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Without a Word

Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate. — Barnett R. Brickner

It’s not that I’m a disciple of the supernatural — it’s only human to imbue moments of extraordinary coincidence with a sense of significance. What else but a sixth sense could explain the sudden skip of my heartbeat that drove me to interrupt my friend Jen mid-sentence so I could make a phone call? There are endless mysteries of the universe I will never fathom, great things beyond my mortal understanding. But when I picked up the phone and began dialing, just to hear his voice already on the line, talking over the digital tones, one thing was as clear as the glasses on my face — at some point in our relationship, my connection with David transcended the physical.

“That’s so weird,” I said into the phone. “I was just trying to call you.” Jen, who was seated across from me in my living room and thus witness to the psychic occurrence, proffered a countenance of amazement.

But David was not interested in analyzing happenstance. “My computer just crashed,” he said. Then, in a near whisper, “I lost everything I did today — a vast amount of grueling, seriously unpleasant, painstaking work. All gone.”

I knew it wouldn’t help for me to voice what I was thinking — how awesome it was that I had precogged his distress — so instead, I let my voice fall to meet his sober mood and said, “Oh, beh beh, I’m so sorry.” I knew what this meant, what he was thinking: with only a few weeks left before his photo exhibit in L.A., every minute counted, and now many hours were lost. And the way he works, each of David’s hours can be as productive as a full day of toiling is for me.

“I’m going to have to do it all over again,” he said. “My neck and shoulders are already tense and aching from being in the same position all day, working on this.” His voice broke with frustration. “I just want to throw something.”

“No, this is what you’re going to do,” I said in a calm but authoritative tone. “You’re going to shut down the computer and gather up your stuff, then you’re going to go outside and take a deep breath. I’ll be right there.”

Sensing my impatience to be at David’s side, Jen politely declined my offer to drive her home — allowing me to hop in the car and head straight to David’s studio. I’d dropped him there earlier so he wouldn’t have to deal with the meters, an incidental fact in which I now sought relief, as I wouldn’t want him driving in such an exasperated state. Intent on rescuing my man from what was surely a relentless bout of self-thrashing for not saving his work, I slipped into the driver’s seat and took off.

I saw him from a block away, standing on the corner, his head down. David is a camel while he works, focusing all his attention on the trek before him, able to go for miles on reserves. I didn’t need to ask if he’d eaten. I knew the answer. What I did say was, “Are you hungry?” Then, “Never mind. You need to eat. I’ll take you somewhere. We’ll get some food in you, a glass of wine. I know it’s been frustrating, but the most important thing for you to do right now is relax. This stuff, the work, it sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.” With my right hand, I caressed his rigid neck. “You still have plenty of time. You can get it done. A good night’s sleep and a fresh start tomorrow, you’ll see. It won’t seem so bad in the morning.”

I took him to Taste of Italy for comfort food. Once home, I insisted he pour himself a nightcap, something to further dull his mind, help relax his muscles, and usher him into a sound sleep.

The next morning, I awoke first. With the back of my knuckles, I stroked David’s cheek, down to his jaw, along the smooth grain of his golden whiskers. He opened his eyes to see me smiling over him. “How’d you sleep?” He smiled back. He’d slept well. I gathered the comforter and made a pillow on his chest. “Here’s the deal,” I said. “Instead of rushing right back into it…I mean, popping out of bed and diving headfirst into the stress and task of recreating all that work, let’s do this: first breakfast, then the gym — I know, you don’t get the endorphins like I do, but your body will benefit from the stress release. Trust me. Then shower, and then, after all that — it won’t take but a few hours — then I’ll drop you at your studio and you can tackle that work with a clear head.”

While David considered my proposal, I bounded out of bed and set about brushing my teeth. He followed me to the bathroom and pulled on his workout shorts by way of answer. “Great! I’ll meet you downstairs,” I said. When he made it to the kitchen, David thanked me for setting out his favorite bowl, a spoon, and a serving of instant oatmeal. “It’s my pleasure, beh beh,” I said.

While I alternated between bites of hot oatmeal and sips of chilled water, I could feel David’s attention on me, like the Rover on Mars, finding a bit of inflection here, some facial twitch there, gathering it all up so that Mission Control could make an analysis. “What is it?” I said, extracting the bowl from his hand so I could rinse it in the sink.

“I’m not sure how to say it,” David said. I knew what was coming. I can read his mind, after all. And I’d heard this tone before, seen this face. He didn’t want to sound disappointed, didn’t want to discourage my behavior, but he felt the need to point it out, just as he did the last time he’d faltered and I’d risen to the occasion, and the time before that. It wasn’t my rising that bothered him so much as from where I had risen.

“I haven’t seen you this cheerful in months,” he said. My face fell, but David reached out to catch it. “Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing you like this. I just wish it didn’t take me having a crisis to make you so positive. It’s, like, by having to focus on me, all of your own troubles have been lifted. I’d like to see you this upbeat and lighthearted all of the time.”

He was right, and we both knew it — we could read it in each other’s eyes and suddenly shy smiles. I felt the need to tell him how much I wanted to feel this way all of the time too — capable, confident, carefree. That I’d try — I’d promise to try. I didn’t have to speak. I could see in the crystal blue of his eyes that he’d heard my thoughts; without a word, he nodded and pulled me to him.

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