Last night my husband and I had an argument.
Well, a nano spat.
We were about to watch an episode of Borgen, when, remote in hand, he suddenly closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and pressed the fingers of one hand to his forehead, looking stricken. It occurred to me that he might be having a stroke. After all, it’s not as if fifty-nine year old Type-A men don’t ever have strokes and Ken’s life is not entirely without stress. For example, he is married to someone who, by her own admission, can occasionally be a teensy bit of a demando-guts. Also, a decade ago, he had a bout of Central Serous Retinopathy, a condition brought on by stress — in CSR, fluid buildup under the retinal pigment epithelium of the eye results, temporarily in his case, in vision distortion. As disconcerting as this was, it did come in handy one Christmas, when two of our semi-adult children were going at each other, hammer and tongs. Finally, unable to stand their bickering and recriminations a second longer, I leaped to my feet, pointed dramatically in Ken’s direction and cried, “If you don’t stop this immediately, your father’s eye is going to explode!” Whereupon they took it outside. (They get along fine now.)
So, bearing in mind my husband’s advancing age and blood pressure issues and aware that, one day, one of us is going to not be OK and could that moment . . . that terrible moment possibly be this moment, the moment everything changes and all is lost? Bearing all that in mind, I asked, “Are you all right?”
To which he responded with a terse, “Quiet!”
I waited, leaning forward in my chair, my eyes fixed on him. I waited some more. Then, because his demeanor had not altered and remembering that, in cases of stroke, it’s important to act quickly though in what precise way I can never remember, I tried a second time: “Ken,” I asked, enunciating carefully, “Are. You. All. Right. Question mark.”
Now, I admit I can be overly solicitous on occasion. When my daughter Sabrina was a baby, I was so terrified she would succumb to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome that I used to creep into her bedroom when she was sleeping and hold a mirror under her tiny nose. If ever she seemed suspiciously still to me — and this was not infrequently — I would wake her up to make sure she was alive. Neither of us got a lot of sleep that first year.
Once, in a sun-baked and utterly deserted park in Mt. Olive, the pickle capitol of North Carolina, I ignored cries for help from the same husband for whose health I was now so solicitous in order to save Buddy, our aged and very infirm golden retriever, from nothing at all. This is what happened. At the same moment as a colony of fire ants was inexplicably swarming up Ken’s bare legs, I spotted a lone car on the distant horizon. And I mean distant. Convinced that this same car was going to suddenly accelerate, cover the half mile or so that separated us in a matter of seconds and flatten Buddy, I left Ken to fend for himself while I took off after the dog, flailing my arms and crying, “No! Buddy! Stop!”
Just the other day, I tried to get our current golden retriever, Nellie, up for her late afternoon pee. To no avail. This was beyond alarming, especially if you’re me, hence, easily alarmed; Nellie came into this world spring-loaded; she is the canine equivalent of Tigger. The prospect of a walk, any walk, sends her into virtual paroxysms. What could possibly be the matter with her, I wondered? Was she sick? Then I remembered the asphalt on her paws from an earlier outing with our dog walker. Had she licked her paws and, in so doing, poisoned herself? Was she dying? I consulted my iPad for an antidote to asphalt. Finding none, I gave her a bowl of milk, because, you know, milk. I then made an emergency vet appointment for an hour later and commenced pacing frantically back and forth, wringing my hands. Was this it? Was this how Nellie died? Was I going to lose my baby? Then I offered her a dentabone. Turns out, a long-lasting oral care chew was all it took to reinvigorate her. Up she leaped, out we went; she peed. I wept with relief, then called the vet and cancelled the appointment. We went on with our day.
Meanwhile, here was my beloved husband, frozen in an attitude of pain, his expression that of someone who has just had an ice pick driven through his forehead.
“Are you all right?” I repeated for the third time.
“Damn it!” he said then, opening his eyes and glaring at me. “I was thinking! Can’t a person think?”
Not if they look like they’re having a stroke, they can’t. Not on my watch.