In Providence: Small Doses

“If we didn’t pick rooms, we were headed for divorce.”

I’ll admit that it’s a little strange writing a Man About Town column when nobody is allowed out on the town, but luckily for me, I still have people reaching out to tell me how they’re handling things during this time of quarantine. She was one of those people, and when she called to speak with me, her voice had the hushed whisper of a hostage.

“He’s the best husband you could ask for, he really is, I’m lucky. You have–you have all these people stuck with these real losers and I’m glad I’m not one of them, but you have to understand, when you’ve been married as long as we have, part of that is knowing when to give each other space, and we like to give each other a lot of space.”

They’ve been married for nearly 20 years, and they say for most of that 20 years, they’ve had fairly limited contact. So much so that even their friends joke about it.

“Listen, do we love each other? We love each other very much. But if I have to spend day and night with him for a week straight, I’m going to crawl down the toilet. You get what I’m saying? He likes to travel. Loves it. I hate that. I tell him, ‘Travel wherever you want.’ So he does. Me, I like to go out around here with my girlfriends. We do our own thing. Then when we see each other again, it’s this nice thing, because we’re not crowding each other. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this. I really don’t. The other day he tells me he loves chicken cacciatore. I say ‘When did this start?’ He tells me he’s always loved it. That’s news to me. We don’t have any chicken in the house. He’s asking why not. How am I supposed to know he loves chicken cacciatore? I’ve never seen him eat it in my life. I tell him we have beef, we have pork, we have everything but chicken, because I don’t like chicken and I don’t know my husband loved chicken so much. He was grumpy all day. That was day one. This isn’t going to work.”

From their house on Hillside Avenue, they take turns passing the phone to me and talking quietly so the other can’t hear them. When the husband gets on the phone, he explains how after two days, they decided to divide up their house.

“We’re still going to share a bed, but if she wants to nap or anything, she’s gotta go to the spare room. I have the — I like doing my work at the kitchen table. So I have the kitchen. She’s got the living room, because I can watch tv in our bedroom. This was very casual, but we settled into it pretty quick and it was a good arrangement at first, but now I notice her going down in the basement and I’m spending more and more time in the garage. We’re not people who like to be stuck inside, but we want to be doing the right thing, but we can only walk by each other so many times before you feel that cabin fever setting in.”

Whereas she was unaware of his love for chicken cacciatore, he learned a few things about her as well.

“She sings. All the time. I can hear her all throughout the house. Singing — every song you can think of — it’s a non-stop concert in here. I maybe heard her sing one song in her life, and now all of a sudden, it’s constant. The other day she was singing a song, I go, ‘What is that?’ ‘Neil Young.’ It wasn’t Neil Young. I know Neil Young. She’s telling me it was Neil Young. I look it up. It’s not Neil Young; it’s David Crosby. I tell her that. She tells me it’s not Crosby. I show her what I found on the computer. She says she knows it’s Neil Young. She’s looking right at the computer and saying it’s Neil Young. This is who I married.”

They’ve decided that no matter what, they will keep their weekly tradition of a date night. Every Saturday at eight o’clock, they’re going to meet downstairs, and pour themselves a drink. She tells me it’s a tradition they took from her parents.

“We knew Saturday night was for Mom and Dad. That was their night to get-together. They raised nine kids — I’m not kidding — and they never had much money. But they made that one night for each other. My father was always taking my brothers to their games and my mother worked most nights. She was a nurse. Saturdays were when they would reconnect, and I always loved that, so we’re borrowing that from them.”

I ask her what her mother would think of everything that’s going on right now.

“We grew up, in my house, doctors and nurses were heroes. That’s what we were taught. My father used to praise my mother up and down for what she did. He was her biggest fan. Just like my husband is with me and me with him. But they weren’t all over each other all the time. That wasn’t their way. But they loved each other very much. Just because you love somebody in small doses doesn’t mean you don’t love them. Maybe I love him too much. That’s why I need a break from him every so often. But if I’m gonna be trapped, I’d rather be trapped with him.”

He tells me the same thing.

“I tell her all the time — Nobody’s got a better wife. Even now, she’s the one who says ‘We’re going to be okay’ and you believe it, because it’s her. She’s the calm one. I’m the one who gets nervous and then she makes fun of me for being nervous, and that makes me laugh. It’s why I’d be a goner without her. There’s no me without her. Now if she could just stop with all the #$%-ing singing.”

In the background, I can hear her singing what sounds like the Eagles.

But I guess it could be Neil Young.