It is a matter of pride with me that the refrigerator is always stocked with my husband’s favorite brand of orange juice, and that the bathroom cupboard has a full complement of his beloved Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and that absurdly expensive Eau Sauvage stick deodorant. I make fresh lemonade every weekend in the summer (a seriously labor-intensive process); in winter the freezer is lined with individual serving-size containers of homemade peasant soup. Not to put too fine a point on it, I wait on this guy hand and foot.
In the interest of full disclosure, where he far outscores me (I keep score; he doesn’t) is in the generosity-of-spirit part of the marriage (which some might argue carries a higher degree of difficulty than dropping shirts off at the laundry). Take both kids to school so I can sleep a few extra minutes? Sure, he’ll do it. Go willingly with me to my 20th high school reunion, where, for five hours, he’ll have to listen to people he barely knows tell stories about people he hasn’t met? Of course. By contrast, when he asked me to accompany him to his college reunion–let the record show that I’d already been to three previous ones–I responded as I would to a root canal: Fine, if I’m sedated.
So when my editor called to ask how I’d feel about being a perfect wife for a day, I was a little dubious. One whole day of giving up the last word in an argument? A day of listening with rapt attention while he tells me yet again what a jerk the guy in the next office is? Still, I was intrigued by the idea … and curious to see whether I could really pull it off.
3:37 A.M. Perfection is hardest achieved under trying circumstances like sleep deprivation. Thus I have decided to begin this experiment in the wee small hours of the morning when, as Frank Sinatra so famously sang, the whole wide world is fast asleep. I’d like to be in dreamland, too, but there’s that noise to my immediate left. To say that my husband, Michael, snores would be like saying that Bill Gates has some spare cash. It is a symphony with an identifiable theme, three distinct movements, and a boffo finish. Ordinarily I elbow him or shake him awake and beg him in a threatening sort of way to turn over. On this occasion, however, I kiss him gently on the brow, slip out of bed as quietly as a cat burglar, and trundle down the hall with my pillow to spend the rest of the night on the living room sofa.
6:02 A.M. There are many ways that I like to be awakened. The snapping on of the overhead light and the thump of a medicine ball are not on the list. My husband, who admittedly was not aware of my location, has begun to exercise. His head is turned away from me. You know, I could just take that ball and…. Instead, I head to the kitchen and get him a glass of water. Then I go back to our room for a blessed hour and a half of sleep.
6:52 A.M. Did I say an hour and a half? Michael apologetically wakes me. He was setting out our son Matthew’s clothes and was coming up empty on a few items. “Where do we have socks for him?”
Where do we have socks for him? We? I refrain from snapping as I normally would, “In the refrigerator, that’s where we have socks for him.” Instead, I go to Matt’s room, reach into the second drawer where there are enough pairs of white socks for a Little League team, and hand them to my husband.
11:00 A.M. I call him at the office to say I love him and to give him the even more welcome news that I am making his favorite dinner: Dijon chicken breasts and wild rice. “Great,” he says, but I hear the shuffle of papers and I suspect he isn’t really paying attention. I do not point this out.
2:30 P.M. I run into the wife of one of my husband’s dearest friends on the way to pick up my daughter from school. I don’t like this woman (and, come to think of it, I’m not so nuts about the guy). I cheerily agree to a dinner date next week.
6:50 P.M. My husband walks in the house. “That smells good,” he says. “What are you making?” He clearly has no memory of our chat this morning.
“Chicken breasts,” I say gamely.
“Oh, right,” he says. “Great.”
But there’s something in his tone…. I press him. “It’s fine,” he says. “It’s just that I had them for lunch. But I don’t mind.”
“Let me make you some pasta,” I suggest. “Pesto or marinara?”
Yup. Time to hit the sauce.
9:15 P.M. I’m filling the dishwasher. My husband is watching The West Wing, and the phone rings. “You get it,” he says. “You know it’s always for you.”
I pick up. “It’s your brother,” I say. I do not bean him with the receiver.
9:35 P.M. I remind my husband that we have a parent-teacher conference at our son’s school tomorrow at 3:15. “Tomorrow?” he repeats as though it is a word in a foreign language. “First I’ve heard about it.”
Now, I know that I told him. And not only do I know that I did, but I could tell him exactly when. He was watching ER, and Mark Greene had just learned that his brain tumor had recurred…. “Well, maybe I just thought I told you. It’s tomorrow. At 3:15.”
10:20 P.M. I am finally able to pick up the novel I’ve been reading. My husband comes into the living room and asks plaintively whether I’ve thrown out Friday’s New York Times. Yes, I’ve thrown it out. It’s Wednesday. I should have known better. There is always something he means to read. When he has his way, the stack is high enough to housebreak the most recidivist canine in the annals of the American Kennel Club. I, on the other hand, think there is only so much you can keep around before you excite the attention and displeasure of the fire marshal. I often say so. This time I say, “You know, honey, it isn’t here, but I’m pretty sure the Times Web site will have the story you want. Let me check.”
11:00 P.M. Not being the fastest surfer on the World Wide Web, it takes me some time to find the article, but eventually I do find it. I am proud of myself. I take it to my husband. He is asleep.
3:45 A.M. He’s at it again with the symphony, but the day is officially over. I feel like a kid who, having received everything on her Christmas list, has no particular incentive to stay on her best behavior.
I reach over to nudge Michael just as he wakes up himself. “I was snoring, wasn’t I?” he asks.
“Were you?” I say tenderly. “I didn’t even notice.”
I would like to report that my husband took note that this was a 24 hours gloriously, radiantly out of the ordinary. He didn’t. But maybe I should take that as a compliment. It suggests that what I saw as a great reach wasn’t so different from my usual way of doing business. And you know what? I’d be perfectly happy to do it again–just as soon as he does his 24 hours as a perfect husband.