Yesterday my husband called at five o’clock to say he was leaving the office. This is a man who never leaves the office at five o’clock. He leaves our apartment around 7:30 each morning and returns each night at (the earliest) seven-thirty. The joke is that he works a half day. Given what our younger years were like together, it’s become a short work day. He used to leave our suburban home before the sun came up even in summer, and make the trek back around 10 o’clock at night. In those younger years, the “babies” had been asleep for three hours by the time he came home, and we were both spent. I’d put dinner on the table, fold the laundry that accumulated into mountains each day, we’d talk (he’d eat and I’d “pick” since I’d had enough bread crusts and apples peels at that point), we’d fall asleep close to midnight, and begin the routine over again in the morning. If we were lucky, at least one of the babies (born within less than four years of one another) would sleep through what was left of the night. That rarely happened.
I was delighted to hear that he was leaving at five – maybe he’d get to the gym and we could actually spend some time together in daylight. Just recently, I was thinking that in a past life we must have been bats. He said he was heading to the sale at Golfsmith to buy golf shoes since the ones he wears have not only seen better days but hurt his feet. I went to pilates at 6:30, and an hour later flung open the door to what I thought would be a note on the buffet saying “@ the gym. C U Later. LY” in our usual shorthand, but the apartment was dark. Clearly, he hadn’t been home. Despite the daily news flashes that every male politician, political contender, actor, preacher, celebrity husband, and regular Joe has either denied or confessed an affair, I was nearly convinced that something happened to him. I called his cell phone. No answer. I figured that, once again, he had it on vibrate and, as has become typical lately, assumed it was the paresthesia in his hip rendering that tingling pain down his leg that he often confuses with his cell phone’s vibration. So, for the next 20 minutes I sat, sweaty and breathless (from both the pilates class and anxiety). He finally called. Golfsmith was busier than he’d expected, the lines were long, and once he got to the register, the shoes he bought were the only ones not on sale, but he bought them anyway.
“I’ll be home in two minutes,” he said. “I just got off the subway.”
I took a shower, put the pork roast in the oven to re-heat (I’d made dinner early that morning when he left at seven-thirty), and set the table. Now, I was beginning to get not only anxious but angry – it does not take 20 minutes to walk home from the subway stop. Unable to decide whether I would feel better once he showed up or want to clobber him for making me worry, I called his cell. He was in the lobby, talking on his cell with a friend who’d called from Georgia. A sigh of relief from me. You see, where we live downtown in New York City, the streets are cobblestone and narrow, and cyclists delivering take-out whiz down the streets against the direction of the traffic. We’ve had a few close calls.
“I thought you got hit by a bike,” I said.
He laughed. “I’ll be right there.”
I heard his key turn in the door yet another 20 minutes later.
“You know,” I said without a hello, “the reason they’re called ‘mobile’ phones is because you can walk with them. You don’t have to stand still when you get a call. You can actually move. You didn’t have to sit in the lobby. Get it? Mobile.”
He shrugged and laughed again. “Pour us some wine,” he said.
As I poured the wine and set us up in the living room where we have our nightly pre-dinner catch-up-on-the-day talk, I wondered if this is what happens when one reaches a certain age: Am I now beginning a new phase of neurosis? The “kids” are out of sight and out of mind in terms of when they will be home, where they are, and (to some extent) why they aren’t answering their cell phones.
Am I now going to worry that my middle-aged husband has either keeled over on the subway, tripped in a pothole, or been hit by a cyclist? And why wouldn’t I, instead, worry that he is at some rowdy bar with a chippie half my age right out of Carrie Underwood’s song who’s caressing his wedding band as though it’s a bear trap? My husband is strong, smart and handsome and only in his mid-fifties. If single, he would still be a “catch.”
Digging into my history, I decided that my newest neurosis is because life is calm and seems to have settled into a nearly audible “ahhh.” This is not to say that we are without bumps in the road, but we seem to better accept one another’s flaws as well as our own. Humor, passion, intellect, and a best friendship has exorcised old demons and thrown out the gorillas in the room : A confession unto itself that makes me want to knock on wood, spit through my fingers, spout Yiddish expression like Alevei (It should happen to you), say a Hail Mary, carry a rabbit’s foot, four-leaf clover, look for shiny heads-up pennies on the ground, and generally genuflect. In other words, cover my bases because, for whatever reason, since childhood my comfort zone lies in the realm of ‘if things are good, then something is bound to screw them up.”
I have unsuccessfully kept my propensity for worry under wraps with my kids. As teens, they teased me relentlessly, “Hey, Mom, I know. I’ll be careful. I could poke my eye out with this slice of pizza.”
Maybe it’s genetics – or just imprinting. My mother was an inveterate worrier. To the point where if I was ten minutes past curfew, I would find her in the lobby of our apartment building in her robe and slippers, pale and twisting her hands (and pre-empting the goodnight kiss from my date), and then wagging her index finger at me as she said , “I’ll never forget this.” What she wouldn’t forget was that I’d made her worry that something happened to me, although by morning, she had forgotten except for a myriad “tsks” at breakfast and a bit of the cold shoulder. So, yes, I spent many nights (and days) worrying about my children’s whereabouts, too. Once, before the kids had cell phones, I had the manager page my 16-year-old son David (who was hours late for dinner) at a pool hall in White Plains, NY. Don’t ask me how I knew he was there. I just did. David has never forgotten it. He reminds me – although with less frequency lately, but still reminds me. When David was two, my husband took him out on the golf course at dusk to putt some balls with his little toy clubs, and I made him wear a helmet. What if an errant ball hit his sweet little head? My husband said it was lunacy. I still maintain that it made perfect sense.
Maybe this anxiety also emanates from the fact that when I was young, I was a daredevil. I roller skated wildly through the streets of Manhattan, rode horseback with my equestrian friends (having never ridden a horse), skied (having never been on the slopes), water skied (with no prior experience save a lesson here and there), and generally did a lot of physical activities that required a knowledge that I didn’t have – simply assuming I would “catch on” by watching others. On our honeymoon, though never a golfer, I even teed off at Pebble Beach (and by the way, I hit a 220 yard tee shot straight down the fairway, and flipped the club to the caddie like an arrogant pro. The rest of the round took about six hours and had my score been for bowling, it would have been terrific). I had scraped knees and bruises until I was about 30 and pregnant.
But again, is it nature, nurture or both? I still blame my mother for her over-the-top worrying about everything when it came to those she loved. Although, when it came to my father’s whereabouts, she was typically suspicious rather than concerned about his well-being.
This morning I was sleeping when my husband left the apartment. Typically, I am either at my desk or cleaning the bathroom while he’s still shaving. I murmured, “Do you have your cell phone? Your keys? Your wallet? Your briefcase?”
“Yes,” he said. “And my ass and my elbow.”
He kissed my forehead and told our dog Walter to take care of Mom today since she’s gone crazy.
So, is this the resurgence of romance in my marriage or a middle-aged version of love in marriage? I’m not sure. Maybe both. Maybe genetics. Maybe history. Maybe I should go sky-diving or bungee jumping (never done those before!) and see if I can resurrect that old devil-may-care from my youth.