Monthly Archives: October 2014

Mrs. Pettersen, In the Elevator, With Guy Thornton

Like our old board game, Clue, this story has been stashed away for many years.  I’ve picked over the memory from time to time. Shared it with a few friends. But with Clarence’s Brandon University reunion happening this weekend, I’m ready to take it out of the closet and hold it up to the light of day. Is it shameful? Not really. Foolish? Perhaps.

Please, join me on my walk down memory lane. And I hope you learn from my mistakes. Like always looking before you leap into the elevator. Or at the very least, take heed of the Georgia Satellites song title, ‘Keep your hands to yourself.’ Wise words.

We got married in our last year of university. A few weeks after the wedding we left our tiny attic suite and drove over to McMaster Hall for a visit. I greeted my friends as if I’d been gone for a year. Hours later I waved goodbye to everyone and followed my husband into the elevator. I felt bathed in happiness. My life was perfect.  We’d be finished school in a few months, then apply for teaching jobs and spend the rest of our lives together in blissful harmony.

Since we were alone, I scooted backward, pressing myself against my sweet husband. Feeling a little playful, I reached behind me and… Well. You know. But as I peeked upwards with a cheeky grin, my eyes met those of a complete stranger. It was not Clarence. It was a fellow by the name of Guy Thornton. Yes, that’s his real name.  And though he lived in my residence, I had never met him before this intimate and mistaken occasion. In that moment I felt like the worst version of myself; the one who wiped out crowds of skiiers on the bunny slope. The one who went right instead of left and fell off the stage during a ballet recital. But those occasions were merely humiliating. This was embarrassment on a whole new level. As if embarrassment had decided to smoke crack and reinvent itself.

“Oh my God,” I said, clasping my hands together like a Victorian maiden in full retreat. “I thought you were my husband!” His reply may not be exactly as follows, but the meaning was clear.

‘Uh huh.’

“No, really. I thought you were Clarence. Why are you wearing the same pants and sweater?” I asked this in all sincerity. He ignored my sputtered words, continuing to smile down at me in a rather heartless manner.

“Sure,” he said, mockingly drawing out the single syllable. Was he teasing? I had no idea, but he seemed to be hinting that I’d planned the whole thing. Which made me wonder if the problem was my reputation or his ego.

The elevator doors opened then, and I fled to the lobby area where I found Clarence waiting.

“Where were you?” He looked puzzled  and irritated. I remember that part very clearly.

“I…. I… I…” I decided to lie. Well, not really. “I got on the wrong elevator,” I said. Part of me felt extremely embarrassed and remorseful. The other part, the one that insists on writing this blog, was having a good laugh at my own expense. I never told Clarence about what happened for at least ten years.

“We invited him to our wedding!” he said in response to my belated tale, not appreciating the humour of the situation. As if the invitation made my behavior even sketchier. “How did you get on the wrong elevator?”

“I backed in and he was wearing the exact same pants and sweater as you. I don’t think he believed me when I said it was an accident.” Clarence didn’t want to discuss it. So we put it behind us like it never happened. But it did, and I longed to restate my case in a calm and convincing manner.

I’ve had no opportunity to say this on national television. The breakfast shows where I’ve appeared on behalf of the babyTrekker just weren’t the right venue. So  let me state here and now, almost forty years after the fact, that I truly didn’t know it was you, Guy Thornton. And that’s the truth. I also need to thank you. Because you might have been heartless and disbelieving, but at least you weren’t creepy. So thanks for that. And happy reunion. Whew! I feel so much better.

Sweet, Savage Love

I was hanging upside down cleaning the bathtub when I happened to catch sight of my face. It was sagging the wrong way and looking very red. Think Arnold Schwartznegger in the end of days. Not the movie. His real end of days. Especially if he is constipated on the way out.

I was startled. My husband has never mentioned seeing me like this. Having had a relatively long married life, chances are he has. His ability to not notice these things is my new definition of sweet love. He is also oblivious to my back fat. I hadn’t notice any either until I caught sight of it in a three way mirror. His assurance that I was just imagining things can be grouped in the same category. Sweet Love.

Savage love is another thing entirely. When I find yet another hidden item from Value Village, (a turquoise vase, honey!) and go into a rage filled rant, I can last for a good ten minutes. Afterward, my husband will exit whatever room he was in, give me a puzzled look and say, ‘Were you talking to me?’ That, on my part, is Savage Love. Still sweet on his side. However.

Let me throw away a moth eaten, stained pair of woolen winter pants and he will transform into a version of me. It is a monumental thing getting him to part with his clothes or any item in his ‘collection.’ Others are not oblivious to the situation.  “I can have a team here in an hour and clean all this shit up,” promised a mutual friend of ours. “One hour. A whole team!” As she walked away, I felt vindicated. I was not the only one thinking our garage was overfull. On days when we leave the door open, people pull into the driveway thinking that we’re having a yard sale.

My short temper and his latest turquoise vase collection have led to some humdinger arguments. The warmth in the room disappears while we sulk in our respective corners and contemplate divorce. A half hour later, we’re snuggled in bed reading our books (because God forbid we don’t read every single night!) while playing footsie. After a good night’s sleep, sweet love reigns again.

There is an art to a lasting marriage. An ability to take the long view and not let a hissy fit, (mine) two speeding tickets in a row (his) and a disagreement over how to weed the garden, take away all the good stuff. Like the fact that he is the kindest person I know. That he is passionate about family and community and never tries to be anyone but himself. I know, because I’ve tried to make some changes and they haven’t taken very well.

So, even when I’m building a full head of steam over his latest find, I appreciate very well what we’ve got. Between us we juggle this glass ball of delicately beautiful, sturdily complex love. We remember how we looked when we were young, and that’s pretty much how we view each other. We know all of each other’s stories. He excuses my bad mood and Arnold Schwartznegger, end of days, expression. I forgive his cupboard full of bargains. Because the truth about marriage is this. Forgiveness soothes the savage days of love, turning them sweet. The bad moments are lost in the colourful tapestry of our life together, becoming just another piece of the beautiful puzzle we call marriage. 

Cry Baby

Last week, very, very early, a fire alarm went off at our place in Winnipeg. Since we live on the 20th floor and Clarence had just had surgery, this was worrying.  What if it wasn’t a drill? The elevators were locked so I started down the stairwell to check things out.

I had reached the 3rd floor when a voice came over the intercom. ‘Please stay in your suite,’ it said firmly.  ‘Remain in your suite until further notice.’ Oh, the timing. My legs were shaking from leaping out of bed and rushing down 17 flights of stairs. My heart was tight from lack of exercise and panic. There could be a fire. And the 20th floor is unreachable by ladder.

I headed back up the stairs, holding onto the rail and feeling like a ninety year old. At the sixth floor it became apparent that a cooking fire had set off the alarm.  My sense of relief morphed into bitter self pity. Pulling myself upward, I cursed my ill luck with some colorful language and small bird like sounds of exhaustion.  Clarence was still awake when I stumbled into the bedroom.

He said,  ‘I told you not to go.’ While technically true, this is exactly what a person who has taken one for the team does not want to hear. But the words, ‘ I told you so,’ are an unavoidable part of most relationships. That does not mean I took them in the right spirit.

‘But there was a fire,’ I said. ‘On a stove in an apartment on the sixth floor.’ I was on the defensive, presenting my own version of, ‘No, I told YOU so.’ I went back to bed, feeling very hard done by. 

A few days later, one of my sisters had an accident, breaking her wrist and bruising herself badly. Later, when I was in the middle of retelling my story, “I can’t believe I climbed ALL those stairs,” it suddenly hit me. I’m a cry baby. There was my husband, the staples in his stomach catching on the fabric of his shirt. My sister, her small wrist wrapped in a cast, supporting herself with the help of a cane while gazing at me sympathetically.

‘Fine,’ I muttered to myself, feeling the weight of my own shame. It was time to re-embrace the gratitude mantra. After all, Clarence had had a successful surgery. My sister would get better. And I would take my physical fitness more seriously. Especially since, part of the time, we lived on the 20th floor.

This small life lesson is like a mirror. Instead of good intentions, it revealed me as a self indulgent mini martyr. And if I’m too thick minded to see the error of my ways, I suspect another lesson might come round again. It may not involve twenty flights of stairs, up and down. It may be something even more formidable. So I’m saying right here and now that I get it. There are a lot of people having a tough time. Most of them are stoic individuals silently bearing all that life throws at them, and still greeting the day with a smile.

They are my heroes. And I will run up and down many flights of stairs if I can help them in any way. I just might have to duct tape my mouth shut afterward.