Getting off the Los Angeles treadmill and moving to Maine have combined to help me develop a healthier perspective on life and become a better husband and father. I’m grateful for that.
An unforeseen side effect of this growth is loss of the will to lord it over my wife, Carol, when she makes some small mistake or other. I’m embarrassed to say it, but a little part of me misses it.
This is not a symptom of deeper relationship problems, and I’m not a Peter Pan type who is ambivalent about marriage. I’ve always wanted to be married. As a child, I had a recurring dream in which I was the beloved king of an island paradise, adored by my beautiful island queen. (And no, she did not look like my mom. Why would you even think that?) I lucked into my perfect mate (who also doesn’t look like my mom) and embarked on an ongoing, fascinating journey.
However, the love and support of a long-term relationship comes at a price: proximity. The excitement of discovery slowly gives way to the quieter joys of familiarity, but it can also be accompanied by a subtle sense of dread as you realize those quirks you once found cute, or least tolerable, are never going to go away.
Case in point: Carol blows her nose low and slow, with the lung capacity of a scuba tank and the breath control of a Tibetan monk. I blow mine like a duck call blaring over the speakers at Hadlock Field. We used to marvel at our quaint differences. Now we just annoy each other.
The principal battleground in this war of attrition on our nerves, however, isn’t personal habits. It’s the perpetual argument over personal responsibility and who has more of it. At first glance, 35 years of juggling household and business duties while raising two children and a husband seem to give Carol the edge. I’m more intuitive than “factual” about maturity, and my gut says I am the true adult. Sadly, society is a slave to evidence, so I’ve spent a lifetime hunting the Moby Dick of incontrovertible proof.
A couple of weeks ago, the Great White Whale breached right under my nose: Carol left the back door open.
Carol doesn’t leave doors open. No way, no how. She will check a door after watching me lock it in front of her because you never know: today could be the day I forget the difference between clockwise and counterclockwise. Under ordinary circumstances, finding the door wide open would have been reality shattering, like an alien abduction. Once the impossible happens, all bets are off.
Fortunately, there was a rational explanation. She was bringing the kids to the mall to eat and shop for clothes for Bob’s new job, so she would have had to walk the dogs and wrangle two adolescents, which is like herding cats, just to get ready to go. Then, inevitably, she would have noticed something when they were halfway down the driveway:
Carol: “Didn’t you say you needed to get pants and shoes for work, Bobby?”
Robert (while texting): “Seggy says ‘hi.’” Seggy is the GF in Massachusetts. They’re cyber conjoined at the thumbs.
Carol (beaming): “Hi, Seggy.” Carol loves the GF. (To Bob) “So we were going to buy shoes and stuff?”
Robert (while texting): “Yeah.”
Carol: “Shouldn’t you have some socks or something?”
Robert (while texting): “If you’re gonna get all technical.”
He would have jumped out of the car, maybe after it stopped, probably without closing the car door because closing it wastes time on the back end, and it wasn’t his idea to stop anyway; you could just buy socks at the store. He’d come back with a pair of socks, and by “pair of socks” I mean “two socks,” working his phone with his free thumb. He wouldn’t be listening when Carol asked him if he closed the door, but he would know the fastest way out of a conversation with your mother is to wait for the interrogative uplift and then say, “Yes.”
To the untrained eye, it may not have been her fault. More importantly, it couldn’t possibly be mine. At one time I would have lived for an opportunity to get a little redemption for all the grief she gave me over the most trivial things: “You left the garage door open again;” “Would it kill you to turn off the porch light?” “The car’s gone.” As if locking it would stop a determined thief. Anyway, I expected the usual feeling of smug satisfaction that always preceded one of my brilliant wisecracks, such as, “Guess what you did! Left the door open. Hah!”
It never came. Instead, I was glad she wasn’t there because it meant nothing really serious could be going on. I don’t know when caring about my loved ones’ safety became more important than being right. I know it’s a good thing. I’ll miss the adrenalin rush of self-righteousness, though.
Portland resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.