This is a funny family story about a wife who became homebound and what her husband did to help her.
“You spend most of your life on that corner of the couch,” My husband started. “You hardly leave the house lately, you rarely socialize, you seem to have no outside interests, and frankly, you’re setting a bad example for the kids.”
He was on his soapbox. There would be no stopping him now.
“Not true ,” I interjected before he could start up again. “You’re highly exaggerating a minor idiosyncrasy of no importance. You sit in your recliner, I sit in the corner of the sectional. What’s the difference?”
“The difference is, I’m out all day, interacting with people, observing societal problems, living in the real world. Your world consists of two toddlers, two pre-teens, one dog, two cats and a hamster.
“The hamster died last week.” I didn’t go on to say what was in my mind; that his claim of ‘interacting, observing and living’ didn’t apply to his family—or his wife, or the ‘real world’ that exists behind our front door.
“Whatever. You know what I mean.” His reply impatient, distracted.
Now he had me angry.
“Fine! Make a lot more money than you do know and I’ll hire a live-in nanny, buy expensive new clothes and go out to lunch with the girls everyday. Maybe I’ll take a self-awareness course at the college to teach me how to live with a lunatic.”
“Go ahead, make jokes,” he said. “I’m only trying to help you see a potential problem before it becomes a full-fledged phobia. Don’t think I didn’t see you turn white when your brother called, inviting you to fly up to Montreal for a visit. It’s time to get a firm handle on this situation. You’ve got to do something, make a stand.”
Ah, he noticed the color of my skin—I should say—palor. He noticed and remembered a phone call not made to him. Stop the sun in the heavens, a miracle has occurred. I couldn’t let his stinging comments go unanswered.
“I’ve stood most of the past twenty-four hours; stood in front of a cranky washing machine, washing clothes for cranky children and a cranky husband. I’ve stood in front of cribs, vacuum salesmen and an antiquated wood burning stove that requires more feeding than your children. I can’t stand anymore!”
“And I can’t stand a wimp for a wife!” He snapped back. He was pacing now, a sure sign that he was really worked up.
“I want the woman back who climbed the Red Rock Canyons in Nevada, who said ‘yes’ at once when I asked her to elope with me. I want the wife who followed me cross-country in a station wagon—practically non-stop—in seventy-two hours, having received her driver’s license just a week before the trip. I don’t want this meek stranger who vegetates on the couch in a fetal position knitting afghans. I’m going to bed. Are you coming?”
“No!” God, he could be vicious.
After he left, I thought about the relevance of his words. I was no more glued to my couch than he was to his two martinis and his precious recliner that carried a death penalty for any child foolish enough to be caught in it when he got home. Of course I hadn’t been getting out much since the birth of our last child, but that was hardly my fault. I did notice that I got a bit agitated whenever we had friends over and one of them sat in my corner of the couch. Everyone has a particular seat that they prefer though, so that was no ‘symptom’. As usual, my husband was trying to fix something that wasn’t broken. Or perhaps, break something that was perfectly fine.
What really annoyed me was the nagging conviction that he might be right. I realized I spent too much time at home, isolated since moving into the wilderness of Northeastern Pennsylvania. I was too bogged down with household chores, and yes, becoming a just a touch phobic. Becoming a ‘touch phobic’ is a lot like being a ‘little’ pregnant—you’re pregnant, or you’re not. Yes, becoming a touch phobic is a condition that grows in direct proportion to the care and feeding of it. How might a housewife, with four children and a slew of pets, avoid feeding such a phobia? My husband isn’t required, by me or by society, to do a full day’s work and then do another full day’s work, and then be a sparkling guest at parties and dinners. Certainly, he should be able to fly off to Montreal, his boss will understand, his responsibilities can easily be covered by someone else, and visit for as long as he likes. I’d like to see him try.
I wasn’t really phobic; just a few panic attacks in the grocery store and one major attack at a parent-teacher conference. The teacher thought I ran out of the room, overcome by my son’s poor grades and disruptive behavior. But these were well-spaced, isolated incidents. I was perfectly normal, as long as I stayed within the safety of my own home. Damn my husband! How did he guess what was happening when I hardly knew myself? He was a doer, not a sitter. I knew that tonight’s encounter would not be the last.
The next morning, I awoke to a strange silence. No children clamored around the bed, no television competed with stereos pumping out Pop Rock. I thought I smelled bacon frying. It wasn’t Mother’s Day or my Birthday—I got out of bed to investigate.
“About time you got up, sleepyhead,” my husband said as I warily entered the kitchen. “Breakfast is almost ready.”
Good, I thought, he realizes he was out of line last night and is trying to apologize.
“I hope you’ve given some thought to last night’s conversation,” he said.
That didn’t sound like an apology. I considered going back to bed.
“I’ve got a great idea,”
He wasn’t going to let it go.
“I think we should do two things. One, go away together without the kids for a full day, and two, buy a new couch. Maybe one of those conversation pit things you liked.
“you know I can’t just leave for the day. We have no one to watch the kids. And I’m not getting rid of my couch. We just had it recovered.” I tried to keep my voice reasonable.
My couch had a rich history. I started labor pains on it, nursed feverish, up-chucking children on it, held my husband, comforted him, after his father’s death. It was an antiquated, two-piece sectional, a relic of the early sixties, hinting of Italian Renaissance, originally covered in red velvet. My corner curved at one end, giving me a little privacy from the three or four lanky pre-teen bodies, usually languishing on the longer end. After years of abuse, we’d had it humanely recovered in a more sophisticated cut velvet with beige and blue flowers. It was a grand old dame and I wasn’t parting with it.
“Keep the couch if you want, but we are going away together. It’s all arranged. My sister will watch the kids.”
“Where are we going?” I asked, from the corner of couch, coffee number three trembling in my hand.
“A business associate of mine has invited us up to Manhattan for a small dinner party. We have to go.”
“You have to go. I don’t. Besides, I have nothing to wear.”
“Find something. I have to go to work for a few hours, so plan on leaving around two o’clock.”
“Two o’clock today?” I asked incredulously.
“Today,” he said and went out the front door humming “I’ll Take Manhattan” under his breath.
Spoken like a true second generation chauvinist, I thought. Say ‘frog’, expect me to jump. I wondered how long he had planned this, dropping it on me at the last moment so I couldn’t make excuses. I rummaged through my closet for something not too out-dated to wear and was sitting on the couch when he came to pick me up. He sighed, shook his head and hustled me out the door, leaving our two youngest children, who had never spent a whole day without me, in tears.
The first two hours of the trip were pleasant enough, rolling country roads, sensuous mountain scenery. I began to relax, which was, of course, my first mistake.
The New Jersey Turnpike. Why would a loving God create the New Jersey Turnpike? An ominous fog rolled in, bringing a misty rainfall. Bright red warning signs flashed above the highway. Trucks the size of dinosaurs raced oversized buses, dueling for the center lane. I tensed…a little.
It was good practice for the Holland Tunnel. I don’t like tunnels. If underground, which I prefer not to be, I like, at the very least, to see daylight at both ends. The Volkswagen in front of us broke down and seven foreign speaking people jumped out, gesturing frantically. During the twenty minute delay, the tunnel filled with exhaust fumes, coloring the air a sickly blue-gray, too noxious to breath without a handkerchief across your face. I think I hyperventilated.
The traffic jam dissipated at about the same time that I considered jumping out of the car and running for the exit. I tried to relax, but the F.D.R. Drive was a poor sedative. After passing three accidents and one drug bust at the mouth of the Battery Tunnel, my husband admitted to being a little lost. In New York City, you could be a little lost for years. Much like being a little pregnant or a touch phobic. We stopped for directions at a Chinese restaurant in a seedy neighborhood of tenement houses with more broken windows. The endless graffiti was actually an improvement. Twenty minutes later we were uptown, nearly at our destination. It took another twenty minutes or more to find a parking space and walk back to the brownstone housing our hosts. My husband strode up the half dozen steps to the door with me trailing behind, out of breath and shaky. My toes, unused to high heels, throbbed furiously. I was desperate for my home, my couch, and some degree of safety.
“You’ll love these people,” my husband said, ringing the bell.
I doubt that, I thought, as the door buzzed our admittance. I truly doubt that.
The party consisted of two married yuppie-types, four stockbrokers with their girlfriends and one gay man; not the average people one might expect to find at a quilting bee. Well, maybe the gay guy. Alcohol flowed freely, as well as glib tongues proclaiming their achievements. No one in the course of the long evening asked about me or my seemingly humble accomplishments. And of course, I was dressed all wrong. A host of strange hors d’oeuvres were passed by me, nothing I felt secure in tasting. Dinner was an assortment of sushi, washed down with a Bordeaux, a good year I was told. I hoped the alcohol would kill any of the raw fish not yet deceased. I hoped I could keep it down. The party ended at nine o’clock, at least for us. We had a four hour trip home. I was out the door and back to the car in record time, my energy and speed amazing even myself.
The ride home seemed less eventful; we passed only two accidents and idled in one traffic jam, this time not in the tunnel, but on the George Washington bridge, a short cut home, my husband said. I felt much the same about bridges as I do about tunnels. I fell into a dazed semi-sleep when we hit the Delaware Water Gap, predicting the placidity of the final two hour drive.
“Wake me when its over,” I mumbled to my husband.
“I hope you realize what happened today,” he said. “What we did, I believe, is called ‘flooding’. You take your fears full on and face them down. You’re a little upset right now, but you’ll appreciate this.”
“It wasn’t ‘flooding’,” I said. “It was drowning.”
He reached across the seat and put his arm around my shoulder. I wished he hadn’t done that. It brought on the tears. Flooding! I muttered to myself. I’ll give him flooding. Merciful sleep took over. Around midnight we pulled into our driveway, under the fifty-foot pine trees accused of dripping sap on my husband’s Audi. I sensed I was home and woke with a start.
My sister-in-law met us at the front door with her coat on, car keys in hand, mumbling something about ‘spoiled brats’. She looked ten years older than she had earlier. My home, my wonderful home, was Mecca to a tired pilgrim. I staggered into the living room, kicked off my heels and threw myself into the sumptuous warmth of the corner of the couch. It had never felt so good.
In the weeks that followed my enlightening trip to the Big Apple, much as I choked on it, a strange thing occurred; no more panic attacks, no fear of public places. It goes to show that New York City makes all other fears inconsequential. I hate it when my husband’s right.