The Boyfriend Thieves (#194)

Being an Amazonian brunette sandwiched between prettier, blonder, more petite sisters sucks. More than one guy ditched me after meeting my sisters.

Take the Boy Next Door. I pined after him for the entirety of seventh grade. He finally asked me to the last dance before school ended. Then Older Sister, who lived with Dad (I lived with our Mom) came for the summer. The Boy Next Door told me we were done, because he was in love with Older Sister.

Older Sister did her best to comfort me, declaring, “I would never, ever, go out with that loser. He’s ugly and disgusting!”

I bawled, “That’s even worse! You’re scorning the love of my life!”

That scenario repeated itself for years. With no effort whatsoever — which stung worse than a determined boyfriend-stealing campaign probably would have — my sisters entranced the guys that were meant to be mine. (If only because I saw them first).

This dynamic lasted until our last years of high school. By then, guys were either less flighty or I was better at picking them. Or maybe it was because Older Sister finally had a serious boyfriend named Mikey. (He’d lasted more than two weeks!)

Enter the Youngest Sister. Youngest Sister, a product of Dad’s second marriage, was an adorable five-year-old. I came home from school one day and found Older Sister in the kitchen, morosely staring out the window.

“What happened? I thought you and Mikey were gonna be hanging out after school?”

“I thought so, too,” she answered, then nodded at the deck outside.

Youngest Sister emerged from her plastic gingerbread playhouse with a tea set. She offered tea to Mikey, warned him not to slurp, and introduced him to her dolls. Mikey was enthralled.

Tea and Disney Princesses. What man can resist?!

Older Sister tried to pry Mikey away repeatedly. Each time, Youngest Sister put on a sad, sad face. Mikey would shoo Older Sister back inside, whispering, “But I’ll hurt her feelings! Just five more minutes.”

Youngest Sister hijacked Mikey daily. Older Sister stopped bringing him home. Their relationship soon died.

I’m slow on the uptake. I brought home my favorite high school boyfriend, Kevin. While I got us snacks, Youngest Sister invited him out to see her playhouse.

When I told her playtime was over, Youngest Sister’s eyes brimmed with tears. Kevin gave me a horrified look and told her, “Don’t cry! Pour me another cup of tea!”

Kevin and I never did get any alone time at my house. Same as me and John. Or me and Sean. Or me and anyone. Youngest Sister – now officially known as Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister — was relentless. She conscripted boyfriends for dress up games, tea parties, and Chutes & Ladders. There was no way for me to extricate them without looking like an ogre, either. Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister could – and would — cry on command (a handy trick that would one day get her out of 3 speeding tickets).

In self-defense, her older sisters all went to college out of state.

Nearly two decades later, Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister had a special boyfriend of her own. They’d met at college back east, but he was from Los Angeles. He’d moved home for graduate school. Boyfriend-Stealing Baby Sister missed him terribly. So even though she ostensibly came to Los Angeles to visit her big sister, I knew Andy and I weren’t the real attraction. We invited The Boyfriend over for the day. Andy cooked a feast, I cleaned the house and our dogs, and we waited to meet The Boyfriend.

The Boyfriend was appreciative of our efforts. He clearly loved my sister. Sadly, he was allergic to cats, and we had two. We moved the food outside to the patio, where our dogs were waiting.

Woofie, our rescue lab mix, never met anyone he didn’t like. He immediately pranced over to the Boyfriend…

…only to be shouldered aside by our other rescue dog, Fey. Fey was normally very standoffish; she wasn’t above warning certain people away with growls. She was also very protective of our yard, once driving off would-be burglars. For a moment, I feared Fey mistook The Boyfriend for foe instead of friend.

Fey hurtled herself against The Boyfriend’s legs, yipping, whining, and moaning — with happiness. She even rolled on his feet, begging for tummy rubs. Andy and I stared, stupefied. Unlike Woofie, Fey hated showing belly. Teaching her to roll over had taken a year.

“That’s new,” I muttered.

Andy made outraged noises. “Wha…but…she…she likes him more than ME!”

“What a good girl! Oh, yes, such a good girl,” The Boyfriend cooed. Fey’s happy yipping crescendoed as she licked The Boyfriend’s face.

Woofie gave up trying to get in on the action. He went to my sister for petting instead. She obliged, asking, “Is Fey always like this?”

“Never,” we told her. As Fey soaked up The Boyfriend’s attention, Andy and I spent five minutes speculating that The Boyfriend reminded Fey of one of the dog rescuers who got her off the streets. Or maybe he just smelled fabulous, after catching up on In-n-Out burgers.

Whatever the reason, Fey’s adoration never ceased. She followed The Boyfriend wherever he walked. When he sat, she sat on his feet. When The Boyfriend tried to hug his girlfriend, Fey wedged herself between them.

I finally called Fey into the house, letting my sister and The Boyfriend canoodle on our backyard swing, dog-free.

Fey stared at the door with big, sad eyes.

Every time she heard The Boyfriend’s laugh – which was an infectious, high-pitched giggle – Fey’s ears perked. Her tail thumped. She looked at me expectantly. When I didn’t open the door, she laid her head on her paws with a sigh.

After an hour, she pawed at the door, whining. The Boyfriend called, “Aw, you can let her out!”

My sister said, “Oh, sweetie, I’m sure she’s fine.”

The Boyfriend said, “But she’s crying!”

I opened the door. Fey flew across the yard and jumped into the swing, squirming her seventy-pound self between the couple. The Boyfriend was all giggles and coos.

My sister, shoved to the edge of the swing, glared at me. I grinned and waved as I retreated inside.

Because, sometimes?

Karma truly is a bitch.

Sex & Injury (#193)

I’m currently sporting a splint on an avulsion fracture. No, it’s not from sex, it’s from an errant soccer ball and not worth posting about. But a month with my mangled finger has reminded me of various other injuries where difficulties about sexual expectations arose…or didn’t. (Ha! Sex pun.)

When I am injured or feel like shit, sex is the last thing on my mind.

The first time I had multiple fingers in splints, I was miserable. If Byung-hun Lee had walked into my apartment shirtless, the only itch I’d have wanted him to scratch would have been the one in the middle of my back.

Then I’d have asked him to clean the cat box and vacuum.

Because no one on earth wants sex when in misery or pain, right?

Wrong.

Enter the husband.

After two surgeries, Andy’s knees occasionally still need icing.

After his first knee surgery, about a year into our marriage, Andy cast bedroom eyes at me by Day 3.

“You are outta your mind,” I told him. “You’re supposed to be resting, elevating, and icing.”

He was undaunted. “I could do all that in certain positions—”

“Forget it. Not without a doctor’s note.”

The orthopedist was one of Andy’s people. The doctor gave my husband a note stating that conjugal relations could resume AND a note for the DMV to give Andy a handicapped placard.

“How can you be well enough for sex but not well enough to walk an extra 10 feet into the grocery store?!” I asked.

“Doctor says it’s a quality of life issue,” Andy told me smugly. “I should save my knee for important things.”

Andy’s doctor is male, of course. I began to see a trend.

Andy’s retina is unfortunately prone to small tears. No one is sure why. (His optometrist officially termed the cause “shit happens.”) The first time Andy got his retinal tears soldered back together by laser, he came home with a list of things not to do: drinking, exercising, or any activity that might raise his blood pressure. He was also supposed to stay in a dark room.

“I know something fun we can do in a dark room,” he told me, with a nudge. (Bedroom eyes were impossible from behind his oversized, geriatric sunglasses.)

“There’s no way you’re allowed to have sex,” I told him.

“It doesn’t say anything about sex on the instructions.”

“Dude. You’re not supposed to raise your blood pressure!”

“Sex doesn’t count!”

“It SO counts. Seriously, this is the one time when masturbating might actually make you go blind!”

“I don’t believe you,” Andy told me truculently.

“I don’t care. No sex without a—”

“I know, I know, a doctor’s note,” Andy grumbled. “What if I call and ask?”

“Go right ahead.”

“Fine, I will!”

Our house is small. It was easy to overhear Andy’s side of the conversation:

“I had some retinal tears lasered today and I’m calling about the after care instructions…yeah, well, it mentions exercise, but it doesn’t say anything about…you know, sex.” There was a long pause, followed by, “What? Are you serious?! Well, for how many days? Really?”

So much for keeping that blood pressure down.

When I tore my quadriceps muscle, Andy took me to the orthopedist. Since I was on crutches, the doctor handed Andy my list of instructions on our way out. He read it as we waited for the elevator.

“No walking unaided, no exercise, ibuprofen, ice, elevation…hey, there’s nothing in here about when you can have sex again. Do you want to go back and ask?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because moving my leg hurts like a motherfucker, that’s why. I can’t see having sex until I can at least walk again. Not unless you want to do the whole Victorian, ‘lie back and think of England, dear’ routine.”

Andy didn’t answer for several too many seconds.

I waved a threatening crutch. “You’d better not even be considering that option.”

“Never, honey. Never.”

“Liar.”

Cracked (#192)

Like most couples, my husband and I divided up our chores based on our abilities. Since my husband was unable to see dirt, I cleaned. Since I was unable to see any problem with eating Kraft Mac & Cheese mixed with Hormel Chili several times a week, my horrified husband cooked. He grew vegetables in the backyard; I maintained planters of flowers in the front.

I walked and trained our rescue dogs. I cleaned the cat litter box. I fed/ vetted/ medicated/ washed all four animals. I did the laundry. I swept the patio and front steps. I mowed the lawn. I washed dishes. With 4 shedding animals, I vacuumed every other day.

Andy washed the cars.

Obviously — at least to me — chores weren’t exactly even, but since Andy made most of the money and had the health insurance, I sucked it up. I mean, yeah, I did sometimes resent Andy for sitting on his ass in the evenings and on the weekends, while I still had dishes, vacuuming, and dogs.

Also, he never thanked me without prompting – possibly because he never noticed the difference between a clean house and a dirty one. Which is understandable, I told myself. I mean, people don’t actually notice the absence of dirt or bugs in a house. But they’d certainly notice a scuttling roach or a dog fur dust bunny the size of an orange.

On the other hand, I heaped effusive praise on my husband’s fabulous cooking and clean cars. He soaked it up, but never once thought to return the favor.

He also never heard the occasional resentful muttering over the roar of the vacuum, the rumble of the dryer, or the rush of water running in the kitchen. Our questionable division of labor continued.

Until I tore my right quadriceps muscle. I was on crutches for a month.

After a week, one of my neighbors walked by and saw me sniffling as I made my way up our front steps. She hurried over. “Autumn! What happened? Does it hurt?”

“I’m fine,” I told her. “But my garden is a wreck and there’s a dog-hair based ecosystem under the dining room table and my dogs stink and the poor cats’ litter box hasn’t been cleaned in days and I’m pretty sure there’s an ant farm in the front closet, too, but I’m fine, great, even,” I insisted, as a tear trickled down my face.

My neighbor was a working mom a few decades older than me. She had a teen daughter and a retired husband. She patted me on the back and gave me a phone number, saying, “I know just how you feel, girl. This is my house cleaner. And I’ll send over my gardener when he comes by this week.”

“You have a house cleaner AND a Gardener? Really? But your husband is home all day!”

She snorted. “Yeah, and making messes in the kitchen and definitely not weeding. Outsourcing saved my sanity and my marriage. Give it a shot.”

“I don’t know. Andy hates spending money.”

“Tell him pest removal services aren’t cheap. And neither is divorce.”

But I tucked that card away, along with my feelings of failure, as I painstakingly crutched my way inside. Instead of picking up the phone, I picked up dishes and wiped down sticky counters.

I set up vinegar traps for the increasing fruit fly population around Andy’s precious compost bucket. Then I lowered myself to the floor and scooted around on my butt, scooping out the cat box and collecting dust bunnies from under the couch.

Cleaning took hours. Andy, as usual, never noticed my efforts. Instead, he grumbled when I reminded him that the dogs needed to be fed and walked. He grumbled some more when I asked him to empty the dishwasher. And when I mentioned vacuuming, he didn’t even answer.

I went to shower, then rested and elevated my leg to recover from showering. When I eventually made it to the kitchen again, the place was a mess. Dishes weren’t put away, papers covered the counter, and dirty carrots direct from the garden covered the clean tablecloth I’d just put on the table.

Andy nonchalantly sipped a beer.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” I screamed. And because the Ashbough temper goes from 0 to Psycho in under .01 seconds, Andy didn’t have time to respond before I snatched up a plastic measuring cup and threw it across the kitchen.

No, I did not throw it at my husband.

I wish I had, though. Andy’s reflexes are excellent. He would have dodged it.

Instead, I heaved it in the opposite direction, at the corner of the room. Because my aim sucks when I’m mad, that little plastic measuring cup hit the window instead.

The glass in the window cracked.

I burst into tears, wailing, “NOOOOOO! Now that’s just one more goddamned thing I have to take care of and I did it to myself! WAAAHHHHH!”

I sank down onto the disgusting floor (you didn’t think Andy had actually vacuumed, did you?) and bawled for ten minutes. Andy gave me a wide berth as he slunk around the kitchen, belatedly tidying up as I sobbed about how hard it was to clean, and what a jerk he was for being inconsiderate, and how I’d waited on him hand and foot through two surgeries and multiple bouts of bronchitis, etc., etc.

I eventually apologized for losing my shit. Very profusely.

Andy apologized for not cleaning. Very perfunctorily.

“Bullshit,” I sniffled. “You can’t even see all the carrot dirt on the table and you just think I’m insane. Which I am, I broke the window, how could a tiny plastic cup even do that, WAAAAAHHHHH!”

“C’mon, honey, let’s get you some tissues,” Andy said, hoisting me up and handing me my crutches.

“Don’t need tissues,” I told him. I put my head on his shoulder and wiped my snotty face on his shirt. “See?”

Andy rolled his eyes. “Yeah. I see.”

“Really? You can see snot but not carrot dirt? How is that even possible?!”

“It’s a gift.”

“Your gift is my curse, damn it.”

*****

The next day, I called my neighbor’s house cleaner. She was at our house in days, vacuuming and mopping.

By the following week, we had gardeners, too. They came every week to mow the grass and blow the leaves off our patio and front steps.

And the cracked window? Well, it turned out to be a special, expensive window, made with privacy glass and argon gas. It was also the largest window in the house. Months passed before we could afford a replacement. But that was okay. Every day, that glass reminded me not to let resentment fester and explode, lest I put cracks in something more precious than glass.

Andy never told me what he thought about the broken window. Maybe, like dirt, the crack didn’t bother him. He left it to me to explain to guests and eventually replace. Shockingly, my frugal husband never said a word about the cost of the new window.

Or a housecleaner or gardener, either.