Dungarees–When Life Throws You Dung

In honor of Valentine’s Day this month, I continue to reflect on 25 Years of Wedded Bliss and Blisters

I’ve always worn the pants in our family, but lately I’ve taken the pants thing to a whole new level. I am, quite literally, wearing the Man I Married’s pants.

When I say that I’ve always worn the pants in our family, that’s not to say that I’m a balls-breaking kind of gal. Hoisting myself up by my bootstraps and wearing the metaphorical pants was a simple necessity when the Man I Married suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury not two months after our first date.

A smarter woman would have noticed that MIM had also had a Traumatic Brain Injury not two months before she met him. To my credit, nobody else detected the effects of the first brain injury, either. I guess I liked off-kilter kinds of guys, and this charming sailor was so off-kilter that even his close friends disregarded the after-effects of his riding his motorcycle into a chain link fence without a helmet. To them, he was simply more of what he already was: quirky, artistic, weird, unique, unpredictable, unreliable, devil-may-care, and, underneath it all, suicidally unhappy and thus a binge-drinker like the rest of them. I fell hard for the Byronic type, easy to see in retrospect, but at the time it all must have seemed dangerously romantic. I was twenty-two and he had a VW Beetle convertible. I need say no more in my defense of falling in love with a loopy-in-the-head man.

Nobody knew much about brain injuries back then in 1987—apparently not even his doctors—because it had only been relatively recently, due to advances in medical technology, that larger numbers of people were surviving brain injuries. So MIM’s first Traumatic Brain Injury was not officially diagnosed until the “poor reasoning skills” and “lack of impulse control” resulting from the motorcycle wreck led to the second head injury a few months later. (Logic dictates that “poor reasoning skills” must also have included dating me.) The “poor reasoning skills” caused him to mouth off in an Akron bar to a group of frat guys who took offense and beat his head into the pavement until he stopped mouthing off–because he was in a coma.

When he emerged from the coma, the doctor told his mother that she would be caring for a vegetable for the rest of his life. He was home in Ohio on vacation when all of this happened, and I thought I’d never see him again. But he gradually improved, although he couldn’t remember that he was a vegetarian, was walking out of the house in his underwear in the middle of the night, and couldn’t remember words like “car” and “potato chip.” At which point the Navy shipped him back to his station in Honolulu. Meaning to me. Me, after barely two months of dating, now his Primary Caregiver and his entire support network, all in one. He had no family there, and his Navy friends all shipped out to sea.

It never entered my head that I had a choice. I’d planned to dump him when he returned from vacation, because the “unreliable” part of his personality wasn’t so sexy after a month or two. I’d met someone else, and it turned out that MIM had been muttering another woman’s name while in his coma (so not sexy!). I definitely had not yet said, “in sickness and in health.”

It’s a marvel to me now, looking back from the perspective of two and a half decades, that I didn’t jump ship. But my parents were both Scout leaders, and they are the kindest, most generous people I know. In my ripe old present-day age, I’m more of a hard-hearted Hannah than they are, because I’ve seen how some take advantage of their bigheartedness (ahem, btw, is that check in the mail yet, Mom?), but back then the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. My parents rescue the most decrepit creatures you will ever have the misfortune of meeting, which was about the state of MIM when he shuffled his way off the plane.

He was, quite literally, a different person from the boy who’d taught me how to fancy-up a Budweiser by squeezing a lime into the bottle and who’d mimicked the technique with his tongue in my ear.

The results of the coma were very much like what happens to a stroke-victim, with paralysis in half the body. MIM had difficulty walking and talking (this was going to extremes to get out of Scottish country dancing with me). He no longer liked to smile because of his lopsided face. I drove him to occupational therapy appointments, where he made me clay pots: 

Not the kind of pot he'd indulged in before then

That pot will be twenty-four years old this Easter, and I always say it’s the first thing I’ll grab in an earthquake. He’d also learned a thing or two about inscriptions since the engagement ring episode, plus he had a female OT who nudged him to give it to me in the first place. (I wonder where Lieutenant Harrison is these days? She was a special guest at our wedding not long after.)

He was right-handed, the same side as the paralysis, so he taught himself to write and draw with his left hand. I think that quality is what hooked me. Most people (like me) would cry into their soup instead of deciding to switch hands, simple as that, and still manage to make art like this: 

What His Brain Saw

I married him. What the hell? We were already living the life of an old retired couple, so we might as well reap the benefits.

He suffered dizzy spells, and he couldn’t drive. We sold the convertible, and I was the one in the driver’s seat (a tan, compact Toyota) for the next few years.

He endured debilitating headaches until they were magically cured by a spider. I rolled over in bed one night and screamed at the sight of a hairy black spider on the pillow between us. I’m not a balls-breaking kind of gal, and neither am I a screaming-at-spiders kind of gal, but this thing was disgustingly gross and it was on the pillow. It turned out not to be a spider at all, but a huge, dried clot of blood that had finally worked its way out of his brain and down and out of his ear canal. No more headaches. Consider that a hot date night for us. Is it any wonder that I had a Don Johnson calendar on my wall for some imaginary excitement?

Most people who meet him now would never believe that he was once proclaimed to be cousin to a drooling cauliflower. He’ll never be fully recovered, but our arguments over whether certain irritating habits are Head Injury Symptoms (excusable) or Typical Male Behaviors (inexcusable) have proven futile. His father says that MIM was always like a mule and needed to be hit over the head with a 2×4 in order to get his attention.

What is certain is that after he recovered enough to drive again, and he started using words like “paradigm” on me (talk about below the belt!) and no longer slept twenty hours a day, I had to give up the driver’s seat and the metaphorical pants. This was a difficult transition for both of us. Let’s face it, when you’re a girl in the driver’s seat and you’re used to wearing the pants, it means that you always, always, always get your way. My guy couldn’t formulate a thought in his damaged brain about what he wanted, much less remember it long enough to tell me if he had one, much less sustain an argument if I protested that I wanted something different. The car went where I pointed it (including the marriage altar), and that was that. To be fair, getting to choose the movies we went to was just recompense for turning eighty overnight.

But give up the pants I did. Although recently, 25 years in to our relationship, I spied a new pair of pants that he’d bought for himself, laid out on our bed. He’d never bought a pair of work pants like that before. I lusted after those pants. They’re construction worker type pants, with lots of pockets, and loops from which to hang your manly tools. They have extra belt loops, ineffectual even so against plumber’s butt when weighted down with a toolbelt. They’re a weird sort of mustard-khaki color apparently made only for men who get greasy. They’re a thick canvas, a nice heft of material not possessed by anything in my side of the closet. They’re manly-man pants, and I wanted them. So I tried them on. And they fit.

There is no logical way in anywhere but Oz that MIM’s pants should fit me. He’s seven inches taller and generally forty pounds heavier, although this varies depending on which end of the scale we’re each on. I’m thrilled when it’s forty and not thirty, because the ten pounds of narrowing the gap is usually on my end, not his. He’s a slender kind of guy. But fit they did.

The truth is that I’ve been wearing men’s pants for years. I quit the ladies department the day I learned that men get to buy pants of the exact correct length. Women of whatever size waist all get the same length, and you have to guess at your size, which might be a 10 or 12 or 14 for the same person, depending on brand, planetary alignment, and who is holding the office of state ombudsman. Unexacting. If men go up or down a waist size, say after the holidays or after being released from an Italian prison (in which case the paparazzi all gloat about how marvelously slender he looks after his post-murder-rap diet—NOT), they still get to buy the correct length. If I increase in waist-size, my pants not only get longer, but by the time they fit around my okole, the crotch is halfway to my knees, so I look like a parody of a homeboy.

I complained about the length problem with women’s pants to MIM one day, and he said, “Well, of course. That way you have to buy a different pair of shoes to make the new pair of pants be the correct length.” Because I’m short but wide, I’d need shoes like this: 

Lying down without pants, maybe...

If I wore these, the long pants problem would be solved, because I would wind up like this: 


I’m not sure if I believe in a fashion conspiracy theory, but I do wonder why women put up with it? I have wasted many precious hours in the women’s dressing room when I could have been out bettering the world or at least having a nice martini.

For the record, I don’t want to hear about such-and-such a brand or such-and-such a store in which I can get women’s pants that come in the correct length as well as width. Women, like men, should be able to walk into any store to buy such a thing. If MIM can buy pants of the correct width and length at Fred Meyer, so should I. So it’s what I do. I buy men’s pants. They shouldn’t fit me. It makes no sense that they do. I haven’t measured in years and have no intention of starting, but I’d guess there’s a good foot, probably more, of difference between my waist and hips, and that ain’t no man’s bod.

But I’ve never worn manly-man pants. Durable pants that require steel-toed boots and a hammer and maybe some chew. In fact, they are so manly that they are called Dickies.

Dickies. Seriously. I cannot record here what the female equivalent would be.

I stole my husband’s Dickies. Like times of old, I gave him no choice. He didn’t look happy about it, but he justified my larceny by admitting, “Well, they were a little snug on me.” That’s one of the nicest compliments he’s ever given me.

I don’t think he should be allowed to own Dickies, anyway, because he never checks his pants pockets before putting them in the hamper (typical male? or head injury?), and that’s a lot of pockets for me to check.

How I love my Dickies! You can hear me coming a long way off in my Dickies, because the thick canvas material magnifies the sound of my legs swishing together. Also I probably stomp and swagger in them, because how can I not?

I even remembered a girlie hammer that my mother gave me years ago and found it at the back of a junk drawer. I stick it in the tool loop to femme it up a bit.

If I Had A...

It’s a powerful feeling to have a tool knocking against your leg whenever you take a step, as half the population already fully well knows. But my dickie is prettier. And now it’s handy when I need to (lightly) tap MIM on the forehead when he’s not listening.

Now on Kindle

The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
Kindle Edition Now $0.99 at Amazon.com


“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

“…utterly new and eccentric…really a great piece of wit…[with] magnificent brevity…”  —David Lenson, Editor, Massachusetts Review

 “Not since reading David Sedaris have I laughed so hard…talented, funny and insightful.”  —Gitana Garofalo, Hedgebrook

 “…made me laugh out loud…I still chuckle…” —Samantha Schoech, Editor, The Bigger The Better The Tighter The Sweater

2 thoughts on “Dungarees–When Life Throws You Dung

    • Karla, you are so smart to catch on that I’ve been posting on Sundays. I was thinking about changing that up, but I guess for you I’ll just have to keep it going!

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