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.

Ripped (#191)

In elementary school, I was the tallest and the strongest. In 5th grade, I was the only student awarded the Presidential Physical Fitness medal. By sixth grade, I was 5’8,” with size 10 shoes.

By high school, I had crushed all contenders in arm-wrestling. I didn’t see the need to get stronger. But my best friend needed to be able to do a single pull-up in order to make it into the Air Force Academy, and she needed a friend to support her – literally. Every morning before school, I held her up under the pull-up bar in our high school gym until she gained enough strength to manage a pull-up on her own. When it was time for her AF physical, she actually did TWO whole pull-ups and we did about fifty girly squeals together afterwards.

While helping my friend get all buffed up, I lifted some weights, too. After all, it was gratifying to watch the guys come into the gym as we were leaving. More than one beefy white boy strutted past me to the leg press, did a double take at the weights, and tried to surreptitiously remove a few without his friends noticing.

Whereupon I hurried back over, loudly apologizing, “Sorry, dude, I shoulda re-racked those, lemme give you a hand.”

Similar incidents happened in college weight rooms, and then when I joined a gym. Watching incredulous male faces was always fun, but taking credit for it seemed wrong. Muscle strength is mostly genetics. Sure, I lift weights and do cardio on a regular basis to make up for chocolate consumption (with varying degrees of success), but my mighty quadriceps are a fluke.

Strength – especially quads – came in handy for pot-stirrer spins the dance floor, though. When my husband and I retired from competition, I became obsessed with volleyball, playing recreationally, then in a league. My quads served me well once again, especially when it came to blocking. Seeing the shock on a male hitter’s face right after I stuffed him was always delightful.

Like Badminton Becky, I hounded better players for lessons, did drills, and played whenever I could. I played too much, straining my right quad during a tournament. I shrugged it off. I’d had a few muscle strains before, a boatload of stitches from various dogs and windows, and had even survived flipping a car 3 times without a scratch. I foolishly considered myself semi-indestructible. I took a few too few days off, then went back to volleyball practice.

But when I jumped to spike a set, the ball didn’t go down.

I did.

My right quad finally failed me. I fell in a heap on the gym floor. The smallest move sent shooting pain through my whole leg. I crawled to the side of the gym and tried not to throw up while my teammates called my husband and told him to pick me up.

My husband did pick me up, but not literally, because I’m not a small person and Andy has compressed discs in his back. When tiny little Veronica broke her ankle at volleyball and tried to hobble out, her husband scooped her up in his arms and carried her out to applause.

My husband is not so foolish. He draped my arm over his shoulder and told me to lean on him. I did. He winced, and recruited another player to help us out to the car, saying, “Take as much of her weight as you can.”

I made a mental note to make sure Andy and I did leg weights together once I recovered. Maybe he’d get stronger. Maybe he’d be humiliated. Win-win.

Later that day, the orthopedist confirmed what I suspected. By stupidly jumping on a weakened quad muscle, I’d torn it. I’d be on crutches for weeks. After that, I could look forward to months of physical therapy before I could play volleyball again.

“That long?” I wailed.

“If you’re lucky. It’s a pretty bad tear.” The doctor shook his head at me and said, “I’ve never seen a woman with a torn quad before. It’s kind of a rare injury.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s usually massive football players who decide to play some basketball and they rip their quads doing jump shots.”

I never could decide if that was a compliment.

Or not.

Dirt (#190)

My husband is particular about his dirt.

Andy in the garden. With beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, kale, and chard.

Andy has a strawberry patch, a greenhouse, and several gardens. The dirt has to be just right for each. He tested our vegetable garden’s acidity and found it wanting. Andy added bone meal. Now our tomatoes never rot on the vine. He deemed the soil in our Southern California neighborhood too sandy and started compost piles to reduce our vegetable waste to richer, more microbe-laden dirt.

When he ordered worms (and special dirt for the worms), I protested, saying we already had TWO compost piles. Andy told me how much faster the worms would convert carrot peelings into usable dirt for my flower beds. I relented. Now my freesia and gladiolas are the envy of the neighborhood, thanks to Andy’s worm-poop dirt.

But can the man see sand or soil on the kitchen floor?

Hell to the no to infinity and beyond.

Some of Andy’s inability to see dirt comes from his first generation Chinese-American childhood. His father worked days, his mother worked nights and weekends. Both worked long hours. Making money to put food on the table was a much bigger priority than eradicating household dirt.

Andy also grew up in Hawaii, where the vegetation is lush — and the bugs are legion. The first time we stayed at his parents house, I insisted he buy bug spray. So we poisoned ourselves with pesticides because I couldn’t endure the site of a single cockroach.

Andy later explained that his parents had once fumigated their house. Unfortunately, it killed all the geckos and lizards that ate the bugs. The bugs came back. The lizards didn’t.

I grew up in a much more privileged home. My white parents mostly worked 9-5, 5 days a week. Saturday mornings, my father would barge into my bedroom at 8 AM with the vacuum. When I finally gave in and got up, he handed the vacuum to off to me. My family spent four hours cleaning the house every Saturday morning, from bathtubs to baseboards. I was used to tidy. I liked tidy.

Once I was on my own, I alienated at least three roommates because I bitched about their “filth and clutter” as I sullenly cleaned up their dishes. My friend JM and I endured an earthquake that opened all the kitchen cabinets and tossed our dishes onto the floor. Most broke. As I cleaned up the mess, JM glared at me and said, “You know, if you’d left all the dishes dirty in the sink where they belonged, they wouldn’t have broken!”

When Andy and I first lived together, I nagged him about cleaning. So Andy would run the vacuum over the living room rug and never notice the dried animal slobber coating the window panes. He would then pronounce the room clean.

Renowned nose art artists Fey and Woofie, during a rare work break.

If I pointed out the dogs’ gooey nose art and told Andy to clean the window, he’d miss the black dust collecting on the windowsill.

As for cat or dog puke, Andy only noticed it when he stepped in it. (Yes, I laughed uproariously every time.)

This inability to see dirt/ imperfection was beyond my comprehension. I had no idea what the garden’s pH was, but I could tell if the smallest picture in the living room wasn’t level.

Here’s an example of my stream of consciousness as I attempted my daily yoga in the living room:

I’ll start with a standing half-series, breathe in—shit, the dog shoved the heavy curtain aside and now one curtain is open and the other is not, it doesn’t look symmetrical, there, all fixed, where was I? Right, now into a chair pose, breathe in, breathe out – damn it, is that a Brazillian pepper squished into the rug? Ugh, it is, I’ll just put it in the trash, okay, breath in, hands to heart-center, breathe out – crap! How did that coaster wind up under the table? And is that a pink geranium petal on the dog bed? Maybe I should get out the vacuum.

20 minutes later, after vacuuming, yoga resumes:

This time I will lie on my back and do bridge and some twists. Breathe in, there we go, breathe out – wait, how is there a cobweb in that corner?! I’ll just get a rag and climb up on the couch, and there we go, all set. Back to twists, this time the left hip, oh, wow, I heard that crack and – holy mother of God there is a freaking LIZARD staring down at me from the top of the curtain rod! Damn it, must the same one that ran behind the file cabinet when the cat brought it in two weeks ago,

One of the many lizards I found in my house. This one had been inside so long he’d regrown some of the tail he lost to the cat.

I guess it never left, okay, buddy, let’s sweep you into the dustpan, yep, hold on with those sticky feet and there you, go, enjoy the compost pile, look at all those yummy bugs…

At the end of my home yoga sessions, my muscles aren’t much looser and my brain isn’t very mindful.

But my house is definitely cleaner.

I work about as well as I practice yoga when the house is dirty. To increase productivity, I keep the house clean – which is not easy with multiple pets, multiple Brazillian pepper trees, and multiple kinds of dirt in my yard.

And yes, I. Not my husband. Andy would drive miles to 99 Ranch to get the exact type of star anise he needs for hot and sour soup, but if I asked him to vacuum he’d somehow manage to sigh louder than my Miele.

Andy spent hours lovingly cleaning his Mustang Cobra, but clean a bathtub? Too onerous. Never mind that he was the one the shedding black hairs all over the porcelain. He’d never heard of washing the shower curtain until I entered his life.

Of course, I’d never heard of star anise until Andy entered mine.

Since I would rather eat Mac & Cheese than cook and Andy would be okay with a black mold biome in the bathroom, a system evolved.

I took over all the cleaning. Andy was responsible for all the food shopping and cooking.

If Andy worked long hours, had arthroscopic knee surgery, or went down with bronchitis, I serve him Kraft’s finest or take out.

If I got sick, my buddy Windex and I soldiered on through the sniffles (impossible to stay in bed when there are smudges on the mirror, you know).

Our division of labor worked well.

Until the day came when I couldn’t work.

 

Yes, it’s a two-part post! Check back tomorrow to see what happened.