All partnerships bring with them a hidden debt that you do not know you will be paying out, day after day, for all the years of your union.
You may discover that your sweetie doesn’t know the location of the laundry hamper if you gave her a GPS device and a light shove.
You may wake one day to the surprise of a partner’s burnt offering (called breakfast) wafting prettily into the vents of the smoke detectors.
You may find, as my husband did, an annoying habit right under your quivering ears— like my peccadillo of playing albums on repeat for hours while I am working. Hours and hours and hours of someone yowling about something in 4/4 time.
The debt I pay for marrying the man I chose is the size of the universe.
And it’s getting bigger every day.
My debt expands as fast as the seasonal planetary mysteries, in series form, on Netflix or Hulu, from Discovery Channel, PBS, and the BBC.
What an exciting time to be alive! For my husband! And, to a much lesser extent, me!
I did not know when I married The Husband that his hobby was studying the universe.
And I did not know that would include having to listen to and/or watch in passing a sleek-packaged array of programs about every element of the science of the universe.
But I now know I do not understand the following: astronomy, astrometry, astrophysics, astronautics, astrochemistry, aerospace engineering, spectroscopy, cosmography, cosmology, and basic geography.
I already knew that I do not understand math beyond basic fractions and percentages, and even then I do sums in pencil with my tongue sticking out slightly to help me focus.
Still, a second pass at my backwards math often shows a mistake. And most of the time, I still have to look up the formula for percentages, except for tipping a standard 15-20%, and that is because I was a terrible waitress and learned, over time, what under-tipping was.
My dyscalculia makes the universe, and my husband’s cadastre of television shows, terrifying and confusing and unreal.
My husband’s experience could not be more opposite. He basks in the pure physical pleasure of the clicking channel changer as he surveys in our Netflix/Hulu queue with the hands-on-hip satisfactory gaze of a landowner examining his holdings.
We do our best by each other. He tries to watch his shows during a time when I’m doing something in another room. I try not to play albums on repeat in his presence. Each of us values the sanity of the other one, and that does help things.
And, like Virginia Woolf, I do have a room of my own. An office. With a lock. And enormous headphones that pipe albums, on repeat, from my iPod. If you are a writer and you plan to marry, factor in this square footage and you’ll be a happier pair.
Do not think for a single second that The Husband has excluded me from his survey of the universe and all its known holdings.
He tries to explain the whosits and the whatsits, his voice dropping to a lull, his hand moving with a pencil on a piece of scrap, as he talks me through a basic description of dark matter.
His earnestness is heartbreaking.
On an unexpected day, these thoughts he is trying to pass to me will coagulate into a brief, thick bubble of an idea.
As soon as I try to catch hold of The Husband’s idea of the universe, even a part, I find in its place a mental image of Steamboat Willie dancing boopety-boop with his knees while he pilots his churning boat past a winking benevolent moon. There’s calliope music in this scenario, and that is somewhat comforting.
The fact is The Husband and I will never have a true conversation about the politics involved with the interloping gravity of Jupiter to Venus, as it correlates to the shift of the length of summers in the Sahara and the consequential effect on the monsoon season. (I read Discovery Magazine, which to my brain is like reading People en Español in that I get the basic concepts, but the subtleties are devoid of context. Yet the pictures are so pretty!)
The Husband and I will also never thrash out what I do know about the universe, or at least its literary equivalent.
I am clutching my stomach, while laughing and rolling around my desk in my squeaky chair, as I consider the irony of the next bit I’m about to tell you.
Give me a moment here to collect myself.
Okay. I’m fine now.
No… wait. I need to wipe the laughter tears with a Kleenex so that I might see what I’m writing.
Here’s the deal: I read science fiction. Not hard science fiction. Don’t give me that much credit.
I read soft science fiction, including most of the Hugo Award winners, and a lot of the Nebula prize recipients. My home library stacks feature a section for sci-fi, and it may surprise you to know I own a few early editions of what are considered the classics of the form. (It surprises me. Those early editions were happy accidents.)
The Husband does not like science fiction. Don’t be too angry with him. He doesn’t read novels, generally, or fiction at all. He’s too busy reading about the universe.
And, as there’s plenty of it, I expect that’s what he’s going to be reading until the day when we both have to switch to the large-print editions of whatever holographic spirit world that books will inhabit in the not-so-distant future of hovercraft library bookmobiles circled by barking dogs in jetpacks.
While he’s parsing the universe, my mind strings gossamer threads out of Madeleine L’Engle’s idea of the tesseract and the singing of mitochondria; knits together Frank Herbert’s twin mapping of planetary ecology to the stability of governmental bodies; embroiders upon Bradbury’s sense of the fullness of mutual otherness that occurs as one species relates to another species.
At night, while the real stars pale under the gauze of thin clouds, I read and reread these stories to myself, year after year and try to keep content with the universe that I know, an innerspace of literature: infinite, dark, and warm.
As I read, I can hear theoretical physicist Michio Kaku on the television in the living room laying out the basic mathematics of making an elevator that goes from the surface of the earth to the International Space Station. The Husband is watching his stories. He is content.
Our misunderstanding of one another’s view of the universe is the real debt we pay to each other, nodding gently at the missed passes of everyday conversation.
He would prefer to converse with me about the shows he watches. I would love to discuss the then-revolutionary ideas proposed by Herbert about the relationship of healthy planetary ecology to the balance of governmental power.
Neither conversation will ever happen. We might as well ask Duchess Monkey and Ilsa von Dogovitch if they feel strongly either way about the political ramifications of the recent experiments using the Large Hadron Collider in Berne, Switzerland.
Meanwhile, I asked The Husband last week if there was a book he thought I could read that might help me understand the show he’s currently watching, Discovery Channel’s “How the Universe Is Made.”
He suggested I look around for a pop-up book. We both laughed. He went back to listening to Astronaut Stanley Love reveal how interplanetary gravity works, sotto voce, American-style.
I closed my eyes and I heard the voice of Douglas Adams in my ear, unspooling a story, as sure as the lifespan of a star, as brilliant and as fine. Adams could, and does, explain the universe in a language I understand:
Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.
I sag back on the couch and listen to my brain recite Adams word for word. Soon, Zaphod Beeblebrox will make his first appearance. Now, there’s a man I could talk to, I think. At least one of his heads might listen to what I have to say and respond with words I’d understand.
The other head, of course, will be busy reading the interplanetary edition of People en Español.
*This is a reposted story from January 22, 2012. Bluebird Blvd. was three months old, and had just won its first “Freshly Pressed” award from WordPress. This particular piece is one of my personal favorites because it shows several aspects of my life all at once, including a more three-dimensional version of The Husband. Hope you enjoy! Go here for an explanation as to why we’re reposting this week. (Hint: It’s all about you!)