My wife and I are very, very different from one another. We are not exactly opposites, but we do possess slightly dissimilar tastes, personalities, and approaches to the world. Her biological clock is set to allow maximum performance between the hours of about noon to 2 a.m. while mine is calibrated for a few hours earlier, for example. I drink coffee (LOTS of coffee), she drinks hot chocolate. I love seafood; she breaks out in hives if she sees a lobster on television. In my estimation, she is a neat-freak; I am…well…not a neat-freak. You get the idea.
Indeed, Krista is borderline obsessive-compulsive about virtually everything in the universe save for two things: Words and time. As luck or providence would have it, I am obsessive compulsive about almost nothing except for those two things. The interpretation and application of words and time are perhaps our most frequent and thorny source of conflict.
For instance, I eventually discovered that if Krista begins a sentence with “If it were me….” what she really means is something like, “Tim, you numbskull, you should have done X instead of Y.” Similarly, when she says “Tim, would you like to…?” she is not truly interested in what I’d like to do and, in fact, she’s not even asking a question. She’s making a declaration whose intent might be stated more accurately, “Tim, I want you to…. Do it!” For years I was annoyed she didn’t employ our beautiful language to express precisely what she wanted to express. She was irritated I didn’t appreciate her subtlety and verbal nuance. Because I am highly trainable (i.e., I dislike pain), I no longer respond to the latter with a sarcastic, “No, honey, I really don’t want to….but thanks for asking,” and have replaced it with its far-wiser-but-distant-cousin-of-a-reply, “Yes, I’d love to! Why didn’t I think of that first?!” One of the trickier language-related landmines I must negotiate is the “What did you think of…?” trap. At first blush it looks like a simple request for my heart-felt opinion on a movie, song, or passage from a book she’s just read to me. In reality it’s a veiled invitation to agree with her opinion, pro or con. I’m happy to report that on this issue we have forged something of a compromise: I deliver an honest assessment, free of (intentional) condescension, and she doesn’t take any disagreement (too) personally.
Which brings us to considerations of Krista’s conception and use of the so-called fourth dimension. For all her perfectionistic tendencies, she is simply not a stickler when it comes to time. It drives me crazy to be late to anything, even by a minute. She is not so tortured. “I’ll be done in a minute” means she’ll be done eventually, but it almost never means within roughly 60 seconds. Thankfully, I have discovered a number of complex mathematical formulae that permit me to predict what she actually means when she uses other temporal delineations—“ten minutes”, “a half-hour”, “this afternoon”, “at 9 p.m.”, etcetera—brilliant (if I may say so) calculations not unlike those Newton derived centuries ago to explain a range of physical phenomena. Honestly, I think she’d appreciate my ingenuity given her occupation as an optometrist and Newton’s contribution to optics. In any case, I’ve preserved my observations for posterity in a well-hidden notebook and will keep them to myself for now, but my working title of this magnum opus is Swensenae Principia Mathematica: Tempus Fugit et Memento Mori.
To be fair, it may be that she’s overwhelmed or distracted by our current existence in a chaotic universe inhabited by three loud and energetic children, a needy dog, a shrewd and opportunistic cat, two fish, and countless other distractions and duties. She’s knee-deep in a fifth dimension, a place as vast as space and as timeless as infinity…the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, between the pit of my fears and the summit of my knowledge. But I digress. More on this later, perhaps, but I must close for now. I hear Krista calling, asking if I’d like to bathe the boys.
“Why, yes, dear! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that!?!”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.