Chapter 3

When John and I moved to New York, I wrote a blog post called Chapter 2. Now that we’ve circled back to Minnesota, I figured it would only be right to follow up with another reflection and record of anticipation about our next phase.

It’s a Monday afternoon, a wet and miserable day. The rain isn’t hard, but it just keeps falling! It’s been raining off and on for about a week. On the sunny, in-between days, I got some yard work in. Good thing, too. The weather is really dictating what I get done. Every morning that I wake up to sunshine instead of rain, I immediately grab the rake or pruning shears or Roundup. I’m still waiting to till a spot for my garden and the rain just keeps taunting, singing, “Welcome back to the Midwest, Emily!”

Our new house is only partially put together, despite long work days, help from my mother, and an easy drive to Walmart and the Home Depot. I forgot how systematic decorating and homemaking is! You can’t do Part B until you finish Part A, but as fate would have it, Part A is not in stock at the store and your order won’t arrive for two weeks. Grrrr. So a less-than-desirable amount gets accomplished while I wait for everything to arrive in the correct order. Lucky for me, my last job was editing for trade magazines, so I have been practicing this very type of patience.

Despite my dismal rant, Chapter 3 continues to fill me with excitement and anticipation. How could it not? Everything thus far seems ideal – and Bemidji itself is quite picturesque. Last night was the first in several without rain and John and I broke out our bicycles. We found the bike trail that circles Lake Bemidji but we only made it part way around, stopping at a park instead. We spent dusk sitting in plastic Adirondack chairs watching the chilled lake lap towards us, waves coming within feet of our tennis shoes. Enjoying the sounds of nature while not moving a single muscle is my new favorite type of exercise!

I’d be dishonest if I claimed the only thing I feel is excitement, though. I am less innocent than when I left for New York and common sense and maturity warn that there’s plenty ahead to make me nervous, too. In New York, I sometimes felt like my life was on pause; that I was on an extended honeymoon and nothing I did had consequences because it wasn’t part of my overall character arc.

But we’re in full motion now – and in a big way! Chapter 3 is a more permanent plot point. This isn’t just a scene to establish the personality of the characters. The first turning point is here. The risk happens here. I don’t expect failure; I’m too confident for that (or just cocky). But I know I will need to make adjustments, because I anticipate that this will also be the longest chapter thus far. So I must train for a marathon when I prefer to sprint. And learn to write entire novels instead of blogs and short stories. This chapter will be about patience and pacing, both of which are predominant weaknesses of mine.

To summarize: I enter this phase gladly but carefully, testing the ground a little, because roots sink deep and seeds either drown or grow too fast when the soil is as wet as it is here.

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My Priest

My husband has a very unique gift: people talk to him. I don’t just mean they converse; I mean they open right up and confess to murder! You have no secrets once you shake hands with John. Somehow, despite your best reservations, your mouth loses its filter and all your well-hidden motives tumble out.

It makes him a darn good reporter. (Or a terrible one, depending on who you are. Recently, one of our local legislatures grudgingly but good-naturedly called him The Troublemaker, which made me bust my buttons.)

I confess, I did not notice his talent immediately. But the hidden nature of this skill is part of its effectiveness. If you fully realized what you were saying, you’d probably stop talking. Ask him someday about the woman who told him, fully on the record, that her last words to her deceased husband were “Fine, go drop dead, then.” That’s not the stuff you admit to if you’re thinking about it! 

Suffice it to say, we don’t have many secrets in our marriage. At least, not from my end.

I am not the only person to notice John’s sleuthing ability. After viewing a photo where he’d posed a group of gang members around candles at the vigil of their now-dead comrade, John’s editor looked up from her computer and said, “So…pretty much everybody is okay talking to you, huh?”

I, like most people, do not possess this talent. It’s probably my tactlessness. Or my inability to hide judgment from my eyes. Or my avoidance of confrontation. For me, a typical conversation goes something like this:

Random Person I Met in College: “I think we descended from aliens but it’s a complex thing to prove. They’ve laced the food supply with a gene that keeps them invisible to us.”

At this point, I’m thinking Would you like more weed on that granola, sir? But this comment is quickly funneled through my Midwestern Mouthguard, which insists nothing mean or inflammatory cross my lips, so all that comes out is:

“Oh.”

And that word just hangs there in the room awkwardly. The guy shifts back and forth in the silence, feeling judged. He’s right to feel that way, because I’m in the middle of some hard-core judging. Moron is everywhere these days.

But therein lies John’s secret: lack of judging. Because he finds interest (or, at the very least, humor) in everything, there never is that awkward silence period. People confess to him because once they start talking, he never gives them reason to stop.

John and I ran into friends while out shopping a couple nights ago. We don’t know them very well, but she and I started talking and somehow ended up in slightly controversial territory. Territory less black-and-white than alien ancestry. As soon I saw the ‘I Really Disagree With This’ written on the wall, I looked around for my smooth talking hubby. Usually in this scenario (yes, it’s happened before) he’d slide in like the proverbial White Knight to rescue me. He’d act all fascinated and intrigued by her very cliché point of view while I smiled silent but stiff next to him, like some bimbo without opinions.

But this time, I couldn’t catch his eye, couldn’t pull him from his conversation with her boyfriend. I panicked. I knew awkwardness was about to commence. In a decision so quick I didn’t actually consider, I squared my shoulders and decided to take a page from my husband’s playbook. After all, I’d see him do this plenty of times. So I took a deep breath, grinned wide, looked at her and lied:

“That’s so interesting!” I said.

I feigned ignorance on the topic and peppered her with questions as several little voices yelled “traitor” in my head. But she seemed to feel appreciated and we parted without baggage. It was a refreshing surprise.

After we left the store, I looked over at my husband and took his hand. “You make me a better person,” I confessed.

Sap

Everyone does it. Okay — I hope everyone does it. You’re holding something that’s hot or dripping or sticky, etc. Your destination is far away so, being a member of the intelligent, adaptable human species, you quickly make a detour. The pan doesn’t make it back on the stove, but it gets to the sink. The broken light bulb ends up in the bedroom garbage can, not the kitchen one. No biggie, right? It all gets to the same destination eventually.

Well, last week we did the annual Christmas tree take down. On second thought, let’s not use the word “we,” because in fact, I did all of it. To be fair, he did offer assistance but the only thing I felt I needed him for was muscle to haul it outside. So after I spent the afternoon stripping it and I vacuumed the rainforest of needles left behind, I then proceeded to put away the last item: the tree stand. Despite my absent-minded care over the past month, the thing miraculously still had water in it. As I made my way to the kitchen sink, water sloshed around and the legs of the stand started falling off.

For those of you who haven’t been to my apartment, it is a bowling alley. Not literally, of course (though that would be cool). It’s just set up as a long, endless stretch of rooms. And of course, the living room is on one end, kitchen at the very opposite end. So like every other person would, I located and took a detour. The bathroom is much closer.

It was genius, actually. The tub gave me much more room to suds it up and leave to soak. My small kitchen sink would have barely held the tree stand. I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it last year and made a mental note for future Christmases.

Fast forward: We had a lovely rest of our day, enjoying the extra space the tree left and that fresh, breathable feel of a newly-cleaned living room. All was well — bla, bla, bla. But then, when showering that night, I nearly tripped and fell in the tub. I don’t consider myself clumsy and the shower was pristine — I’d just given it a good cleaning. As I walked around preparing for bed, the ball of my right foot kept catching on the carpet, sticking to every piece of dirt and lint imbedded in the fibers. What in the world…? It took me a minute, but eventually I collapsed on our bed giggling, and looked over at my confused husband.

“John, if you can get by not showering for a day or two, that might be best.”

I defended that he would have done the same thing in my stead but he still maintains he would have known better. Regardless, next year I’ll just balance it all the way to the kitchen.

Hiding

 It’s a crisp late afternoon and I just put on a pot of tea. I’m watching the first snowfall of the season as the day stretches into dark evening. I’m in a reminiscing mood.

Last week, I posted something on Facebook that resulted in a larger response than I anticipated. It wasn’t anything profound, I just referenced some of John’s and my backstory. I confessed how hard John worked to convince me to date him. I truly thought most people knew that; apparently not. Apparently we give off a love-at-first-sight vibe. And that makes me laugh. So, since it fascinated so many folks — and because right now, the mood seems right — I thought I’d give the whole story with all (eh…most of) the juicy details.

As two writers, John and I should have met in an English class or a writing workshop. That would have been poetic. Instead, we met in an eternal, soul-sucking music appreciation class. Not the interesting kind. The kind where the auditorium-filled class has to listen to Latin operas for 3 hours and afterwards, write down how it made them feel. (I don’t want to guess what some of the jocks wrote down…)

Fast forward a bit, skipping how he actually introduced himself (an interesting story in its own right, but for another day.) It was only a once-a-week, evening class. By the end of the semester, I had spoken to John only a handful of times. But I’m not a moron and John isn’t subtle. So when John asked me which events I was attending to fulfill the “live concert” portion of our credit, I knew what he wanted.

We had to attend a total of three specifically-recommended concerts during the semester. And of course, none of those concerts were the interesting kind either. What can I say? My “well-rounded” liberal arts education is well-deserved… But John earned his even more. Because, as it turns out, he attended FOUR concerts. By the time he asked me which ones I was doing, he’d already fulfilled his. So, in an attempt to choreograph an “accidental encounter,” he had to attend one more.

I had been avoiding John. I didn’t hate him; he seemed nice. But I just wasn’t interested. And his “hey, which ones are you attending?” seemed waaaaay too high school. If I could have switched and attended different concerts than what I told him, I would have. Unfortunately, the semester was nearly over. My procrastination had consequences.

I got to the concert before he did. It was in Weld Hall on our college campus. Weld is actually the English building and both John and I were much more at home there than any other spot in Fargo-Moorhead, let alone MSUM. I went in without waiting for him. I have rules and expectations for dates. Namely: if I’m not sure if it’s a date, then it’s not a date. I owed nothing to the semi-awkward but eager kid I talked to maybe three times and walked with from class to dorms once.

I knew it was cruel. Especially when I saw him standing at the back of the room, looking around, craning his neck to see all the way to the front row. I could have stood and waved him over. Instead, I watched him give up as the lights dimmed and make his way to the opposite side of the room, where friends of his sat.

The concert was loud. It was the professor’s trombone recital. Actually, it could have been a different instrument. I don’t remember. I’m not big into the brass family. I prefer instruments to be made with strings. Plus, I was thinking more about John than timbre, tone, or tempo! (I’m sure whatever kind of reaction paper I wrote for that concert was pretty generic!)

After the concert, I fled. Apparently, so he’s told me, John stationed himself at the back doors right away to catch me leave, but he missed my exit. Of course, I did intentionally mix with a crowd exiting the far side of the room, opposite where he had been sitting. But I wasn’t quite good enough. Outside the auditorium, he somehow caught sight of me heading down the big staircase.

And then I, in turn, caught sight of him follow me. I knew he’d catch me if I continued my bee-line out of the building. So I seamlessly altered my plans.

Growing up, the bathroom was often my hide-out. This was for dual reasons. The obvious: everyone assumes you’re “taking care of business” and leaves you alone. Also, it was the only room in our house that had locks on the doors. Every smart kid knows that privacy is not found in the bedroom; it’s found in the bathroom.

So I went straight for Weld basement and into the ladies room. I wasn’t there too long and I don’t remember all I did. I’m sure I did “take care of business” while there. Probably ran a comb through my hair — but I certainly wasn’t primping for him. Then I just kinda sat around, wondering how long I should wait.

When I exited, John was in an empty classroom directly in my line of sight, talking with another student. He waved. My wave back was like a white flag. There was no running now. I’d been bested.

We didn’t hang out. He just walked me back to my dorm. I wasn’t surprised when he asked for my phone number. I’m sure he was determined never to be caught in that scenario again. I gave it to him.

I know it’s crazy, considering all I’d gone through to avoid him. Plus, I was mad at him — following me to the bathroom seemed inappropriate, not to mention creepy. I didn’t want to give him my number. But I had always known I would when he finally asked. The seriousness of that is what I had been hiding from in the bathroom.

One semester later. I didn't make it much easier then, either, but by this point we were finally "official."
One semester later. I didn’t make it much easier then, either, but by this point we were finally “official.”

Gifts

John came home from work last night with a “surprise.” Apparently he was offered some industrial-strength fridge magnets at work. (See photo below.)

magnets

He was displeased with my nonchalant thank-you, however. “Why aren’t you more excited that I got you something?”

Sigh.

I always assumed women made things pretty easy on men. We have the list of staples that are fool-proof, for when your Significant Other just isn’t a rocket scientist: Flowers. Chocolate. Jewelry.

Once upon a time, John was really romantic. I’m talking how-did-I-get-lucky, do-you-read-Nicholas-Sparks romantic. He once held a single apple through an eternal classical music concert because he knew my favorite food was fruit and that I hated performing in the Orchestra.

Another time I convinced him to wash our hair in the rain because I’d seen it in a romantic comedy.

Now I’m the wife that gets free fridge magnets. Oh well. Love was nice while it lasted…

Scooped

Scoop: Originally journalistic lingo, it means someone else “dug up” a story before you did.

We stumbled into the porch, our arms laden with bags. John was carrying his big work satchel/computer and a million little things he’d needed at work that day. I was sporting my own giant bag with purse and lunch kit plus a plastic bag full of fresh corn that we’d just picked. We were tired and hungry, the stop at the garden pushing us past our dinner time limit. And there, blocking the door, was a large box from the mailman.

“Oh no,” John mumbled.

“What?” I asked, misunderstanding. “We’ll just walk around it and make another trip.”

I didn’t know what the package contained, but I knew its intent: my birthday is this weekend.

“No, I forgot to get ice. Your mother specifically texted me today and told me to buy ice. I’ve just been so busy lately, it slipped my mind.”

I looked at the box, then back at my husband. “It can’t need ice immediately or it wouldn’t be something that goes through the mail.”

“Let’s just take it inside and open it so I know how much ice we need before I bother going to buy some,” he decided.

And then, in an impressive shuffle of bags that hadn’t been an option when I’d needed a hand with the corn, John shifted the weight of his current burden and picked up the box right then and there. He’s not really a “make two trips” kind of guy.

In the box was a canvas bag and attached to the bag was a typed card that read something to the effect of “enjoy delicious smoothies and lots of healthy foods.”

“Oh no,” John said again. “She did, didn’t she.” What he mumbled under his breath next may have been a swear word or just unintelligible nonsense. I’m really not sure. “She stole my idea. I know she did.”

When I saw what it was I laughed, immediately knowing what he presumed was true.

It was a Ninja blender. And not the big, hulk of one that is sold in Target, whose giant display has been my reason for avoiding the entire brand. My mom had found a normal sized Ninja that I won’t have to wrestle into a cupboard spot, as well as an accompanying small food processor.

Last week I became the humus queen. I found an awesome recipe (See here if you’d like to try it). Everyone knew that I was in love with this recipe. My coworkers. My mother. And John. And they all knew my only complaint was my blender. I never use the thing. Mostly because it scares me. When making the humus, I made John man the blender. I was sure the thing would explode and if so, I would rather he be the one to lose an eye.

Back when we were engaged and registering for wedding gifts, we thought we were being kind when asking for a cheaper-end blender. We didn’t want to be presumptuous. That was a mistake. There’s nothing kind about waking up your neighbor’s children every time you make yourself a late night snack.

But now, all my blender problems disappeared. I was thrilled. John was not.

“I googled a specialty kitchen store in Albany today,” John moaned. “The directions are in my pocket. I was going to run out there on my day off tomorrow.”

He never went to get the suggested ice because I forewent the recommended smoothies and made my humus instead. John was pretty game, despite the constant muttering of “I truly have no idea what I’m going to do now.” He has one day to come up with something else.

In the past five days, John’s had five A1 [front page of entire paper] and two B1 [front page of Local section] stories. These included breaking information no other reporter knew about and interviews at places that shut out all other media behind John’s exit. It has possibly been the best week of his career.

Until, of course, he arrived home after his last workday only to find out he’d been scooped by his mother-in-law.

Carrots

We had a fight. Like most fights, it ended about something different than what it began with. Like most fights, I couldn’t tell you what it was about even if I did want to broadcast it to the world.

It concluded with me in the bedroom, resting and wiping away tears. He left for the kitchen to check on a pan of black beans he was soaking. The beans had nothing to do with our fight, that much I do remember. They were there because John has been asked fitness advice from enough people that he feels obligated to keep up a certain persona. Apparently, this persona now includes soaking our own beans instead of just buying them ready to eat. (If any one is interested, I am currently taking bets on how long this will last…)

I heard him piddling around the kitchen and hoped — prayed — he was attempting to salvage the evening. Men are dense and often mine seems the most clueless of all. But I have made him watch enough romantic comedies for him to know the proper handling (and narrow window) of a post-argument comeback.

I didn’t wait and wonder very long. Eventually my impatience — which ironically did come up in our fight — got the better of me. I walked into the kitchen but to my appalling surprise he was just chopping carrots.

“I’m thinking of adding them to the beans. Do you think that’s a good idea?” he asked innocently.

I couldn’t believe it. I braced myself for some ridiculous explanation on vitamins leveling a woman’s emotions. I almost began a second argument. I’m proud that I did not snap, but will admit my reply still consisted of the words, “I don’t care.”

Then he opened the freezer, where a bowl of instant chocolate pudding was cooling. I laughed with relief, grateful that my husband truly did understand that carrots are not apology food.

We ate before it was quite ready, but that’s okay. Slightly runny chocolate pudding is the food of forgiveness.