One ordinary weeknight several years ago, my husband, Francis, and I were lingering at the dinner table after the kids had been excused. Francis sat in his unbuttoned blueberries, lazily chewing the last bites of beef roast, while I stared out the window of our base house, drumming my fingers on the table.
Suddenly, I perked up when I remembered a story to liven up our dull dialogue. “Hon, did I tell you about the infuriating conversation I had with the sixth grade math teacher today? That guy is a real piece of work if you ask me,” I began, dabbing the corners of my mouth with a crumpled napkin.
Gnawing a particularly tough piece of meat, Francis shook his head with a dazed look on his face. After nearly two decades of marriage, he knew that I could take twenty minutes to describe cleaning fuzz out of a lint trap. He breathed a heavy sigh and braced himself for excruciating detail and superfluous analysis.
“Well, I called Mr. Lee about Lilly’s semester project,” I continued, “and do you know what that man said to me?”
“No. What.” Francis robotically replied, staring blankly into space, his water glass poised midair.
I went on to describe a rather unremarkable conversation with our daughter’s sixth-grade math teacher, a mundane event in my daily life as a stay-at-home mother of three that was, admittedly, not very interesting at all. However, I had learned to give our dinner conversations a stimulating dose of drama and suspense by embellishing my otherwise ordinary stories with detailed descriptions, exaggerated voice intonation, and vivid facial expressions.
I knew that, with a few strategic enhancements, I could make the tale about my phone call with Mr. Lee seem like a thrilling off-Broadway play. I reenacted the story for Francis, and during the climax of my narrative account, I used my all my dramatic skills to convey the necessary range of emotions.
Francis, tired and irritated after a long day and a mediocre dinner, interjected sardonically, “Oh, please, do that thing again with the bulgy eyes. That’s really attractive.”
He was joking, but in that kind of way that told me there was a nugget of truth behind his humor. Seemingly intending to add insult to injury, he mocked me by trying to project his eyes outward like Marty Feldman, while I sat, stone-faced and silent, glaring at him. Although his deep-set eyeballs could never mimic the natural prominence of mine, Francis nonetheless contorted his face to look as ridiculous as possible.
As I watched his rude display and doggedly gripped my fork on that ordinary weeknight at the dinner table, our entire marriage passed before my genetically protuberant eyes.
“What’s happened to us?” I thought. “We used to be so sweet to each other. We used to enjoy talking for hours. We thought everything about each other was so damned cute. And now, here we are pelting each other with insults over boxed rice pilaf? Does he think I’ve become unattractive and annoying? Is our marriage hopeless?”
Hurt and bitter, I finally interrupted his facial contortions, “So, who do you think you are over there, Robert Redford or something?” With blatant hypocrisy, Francis took immediate offense to my ridicule and scowled.
We sat in silence for several minutes, sucking pepper from our teeth and avoiding eye contact.
Never able to remain mute for long, I spoke weakly without looking up from the gristle on my plate, “I can’t help that my eyes bulge, you know.”
Francis’ biting sarcasm dissipated, and was replaced with sincere remorse. “I’m sorry,” he said, moving in closer and placing his hand on mine.
I released the death grip I had on my fork as I looked into his deep-set eyes.
“Actually,” Francis offered, now striking the right balance, “I think you’re bulgy in all the right places.”