The litmus test for my marriage began on Monday when I printed out the first hard copy of my novel and passed it to my husband. He’s read my work before, and I am quite used to his “leave it or cleave it” honesty.
Or, so I thought.
Tuesday night, being sure to keep banging around in the kitchen so Randy’d think I was busy cooking supper, I poked my head into the living room. With his brows furrowed and red Sharpie wielded, my husband sliced and diced through my carefully crafted sentences like Jack the Ripper. Slice! Dice! Circle! Dash! I couldn’t watch my beloved child getting torn to bits, so I went back to making meatloaf and mashed potatoes; and if the meatloaf was baked to a brick and the mashed potatoes tasted a little like cardboard…well, that was just too bad.
Wednesday night I decided to behave. Randy was editing my novel as a favor; I needn’t be childish about it. So, I took one side of the couch and he leaned back against my legs. I revised pages, then passed them to him. It helped I couldn’t see his facial expressions, for I always thought them terribly “Roger Ebert” while he was editing. But I still had a hard time focusing on my own revisions while I was busy seeing which words he was circling or which sentences he was putting a question mark beside.
On Thursday day I decided I’d just mark through all the descriptive scenes and stilted dialogue Randy would, so that night he could just sit back and rave about his wife’s creative genius.
Around 8 p.m., Randy held up the bloodied stump of a page and asked, “Why’d you mark this out?”
“Dunno,” I shrugged. “Thought it was too flowery or something.”
“No--I like it.”
But right when I was about to combust with pride, Randy started shuffling through some pages and held one up. “Now this,” he said, pointing to a scene upon which every subplot hinged, “this I would omit.”
Groaning, I flung myself down on the couch.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, drawing arrows and boxes all over my pristine pages.
“For Pete’s sake, can’t you just put a smile-y face or something!”
With my face burrowed in the throw pillows, I listened to some scratching sounds. Randy touched my back and softly said, “Here, love.”
I looked over. At the top of the page there was a smiley face rivaling the size of Wal-Mart's.
“That’s not funny!” I said, hitting him with a pillow, but even then I couldn’t resist a (very tiny) smile.
Today was yet another litmus test for our marriage. I only go out to our land once a week since it gets dark so soon, and it’s a 25 minute drive from where we live. Because of this, I haven’t seen the tin Randy's started putting on the roof, and I was excited to.
That is, until we drove in the lane.
“Welp…that’s sure green,” I drawled. “Maybe it won’t look so bad close up.”
But when we parked and got out, the tin roof looked even worse. Randy had only put tin over the carport, and contrasted with the black paper on the rest of the roof and the white plastic wrapping the house, the green glared out at us like a street sign.
“Ummm, honey?" I asked. "What’re we gonna do about the roof?"
Randy cried, “Whatta you mean, ‘do about the roof’? We already have all the metal!”
“It’s kelly green.” Closing one eye, I looked up at the tin. “No, more like jungle green…George of the Jungle green.”
My husband seemed to be sprouting gray hair while he stood in front of me. I tried another tactic.
“I mean, can’t we take it back or something? Switch it for a different color?”
“That’s the only green they had! You said you wanted green, so I told them to send us green!”
“Did you look at the green before they sent it out?”
He shook his head and looked over at one field. I folded my arms and looked at the other.
During my walk (my personal panacea), I realized I was slicing and dicing Randy’s “baby” just like he’d been doing to my novel. Here he’d been slaving on our home since August -- sweating buckets and now freezing his tail off -- and I came in once a week to critique or commend him. It wasn’t fair to judge his work when I hadn’t put any into it, and though I had a right to give my opinion (he often asked for it, just as I asked for his on my novel), it always helped to balance the bitter with a taste of sweet.
When I got back, Randy and I got into our Jeep and drove out the lane.
“I’m sorry for freaking out over the roof,” I said. “Maybe we should look at that house on 52 again? The one with the cedar siding? I think it has green tin, too.”
My husband nodded and said, “I’m not mad, you know. Just frustrated trying to figure it all out.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“Good.” He looked over and smiled.
Twenty minutes later we were driving the switchbacks of 52. The sun (a rare commodity these days) was dappling everything in gold and the wind swept through our lowered windows. It was absolutely lovely. Then we came upon the cedar sided home.
“It’s caught fire!” Randy said, pulling into the lane.
“What? No, it’s not.”
But, looking closer, I saw the hole that had been eaten out of the side of the house. How the back of the green tin roof was caved in. The wood around it charred black as cinder.
From the front you could never tell that anything was so drastically wrong. One of those yellow toddler swings still hung from the maple in the yard. A fake tree and a scooter was on the porch. The bushes were intact. The shutters still green; the cedar an orangey-red.
That tiny cedar sided home spoke to me how marriages get destroyed. Pride steps in the way of our apology, or our spouse’s lack of an apology reinforces our pride. This dance can go on for years -- decades even -- and all the while that fire’s quietly getting kindled and will soon burst into flame, destroying everything and everyone in its path.
Although I have no right to write this -- for I’ve allowed my pride to get in the way of an apology many times -- I feel this week’s litmus test of marriage has been passed with flying color (kelly green, to be exact), so I pass this warning on to you: Don’t let a few scribbled-out sentences or color schemes cause the sun to go down on your wrath, for those you love are also those who make it rise in the morning.