by Erez Batat
“Hey,” she greets me as I come down the stairs, yawning and half asleep. The air is filled with a Sunday morning scent that only the combination of toast, eggs and freshly steeped black tea can produce. I find her sitting stiffly in the brown leather chair. I don’t like brown chair mornings – especially on a Sunday. “How’d you sleep?!” she probes in a dry tone.
This sweet woman has thousands of distinct, subtle ways to communicate. Like an open book, every expression on her face or a tone of her voice, has a special meaning. All you have to do is listen, watch and pay close attention… I love when she speaks loudly – even when I am right there – it tells me how excited she is. Then there’s hundreds of facial expressions, each one engrained forever next to an adjective in her personal dictionary of emotions. And of course, there’s the choice of a place to sit. It can get quite complicated to read my wife; throughout the years I got the main chapters of her operating manual memorized, and at this point I am usually right on target. And let me tell you – I definitely know what the brown chair means.
But knowing what an expression means is one thing… Knowing how to handle it – well, that requires a whole different set of instructions. An encyclopedia, really.
“I slept OK, I guess… How are you sweetie?” I tread lightly.
I now sense it clearly, my uneasiness validated… The air is a bit tight. Compressed. It fills me with a fine, yet sufficiently troubling sensation as if time is moving faster than my internal clock, that I am in a constant need to catch up to it, moment by moment, second after second. I hate that feeling. I always get it when she sits on the brown chair. It’s the ‘I don’t want to sit here a long time’ chair. You can never get truly comfortable in it, not for long; she sits in it when she plans to get up soon. I much prefer to find her on the couch, with her legs folded close to her chest and her feet covered with a blanket, the Sunday newspaper spread open on her knees. This is when she is the most relaxed, the least anxious to go somewhere or do something. It’s a clear sign I can take my time and enjoy my beloved morning ritual of first cup of tea on the couch before I start toying with breakfast possibilities – without the burdening sensation that someone is waiting for me.
“I think I’ll take the dogs for a hike”, she gives me a glimpse of her current position on the Sunday morning timeline. “Do you have ANY interest in coming?” her tone is sharp and annoyed. ‘I really want you to come with me’, the operating manual auto-translates in my mind, ‘but I am ready and you are not even awake yet’.
I suddenly feel exhausted. The gap is wider than I expected… She is already hiking in her mind, which means she is past newspaper, breakfast, and post-breakfast tea – maybe even a call with her mom. I, however, haven’t even pooped.
“I always want to come with you”, I remind her, choosing my words carefully, “But I need more time – “
“You are never READY when I am”, she erupts. “We NEVER do anything in MY time of day!”
Red alert! It’s escalating faster than I thought. My mind gets muddier by the second as I hastily flip through random pages of her Encyclopedia. It suddenly feels more like a sloppy scrapbook, with pages missing everywhere and no table-of-contents to be found. What does she need? What do I say? Is this one of those ‘just listen and be supportive’ times? I don’t think so… She demands an explanation, an actual solution. She sounds aggravated, irritated.
Oh, no! I now realize which chapter I must look in. It’s the chapter I don’t get, no matter how many times I read it… The chapter of endless loops and dark mazes; the chapter of irrational thought patterns, entwined with twisted logic only she can understand. It’s the chapter which thy name should not be mentioned, especially when most relevant – the chapter of hormonal imbalance.
Two hours later, we are hiking in the woods, holding hands. The dogs are running feverishly among the trees around us, chasing each other. Her eyes are still puffy and red from her earlier meltdown, the final destination of her erupting volcano of anger. My mind is foggy with confusion – what the hell just happened? How did I survive this wave of explosive energy? I fervently look for an answer, eager to classify an appropriate procedure for the next time I am attacked by the swarming wave of hormonal rage. I get nothing. Better enjoy the moment, I think, let bygones be bygones. Unfortunately, no notes from today’s lesson can be recorded. Except one – next time she is out of town I am burning that brown chair.
I speed up in an attempt to match my steps with her vigorous pace. She senses the momentary tension through our joined palms and swiftly turns back, pulling herself into my reaching arms. Our noses bump, and we briefly meet again in the endless field of time and space, as if nothing ever happened.