Watching Her Sleep

Watching Her Sleep


 “Little Things”


“He was always there for the big things, but how often does that happen? Once or twice a year maybe. It was the day-to-day stuff that wore me down. All that little piddly stuff that goes on in a marriage.” It’s a statement from a lady I knew some time before Christine and I got together, but it’s always stayed with me. She was talking about her ex-husband and telling me why he was ex, not present. That’s one of the virtues of marrying later in life. You get a lot of time to think about what kind of spouse you want to be.


But lest I make this sound like it’s all about me, I have to point out that Christine also married later in life, albeit sooner than me because she’s younger. But for both of us this marriage came later, when we were more mature, which is what makes this first marriage feel like a second marriage at times. We have a serenity that often comes only to those who been married a time or two and have learned how to pick their battles, or better yet, avoid them altogether. Part of that is simply having those extra years to reflect on what kind of spouses we wanted to be. Part of it is being so endlessly considerate of each other.


I thought about that this morning as I lay beside her while she was still sleeping. Even though it’s a Saturday as I write these lines, she had to work today, as she’s a Human Resources Manager, and her company is throwing an employee party tonight. Between now and then there is much to be done to get things ready, and HR always gets the call for that sort of thing.


Both of us have very restless minds at times, but especially so in the early morning hours when we might have slept a bit longer, had our minds not suddenly slammed into high gear, wrestling with the many details of the day to come. On weekends especially, I am much more susceptible to that than she is because I wrote two novels while I held a fulltime job. It meant that I got up at 3:45 a.m. five days a week, so I could work in the study between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. before going to work. I have not kept those hours for a very long time now, but my mind is still acclimated to flipping on full blast in the middle of the damned night! In those years I almost never slept past 5:00 a.m. on a weekend, and even now, when I really should sleep in on the weekend, I often can’t.


It was still dark at 6:00 a.m. when I woke up this morning. She was sleeping, but I felt her stir when I got up for the obligatory bathroom trip that begins every old man’s day. At that point I had a decision to make. I was hoping I could get some more sleep, but I’d retired early last night and knew it wasn’t very likely. The other aspect was knowing that I had surely awakened her when I got out of bed, and knowing, too, that with the bed growing colder beside her, she would soon begin thinking about the day’s activities. And having gone to bed later than I did, I knew she really needed the rest. So I returned to bed.


OK, I might have gone back to sleep if I’d been more resolute, but those few minutes of indecision were just enough to get my mojo running. The next stage of my current woodworking project is a difficult one, and pretty much any period of inactivity will get my mind to wrestling with the many details of the work to be done, which is exactly what happened. In the meantime with, as she often puts it, the big Bubba beside her, she fell back asleep within a minute or two. Now I really was in the soup. Getting up a second time would wake her up again, and this time she would stay awake. Or I could lie beside her for the next hour or so mentally going over the details of my project and listen to her gentle snoring. And that’s what I did.


But, as I said earlier, this is not all about me. She does the same for me. I sleep more soundly during the week because I work all day in a shop with a concrete floor, and when the day ends so do I pretty much. During the week she is buried with the myriad details that make any HR department hum, and she sometimes faces the same dilemma. She wakes up an hour before the alarm goes off and can’t get back to sleep because her mind is racing, but when she gets up early, I must do the same, and it makes for a very long day for this old man. So she stays put and lets me sleep.


Later that morning over coffee, she will tell me that she “took one for the team,” just as I did for her this morning, but there’s a difference between that sports metaphor and those little acts of kindness we so often do for each other. It’s not a fast ball to the ribs to draw a walk, and it’s not done in a packed stadium. No one applauds, and no one but us much cares. It’s just a little gift we give each other from time to time, but that’s what makes a marriage hum. Little things mean a lot.