March 6, 2002
The Big Notebook


David had The Big Notebook with him again when he picked me up from work last night.

These days, he brings The Big Notebook home from the office at least once or twice a week. It always means the same thing: that he's criminally overloaded at work. His secretary is AWOL and he's been without admin support all day ... his boss has dumped a fresh new batch of shidt onto his already poop-intensive plate ... someoranother ridiculous new crisis is brewing, and David is caught plunk in the middle of it ... you get the picture. He brings The Big Notebook home with him, in a well-intentioned (but mostly useless) attempt to get caught up on paperwork. 

Once he gets home, he's usually so bogged down by non-work-related stuff -- homework, housework, familywork, wifework -- that The Big Notebook winds up sitting on the sofa all evening, untouched. The next morning he lugs the notebook outside to the car and takes it back to work with him ... invoices still unalphabetized, print orders still uncollated, papers still a big messy jumble.

It's painful to watch.

I turned to him in bed last night, just before we went to sleep, and quietly kneaded his shoulders with my fingertips for a few minutes. It occurred to me that the well-being of an awful lot of people rests on those magnificent broad shoulders of his: family, friends, co-workers, customers, online acquaintances ... even the idiot tailgating us in the Webster Tube. We all depend on him. We all count on him to be strong and reliable and decisive. We all expect him to know everything and DO everything and fix everything. Plus we're all constantly fighting for that prime piece of shoulder real estate, closest to his ear.

It must get awfully crowded on those shoulders, sometimes. I wonder if he's ever tempted to flick us off, like pesky flakes of dandruff?

Here is what I wanted to say to him last night in bed: I wanted to say I know you're depressed about your job. If anybody understands what it feels like to be stuck in a sucky job you hate, *I* do. I know you're worried about money, and about the brakes on the Subaru, and about your brother, and about Daughter #2, and about the 43,897,621 other things that we can't do anything about tonight. If anybody understands what overwhelming worry feels like ... *I* do.

Here is what I said to him instead: I said, "I wish there was something I could do to make things easier for you."

He was silent for a moment. Uh oh, I thought. Now I've done it. Now he's going to fall apart on me. I've unleashed his Inner Secra, and now he's going to weep and whine and complain about how 'overwhelmed' he is by the demands being placed on him  ...  how 'unfairly' life has been treating him lately, and how great an ice-cold gin martini with triple olives would taste, right about now. But of course that's not what happened at all. 

"Things are a little rough right now," he said finally. "Mostly it's my job. But we'll get through it." 

There was the usual ring of practical optimism in his voice, but privately I wasn't so sure. I'm never as completely 'sure' about these things as he is. Before I met David, I used to think that *I* was the most optimistic person on the face of the planet, but compared to David I'm Chicken Little, running around screeching at everybody to duck and cover.

I pay lip service to the idea of tomorrow being a better day. David is the one who actually believes it.

This morning I sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes, after my shower, and I watched him sleep. There is something very intimate and very sweet about watching a much-loved partner sleeping. He looked so peaceful -- so calm and untroubled -- that it split my heart in two. Why can't it always be this way? Why can't things always be this easy for him? And the answer to that, of course, is It can't always be this way because it can't always be this way. Eventually even the most adorable, untroubled, much-loved partners have to wake up from their peaceful sleep and venture out into a big messy complicated world full of problems. I think the best that any of us can hope for is to have someone in our corner, wishing they could make things easier for us.

David knows this already, I guess. I'm only now beginning to figure it out.

I can't snap my fingers and find him a better job ... but I can help him craft a new résumé. I can't wave a magic wand and give him back his 20-year-old body ... but I can make sure that he takes his vitamin every morning. I can't push a button and instantly wipe out all of our debt ... but I can hold off on charging those $4,000 earrings on the Capital One card. I can't relieve all of the burden resting on those crowded shoulders of his ... but I can rub them a little bit at night.

And I can offer to carry The Big Notebook, once in a while.



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