By Chris McLaughlin
“Do you take calcium?” he asks.
He is on a mission to tidy the medicine drawer, which is part of the mission to tidy ALL THE THINGS. This has been going on for a couple days now, and I am working not to let my head explode. Because I know where this is going.
And it does. There are three bottles of calcium supplements, mainly because the physician said the first one wasn’t really the kind your body could absorb well, and as we are both shrinking, it can’t hurt to try to beef up the bones a bit. Or mineral them up: I guess that’s better.
Then he asks, “What are these?” holding up four slim black boxes not yet opened.
“Harmonicas.” They are mine, given to me about five years ago when I was living somewhere else. How did they get into the drawer here? I forgot to give them to the kids. I do that a lot. I did that a lot before I could blame aging for forgetting.
Soon each object in the drawer will be extracted, evaluated, and discarded or replaced neatly. But something else is roaming my mind, likely something far less useful, and I do not want to be engaged in this activity of passing judgment on all the things.
Also I want to avoid the activity of passing judgment on my partner, which is exactly what’s about to happen. Stop it, I tell myself, successfully this time. Not so successfully the other day, when the objects were the nests of cables, the assortment of small electronic devices that passed some time ago into obsolescence. Phones, cameras, the like. Will the cables match the devices? If not, what do they match? Will the images captured 20 years ago download still?
“And if they do,” I ask, “what will you do with them? Why not throw it all out?”
“I will look at them and remember,” he says, more nicely than I deserve.
“I can’t share this activity with you,” I now say, either grown-up or snarky, you can guess which, but at least with a smile, and head downstairs.
Many of the cables and objects will be kept, more neatly now, in a place he knows, just in case. Shake head.
But don’t think I Marie Kondo my way through the mysterious old stuff, tossing and tossing toward blissful emptiness. I just never look at it. When I was downsizing, the friend who helped me said, “I thought you might be a hoarder. But you aren’t. You don’t go out accumulating things on purpose. You just forget to move them on when you’re done with them.” She’s not wrong.
He is an attentive and tidy sort of person. I am a distracted and messy kind. Living with someone requires the respect of being tidier, and I pull it off in our public places. But it’s not my nature to be good with things. Unless I need them now, this instant, I’d rather ignore them.
It’s so interesting, this business of navigating difference. Married for a quarter of a century, now almost a quarter of a century ago, I didn’t learn it well then. How to see and accept that another person has a whole different way of being, maybe of seeing, of operating in the world. And their way is not worse than yours. Your head should not explode from it, especially when it makes your own life better. Or at least tidier.
Sitting with that a bit, it hit: love this too.
Love this too. The things that irritate you about others, especially people you care about, love them too. The differences, love them too. Let loving transform the irritation.
Yesterday, putting on shoes, the laces were already tied. Strange: I never take them off that way. And the soles are clean and solid. I walked through Umbria and Tuscany; Wauwatosa, Riverwest and half of Waukesha in those shoes: how could it be?
Walk a little in them. They feel good, but different. Look closer: they’re his. We have similar pairs, black leather and white soles. (This is a thing that happens with couples, similar shoes. I don’t have any opinions about it.) Anyway, we happen to wear the same size. So they fit. So do we.
It’s a mystery. But if you can’t actually walk in someone else’s shoes it might be worth imagining. And if you can’t imagine it, well, love the differences too, anyway.
I’ll be working on it. Love this, too.