Two things happen when Martha (my wife) and I get in the car. (1) I’m driving, and (2) Martha criticizes me for it.
“You didn’t come to a complete stop, Bernie.”
“Wrong. I did.”
I turn right on Ribaut Rd.
“The other way’s shorter.”
“We’ve been over this a million times, Martha. I’ve timed it.”
“You have not. It’s obvious the other way’s shorter.”
“Is it now”?
Sigh. “Just take me home.”
“Take me home, take me home…to the place…I belong. West Virginia, my mountain Momma, take me home, Country Road…
“Sing it with me, Martha, I’ll harmonize.”
“Oh my God! Bernie!”
“What?!” I panic, stopping smack dab, at an angle, in the middle of the Ribaut Road/ Bay Street intersection.
“You turned right in front of that car!”
“Goddammit, Martha, you almost caused an accident!”
“That car would have hit my side. I would have been the one killed.”
“Right, caused by your panicking. Over nothing!”
She shakes her head, thoroughly disgusted; no room whatever for discussion.
What is wrong with her? Did I turn too early? Absolutely not. You know how I know? We’re still alive. Besides, the evidence is a mile down Bay by now.
So I shake my head, sigh, thoroughly disgusted, the weight of the world on my shoulders. She’s had it on hers too long.
She stares out the window, refusing to look my way.
“Martha, come on. Jeez…”
The Silent Treatment I have always considered one of the most perfidious forms of bullying, if not downright anti-semitic, and Martha is a Gentile, which is okay, I guess. But we Jews are not a quiet people. We are loud and obnoxious, the tribe with the runaway tongues. Check out the Israeli Parliament, or Beth Israel Synagogue, where all conversations are put on hold UNTIL the rabbi begins his sermon.
However, since Martha, like many of her ilk, prefers The Silent Treatment, I myself surrender to the forces of assimilation, and hold my tongue, which is really hard to do, especially while you’re driving. Try it.
“Bernie, what on earth are you doing?”
“Holding my tongue,” though it doesn’t come out that way. Holding your tongue is one thing, trying to talk while you’re doing it another.
“Get your hand out of your mouth.”
“I’m holding my tongue, like a Gentile, like you, so we can be more alike, and be closer to each other. See?”
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to convert? Bernie, take your hand out of your mouth. It’s crazy.”
“Okay, you ready. ‘Country Road.’ Sing it with me. Come on, Martha. You’re great on this song. I’ll harmonize.”
“Don’t you want your passenger to feel safe? Can’t you just be sensitive to my feelings?”
“Can’t you be sensitive to mine?”
“When my life’s in danger? Bernie, pay attention. Don’t look at the river. You’re looking at the boats. I see you. You can’t help it. You’re sneaking looks.”
“No, I’m not.”
“Look in front of you. You’re drifting in the other lane. Would you please put both hands on the wheel?”
I hold my tongue no longer.
“Why don’t you just drive instead of bitching? This has been going on every day for forty four years? And I end up asking you this every day for forty-four years.”
“Don’t roll down my window. It messes up my hair,” she says, pushing the button that raises it. “Bernie, unlock my window right now. It’s blowing my hair.”
I smile, perfectly content, at long last, at peace with myself.
“You,” she says, “are such a control freak. Unlock my window.”
I grin at her, unabashedly.
“This is not funny. You are not funny.”
But like the rest of the world, she can’t help herself, as I so graciously point out.
“You’re smiling,” I say. “You’re trying not to, you’re giving it your best, but there it is, I see it coming. Ah! Thank you, thank you.”
At which point I graciously and with great magnanimity, unlock her window, push the button on my side, and raise it myself, at great sacrifice, I might add, to the fresh air blowing off the river I so desperately need, that we all, I point out to Martha, so desperately need.
“Are you really so against fresh air?”
“Only if it’s good for you,” she said.
“Martha, you can’t mean that? That hurts.”
She’s right. I am a control freak. Was I sneaking looks at the river? Maybe.
“Bernie,” she says, “of course not. You know I don’t mean it.”
“How can I forget what I can’t remember?”
“By remembering what you forgot?”
That’s a good one, I think to myself.
So does she.
I smile at her. She smiles at me. We hold hands. Life is good.
“Turn here,” she says. “Turn here. Bernie!”