Writing from the Heart: And what does she do?

When one partner does all those small jobs for you, maybe you should try to learn them for yourself.


Yesterday I changed the toilet paper roll for the first time in 20 years. No, we haven’t been using the same original roll for 20 years. It’s just that I, me, Nancy Aronie, haven’t changed it. My husband has. He’s been the official toilet paper changer ever since I bought the stupid thing at a tag sale hundreds of years ago. I never got the hang of it. If you tried, you would agree with me that it actually hurts to reload it. So, yes, it’s been his domain.

But the other day, I heard a whisper: “Maybe you should try to do it. What are ya gonna do if he’s not around, ask a neighbor?”

The same whisper thing happened with my iPhone. I couldn’t turn the ringer off. It was completely stuck. My friend Lorie told me it was sand. So I figured, when Joel gets here Friday night, he’ll remove the sand. Because that’s the kind of job I ask him to do. But strangely enough, I heard that little voice say, “Maybe you should give it a try.”

So I got a straight pin and I worked it back and forth, digging deeper and deeper, and with a patience that surprised me, I finally was able to toggle that tiny little switch on the side. And off went the ringer.

Then the gate to the raised beds that house all the tomato plants fell open, and the hook was bent, and even though there are almost no tomatoes left, I knew the deer would tell all the other deer that there was a banquet at the Aronies’.

Because my husband wasn’t here to fix it, I kind of pretended I was him. I got out a bungee cord and figured out how to grab the chicken wire and attach it to the fence, and voilà! I was able to secure the door.

So yeah, the man does all the fixing, and adapting and adjusting and patching, and the gluing. And what does she do? you might wonder.

Like most couples who have been married a long time, Joel and I have a division of labor that is almost set in stone. I have been the cook.

In about our 30th year of marriage, I multiplied how many meals I had made to date. I guess I had had it, because I presented him with a column of figures and said (maybe barked), “I can’t think of anything else to make. I’m done. I’m spent. I’m dry. You have to learn to make something. Anything. Joel’s chile. Joel’s lamb stew. Joel’s meatloaf. I don’t care, but you need to participate at the stove, at the oven, in the kitchen.”

Poor baby. He looked shocked. “I didn’t know there was a problem,” he said. “Of course I’ll make stuff.” So I bought him a cookbook and gift-wrapped it, and handed it to him a few nights later. He thumbed through it slowly and carefully. He was really, actually, reading the recipes. He turned the pages with purpose. He was studying. He was thinking. He was maybe even planning. But after 12 quiet, concentrated, serious minutes he turned to me and said these exact words: “A lot of mushrooms.” We laughed for 10 minutes straight. And that was the end of that. And surprise surprise, Joel’s chile lamb stew meatloaf never got made.

A few days ago I did another chore that was clearly his job. I reattached the faded, frayed Tibetan prayer flags (no, we are not Buddhists) (maybe wannabes) to the tree where they’ve been hanging for 43 years. They blew down on a recent blowy night. Somehow, I was able to wind them around the old pine tree, and, miraculously, it worked.

The whisper hadn’t happened this time.

Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about why I was doing all these Joel jobs instead of waiting for his Friday night arrival like I always have in the past.

And then it hit me. It hit me because I’ve been reading the obituary page lately. And everyone is dying.

I haven’t been a good one for imagining life in an unknown future. lt might be the best effect of what Ram Dass’ “Be Here Now” (be in the moment) book did for me. I either don’t have the imagination for it, or my denial DNA is very strong.

But the fact is, we’re in our 80s. So how does one prepare? By changing the toilet paper roll?

That whisper which didn’t really feel as if it were being articulated in words, was “You better learn how to do some stuff, Nancy. He might not always be here.”

And then toilet paper and mushrooms and bungees and straight pins will be the last things on your mind.