Fightin’ Words

Posted by on Nov 19, 2012 · 29 Comments

I’m going to tell you about the time a lightbulb almost destroyed my relationship, but I can’t do it without a little backstory.

For better or worse, one thing that Jason and I have in common is that we both really like to be right. We can get kind of jerky about it, which means we’re the kind of people who are prone to issue an apology that sounds like, “I can see why you thought I might have meant that.” We don’t mean to be jerks; we just both grew up having to defend ourselves a lot, and I think it makes both of us headstrong in our opinions. It also makes arguments in this house become events better described as Word Offs. We will just beat each other down with constant discussion. Eventually someone will throw up his or her hands and say, “Fine! Whatever you said! That’s what we’ll go with!”

That is the sound of victory around here. Not someone saying, “I’m wrong. I’m sorry.” But someone saying, “You can take this one. I’m so tired.”

It’s still a win, people.

Our arguments tend to be over the petty little things, as those often seem like the only time worth getting nit-picky and debating at length. If there’s a real problem to address, it’s not really the time to play “Who is the rightest?”

But beware of the situation where one of us thinks this isn’t a big deal, and the other knows this moment means everything about the future and will set the rules for the rest of our lives. This kind of thing comes up more and more right now as we get closer to the arrival of the baby, as time becomes a concept that has various ranges of impending doom. I am feeling like we are running out of time and every minute is possibly the last minute we ever have before Everything Changes Forever; Jason thinks of time in that a minute is 1/60th of an hour. So when we have a project like “This Needs To Go Up in the Nursery” it can become quite a debate. Not really over how to do it, but when.

At the risk of exposing my jerk gene for you to exploit, I will admit that when I’m set off and might be in a position of losing an argument, I will try to find somewhere in it that I am right. Couple that with my annoying memory that is either accurate or sounds so accurate it’s hard to prove it’s not the truth, and I’m suddenly recounting past grievances that may be years old. (Full disclosure: sometimes I can’t remember if the fact I’m spouting is something that actually happened or something I wrote when I turned that memory into a scene in some script or book. I’m not proud.) So maybe I’m upset about something that didn’t exactly happen the way that got me upset, but I’ll quickly create a list of upsetting moments that are just like this so I’ve got some leg to stand on when I insist this always happens.

Jason’s weak point is that he will sometimes say something he didn’t mean, but he can’t back down from it once it’s said, or it means he will have to admit he was wrong when he said it. This has made him have to go on some wild monologues about something I’m not really sure he actually believes, but he has to whole-heartedly commit.

Part of this comes from our shared history of impermanence. I moved a lot, so I tend to cling to my memories and emotions, remembering heartbreaking slights and passionate obsessions long past their due date. Jason spent years with his life in flux, moving from one job to another, often in distant cities and countries, living a life not unlike George Clooney’s in Up In the Air.

So I’m fighting like this might be the last time we ever get to be together and Jason’s fighting like he’s got no problem lighting a match and tossing it over his shoulder as he walks away. This makes things escalate quickly if we aren’t careful.

But we’re both careful. The other afternoon could’ve gotten out of hand. No, this isn’t the part about the lightbulb. This is the part about the dishes. You need to see where we didn’t get into it over the dishes to understand why we had to get into it over the lightbulb.

Jason was going to do the dishes, but he’d put them off long enough that I just went ahead and did them. We don’t have a dishwasher

[I'll go ahead and let you have the appropriate length of time to feel sorry for us............]

and we have limited counter space, so once you haven’t washed five glasses and two plates the entire kitchen looks like a college sophomore’s first apartment. The problem is apparently that I’m a hurried dishwasher, who sometimes leaves food on a couple of the mugs or the bottom of plates and Jason has to re-wash them. I mean, okay, yes, but the kitchen can be kind of dark and I don’t want to pull the pregnancy card, but the sink is getting farther and farther away from me and there was this one time last year that Jason didn’t get all of the wine glasses clean, so I don’t know why he’s Mr. Perfect.

So Jason asks me to please refrain from doing the dishes in the near future because he’s frustrated at having to do dishes after I’ve done them, and he’d rather just do all the dirty dishes than have to inspect the clean ones for dirties. And I know most people after hearing someone say, “I love you, and I’m sorry, but please just stop doing the dishes and let me do them,” would immediately run around outside with arms in the air shouting, “I have the best partner in life!” But I’m defensive and only hear, “Bad girl!”

But I don’t jump in on the defensive. I don’t start listing grievances of times I’ve had to clean the kitchen after he’s done cleaning because to him “doing the dishes” isn’t the same as cleaning the kitchen, so as long as what he’s staring at when he’s facing the sink is clean, he considers it done, which means often there are stacks of pots and pans on the stove, but they are off to the side on another wall, and therefore might as well be in a parallel universe.

I don’t start trying to be right here because we are in a very delicate month with this whole having-a-baby thing. And I know this is how he’s avoiding a fight. Instead of coming at me with a spotty bowl, he’s simply offering to forever do the dishes. It’s extreme, it’s obviously not going to stick, but it’s what he can offer right now instead of the Wall of Words.

And if I started trying to tell you how great Jason’s been over these months, I would quickly begin crying with overwhelming pride, fanning my face like I’m auditioning for Steel Magnolias. He really has been amazing and I wish I could submit an application to an embassy for some kind of medal. So instead of fighting about wanting to do the dishes because I am capable, I went into the bedroom and gave one of the pillows quite a talking to about how at least there were some clean dishes and the kitchen didn’t look like a disaster zone while it waited around for all of the dishes to be done. And maybe having to rewash four dishes is better than having to do the entire original twenty. That pillow was like, “I’m so sorry.” And I was like, “You should be.”

I like being independent. If I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. What’s frustrating at this point in my pregnancy is that there are things I want to do that I’m “not allowed” to do. More frustrating than the food restrictions are the physical limitations put on my body. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bent over to pick something up, only to have someone shout, “You shouldn’t be bending over!” “Don’t stretch!” “Don’t carry that!” “Put that down!”

If I want to move something from one side of the room to another, people will shriek like I just tried to set my stomach on fire. “What are you doing?! Don’t move that chair!!!” Even if I’m just scooting it along with my hip — my derby hip, which is mighty, I assure you — people will lose their minds. “Don’t touch things! Just point and tell me what to do!”

There are two problems with this. One is that I don’t really enjoy asking someone to do something I could just as easily do myself and secondly, it takes longer to ask someone to do it.

Okay. You are now ready to hear about the lightbulb.

This happened a few months ago. The lamp on my desk had something wrong with it and needed to be rewired, so I was working from the living room couch when I noticed a ticking sound next to me. It seemed possible that it was coming from the lamp. I tried to move to the other side of the couch, but when I turned on the lamp there was no light. I couldn’t tell if the lightbulb was out, or if perhaps the lamp was unplugged. I couldn’t check to see if the lamp was unplugged because it would require moving the couch, and I was forbidden from moving something as big and heavy as a couch. The wire from the lamp seemed fine. I took the lightbulb out from the ticking lamp and put it in the dark lamp, but the light still didn’t come on. I went and grabbed a new lightbulb, but that didn’t work, either. Probably that lamp was unplugged.

About a week later, Jason is leaving for work one morning, and I casually drop that the lamps on either side of the couch were in various stages of not working and/or annoying. I’d mentioned it before, but he’d been busy and forgotten, so as he was on his way out and I was going to be left in the land of lamps that don’t lamp, I thought I’d mention it again.

This was my mistake. Jason isn’t someone who files a task away for later. When something needs to be done, he does it right away or he knows it won’t get done (see: why the lamps aren’t working). So he walks back in, puts his stuff down and rushes toward the kitchen in a hurry, saying over his shoulder, “I’ll try a new lightbulb over in that far one.”

And I call out, “Oh, I already tried that, but it still didn’t work.”

From the kitchen, I hear this: “You used a new lightbulb WITHOUT CONSULTING ME?”

And then it was on.

I couldn’t see Jason at that moment, but I have to imagine for just a second, he closed his eyes and realized what he’d said, and how it probably wasn’t (it better have not been) exactly what he meant, but it’s what he said. I like to imagine his shoulders went up a little bit and he maybe even peed himself a little.

“CONSULT YOU?!” I shouted. “I’M SORRY! I DIDN’T KNOW I NEEDED TO CONSULT YOU UPON SUCH DECISIONS AS THE CHANGING OF A LIGHTBULB!”

Jason can’t back down now, because he’s got to save face, so he walks into the living room and says, “It’s just that I bought all those energy-efficient lightbulbs, and I get them off the Internet, and they’re expensive, so they shouldn’t be used just to test lamps.”

“Do you think I don’t know how to check to see if a lightbulb is burned out? Like I just kept putting in new ones and throwing them away when they didn’t turn on? ‘Nope! This must be busted, too! Gollllly, this whole dang box is busted!’

“Well, I should at least be informed so that I know I need to buy one to replace it.”

“Are we on that kind of critical situation when it comes to lightbulbs? And can we go back to the part where I need to consult you? Is this the kind of thing where I need to text you, or will an email suffice? Is there a form or–?”

“I’m just saying leave the lamps alone and I’ll deal with them.”

“Leave the lamps alone? Forever? It’s dark in here and that one keeps clicking, so I figured I’d be a grown-ass lady and–”

“I AM IN CHARGE OF ALL THE LAMPS!”

That’s what he shouted, all hands on his hips, in an anger pout. He might as well have been standing in an actual sandbox. You guys, it was hilarious. It is still my favorite thing ever been shouted at me in anger, and it never fails to make me laugh. Now. At the time, it made me have to resort to my list.

All the lamps?” I asked.

“Yes,” Jason said, thinking he was beating me at my own game. Recently he and his dad had This Old House’d the old lamp on our front porch that had gone out due to its ancient wiring. They spent the afternoon standing over it, nodding with decisions, before going to Home Depot, then returning to Home Depot to get the right parts, then standing around staring at various lamp parts, then finally fixing the lamp.

When Southern men do this, it’s the equivalent of when I wake up Thanksgiving morning to find my mom in my bed spooning me, giggling, “Pajama hugs!”

Jason had also fixed my bedside lamp, which needed a part glued back on. That had happened a couple of weeks prior to this moment where he deputized himself the sheriff of all illumination.

The problem was, he hadn’t fixed all the lamps in the house lately, but he thought he had. “Name one lamp I haven’t fixed around here.”

“The one on my desk,” I said triumphantly. “Which is the only reason I’m working on this couch this morning.” He’d bought the supplies to fix the lamp during Dad-Bonding Home Depot day, but he hadn’t gotten around to fixing that lamp, and I hadn’t mentioned it again because he’d been so busy fixing lots of other things around the house. I never would’ve brought it up except he left me no choice. My hands were bound, here. He made me say this, essentially.

Knowing I had just put him in check, Jason said, “Well, maybe I’d have time to fix that lamp on your desk if you were ever not in this house for one moment! But you’re always here! You never leave!”

And I think his breath caught in his throat right then, his body trying to stop himself from talking any further. Because if you’ve ever lived with a writer — freelance or aspiring or working or otherwise — you know that sitting on the couch with the tv on while refreshing Twitter is CALLED WORKING AND IT’S JUST AS VALID AS YOUR JOB FILING TPS REPORTS.

“Go to work!” I shouted.

And he did.

I sat in my dark living room and sent out various emails to friends, letting them know why it might be Jason’s last day on this planet and how they were to stand up for me at my trial because any of them would have already killed him twice.

Jason sent a tentative yet sweet text soon after that, which I responded to with a very mature “I AM IN CHARGE OF ALL THE LAMPS AND AM CURRENTLY RUNNING FOR COMPTROLLER OF COFFEE MAKERS!”

No apologies. None needed. We both knew what had happened, and we both knew the lamps would be fixed, and we both knew that I’d probably still be in my pajamas when he got home later that day, and there might be some dishes in the “clean” section of the sink with food on them, but it didn’t mean we loved each other any less.

The lamp on the far side was indeed unplugged, and the ticking sound was due to the air conditioning. The lamp at my desk has since been rewired (although Jason is unhappy with how it turned out and threatens near-daily to do it again), so I no longer have to use the living room couch.

But the light bulb above my head in this room has burned out. There’s no way I’m allowed to stand on a stool to change it, and I don’t know if the bulb required is even in this house because buying lightbulbs off the Internet is not in my jurisdiction.

It’s quiet right now. A very peaceful morning. No words are being slung, and nobody has to defend any of their most recent ridiculous statements. I could mention the bulb right now to Jason, as he is nearby and clicking away on his own computer, but thirty seconds ago he noted my cup of decaf was low and refilled it. That’s really all it takes with me, but he also did the dishes this morning before my monster hands could walk in there and slop up the job. So I will just turn on my desk lamp and be happy.

Last night we finished that project in the nursery. We went the Southern Man route — staring at it for hours, talking about the various ways it could be accomplished. We had staging areas. We used the Internet. We used a level. We had various tools and discussions about the use of those tools. We took breaks to sit back and analyze. We had it almost finished and started all over again when we decided we wanted to do it in a completely different direction. It took all night and was pretty much the opposite of how I tackle a project, but in the end we got to stand together with an arm around each other, proudly staring at something we built together.

But the lamp in that room is wonky and sometimes flickers. I will wait for another day to approach this subject. At least until I download all the proper forms.

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29 Comments

  1. Kristy
    November 19, 2012

    This is very sweet and makes me feel happy. The whole thing. Every part of it.

    Reply
  2. Katie
    November 19, 2012

    Heh. I’m picturing an Allie Brosh-style drawing that says, “I am in charge of ALL the lamps!”

    Reply
  3. sheepy
    November 19, 2012

    I have a lamp that doesn’t work. I tried changing the bulb and it still doesn’t work. I know the bulb is okay, because I tried it in a working lamp.

    When can Jason be here?

    Reply
    • Pamie
      November 19, 2012

      Jason said he can probably do Wednesday.

      Reply
  4. Kehla
    November 19, 2012

    I’m pretty sure Liz Lemon and Carol Burnett had that exact same fight during season 5 of 30 Rock, we just didn’t get to see it.

    Reply
  5. Chelle
    November 19, 2012

    I once threw cold hot dog water on my then husband when I was pregnant. Enough said.

    Reply
  6. Stephanie
    November 19, 2012

    That’s a lot of lamp problems, Pamie. Maybe you do need someone in charge of illumination. :-)

    Reply
    • Pamie
      November 19, 2012

      It’s an old house. And for some reason all the lamps feel peer pressure to act like each other.

      Reply
  7. Heidi
    November 19, 2012

    Love this. My mom and I have this same war over the dishes. I have custody of the lamps and outdoor lighting because I’m taller and bendier (not like that, pervs).

    Reply
  8. Paul Tabachneck
    November 19, 2012

    Ana is in charge of all building around here. She puts up all of the shelves, racks, etc., because she loves doing it and loves not needing a man to do it. She also claims she does not need a level, but has lost that argument due to a “floating” bookshelf full of hardcovers that fell where my head should be, so I’m glad you kids are using a level, to prevent any accidents.

    My friend Terence told me as Ana and I were nearing our 10-month (he’s been with his wife for almost ten years) that the key to parenting peacefully is learning how to settle any argument in under 30 seconds. Shorthand points of discussion, knowing which battles you’ll pick, etc. Maybe jurisdictions are a good place to start in that direction? He handles all the lightbulbs, you take charge of issuing family-wide communicae (holiday newsletters, invitations to things, announcements that you will be having a loud party on Saturday night)?

    Reply
  9. meadowgirl
    November 19, 2012

    “I AM IN CHARGE OF ALL THE LAMPS!”

    that’s my favorite.

    Reply
  10. mel
    November 19, 2012

    “I AM IN CHARGE OF ALL THE LAMPS AND AM CURRENTLY RUNNING FOR COMPTROLLER OF COFFEE MAKERS!”

    laughing so hard I’m dying over here…

    Reply
  11. Alexandra
    November 19, 2012

    What Chelle just said and this “When Southern men do this, it’s the equivalent of when I wake up Thanksgiving morning to find my mom in my bed spooning me, giggling, “Pajama hugs!”
    just killed me … in the best kind of way.

    So happy someone tweeted your gross massage post out, b/c I am practically living on your blog these days.

    Archive dig, archive dig.

    Reply
    • Pamie
      November 20, 2012

      That archive dig should come with protective gear. That’s going way back!

      Reply
  12. Rhonda
    November 20, 2012

    I threw a hammer toward my husband when I was about 8 months pregnant. I didn’t really aim at him because I didn’t want to hurt him, but I aimed close enough for him to get the message. It left a tiny hole in the metal garage door, which is still there, nine years later.

    I used my favorite phrase a lot during those last few weeks, “You think it is hard living with me? Try BEING me.” It is hard making a whole person. Pajama hugs!

    Reply
    • Pamie
      November 20, 2012

      I worry this isn’t the kind of confession you are supposed to make online in a public forum, Rhonda. I suppose we’ll all stick up for you, though.

      Reply
  13. Kendra
    November 20, 2012

    Never read your stuff before, but I sure will now. Just a breathtaking job of describing how you can want to kill someone for reasons that would make no sense to anyone else, yet you know you love them more than anyone else does. Marriage, and parenting.

    Reply
  14. Jill
    November 20, 2012

    “the sheriff of all illumination” – this is where I started laughing so hard I had to close my office door. My eyes are still watering. This is awesome.

    Reply
  15. Laura
    November 20, 2012

    This amused me greatly, because I have the same dish issue with my boyfriend in our tiny flat. He once finished a load of dishes I had soaking and was just shocked that I would soak the garlic chopper, because it would get water in the plastic parts. My defense of having to soak it to get the dried on chili he chopped two days before off, didn’t fly so I finally just said, “It’s my garlic chopper, I’ll soak it if I want to!”

    Our latest argument was because he thinks I don’t know how to get groceries, since when I first moved to the UK from the US I needed help with the different measurements and where to find things. After a year and a half here he apparently still doesn’t trust my abilities! He asked me to pick up onions and I was so proud to have found a 1 kg bag of mini onions for 75 pence that he first didn’t trust because of the word “mini” and then didn’t trust that I knew I was getting a good deal. I had to pull up the store website to show that three regular size onions are 750 grams (less that 1 kg) and cost a pound…so 250 grams more for 25 pence less, good deal right? Silly to have had to pull up a website to prove I was right. Haha

    Reply
    • Paul Tabachneck
      November 20, 2012

      I think ours is an OXO — it has a plastic piece that perfectly fits the mesh of the chopper and flushes out all of the holes for easy cleaning. Upgrade!

      Reply
  16. Rob Floyd
    November 20, 2012

    “i mean, okay, yes, but the kitchen can be kind of dark…”

    Life is gross! Bring a flashlight! ;)

    I laughed through this whole post. Thank you!

    Reply
  17. Jacq
    November 20, 2012

    You have described so perfectly how I also feel at this stage of my pregnancy, when everybody in the world is telling me to stay on the sofa and not move in order to stop the twins from arriving early. Not being able to do stuff is SO frustrating, and if I wasn’t so flipping knackered on a permanent basis I think I’d be getting quite scratchy about things by now…

    Reply
    • Dani
      December 4, 2012

      I still don’t understand the concept of “NOBODY MOVE THE BABIES MIGHT COME EARLY!” I suppose at that this point in history that MUST be based on Real Science, no?? But to me it always sounds like people don’t know the babies can’t just fall out.

      “They look like they’re done! You need to figure out how to keep them from popping out, by holding very still until your body does it by itself! Mmkay?”

      Reply
  18. Heidi
    November 22, 2012

    P.S. What are you holding in your new cool new Twitter avatar?

    (Hope nobody declared themselves Mayor of Plumbing today).

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Reply
  19. J.C.
    November 25, 2012

    Your ability to capture the love, frustration and stubbornness of cohabitation is amazing!!!

    Although I have never had all of those emotions combined with pregnancy, I can see it totally–VERY FUNNY (from the outside, anyway).

    I love the image of you and Jason standing together in the baby’s room having finished that project TOGETHER!

    Reply
  20. mjb
    December 6, 2012

    My house has so many burnt out lightbulbs because I stopped being allowed to stand on tall things to change them – it makes me feel helpless in a way that I’m not used to, but I love that I’m not the only one!

    Reply
  21. Jeanette
    December 13, 2012

    I’m glad to know other couples argue like this! I wondered if my new husband were not at all compatible and made a terrible terrible mistake.

    Reply
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