This story was first published as a featured article on the Good Men Project website (http://goodmenproject.com/author/mark-mathias/) April 29, 2016
I am, as Lisa so eloquently expresses it to her girlfriends when I’m not around, “one moody motherfucker”.
I once left her place on a Sunday night after a happy chatty weekend together, went to work Monday morning feeling inexplicably dark and unsociable, and refused to answer my phone for a couple of days. Why? I dunno; I didn’t feel like it. At times like that my phone can get downright constipated with voice and text messages from her, which I may or may not pay attention to — depending on my mood.
I’ll snap out of it eventually, after which I’ll have some explaining to do, but only after I’ve gotten an earful from her about how she went from patient-but-confused to what-the-fuck? somewhere around the end of day two of not hearing from me. I’ll want to know what the big deal is; she’ll explain exactly what the big deal is, and only after a lengthy conversation about needs and expectations do things settle down enough for our typically groovy kind of love to start flowing again.
When wanting to understand what’s behind a mood swing I’ll sometimes pull a Tarot card, toss coins for an I Ching reading or — depending on my mood — just withdraw from the world without giving notice and indulge in the mood; drop into it without trying to understand or analyze it, in the privacy of my home, just to see where it will take me. Mine is not, by the way, the “off-his-meds” version of mood swinging; mine is the “too-much-in-his-head” version, where I’m prone to unconsciously bum myself out with whatever self-defeating judgmental story I’ve concocted in my head, a story which may or may not even be true. Typically, though, a series of quickie, dark micro-thoughts have come and gone over a period of several days but under my emotional radar, until I wake up one rainy weekday morning and cancel out on work so I can stay home and write in my journal all day. For example:
Not long ago Lisa and I are having a lovely Tuesday evening at a gig where I play drums with my favorite pro-level music buddies, all of whom fawn over Lisa’s irresistible combination of hotness, humor, and genuine appreciation of musical talent. The band pulls off a ninety-minute concert-level performance and an hour later we are all sitting together in a nearby diner, having a late night meal and recapping the highlights of the gig. Everyone is chatty, happy, and optimistic. Great show, great friends. Then, finally, hugs and warm goodbyes before everyone drives off for home . . . in a good mood.
The next day, Wednesday, Lisa and I spontaneously spend a rainy day at my place: morning tea and coffee, nutritious breakfast, good conversation, movies, popcorn, more rain, blankets and snuggling, red wine, excellent dinner, another movie, more rain as we suck on milk chocolate chips for dessert. We fade, we doze, and we go to bed, capping a fine, fine day.
Thursday morning, because of my weird four-to-six hour sleep cycle, I’m up and about at four-thirty, setting the kitchen table for my cherished tea-and-journal ritual of sitting in deep, pre-dawn quiet to write. More rain is predicted, putting my remodel business on hold for another day and allowing me to sink long and deep into a blissfully quiet writing session. Not wanting to wake Lisa, I forego my customary routine of having dreamy acoustic guitar music playing softly in the background on a favorite Pandora station.
I settle in. Everything is awesome . . .
Ten minutes later Lisa appears, squinting in the light, drawing my heavy bathrobe tighter around her to ward off the chill. After saying our good mornings she sets about grinding coffee beans and gathering everything required to prepare, doctor, and consume a nice, fresh cup of coffee — at four forty-five in the goddam morning, an ungodly hour for anyone but me to be up and about on a rainy mid-week day.
It will be nearly twenty-four hours before I’m able to put my finger on why this morning will be inversely disproportionate, in all of its passive-aggressive ways, to the fun and lovely previous morning. I am not aware, for example, of my slowly-growing irritation at having to stop writing and concoct an answer to a question she has just asked me, nor do I realize that I’m only pretending to listen to her comments about Rick Steves’ excellent tips and advice about traveling in Italy, which she is reading aloud from her Kindle between slurpy sips of coffee.
Her need is to chat, to communicate, with me, right now, at five in the morning, my morning. She’s excited about our upcoming trip and is clearly enjoying her coffee-and-travel-tips moment. This goes on for twenty minutes until I give up, close my journal, and get up to make us some breakfast.
From this point on, for these last few hours of our morning together, I will grow increasingly quiet and only partially interested in whatever she has to say or wants to talk about. When sitting across from her I’ll make an effort to look at her when she’s speaking, otherwise I’ll be gazing at my hands, tugging distractedly at my hair, or looking off to my right at the empty space between myself and a microwave oven in the far corner of the kitchen.
When the topic shifts from our Italy trip to preparing for an upcoming book talk, I’m good for ten minutes-worth of actually contributing to the conversation, but by minute eleven I’m feeling maxed out by the pressure of my hours-old, yet-to-be-understood irritation. Book talks are an important topic, but my pretending to care is a poor choice of coping strategies; we draw the topic to a close when it begins to dawn on her that maybe what I really mean by repeatedly answering with “sounds good” or “sounds great” is: please stop talking!
At some point she moves to get dressed as I begin to tidy up. She returns to the living room and plops down in the corner of a Mission style loveseat where I can see her from the kitchen. When I glance over at her I see in her face something I’ve rarely seen in the thirty-four years I’ve known her. I’m sure others have seen it – the ex-husbands, the misbehaving son, the hardhearted sister – but not me, not when we are together do I see what I’m seeing now . . .
She is unhappy. She’s staring straight ahead at what I know to be nothing, with a look on her face that tells me something is most definitely up, something is bothering her, something is wrong. Still clueless, I feel compelled to ask:
She snaps out of her blank stare, quickly throwing a fake smile on her face.
“What? I’m—what? Nothing! I’m fine! Why?”
I study her for a moment, debating whether to play along and pretend to believe her or give her another chance at telling the truth.
“You look upset.”
A denial and a false excuse later, I let it go. We move on, neither one of us admitting that I am the problem; I am the cause of this effect. From the moment she began grinding coffee beans I’ve grown increasingly quiet, increasingly irritated, and increasingly indifferent to whatever has been interesting or important to her . . . but I don’t know why. I’m in a mood, you see, and it is my style to be in it long before I understand it, a behavior commonly associated with having been born with a penis.
By now the only truth I’m willing to admit to myself is that I want her to go home; I want to be alone in my own place, to try and recapture some of the rainy day tea-and-journal thing I was so looking forward to. Instead of mentioning this in some mature, sensitive way hours earlier, I’ve grown increasingly moody. As the air between us grows heavy and dull with unspoken truths, undeclared feelings and unmet needs, I continue putting on an air of patience and false contentment until, finally, going home becomes her idea. I walk her to her car, both of us wholly dissatisfied with the way the morning has turned out.
Before she gets behind the wheel I know I need to do something to reassure her that, in spite of the funky, atypical morning we’ve just spent together, I haven’t forgotten our night at the upbeat gig, the joy of sharing a meal with dear friends, and the lovely, spontaneous pleasures of yesterday. Before she drives off I want her to know that I care, that she matters, that I’m sorry for the shitty morning.
I pull her to me and kiss her — long, deep, and hard.
We step back from the kiss, smiling weak smiles at one another. She climbs into her car, and drives away.