Prologue: Humpty Dumpty
I didn't mean to surprise her like I did. I was somewhat irritated with Annie, but not really mad. I've always been a very direct person. By that I mean when something bothers me, I don't sit around and stew about it ... I react at once and say what I feel. Sometimes that's good. I have some buddies I talk to, and when a bump in the road comes along, they worry and worry at it—like a dog gnawing at a bone, making themselves upset over something that usually turns out to be trivial.
I like to think of the problems that arise in life and in a marriage as a storm. Forgetting to stop at the store was like a gentle spring rain. Losing a job might be like a summer thunder storm—lots of flash and noise but not an insurmountable problem. A death in the family would be like a tsunami bringing terror and disruption. What works for me in this analogy is it makes it easier to wrap my head around the "storms" that life brings.
A good example of how I am happened a few months ago. I'd noticed that the tires on Annie's Lexus weren't showing very much tread depth. I mentioned it to her, "Honey, the tires on your car are starting to wear. I'll keep my eye on them, but they're good for another six months or so." It wasn't important—she didn't really need to know about it—but I like to keep her informed. It wasn't two weeks later she came home from work with new tires on her car. Now I could have stewed about it and worked up a good mad for her wasting the money for new tires that weren't needed yet. Not me. I went to her and casually mentioned,
"I noticed your car has new tires."
"Oh, Terry. I forgot to tell you. I got a call yesterday from the dealer. They had an emergency recall notice. It was something about the tires overheating at higher speeds on a long trip on a hot day. They said that since it was a safety item they would be replaced by the tire manufacturer at no charge. I dropped the car off on the way to work and picked it up on the way home. Their shuttle bus took me right to the hospital and picked me up after work."
See. No worries. No incipient ulcer. I had a concern. I addressed it ... not a big deal.
Of course it doesn't always work that way. One day, a year or so after we got married, she spent the day at the spa. She got the works: massage, manicure, pedicure, hair fixed up, and whatever other secret things women do at these places that men don't really understand. She walked in the door, pleased with herself—and rightfully so. She had a smile on her face; she looked good and she knew it. I walked around her, doing my own admiring.
"I like, babe! You look great!" I paused; there was one little thing. So in my direct way I added, "With your hair like that it does make your face look kinda round."
Okay, that didn't work. I shoulda thought that one through a little more. Generally, over the years though, I think my being straightforward has saved me a lot of heartburn. Until today, that is.
We have this deal: for birthdays, we have agreed to a limit of a grand for each other's presents. That might sound like a lot, but we are pretty well off. Annie is an ophthalmologist with a specialty in ocular oncology, tumors of the eye and its appendages. I'm a writer, mostly adventure novels. I'm not top tier or anything like that. I do crank out two or three books a year and make enough that we could live quite comfortably, even if Annie didn't work at all. In addition I write articles for several magazines, mostly outdoor oriented, or anything involving wine. The last effort was for a well-known fishing magazine, and was about a fly-in fishing trip I'd taken to northern British Columbia. It had been a great vacation to Muncho Lake where I could fish for any mix of walleye, northern pike, lake trout, arctic grayling, rainbow trout, or Dolly Varden. The article paid quite well for the small amount of time I put into it, but it was more of a labor of love than just for the money.
I'd been rummaging around in Annie's desk looking for an extra key for the lock on the gate on the side of the house—somehow I'd lost the one I kept in my glove box of my truck. I noticed a manila envelope with the logo and address info for Travis Marine, a local high-volume boat and trailer dealer. Curious, I opened the flap and pulled out a birthday card and a yellow, folded up form. It was a copy of an invoice for a new boat, a fifteen foot 2008 Boston Whaler Montauk.
Damn, that was my dream boat. I'd drooled over it at the boat show at the Cow Palace in San Francisco the previous January. Annie almost had to drag me away from it. This was a hard one. We did have a deal about limits for birthday presents but, damn! This was something I'd been lusting after for years. But the price! With the new trailer that was on the order form it was as much as the new Ford 250 with all the bells and whistles I'd splurged on a few months ago when I got a particularly nice royalty check. (The nice thing about writing was that I didn't get money just for my latest book, but royalty payments for all the ones I'd written over the years.)
So, in my direct way, I walked into the kitchen where Annie was making a Grand Marnier soufflé for dessert. She'd just put the eggs on the counter when I walked in. She turned her head and smiled at me, surprised to see me in the kitchen. I announced, with no inflection— it wasn't a big deal—I just wanted to discuss it.
"I know what you did."
She froze ... a look of horror on her face. She put her hands on her face and in lifting her hands her finger gently nudged one of the eggs. It started rolling, slowly, toward the edge. It was like watching a traffic accident; time seemed to freeze; a movie played a frame at a time. The egg was six inches from the edge of the counter. I had a feeling of impending disaster. Five inches. In one of those strange associations the brain makes, the story of Humpty Dumpty came to mind:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses,
And all the king's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Four inches. It was clear there was no stopping the egg; disaster was imminent. Three inches. That was a strange reaction from Annie. I mean, it's not like I'd make her return the boat. It was merely something we should talk about; make sure we were on the same page. Two inches. The egg was gathering steam. One inch. The brain in its miraculous way makes lightening fast connections. Would the egg stop on the barely noticeable lip on the edge of the tile, or did it have enough momentum to get past that barrier? I'd recently watched the movie, "Match Point," again. The opening scene is the playing for the key point in a tennis match. The ball hits the net and drops, barely over ... or not, and decides a championship on a turn of the ball. The egg would roll over and crash like Humpty Dumpty ... or not, on a turn of the egg.
Of course, the egg had a full head of steam by now, and almost jumped over the edge (passing thought, did good old Humpty commit suicide? Inquiring minds want to know), and, almost ponderously, rotated ass over teakettle. One oval end wobbled over the other, slowly, inevitably down to the hard tile floor.
Normal speed. Impressions: pieces of egg shell scattered hither and yon, egg white splashed on the counter base, bright yellow yolk on the toe of Annie's blue sneakers. Colorful, really; a new fashion statement? A sob from Annie. Her face was as white as the remnants of the egg shell scattered like confetti over the rust colored Italian terra cotta tile; nice contrast.
Conclusion: Something is seriously wrong.