5.31.2009

Long-Distance Pity

I'm not going to get compassion for living in a long-distance marriage any more than I'd get pity for having a bad job in a roomful of unemployed people. Putting yourself in someone else's shoes and acting sympathetic is hard. It's harder to fake pity when you're thinking, "What are you, nuts? I don't feel sorry for you. Ray Charlies could have seen this coming."

I'm on the winning side anyway. I've already moved, living in our new place and enjoying everything but my husband's companionship. Charlie left for Oregon four hours ago so he could get back to work and get paid. That getting paid thing is the only reason he didn't call his boss and say, "I can finally sleep at night! I'm not stressed from work! I quit!" But getting paid is useful when your credit cards are bursting at their limits, which ours are thanks to the lucky break we got selling our condo.

I'm on the winning side again, for selling my home in this dead real estate market. I didn't even know there were people stupid enough to buy right now. I guess they weren't that stupid as we had to bring a check to close. We basically bribed someone to live in our beautiful condo. Now Charlie has to work off that bribe, like a serf or a Soviet. "You like condo? We give you little bit money. For you buy house, yes?"

It didn't seem like we had a choice in our circumstances. We could sell and owe credit cards, and Charlie would stay and pay them off. I had to move now, so I did. The only thing I was worried about was how Charlie would survive. He's gone from living with parents to living with wives. He didn't know how to make a bed or make toast when I married him. He still can't make toast.

I knew I'd be okay but I do miss the little things. I miss the way Charlie took out the garbage after I reminded him three or four times. I miss him doing the laundry and me trying to figure out where he put my shirts. I miss watching really bad TV. Okay, I could do all this on my own (except hiding my own shirts), but when you're on your own there's no obstacles to work around. You get your way all the time on everything. It's like running a fifty-yard dash vs. crawling on your hands and knees through a muddy, messy obstacle course. The obstacle course is much more entertaining.

When you're on your own you can avoid going to the Y for an hour. An hour later there's still nothing to distract you. You still have to go to the Y and you have to make up a new excuse. This gets tiring, always making up excuses to talk yourself out of doing things you don't want to do.

When Charlie's around, I don't have this problem. If I don't get up and exercise right away while he's still asleep, fat chance I'll do it once he wakes up. There's just too much garbage-reminding, too much looking for hidden clean shirts, too much bad TV to watch. I'm a good wife so I do my part and share the bad TV-watching duty. The Y will have to wait.

When I lived in England there were public service announcements directed at the old-age pensioners. "Try to eat at least one real meal," the announcements said. "Aim for One Meal a Day." How stupid is that? When you're old, what the hell else would you do? I assumed older people in America pretty much set their lives around mealtimes. Who doesn't know an overachieving senior who has dinner before 5 PM? We're the People of the Early Bird Special. That's how we get things done in this country. Those silly English and their public service announcements, always creating problems where there aren't any.

Now, being alone myself, I can put myself in those English pensioners' shoes. It's not the eating that's the problem. I'm not to the point where I'm forgetting to eat, unfortunately. It's the real meal bit. Does three cups of tea and half a box of wafer cookies count as lunch? How about an old apple and whatever's left in the ice cream carton? I never would have guessed good people ate like that. I never did until nobody was there to not witness it.

I notice I'm hungry, speaking of eating. I've put it off and put it off until I'm too hungry to do the right thing and have a real meal. The closest thing with the most fat and calories is a leftover hot dog. I heat that up and eat it in about five seconds.

I'm still hungry. I gave Charlie most of the cookies to take back with him but I know I have a few left. Funny how that's something I can recall with perfect clarity. At any given time I can tell you exactly how many cookies I have in my kitchen. Ask me what's the next digit after 3.141592693 and I have to look it up. Today, by coincidence, both these numbers are five. I only had to look up the pi digit. The cookies have been in my mind since I put them back in the cupboard

That's the problem. When you're all alone, who's there to stop you? I don't mean stopping you by saying something like, "Do you really want that cookie?" or "Wait fifteen minutes and see if you really want it."

If you know Charlie, you know he more likely says, "Oh, go ahead. Have another one. C'mon, have two." That helps much more. It puts the responsibility back on you, where it belongs. Now you have to think, "Do I really want another one?" If anyone's going to say no, it's going to have to be you. You can't count on Charlie to control yourself for you. "Come on," he'd say. "You deserve it."

Normally Charlie eats regular meals, he doesn't snack, and unlike me, he won't count popcorn and an orange as dinner. He gets hungry so immediately he decides it's time for dinner. Now. He's not good about thinking or planning ahead. I figured out a long time ago that I had to organize, shop, cook and schedule his meals without any input from him. He is completely incapable of anything mealtime, but he eats anything and thanks me often.

I told his colleagues that when he's on his own, he's either going to get really thin or get really fat. He might eat at least one real meal but only if he can plan ahead and shop for real food, which nobody ever witnessed him doing. I had visions of him turning into me. He'd get hungry but since he didn't shop he'd have nothing but Ben and Jerry's in the freezer. There's dinner, right out of the carton.

The first week he called me every night. "I'm at Safeway and I'm hungry," he'd say. "What do I do?" I'd talk him through the aisles, giving him suggestions of foods that might go together. "Have you found the bread aisle?" I'd say. "Pick out something familiar. Now let's see if you can find some tuna."

Being Charlie, he found an easier solution. He'd tell someone at work, just one person, that he was living in a camper trailer parked on the boss's property, alone. Without plumbing. "It works every time," Charlie said. "I'd get a dinner invitation once I told someone my situation. I'm careful to tell only one person at a time so I don't get too booked up. Gotta spread out my real meals."

"If I tell them I don't have TV, they invite me to stay and watch a movie, too," Charlie says. "I'm really enjoying getting to know my colleagues. Besides, anything beats sitting at my desk at ten at night eating two cans of tuna on a hot dog bun."

In these circumstances you do what you gotta do to survive.