For Better or for Worse
“Hearing aids? Me?”
I took a deep breath and kept my voice calm, just like the intervention book advised.
“Yes, sweetheart, my love. I believe you are having just the tiniest trouble hearing.”
We were starting to have more of these discussions, two decades into our marriage. I was suddenly squinting at small print, the first step on that blurry path to getting optical assistance. Bob was having some dental issues, including one recent busted tooth that resulted in his spot-on impression of Sylvester the cat. I had developed the most disturbing habit of...how shall I say this?...not exhibiting perfect bladder control when engaged in extreme activities like laughing hard. Or sneezing. Or...don’t give me that look! After age fifty everything that was tight sags, things that were loose go stiff, and everything else heads south like a duck in winter and doesn’t come back. You got an issue with it? Talk to God. It’s His design.
Anyway, Bob went, unhappily, but he went, and got a set of small aids that sat comfortably in his ears. They helped greatly, with one drawback. When he ate, Robert felt like he was trapped in a washing machine that had been fed broken glass. The chewing was loud.
One night at a restaurant, Bob opted to remove his hearing aids during dinner with his Mom and me. As he reached around to tuck them into his jacket, which was hanging on the back of his chair, they bounced out of his hand and onto the floor. In one of those cosmic episodes of perfect bad timing, the largest waitress in the county walked over the tiny devices and crushed them into ten gazillion pieces.
Bob snapped his head up and looked at me in utter disbelief. The waitress strode on, unaware that she had just ground $5,000 of our limited funds into the floor. My husband, trying to keep the disaster from his mother, attempted to pick up the shattered segments of hearing aids, but it was like trying to sweep dust into your hand. It was hopeless.
It was a quiet dinner on multiple fronts. Bob was furious with the freak accident, Mom was unaware of the situation, and I, forgive me, was trying not to laugh. What are you going to do, right? I knew Bobby would find it funny, too. Eventually. Hopefully, before he could track down the business card of that divorce attorney we met on vacation last year.
Stifling another giggle, and avoiding my husband’s tortured face, I was looking around the restaurant when a meatball leapt off my fork as if spring-loaded and bounded down my white blouse like a snowboarder. The resulting tic-tac-toe pattern was brilliant red with a greasy sheen. My mother-in-law raised an eyebrow and asked if I was breaking in a new mouth. Robert looked like a man coming to the realization that he is trapped in a low-budget sitcom without a laugh track. The giggle began another determined hike up my throat. I got to the ladies room in time, but it was very close. I cleaned up my shirt as best I could, and we headed home.
In the car with my enraged spouse, my stained blouse, and my clueless in-law, I was holding together pretty well. Then it happened.
“You two are awfully quiet tonight. Is something wrong?” Mom chirped from the backseat.
“What?” said Bobby.
I chewed on the inside of my lip and rapturously studied the passenger side scenery, but I was fighting a losing battle not to bust into raucous laughter and/or pee my pants. Possibly both.
We got Mom home and headed to our street in silence. It was all I could do to breathe. I felt like I had clamped every opening in my body shut, including my mouth. My vision was getting wavy.
The moment the door was open, I rocketed for the bathroom, but not without a drop or two of collateral damage.
When I emerged, I knew I must have been a sight. My pants were off, and I was carrying my tomato-stained blouse.
My husband was standing in the middle of the kitchen, gazing sadly at the mashed hearing aids cupped in his hands.
I extended the blouse to him. “Can you see what water temperature I should wash this in?”
There was complete silence in the house, punctured only by the ticking of the kitchen clock, seemingly giving wings to our rapidly disappearing youth.
His face went pale, then flushed like an atomic sunrise.
“Good God, Maggie!” he roared. “I knew we were going to grow old together. But I didn’t realize it would be by Thursday of next week!”
With that he tossed the busted plastic in the trash, snatched the blouse, pretreated it and threw it in the wash, and stomped to the bedroom.
I followed him and leaned against the bedroom door and finally did what I had tried my damnedest not to do for two hours. I laughed. Out loud. Hard. Giggled, snorted, chortled, the whole thesaurus. I wiped my eyes and composed myself only to collapse against the door again and howl.
And my beloved husband, with whom I find the thought of eternity not nearly long enough, gave me one of the greatest gifts ever.
Then I ran for the bathroom.