The Oakley’s

The plan wasn’t to leapfrog the ogre of failure. My pronouncement leaked into existence, like a tiny runt popping out long after the litter has suckled for hours. The timing was off, but that seems to be my specialty.

I ditched alcohol the day after Christmas. Sitting in a wingback chair at my parent’s house the morning after Christmas I thought, ‘Why not start now?’  For a month. Russ and I shlepped to the airport that day headed home. Once we boarded, my eyes hinged shut like coffin lids slapping closed, before the wheels wormed away from the jet bridge. Later, I heard an echo, an advertisement on a television set in another room, a mechanical voice informing us we would be landing in twenty minutes. My head vibrating against the side of the plane, my eyes cracked open, burning and puffy. My vision was blurry, but I made out the two mini bottles of wine tucked into seat-back netting of the seat next to me. 

After we deplaned I asked Russ, ‘How much did that guy drink?’

‘He had a few. I don’t think he was a fan of flying.’

I missed the whole thing. The guy sitting between us, slurping his fear away, or any of the other melodramas that unfold on a flight. In all my years of flying from Virginia to Texas, I have never slept an entire three and a half hour flight. The five days of Christmas wore me out. 

We drove from DCA to Union Market to pick up ‘linner,’ since our cupboards were empty. I always patronise South Block and Russ likes A. Litteri when we head over there. We unpacked, started laundry, pulling on our jammies, sitting down to relax to eat. I dug into my Warrior Acai Bowl.

‘I think I’ve decided to stay on the wagon until my birthday.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. Why not?’

Licking my spoon, I said, ‘Well, the thing is, there is always an occasion, or there will always be an occasion to have a drink. January is a wash-out; then there is Valentine’s, or someone’s birthday, or dinner with friends, or another holiday. Basically, any event can be considered an occasion worthy of celebrating. I need to rethink other ways to celebrate and honour special occasions besides having a glass of wine or a cocktail. Anyway, that’s what I’m kicking around in my head.’

‘You’ll have to drop the wine membership then.’ 

‘No, I won’t! Why would I?’

‘So, you’re going to pay for a membership you’re not going to use?’

‘I’ll use it!’

‘How are you going to use it if you’re not drinking wine?’

‘We’ll give the wine away to our friends.’

‘So you’re going to pay for a membership for your friends use?

You realise we will have virtually no social life if you quit drinking.’

See? This is what I’m talking about. Our social life shouldn’t only revolve around alcohol.’

I’m undeterred. 

What is probably more revolutionary (for me), than a booze-freeze, is drinking my coffee black. There was no milk for the first few days we were home and it left me unfazed. Now that I didn’t ever see happening. Finally, I have fallen in step with the other Simmons’ women.

It only took fifty years. 

That statement is slightly premature, but not by much.  I’m five months younger than Russ, who celebrated his 50th on January 5th. Ahh, a Capricorn. A calm and cool saint. Maybe he wasn’t born this way (cue commercial jingle), but it’s an apt description these days. 

I handed him a card with Tyrannosaurus rex on the front, arms outstretched. 

It read, ‘I love you this much.‘  

Russ peered at the stunted limbs, as short as dessert forks, and looked at me over the edge of his glasses.

He said, ‘Mmm..That doesn’t look like…very much… at all.

Inside I wrote, ‘You’re my favorite dinosaur and I love you thismuch.‘ 

‘I’m a dinosaur?‘ he asked.

I bought Russ a pair of Oakley sunglasses for his birthday. Since I’ve known him, he has worn the same exact pair of cheap glasses. They remind me of the protective eyepiece the dermatologist balances on the bridge of my nose, before lasering the layer of leather from my face.  Except Russ’ are black, with temples like hockey sticks, cresting the top of his ears and holding them in place.  I don’t know where he purchased them, and the location does’t matter, but I picture them among a rainbow of others, spinning on a rack at an upscale truck-stop (oxymoron?) like Love’s or Buccee’s, next to the stacks of trucker hats. I asked him about them, gingerly, ages ago. 

‘I’m not going to spend money on something that’s easily scratched, lost, or ruined. It’s a waste of money. These are fine.

Okay, fair enough. But soon after we started dating, he told me my Maui Jim’s were almost a dealbreaker. 

“Whaaat?!”

The shock of my face was met with his own. 

“Are you kidding me? Seriously. I almost got in my car and drove home the first time I saw you wearing them.”

I purchased those glasses at the Kentucky Three Day Event. The Maui Jim pop-up shop was conveniently located across from the VIP tent. I stood facing the mirror on the countertop, switching pairs on and off my face, when William Fox Pitt walked up. I looked from his Dubarries up, up, and further up, like trying to find Jack hiding in the beanstalk, before locating his face.

That man is very tall. 

Russ’ admission was rich, considering his own choice of sunglasses he wore voluntarily. They barely qualified as what they were promoted as being. They were nothing other than cheap plastic sprayed with a thin layer of tint. What was most ironic about Russ’ logic was in six years I’ve known him,  he hasn’t lost or scratched this pair yet. I kept ‘willing’ them to be forgotten on the roof of the car as we  pull away from the gas station (can’t outrun your roots after all), but its never happened. Russ takes impeccable care of every. single. thing. Order and cleanliness are his mantra, his essence, the thread that weaves him into the person he is. As Russ likes to say, when I’m scrambling in our tiny apartment searching for my reading glasses, my keys, or even my New Balance sneakers, usually as I’m headed out the door, borderline late, “Everything has its place, Jenn, and if you put things away, where they belong, you wouldn’t spend half your life looking for it.”  

While we were at my parent’s house for Christmas, Russ asked me for a battery to replace the dead one in the fire alarm upstairs. Without looking up, I said, “Dad keeps them  in the second drawer of his dresser in their bathroom.”

Russ disappeared into their room and reappeared shortly, battery in hand. Heading up the stairwell, he mumbled, “You married your father.”

I howled with laughter. I had said this all along, and said it for the first time when I uncovered Russ’ own drawer of batteries, in a small cabinet, under the sink, in his bathroom. Russ had always scoffed the proffered cliche, the old wives’ tale dispensed freely in regards to himself and his father-in-law, but it would be difficult, impossible really, for anyone to concoct an argument steely enough to counter the evidence of two drawers filled with a collection of batteries, stored in a bathroom, on purpose, twelve hundred miles apart. 

What are the chances?

Everything has its place and sometimes it’s the same exact place as your father-in -law’s. In addition to his ‘golden rule, Russ is also extremely tidy. Chalk it up to a career in the military, but the Army only reinforced what was already there, like adding water and fertiliser to a seedling. I realised the extent of this when we camped together in the Gila National Forest in New Mexico before we were married. Russ packed the car as neat and tidy as a brand-new Craftsman Tool Box. When we arrived, we spent hours setting up our camping spot for the night. We unpacked the tent, sleeping bags, a seating area, and all the equipment and provisions needed to cook a meal and eat it. We were in need of not one single item. We had it all at our fingertips. 

We spent the night wearing several layers, a ski hat on our heads, our down sleeping bags pulled up to our chins, and Cracker squeezed tight against my legs in my contoured “mummy” bag, neither of us complaining about the lack of space. It might have been the first weekend of the summer solstice, but the evening hours went below the freezing mark in the middle of that forest. Typical of Russ, we were up very early (he had to pry me out of my bag, where Cracker continued to hunker down like a smart old dog), drinking watery coffee, and packing it all up to head to our next stop where we would be staying in a hotel. We washed every cup and pot, wiped down every piece of equipment, as well as the equipment used to house or cover said equipment, before packing it all into the car in the same exact configuration Russ had the first time. 

(Everything in its place, Jenn.) 

When we returned home, after our sightseeing trip was complete, Russ unpacked the car, opening every piece of equipment, and rewashing it again, this time “properly.” That is code for using hot water. When it was all said and done, I guesstimated we (he) had spent more time preparing to camp, cleaning up after we camped, then we did actually camping. Compare this to the person he married: Unloading the dishwasher, I drop a spoon on the floor. I pick it up, wiping it on my shirt, before placing the spoon in the cutlery tray with the rest in the kitchen drawer. Russ turns apoplectic. Not trusting that the tainted spoon is the one on top, he grabs all the spoons out of the drawer and rewashes them.

Somehow, we view each other’s idiosyncrasies as endearing. Most of the time. Nowadays, I place dropped cutlery back in the dishwasher, and Russ digs my keys out from under the stack of papers on the counter where I last left them. This is our version of marital compromise. It works. The Oakley’s best demonstrate our progress in this arena. Russ traded his cheap frames for sturdy ones without a fuss. I was surprised. (I kept the receipt, just in case.) This pair has polarised lenses. I told him it’s like sunscreen for your eyeballs. He shook his head at my metaphor, but I’m relieved. His eyes will now be offered some protection. I may not have toasted Russ’ big birthday with a glass of champagne in my hand, but I purchased a gift I knew Russ would never buy for himself, and it warms my heart to invest in his wellbeing. The unimaginable has happened. Russ wears a couple hundred dollars on his face, undeterred. I can’t think of anyone who deserves it more.  

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