The first year Ron and I were dating he gave me a 973-page book for Christmas, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. Any other woman would have thrown it at his head. Lucky for him I’d rather read than be frosted with diamonds.
Regardless of the fact that it was an over-sized, hardcover volume heavier than my bowling ball and took over a month to finish, it was an excellent read. I hated to put it down, but I had a boss that expected me to show up for work and children who were accustomed to cooked meals and clean clothes.
When I told Ron how much I enjoyed it, he told me the gift had been a test to see if I was a reader. Really? A 350-page Dean Koontz book could have accomplished the same thing, or better yet, he could have just asked. Men are strange.
Seven months later, for my birthday, he gave me Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by relationship counselor John Gray. I wondered if this was another bizarre test.
The book was both enlightening and exasperating. When I got to chapter five, Speaking Different Languages, I threw it across the room and hollered, “No wonder men are so weird – they’re aliens!”
I’d been married once before. The book convinced me to never marry again, which I doubt was the author’s intention.
We dated another couple of years until the “summer from hell” (Ron’s words) when we were on a break. In my defense, I’d barely been divorced when we started seeing each other. I just wanted a little space to experience life without a Martian underfoot.
For the most part, Ron stayed away, but he didn’t GO away! I bought a house in June, right before the breakup. The walkway to the front door was almost completely blocked by overgrown, ugly shrubbery. He’d already offered to dig the bushes out, so I wasn’t surprised when he showed up at the house with a shovel in hand a couple of weeks later. To be honest, I was relieved to see him. What single woman in her right mind would turn down free manual labor?
Then on a sweltering July evening, he invited me out on his fishing boat, knowing full well that my kids would be at their dad’s and that slowly bobbing on the water while stargazing and listening to the distant sounds of laughter and crackling campfires, was one of my favorite things to do. Sneaky extra-terrestrial!
He stopped by in late August, just to say Hi. Before he left he gave me a hug. The sound of his deep bass voice as he whispered, “I miss you”, mingled with the smell of his Black Suede cologne, reminded me of how safe I always felt in his arms.
What the hell! I was never gonna have space until my kids left home anyway. Why not hang out with a man from outer space who smells good?
Our relationship was fine after that. We dated a total of six years. He had his house. I had mine. On Friday afternoon he’d call me at work and we’d converse about what to do that evening.
Dating was fun and exciting, but by year six I was juggling a full-time job and living with teenagers. I was tired by the end of the week. The Friday ritual began to bug me, like gnats circling my face. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Then one Friday the exchange went like this. . .
Ron’s upbeat voice echoed through the phone, “What would you like to do tonight?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to meet you at your house and we’ll decide later?”
“I don’t know!” I snapped. I reached for the calculator on my desk as I pondered how many times we’d had this conversation. Let’s see, fifty-two Fridays every year for six years, less the ten weeks when we were on a break would be… 302 times? No wonder I’m irritated!
“Do you want to come to my house? I’ll cook dinner,” Ron carefully offered.
At that moment, an inspired thought popped into my head and I knew exactly what I wanted.
“Let’s get married,” I said as if I’d casually suggested we go to a movie.
Silence on the other end of the phone, then, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. This isn’t a test. I just want both of us to go to the same house at the end of the day, without discussing it first. And then I want to stay home and do nothing – together. Dating is too much work.”
“But what about your space? The boys are moving out and Karen will follow in two years.”
“Space is overrated. I just want to be with you, plus I need dental work and you have better insurance.”
“So, you want me for my health benefits?” Pause. “I can go along with that.”
We married four months later.
That’s enough of this mushy stuff. Let’s leap forward to a couple of weeks ago.
When I write, I do my best to tie the ending of a story back to something near the beginning, but I got to this point and had nothing. So we got married, big deal.
What I needed was more information about the book gifting. The best way was to just ask him to explain his reasoning. That’s what any woman would do.
I found him standing on the front porch, contemplating the secrets of the universe when I posed the question. His eyes grew wide. He began shuffling about looking everywhere but at me. I wondered why he was acting so goofy, when he said, “Honestly, I never thought this question would come up.”
He paused to give me his signature, wide-eyed [look at me, aren’t I cute?] grin.
I couldn’t help but smile. His face told me that whatever was about to come out of his mouth was going to be a hoot. Hopefully, it would be helpful.
He looked down at the porch floor. “It’s like this. It was time for getting you a Christmas present and I hadn’t done it yet.”
He sent a quick glance my way. “I’d already bought the Pillars of the Earth for myself and – I’d already read it.”
Another glance. ” I found it intriguing and historical, so I thought, well, I’ll just give her the book for Christmas and it worked.” He chuckled, looking me full in the face with a glimmer of hope in his eyes that I would see the humor in his confession.
I did laugh, then prompted “and you told me it was a test to see if I was a reader.”
No response. All I got was that dopey look. What was I missing? He let me believe for twenty-eight years the book was a test. Was that not true? The missing pieces began to fall into place.
“Wait a minute!” I said. “We met in a college writing class. I was an English major. I carried literary books with me everywhere I went. You knew darn good and well I was a reader!”
“But I didn’t know if we liked the same books.” That grin of his was getting a lot of stage time.
I crossed my arms, lifted my eyebrows, and gave him my signature [you expect me to believe this?] stare.
He shrugged his shoulders and finally confessed, “The truth of the matter is, I panicked and wrapped up a book I’d already read. The nice thing was it wasn’t a paperback, because when you break those spines you can tell it’s used.”
The more he talked, the deeper the hole he dug. It was comical.
“So, what about the Mars/Venus book? Why did you give me that one?” I probed.
“I was probably thinking the book would help you to understand men, so when you found out about the Christmas gift you’d be lenient.”
“You are the best husband ever!” I shouted loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. “I now have an ending thanks to you! I’m not even gonna ask if I can use your confession. You owe me.” I knew he wouldn’t mind. He likes it when I write about him.
I was heading back into the house when he added, “And by the way, I never read the Mars/Venus book.”
“Yeah! That’s obvious!”