail and projects. You’d think that more time together would exacerbate my grievances, but I liked seeing Don in his element. Don, meanwhile, saw firsthand how many hours I put into my eBay business and my writing, and he helped out more with chores.
We had fun coming up with new recipes to mimic our favorite restaurants. “This deep-dish pie is as good as Pizzeria Uno’s,” said Don, diving in for a third slice.
If I needed to ask Don a question, I quit yelling down the hall. I knew he couldn’t hear me. Instead I walked to the kitchen to talk face-to-face. A little more time but a lot less frustration.
Eventually Don’s boss requested that the old-timers return to the office. I thought I’d be glad, but I wasn’t. Neither was Scooby. Many mornings after Don went back to the office, Scooby stood by the front door, ready for our family outing to pick up Don’s mail, while Taz, our parrot, sang the cavalry charge.
I discovered a truth about marriage, and it wasn’t that Don needed to be more like me. If anything, I needed to be more accepting, like him. The secret to loving Don all these years, and his loving me, is letting each other be the unique—and complementary—selves God made us to be. When Don retires, it may take another adjustment period, but we’ll be just fine. I might even have him start loading the dishwasher.
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