Clear communication is extremely important in a marriage. It should be one of the foundational skills that couples develop if they even think about getting married. Of course, even couples who communicate with one another very well occasionally trip up. Nobody’s perfect after all. Chrisie and I are no different from any other marriage in this respect. We mess up and confuse each other from time to time. But there’s also the strangely unclear conversations that we (in even our fantastic relationship) seem to have with each other. Repeatedly.
Sometimes it is the requests she makes that I am apparently incapable of hearing. I’ve often sat and watched television, lay in bed and read a book, or played a video game when suddenly (to me) Chrisie yells at me.
“Why aren’t you listening to me?”
Sadly, I often continue what I’m doing but say, “I didn’t know you were talking to me,” without really looking up.
A moment later I sense that she is standing nearby and angry. I’ll ask, completely innocently, “What?”
“You weren’t listening again!”
“Sure I was. You said . . . something.”
“I asked you to-”
“That’s it! Yes, you asked me to do something. Which I, being the incredible husband I am, will gladly do.”
“So what will you do?” she’ll ask skeptically.
“Uh, whatever you ask me to?” Weak, I know.
“Something other than [watch TV, read my book, play this game] ?”
“Oh, definitely that. But I asked you to do something else, too.”
“Yeah, I know. But could you repeat it. Just to make sure I have it straight and all.”
“Or you could just tell me what I said.”
“But you say it better.”
“Fine,” she’ll say, exasperated for some reason, “Could you just take the clothes out of the washer and put them in the dryer?”
“Sure! That is definitely within my skill set. Just let me [get to a commercial, finish this chapter, kill this boss] first.”
“Right,” she’ll say dubiously, “Just do it. Okay?”
Sadly, such tasks never seem to enter even my short-term memory because a few hours later she’ll ask me if I put the clothes in the dryer. In all our years of marriage, I respond the same way nine out of ten times.
“No, I forgot.”
I really don’t mean for it to turn out that way, uh, every single time. It just does.
Then there’s the conversation we have been having variations for nearly thirteen years now. The same conversation, over and over. It always involves food.
“How many grilled cheese sandwiches do you want?” Chrisie asks.
“Are we having grilled cheese? Sweet! Hey, why are you rolling your eyes?”
“Because I told you that’s what we were having. Twice.”
“Oh, I must not have been listening.”
“Really. Shocking. So how many do you want?”
“Okay,” she says and walks back to the kitchen where she conjures perfect grilled cheese sandwiches using some sort of arcade witchery. No, really. I cannot emphasize enough how perfect her grilled cheese sandwiches are. I know there’s nothing more to them than melted cheese on toasted bread, but when she makes them, they are magical. She never burns them and they are just crunchy enough with just the right amount of butter and perfectly melted but not hardened cheese. I’m telling you it’s not humanly possible to make them like she does.
Anyway, before she finishes making them for the kids and me, she invariably returns and inquires a second time as to the number of grilled cheese sandwiches I may or may not want.
“A couple,” I say. Again.
“Okay, but how many?”
“A couple,” I answer more slowly.
“But,” she says even slower, “how many?”
“A couple.” We could do this all night.
“Do you want two or three?”
“I want a couple.”
“Fine, but how many?”
“Are we really having this conversation again?”
“I want two.”
“Why can’t you just say that?”
“I did just say that.”
“No, you said you wanted a couple.”
“And, as I have explained on numerous occasions, a couple means two. It’s what a couple is. Like you and I are a couple. There’s just two of us.”
“But why can’t you just say two?”
“Because it means the same thing.”
“Fine. Hey, why are you rolling your eyes at me?”
It’s how we relate. Don’t judge.
Every now and then, though, one of us will throw the other for a complete loop by saying something so off the wall, so unexpected, so weird, that it surprises even us.
We sat on the couch one night watching one of guilty television pleasures. In it, a character explained that sometimes you must have “the talk” with your girlfriend. The talk that explains one of you is heading for fame and greatness and there’s not enough room on the way for a reminder of a past life.
Possibly because I knew she wouldn’t take me seriously (more likely because I am occasionally stupid) I tuned to Chrisie, placed my hand on her shoulder, and said, “Honey, sometimes people are destined for more. For fame. And on the way to the top, there’s just not room for everybody.”
“You did not just say that to me!”
“Well, I did, but you know I didn’t mean it. What could I possibly do without you?”
“That’s right,” she said, “You’d be pathetic without me. Besides, if you left me I would be on you like butter on a knife!”
“I’d be on you like butter on a knife.”
“What does that even mean?”
“You know, it’s two things that go together. Butter and a knife.”
“That makes no sense.”
“It’s a saying.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
“Look, Honey, I love you, but that is not a saying.”
“Yes, it is. It’s like white on rice.”
“No, it’s not. White on rice means rice is white. You can’t separate them. They have to be together.” Just pretend for a moment that “wild” rice doesn’t exist.
“But butter is on a knife.”
“True, but it doesn’t have to be. They aren’t inseparable. Butter can be on a knife, but it doesn’t have to be.”
“Well, I’ll still be all over you.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I truly wouldn’t. The few days we broke up after we finally got together were some of the most miserable days of my life (as she likes reminding me). Chrisie and I seemed made for each other. I am better with her than without her, like butter on a knife.