• Lijing Cobb

Write and let write

I had a genius idea yesterday, so I called my husband. On the first ring he picked up:

“Hello it’s Roy!” My husband does this to me all the time. 18 years of knowing each other down the drain: it’s back to first introductions again.

“Hi, babe, I have an idea. Today the girls have ninja from 6-7:30. It is our son’s birthday. While the girls are in ninja, can you take our son out for some father son time? I have a client during that time.” I finished, expecting him to applaud me like I deserved: what a thoughtful, great idea! Thank you for the suggestion!

Instead I was put on hold. Something at his business needed his attention more. Something always does on the phone. After all, we’ve known each other for 18 years and he pretty much knows I’m not going anywhere, but his business clients, not so reliable.

Two minutes later, he came to the phone. “Sorry about that. What did you say again?”

I knew him enough to not take it personally. I was prepared to deliver the same message again, so I repeated myself, even though he should at least remember it was our son’s birthday.

“Ok…” there was a pause on the other end of the invisible phone line. I could see him counting on his fingers all the other things he still had to do, and running out of fingers. “I guess that’s possible.” He finally concluded. And then inevitably the question came:

“When are the girls done again?” In the span of 4 minutes I’d already mentioned it twice. Our girls started going to ninja over 3 years ago.

“7:30.” I might have sounded a little bit impatient by now.

“So they have to be picked up by 7:30?” He needed clarification. He asked the same question last 3 times I asked him to pick up the girls, and every time, the answer was yes.

“Yes.” Ok. This information was being processed in his brain and competing with the million other things that were jostling for brain power at the same time. It found recognition finally. My husband now knows that the girls needed to be picked up by 7:30.

“I’m sorry,” he continued with an apology, having forgotten another thing, “when are they dropped off again? I know you mentioned it.”

“6pm.” I enunciated the words, adding on the pm part for effect.

“Ok, ok. I guess it’s possible. What are you going to be doing at that time?” He needed to make sure he was memorizing these tricky times for a good reason, one that he was told twice already but didn’t register at all.

“I have a client at that time.” I emphasized the word client for him.

“Ok, ok…. What am I doing with our son again?”

My dear husband. I really do love him. But I think he needs to realize that although English is my second language, after living in the United States for the past 22 plus years, I no longer need to practice the use of this language by repeating myself over and over again. Thanks, I got it.

After heaving a long, dramatic, but silent sigh, I said, hoping that I got his attention this time, “It’s his birthday today. I thought it would be nice for you to take him out while the girls are at ninja. He would really love it.”

“Okay. Got it, got it. But take him out where?” This is a bold man. This man’s got balls. He’s a master in the art of aggravation. He does not relent until his opponent throws up her hand in desperation and disbelief.

“WHEREVER YOU WANT TO GO! WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO!” I give you full permission to take your son out on his birthday and spend an hour and a half with him on your watch!

After I hung up I shook my head, having been violently yanked out of my world of self-adoration for such a cute idea. After being married to this same man for more than 12 years, such conversations have been carried out literally numerous times: what did I expect?

This is a man, however, who tells stories, say, from his scoutmaster days, way back when he was a young man, in charge of a group of even younger men, down to the last detail of what one of his scouts was wearing at the time. This is a man who, on a drive to somewhere, would notice every little thing on the road that I manage to ignore completely. This is a man who wins Trivia 10 out of 10 times you play with him. This is a man whose phone number you should memorize, because if you have a question about anything at all, he would have the answer for you at the ready.

Once I asked my mom to tell me some memories from her old days. She was hesitant at first, but then the floodgate of memory opened, and quite a bit poured out in vivid details. She remembered the prices of all the different vegetables at the market. She remembered what a certain relative said at a gathering that led to such and such. She remembered the names of every single person from her factory who attended regular potluck gatherings in the olden days. When she talked, it was as if she was simply narrating from a screen she was watching at the same time. Effortlessly she jogged down her memory lane.

This was also a woman who was denied the right to cook squid. My family was poor, so only once or twice a year my parents could afford to buy squid, a delicacy we drooled over. My father, out of laziness, taught my mom how to cook squid just right so that it comes out juicy and plump. He was, despite all his other shortcomings, a great cook who never bothered to cook. Yet time and again, my mom managed to overcook the precious squid, and my father would be fuming “How could you’s” and other unmentionables while we chewed the rubbery flesh.

Every time we got fresh squid, and my mom was put in charge of cooking it, she would be holding the squid in her hands, trying to dredge the last bit of instructional detail from her uncooperative memory. With certain doom on the horizon, she would hang her head and whisper to herself a couple of times, “zaxizei, zaxizei,” which literally means “this time I’m dead.”

My father finally gave up any hope of not having to cook squid himself, and banned my mom, for as long as he was alive, from ever cooking squid again.

Why the hell could my mom not remember how to cook squid? Why on earth can my husband not remember 6-7:30?

That is, when there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary that they CAN in fact remember things, and remember them very well.

Before I proceed, I’d like to nominate my husband to be the trivia champion of the world. If you object, you’d be wrong. Just don’t ask him when his kids are dropped off and picked up from their ninja class.

One of the stories my husband likes to tell people about his lousy memory is that once he was told by a complete stranger in a grocery store to not forget to do something that night. Shocked, he thought that stranger was God. Then when he got back to his car he realized that he had taped a bit note to his chest with the information the stranger read out loud to him. Before he discovered the magic of cell phone alarms, that’s how he survived the chaos of his business. If you ever had the fortune of getting into my husband’s car back then, there would be such tapes everywhere. Nowadays, if you have the luck to hold a 5 minute conversation with my husband, you are guaranteed 2 interruptions by the faithful alarm fairy on his phone.

ADHD! You cry. As soon as we assign a name to a condition, we feel so much better about it already. He has ADHD, so he can’t help it. He should be on meds. That would help him.

For those of you who think I have answers to these conundrums, how my husband and my mom could remember some things so clearly and other things so poorly, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I know I will continue to struggle with my husband’s attentiveness, and I will recall with fondness my mom’s chewy squid. But here is an attempt at understanding.

Over the phone, without seeing all that my husband was in the middle of, I sucked him out of his environment and placed him into a vacuum where he was my captive. I expected to have his full attention. He had tried to warn me when he picked up the phone by introducing himself to me, but I didn’t give that warning full credit.

While my first monologue was going on, situations around him kept unfolding. His attention was not on the phone while I droned on. When I was put on hold, I should have heeded that clear second warning and adjusted my expectation level still. Yet again, I was not able to empathize.

The words “I guess” annoy me. Either you know, or you don’t know. Why guess? What the heck. But that’s my husband’s way of telling me, look here, I’m trying, I’m juggling, I guess. But these third and forth warning were wasted on me as well. I had my perspective. Get on the same page with me or perish. I’m more important than anything else.

So, I guess I’m trying to say that even in this instance where I thought I had good reasons to be annoyed, I really didn’t. It’s not fair for me to impose my story on my husband, who was in the middle of writing his own story yesterday afternoon. Why was it that I would expect him to stop writing his story and join mine instead?

I guess I’m realizing that the convenience of modern technology is disrupting the reality and continuity of our existence. If I had no phone, I would have had to drive over to him and bear witness to his situation first before I could interrupt him and tell him my story. If I didn’t even have a car to go to hin, I would have had to plan my day out a bit more in advance, so that when he left at 5:30 in the norning, he already knew what he would be doing from 6-7:30 with his children.

Thanks, genius ideas. But no thanks. How heavily have I been relying on the conveniences modern technology offers? How much I, myself, have stopped trying to remember? How is it that I keep charging ahead, when all signs are staring me right in the face, shouting at me to stop and turn around, cliff ahead?

I think my mom, at the point of her miserable squid career, had stopped trying to remember. She ignored all warning signs because she knew that no matter what she did, she was already dead. Cliff ahead? Was there ever anything else for her?

So I think it is time to stop phone conversations with my husband, whom I see every day, and start in person conversations, where I am part of his story. Genius ideas, please come knocking only when these in person conversations are in session, for you will be ignored and NOT put on the phone again.

And why should my mom bother to remember how to cook squid to perfection? She would have continued to live in hell anyway. Let her cook her squid to death, which was only just a true reflection of the state of her being, a warning sign she tried to stick in front of my father’s face over and over again, and my father never paid any attention to the sign.

Squids don’t lie. After my dad passed away, mom came to live with us several times. Over the years she cooked for us, squid made it onto our table many times. It was plump and juicy every time.

I asked my son how the father-son outing turned out.

“Oh, we bought a washing machine for dad’s business. And then, we picked out fishing rods! We are going fishing finally mom!”

Perfect. Just perfect. Write and let write. Everyone is entitled to their own stories. If I want to be a part of their perfect story, just lean in, and listen.

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