Our family members are the people we know best. Living together makes us intimately familiar with each other’s personalities, likes, dislikes, quirks and habits. We know intuitively what the other person is thinking or feeling, without a single spoken word…
I believed all that gibberish — hook, line and sinker — until I spent a month with my family in quarantine. Now I’m wondering, who are these people?
Sheltering in place has revealed minute details we never noticed before. Mannerisms, sensitivities, idiosyncrasies, temperaments, peculiarities, flaws, tendencies, imperfections, weaknesses and egocentricities are brought into excruciating focus under the unavoidable microscope of sheltering in place together for weeks on end.
Ironically, the person who I’m learning the most about is my Navy veteran husband of 27 years. If you’d asked me a month ago to describe Francis, I’d give the same comical commentary I’ve given for years. I’d mention his keen sense of humor, his unapologetic lack of mechanical skills, his hilarious self-centeredness, his charming charisma, his Italian temper, his penchant for unmanly things like candles and pastel sweaters, and his iron-clad ego. To summarize, I’d jest that Francis is “our lovable narcissist” like I always do.
However, I never really knew Francis. Ever since the coronavirus crisis locked us into this unending house arrest, I realize that, for 27 years, I was too distracted by the minutia of our daily lives to see the outer reaches, hidden underbellies, and far corners of my husband’s unique personality.
It all came into focus one day last week, when Francis gathered our daughters, Anna and Lilly, and me for an announcement. He sat at the head of the table, cleared his throat and began, “Ladies, I’ve made a decision. You’ve all been good during the coronavirus shut down, so you deserve a treat. Macy’s is having an online sale today, so go to their website and get whatever you want.” The girls’ eyes widened at the thought of trendy outfits and accessories. My mind flashed with images of updated home decor.
“You each get fifty dollars for your shopping spree,” he added with a self-approving nod, “because you deserve it.”
“Only fifty bucks?” I thought, but didn’t spoil the fun. Lilly’s 19-year-old-broke-college-kid face beamed with delight, and Anna’s 22-year-old-fashionista face got to the serious business of shopping on a budget.
At the end of the day, Lilly, who had unfortunately inherited my sickness for buying things just because they’re on sale, had put thirteen clearance items into the Macy’s online shopping cart. Anna, on the other hand, carefully selected one pair of pricy designer track pants. I picked a $20 set of cloth napkins, hoping that Daddy Warbucks would be happy that his little orphans came in under budget.
But I noticed that the Macy’s online shopping cart total was over $300. How did that happen? It was no surprise that our lovable narcissist had ordered himself a jacket for $50. But a $170 porch rocking chair?
That night while trying to sleep, I couldn’t make sense of my husband. He announces that he wants to reward us, limits us to $50 each, buys himself a jacket, AND A ROCKING CHAIR? He says he’s treating us, but instead, splurges on himself? As if contemplating the vastness of the universe, my mind went blank, unable to process the unknown complexities of my life partner.
The next day while we were walking the dog, I gingerly approached the subject. “Honey, just curious. Why did you buy that rocking chair?” Completely unaware of how bad it looked, he explained that he’d always wanted one, and besides, it was a good price.
Rather than dig deeper, I took his simple answer at face value and added, “Well, you should have ordered two, because I’ll need a place to sit on the porch, too.” Although he never acknowledged his original transgression, Francis was embarrassed that he hadn’t thought to order two rockers instead of one.
Thanks to Francis’ imperfect combination of character traits, we now have two chairs to rock in, side by side. Unfortunately, we won’t be rocking anytime soon, because they were delivered in boxes, assembly required.