Who knew that back pain could so compromise your spirit? Last night, after dinner, I lied prone on our couch, moaning somewhat theatrically but sincerely, as Karen cleaned dishes, wiped the counters, bathed Ella, and then sat in a rocking chair with Ella, humming lullabies, until Ella fell asleep. Finally, at 11:00 PM, her ambition getting the best of her, Karen attempted to pack boxes.
Boxes litter our apartment. The place is a mess.
Ever so often, I called out, “My wife.” Ever so often, she dutifully arrived, and performed whatever small service I asked of her. Please shut the window. Please turn the fan down one notch. Please hand me my phone. Please turn the fan down one more notch. Please open the window, just a bit.
I slept fitfully on the couch, waking at least once per hour to pee. From the bedroom, I heard the occasional cry: Ella waking in the night, and crying out, as she does, for Mama. And I heard Karen, whispering, as she does, crying in her own way, for the sleep that has neglected her for 15 months now.
I called out of work at 6:05 AM this morning. I hated to do so. By 6:30 AM, Ella and Karen had awoke, and I had moped to the bed to join them. By 7:00 AM, I had moped back to the couch, and Ella had cried out continuously for ten minutes, demanding a bottle–or so Karen thought. By 7:01 AM, one of Ella’s bottles, full of chilled goat milk, sat on the hard wood floor, abandoned, the trusty goat milk already curdling in the heat. By 7:08 AM, another bottle, now warmed, sat on the hard wood floor, abandoned, the trusty goat milk…etc.
This morning, I lied prone on the couch, moaning, as my wife attempted to perform two roles, mine and hers, and my daughter, that fucking sly little devil, all at once, it seemed, discovered the pleasure of truly being bad.
This morning Karen tried to take a shower.
This morning Ella stomped from room to room, screaming for no good reason. Pure pleasure, I suppose. I loved her for this, even as I witnessed my wife feeling overwhelmed.
So Ella continued to stomp around, and demand, and cry ever so often, and hold her hands up to the sky, as she does when she wants someone–Mama–to pick her up. And so Karen picked her up–again and again.
This morning Karen took a brief shower, and dressed hurriedly, and performed her ceremonial blow-dry for about one of the six or so required minutes.
Ever so often, I called out, “My wife.” Ever so often, she dutifully arrived, and performed whatever small service I asked of her. Please turn the fan up one notch, I asked. Please, water.
Something had my wife upset about her outfit. Something had upset her about the dishes in the kitchen sink. Something had her upset about the unpacked boxes, the laundry, the abandoned bottles.
At one point, Ella snatched my iPhone and tried–I swear she tried–to plop it in the toilet.
I laughed, genuinely, and it hurt.
This morning, my wife nearly burst into tears. I thought, for a moment, of a time before Ella, when the hope and love and energy Karen had to spare was singularly devoted to me. My selfish neediness never surprises me. What surprises me, nineteen years and counting, is Karen’s tolerance for my selfish neediness. And I worry for her: I worry that, in matters like this, our little girl has inherited her father’s personality.
After Karen and Ella left, I spent this morning variously reading Matt’s book and snippets of the three most New Yorkers, moping from the couch to the bed. I looked at my iPhone, my trusty companion, perhaps twenty times. I checked Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, hoping, in my depravity (it felt like depravity, to me at least) to uncover some email, comment, or tweet that just might inspire a spontaneous remission.
I am typically a fanatical, active man. I typically feel spirited and gay. For tens of minutes this morning, I lied prone on the couch, staring up, thinking bitterly of all that I was not doing.
My sole accomplishment: I called the movers. I booked an appointment for Saturday, July 13. I felt, briefly, alive. The movers cost $115/per hour. I might be an active, spirited man, but I loathe physical labor. And the back pain had me feeling truly incompetent.
Afterwards, I moped to bed, one final time, and lied down like I do–like Dracula, with his arms folded across his chest–and closed my eyes.
I’ve only just awoke. When I slipped to my side, I noticed that my back seemed to have improved. It could’ve been the Aleve talking, but suddenly, joyously, the pain had subsided to a reasonable degree.
I took a look around the chaos of our apartment. I envisioned cleaning–how utterly happy Karen would be to come home to a spotless apartment! I examined the mess of clothes on the bed, and I thought about how much I adore my wife’s smell. I examined the dishes in the kitchen sink, and I thought about a lovely dinner on some veranda, the waves crashing nearby, my wife dissecting a plate of prawns in a silence she breaks only once or twice to ask for more wine. I stood for an entire minute, peering at the floor, at two abandoned bottles of goat milk, curdling in the heat. And I laughed for no good reason.
I could’ve cleaned. I could’ve packed boxes. My back was really feeling much better.
Instead, I sat to write. And nothing at all got done.