A spouse’s absence can be a nearly unpardonable offense
By George Valadie
Well, I’ve discovered one really good thing. I know she can’t live without me … I think. I’ve known for a few years that she’s needed me — or someone — to operate the remotes. But now it’s confirmed. If the planet continues to have bugs, frogs, and stuff, my place is apparently secure.
Not that long ago, I had the opportunity to attend an out-of-town, two-day conference. Some of these things are miserable, but some you look forward to. This was in the latter category.
In our 41 years of marriage, Nancy and I haven’t spent that many days or nights away from each other. Our careers have never caused either one of us to live the frequent-flyer sort of life.
We’re forced into it now and again, but here’s the thing: When the daily household chores got divided so many years ago, I got bug duty.
But when I’m gone …
Whenever we’re apart, we always call at day’s end to catch up. On this occasion, I tried to make the peaceful setting and the great food sound not that peaceful and not that great.
Then she adds her usual, keeping me in the loop about school happenings, our daughters, and the latest antics of our dogs.
But this time, not too long after we had said our good-nights and I-love-yous, I answered my cell phone again to hear her screaming. Literally. That will make your heart skip a beat.
“There’s a fro-o-o-o-o-o-o-g!” It was hard for me to make out exactly what she was saying at her concert-level decibels, but the standard English translation would be “frog.”
“Did you say there’s a frog, honey?”
“Did it come in the house, honey?”
“No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! It’s on the pati-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”
“Is it trying to come in the house, honey?”
“No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o! It’s dea-d-d-d-d-d-d-d!”
“If it’s dead, then what’s the problem, honey!”
“The do-o-o-o-o-o-gs are trying to bring it i-n-n-n-n-n-n-si-i-i-i-i-ide the hou-ou-ou-ou-ouse! To ea-ea-ea-ea-t-t-t-t it-t-t-t-t-t!
If you’re having trouble staying with this conversation, that’s sorta where I was. Only she was making her points with 9-1-1 intensity.
Looking back now, with much clearer hindsight, there were several points along the way I could have made better decisions. I don’t know if my biggest mistake was when I chuckled a bit. Or perhaps all the “honeys” weren’t helping. Or maybe it went off the rails when I offered this tidbit of long-distance advice: “Honey, you’re just going to have to buck up.”
No matter, it was immediately apparent I had made some mistake of significant magnitude. Possibly more than one.
To which she replied, “I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I ha-a-a-a-a-a-te you-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou-ou!”
I heard all of that perfectly.
Still, I was hesitant to end our conversation — or our marriage — that way. So I mistakenly offered yet another dose of what I was sure were very practical suggestions and tips.
She followed them with, “You left me in this JUNGLE, g-o-o-o-o-d bye-e-e-e-e-e!”
Just to be clear, the jungle to which she is referring is our neighborhood, where houses, fences, and neighbors abound.
Thankfully, she called back a few minutes later with the problem having been resolved. The marriage was tenuous, but the immediate problem was resolved.
She relayed all the gory details. She’d fought off our dogs and singlehandedly, with bravery extraordinaire, scooped up the deceased frog with our puppy pooper-scooper (my idea.) Then venturing into the backyard portion of the “forest,” she made it the neighbor’s problem.
At the time, I couldn’t tell if she had tossed the frog with the scooper or in the scooper, but I knew better than to ask. It was clear, though, that the frog was still intact, still dead, and over our fence.
Nancy does a lot of great things, but she doesn’t do lizards, spiders, little bugs, big bugs, or, apparently, frogs. Never has. And that’s OK. It gives me hope for a long life together.
It’s how we make it through.
It’s how we all make it through, isn’t it?
Through life, through stuff, through things, bumps, bruises, hard times, and disasters. We make it through with and because of others. We need people, sometimes more than one, to lift us (or the frogs) up when we’re struggling and in need.
But sometimes they just can’t. We’ve all learned that for some trials, the only one who can fix us … is us. But on those occasions, what often pulls us through to the other side are their thoughts, their prayers, their presence.
As humans, we know the truth. We will not and cannot make it very far — or very well — without the love and care of others. It’s why He put more than one of us in the garden.
We’re here to be there for the other.
At least we ought to be.
Dear God — It’s not so much the bugs that take the biggest bite. Thank you for the people you have put into our lives; may we never miss recognizing who they are. Amen.
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.