Being married is sometimes freakishly hard. I see couples who have been together 30, 40, or 50 years, and I think they must possess some magical skill that I have yet to develop. I think that maybe the reason we never read that Jesus married anyone is because it would’ve been a stretch for him to be married and remain without sin. It’s just that the people we are closest to, many times our spouses, know how to push our buttons better than just about any other person in the world. Unfortunately, I lack the maturity to just let things go, and so sometimes this button-pushing leads to really terrible behavior. At least, that’s what happened last night on the way home from dinner.
I have picked up a habit that Other Half finds annoying. For most of my adult life, I was unable to read in the car. I got terrible motion sickness. In college, I thought any road trip was a waste of precious studying hours because I couldn’t read textbooks or take notes while riding down the road the way a lot of my friends could. My inner ear was conspiring against me. Somehow, that has resolved. I don’t know why, or how, but now I’m able to read in the car. So I do. All the time.
Most days, reading is the way I unwind. It’s not unusual for me to finish 3 or 4 books in a week because to blow off steam or relax or escape, I read. Other Half cannot stand it when this happens in the car. To him, riding in the car is sacred. It’s just as much family time as sitting around the dinner table. It is a collection of moments when the four of us are sequestered in one spot, and even if no one does anything but sing along with the radio, he wants us to be present. He can’t stand it if he tries to talk to Mary Ann and she doesn’t hear him because she has her AirPods in her ears. Or if he tries to tell Benjamin Button to look out the window to see some amazing classic car only to find he has been drowned out by a YouTube video. I thought reading fell into another category. He can still talk to me, and I can smile and nod or say “yep” in all the right places while finding peace of mind in the pages of whatever has captured my interest that day.
This past week, that thing that captured my interest was Tina Fey’s Bossypants. How I have made it this many years without reading that book is a mystery. I love comedy writing, and I love strong female voices, but somehow I dodged it until I stopped by Books-a-Million on a lunch break and discovered it, along with several David Sedaris books, Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink, and Glennon Doyle’s Love Warrior on the buy 2 get 1 free bargain rack. Bossypants was the first one I picked out of the pile when I got home. I loved it so much, I cannot even tell you. And yesterday, after getting home from work, doing all my paperwork, and skipping my usual calm-down-before-you-interact-with-people time, the four of us loaded up in the truck to go eat Mexican food.
I was nearing the end of Bossypants, and any time I’m nearing the end of a book, I feel compelled to let all other responsibilities and obligations fall by the wayside until I finish it. It kills me to be 30 minutes from finishing what I started and then get interrupted. So this time, I thought I would read in the car on the way to dinner, simultaneously finishing up the book and having my alone-time so I could be a semi-pleasant human at dinner. Other Half made passive aggressive remarks about it on the way to the restaurant, but I kept “uh-huh”-ing at the appropriate times and turning pages until we pulled in the parking lot. I left Bossypants on the passenger’s seat to await my return from guacamole heaven.
Towards the end of dinner, I thought about a funny passage I wanted to look up so I could send it to Helen Keller, and decided I would do it as soon as we got to the truck. So imagine my surprise when I got in the car and couldn’t find it. I rifled through my purse, looked in the floorboard, checked the backseat, but it was gone.
Immediately I turned on Other Half. He was buckling his seatbelt and trying to look innocent. “Where’s my book?” I asked him. He shrugged.
“Did you leave it on the table?” He tried hard for an innocent face, but that ship has sailed long ago. 15 years of marriage might not be forever, but it’s long enough to recognize B.S.
“No, I left it in the car. Give me my book,” I said. By now, both kids are silent and staring, Other Half has cranked the truck, and I still have my passenger side door wide open.
“I don’t have your book,” he said.
Apparently Benjamin Button recognizes B.S. too, and the B.S. Buddies stick together because he piped up. “Fine Mom, it’s me. I took it,” he said. With a straight face, looking me right in the eye as he spewed lies. This innocent blonde-haired blue-eyed baby who I carried for nine months, and then gave birth to by being gutted like a fish, was lying to my face and siding with the enemy.
“Fine,” I said. “Then give it to me. We are not leaving this parking lot until you give it back.” Then he started to get shifty-eyed.
“I can’t reach it,” he said. “It’s under the seat.” He squirmed a little. Mary Ann stayed silent.
“We can wait,” I told him. “Find my book, and then we’ll leave.” He just stared at me. I knew, and he knew and Sweet Baby Jesus knew that he couldn’t give me back my book because he didn’t have my book. He was just an accomplice. An accessory after the fact.
Other Half started to ease the truck out of the parking space. The passenger door was still open.
“We’re not leaving until you give me my book back,” I told him. He pumped the brakes, hoping it would be enough force to close the door. It wasn’t. The reason it wasn’t was because I had decided that I was going to stick my leg out, braced against the bottom panel to prevent it from closing, until that paperback was in my hands where it belonged. I only had ten pages left, and those ten pages were going to be finished before we pulled back in the driveway if it killed me. He let the truck roll back some more.
“You’re being ridiculous,” he said. “Close the door so we can go home. You don’t need the book for a car ride.” What he was probably saying is “Hey, let’s spend time together,” but what my brain heard was, “He thinks he’s going to tell you what to do, and he is not.”
I decided that I would keep my leg hanging out that door until it fell off before I would willingly close it and ride home. He inched towards the edge of the parking lot and was waiting to turn onto the main road. A police officer rolled by, and our eyes followed him, wondering if we looked suspicious enough for him to flick on the blue lights. We didn’t.
“I refuse to leave this parking lot without Bossypants in my hands.” I said. And I wondered briefly if he would take off with the door open to test my commitment. Both kids were staring from the back seat, wondering how this was going to end.
Benjamin Button started yelling, “Mom, just close the door!”
By this point, I’m having an out of body experience. Sane Me can see that, clearly, Me with Her Leg Out the Door is having some type of tantrum or breakdown, and wants to talk some sense into her. But Me with Her Leg Hanging Out the Door, the one that conservative evangelical men like to cite as reasons why women are unfit for leadership in the church, told Sane Me to stop being such a quitter and man up already. I yelled back.
“Stop telling me to close the door and tell your dad to give me my book! Then we can all go home.” Other Half looked sincerely flabbergasted.
“I cannot with you,” he said. “It’s a five dollar Tina Fey book.” He shook his head, pulled it from the side pocket on the driver’s side door, and handed it over. I snatched it from his hand and opened to the place where I’d left off, then pretended I wasn’t struggling to read in the dark all the way home on pure principle. I stayed furious for the rest of the night. Laying in bed, my head on the pillow, about to go to sleep, I was still furious, now minus a good chunk of my dignity and self-respect.
I looked over at Other Half who was grinning from ear to ear. By now, I had finished Tina Fey and opened the first pages of Calypso by David Sedaris. All I could think was, that if he touched that book, my entire body would explode, and I would go down in a blaze of glory still clutching its charred pages in tight fists. This would be the hill that I died on, I was sure of it. So before anything horrible could happen, I put Calypso on the nightstand, turned off my lamp, and rolled over to go to sleep.
This morning before I left for work, I stopped in Other Half’s office to give him a kiss on the way out the door.
“Truce?” I said.
He just grinned again.
My Crazy Lady likes to tell me how marriage is a metaphor for how Christ loves the church. After last night, I’m thinking there must be a whole other side to Christ’s personality that I have yet to discover, and a whole side of mine that I’m going to choose, for now, to label “Leadership Skills.” Or, as Tina Fey calls it, Bossypants.