At this gift-giving time of year, it is so important for couples to communicate. As a public service, therefore, I offer this excerpt from my most recent book, Some Things You Just Have to Live With: Musings on Middle Age, from Morehouse publishing.
“Couldn’t you be just a little more collegial?” my husband wants to know. He asks me this fairly often, every time I do something without consulting him. I am trying very hard to do this less and less. I am trying to include him in my lightning decision making. But it goes against my grain: if I include him, my decisions won’t be lightning any ore. They’ll be something else --- glacial, maybe. Eternal.
You over-research things, I tell him silently. You over prepare. You obsess about details. You are virtually motionless.
This is childish of me. Childish and unworthy. So is the guerilla warfare I conduct around the issues upon which we disagree. I order a set of sheets on the Internet, buy somebody a gift. Lend somebody money. Commit to a project that will involve the car we share, without asking if it’s available. In my imagination, my right to do each of these things inflates in size, becomes a referendum on my autonomy, my adulthood. They become human rights issues.
But they’re not human rights issues. They’re petty turf wars, the Kemoy and Matsu of our life together. Wars he doesn’t even known he’s fighting.
Besides, the truth is that I under prepare. I shoot from the hip. I count on my demonstrated ability to turn on a dime and pull a rabbit out of a hat. Sometimes it works.
And sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, I grow defensive, casting about for someone to blame. I declaim about the vanity of focusing on trivial things, wonder snidely if some people might not have better things to do than worry about minutiae, imply that really productive people – me – don’t bother themselves with details.
I vow to change. I will listen to him. I will talk things over with him in advance. I won’t surprise him. I won’t act unilaterally. I won’t.
I will not overfill the tea kettle with water.
I will not leave a sponge in the kitchen sink.
I will not say we can do something without checking first.
I didn’t say I wouldn’t buy a horse.
The horse was not, shall we say, a budgeted expense. But my granddaughter loved horses – what little girl does not? – and wanted one. Of course. I had always wanted one when I was a girl, and rode friends’ horse every chance I got.
But this is terrible. It is, I think the most terrible thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some terrible things. But sometimes I long for the chance to do things the way I want to do them just because I want to do them that way. Without having to say why. Without having to worry about whether someone else will be annoyed.
I should have asserted this autonomy around sponges or tea kettles, not horses. I could have avoided the situation in which I now find myself: owning a horse my husband doesn’t know about. How did it happen, exactly? I have repressed the memory of my subterfuge. I know that Madeline did not ask me flat out to buy her a horse – she would never ask for such a thing. I think I saw her looking at pictures in her horse book, talking about which of the beauties she would choose if she could have one, and something with me said, well, why not? Why should she just have to daydream? Why shouldn’t I make her daydream come true, if I can? And I could.
If Madeline and her mother would do the research and find a suitable horse at an affordable price, I would buy it and board it. The research took a long time. It was painstakingly conducted by Madeline, who haunted the Internet daily. The search narrowed. They visited horse farms. They found Leo.
Leo Lonesome Dundee was a cream-colored Quarter Horse. He was seven years old. He was slow and gentle. That was two years ago. Leo hasn’t speeded up any.
At the time, I was drawing a meager but steady paycheck. I could afford to buy Leo, and I could afford to board him. I could afford his shows and his worm medicine. I could afford his saddle and bridle and his new blanket. I could afford Madeline’s riding boots.
I could buy these things invisibly. My husband and I have two joint checking accounts, but we manage them separately. Lady Bird John son once remarked that she wouldn’t share a checking account with the Archangel Gabriel, and I concur. Lady Bird must have had her little projects, too. She Q and I will be able to get at each other’s money if one of us dies, but otherwise, we leave each other alone. Thus, the fat checks to the horse farm and the tack store went out unnoticed.
Then I retired and began to write fulltime. Even more meager, but no longer steady, my income races Leo’s horseshoes and boarding fees to the bank every month. I usually win, but only by a nose. In significant ways, it no longer makes sense to do this.
And I still haven’t told Q.
He knows Leo exists. They’ve met. He knows that Madeline rides no one but Leo. I bring him garbage bags of manure from the horse farm to add to the compost. He knows Leo is the horse Madeline loves most.
The only thing he doesn’t know is that Leo is our horse.
What if I die suddenly? What if I drop dead and, after three or four months, the horse farmer calls to say hey-long-time-no-check and gets Q on the phone – which he assuredly will, as I won’t be taking calls? This monumental failure of collegiality will tarnish my memory forever. What else didn’t she tell me? He will wonder, imagining bigamous marriages, apartments in undisclosed locations, illicit lovers waiting for word. Ranchettes in New Mexico.
We married too late. I was too set in my ways. Now, I don’t know how to be a partner. I absorb the benefits of being married and won’t pay the price. I buy a horse instead.
Madeline loves to groom Leo. She loves to groom him more than she loves to ride him, I think. At Halloween, she bought him a cap to wear, with ear covers – his costume. She shampoos his lovely tail and cuts his mane across his forehead. She rests her cheek against his flank and strokes his heavy winter coat. He comes across the field to greet her when she comes to see him.
I have begun to tell people. You haven’t told your husband? a confidant asks in wonder. I shake my head and shrug. I don’t know what to do.
I will leave this book out where he can find it. Maybe he doesn’t read my stuff. If he gets to it, I’ll confess. I was going to tell him. I just never quite got around to it.
Some Things You Just Have to Live With is available in hardcover and as an audiobook, read by the authort, at www.geraniumfarm.org