For years now, I’ve had three “non-goals”: things I strive never to do in my life. Since I always forget at least one item on my list of rules, and I’ve lately added two, I finally had to write the list down:
- Never sue anyone.
- Never divorce.
- Never rent a storage locker.
- Never use a hash tag.
- Never use a drive-through.
I have friends who have done everything on this list, except maybe the first. I have friends who have contentedly divorced and are successfully co-parenting their children; friends who have traveled the world after putting their worldly goods in storage; friends trying to promote their books on Twitter; friends who just need to scarf a large order of fries without using up one more ounce of energy they don’t have, hiding the greasy bag so nobody whines, Why didn’t you buy some for everybody?, though they spend their whole lives doing things for everybody but themselves.
My list is about me and my life, not an expectation I place upon others. It’s not a judgment. It’s less of a To Not Do list than a mind-set, when I can remember it and I’m not too busy calling people idiots (often the first word uttered by Munro babies) to devote energy to trying to become a better person.
I added the last item when I recently got stuck in a Starbucks drive-through by mistake. I had no intention of ordering anything, but I could not exit the long line. Why would anyone desperate for caffeine choose this frustratingly slow way to get wired, I fumed while sitting in the choking exhaust fumes? But let’s be honest, I always need to use the bathroom, anyway, so it’s easy for me to preach that I’ll always park and walk inside. And most folks aren’t dumb enough to get stuck in a drive-through by mistake. How about if I lived in New Hampshire and there were six feet of snow on the ground? You bet I’d use the drive-through. Heck, I’d do the same here with 1/4 inch of slush. Or if I had twins, or Hugh Jackman, sleeping in the backseat? Or a broken leg, or a hangnail? Or if it required parallel parking in a tight spot, instead? I’d be shouting out to that squawking box for a Double Soy Caramel Mocha Split Shot Extra Hot No Foam Brad Pitt’s Spit in a nanosecond. Mostly, though, I like to leave the isolation of my car behind and enter the community of people at a McDonald’s, all bent over their screens and listening to headphones.
I’m all about hash browns, not hashtags. I’ve never cared about trends, not for fashion, hairstyle, eateries, stock markets, diets, music, or cocktails (because I’ll drink anything in a martini glass you care to set in front of me). If a phrase of mine is trending, I’d like it to be a pull-quote from The New Yorker, not from a Twitter page with 379 followers, half of whose first language is Russian and whose photos feature vast amounts of cleavage. This Twitter bandwagon, too, will pass before I ever manage to jump on it; the only things I manage to jump on these days are soft, low, and slow moving.
As for the storage locker, the Man I Married now essentially has five: our attic, our garage, a neighbor’s garage, a friend’s barn up north, and another friend’s barn down south. He deals in big things: motorcycles, hair, dreams, kegs and carboys (please do not say women). Since this is a community property state, I might have to concede this rule on a technicality, since his storage is my storage, ‘til death do us part. But my own passion requires less and less space, with computer files and ebooks. I don’t have tons of nice stuff, and it would be cheaper to replace most of it than store it. I learned a lot about the necessity of keeping stuff when we moved to New Orleans with everything we owned and then swiftly moved back and left almost all of it down there (including the plastic rhinoceros head): we missed none of what we left, soon got rid of most of what we’d brought back, and more than replaced everything with swift ease. Still, I have worthless keepsakes that are priceless to me (including the clay cow skulls and the Frankenstein’s Monster plaque made for me by my boys); they jiggle my memories, which I need more help keeping track of these days, along with the items on my list. If I could live in Scotland (alone)(near a scotch distillery)(run by a man in a kilt)(near a breezy patch of heather) for a year and rent out my house, you betcha I’d pay top dollar to store my invaluable artwork.
When we moved back from New Orleans, I almost left my husband down there, too. This was the second time I’d almost left him in The Big Easy, long the other woman in his life. Yet we’ve managed to soldier on together. My long-term marriage is still my proudest accomplishment. We married young. We married stupid. We married for the wrong reasons. We married cheap. We married thin! We’ve been through a lot, and the ice, too, was thin at some points on our life’s mutual crossing. He’s said some terrible things to me, and I’ve thrown a potato at him and slammed more than a few doors. We’ve been to four marriage counselors and are considering a fifth. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve done, other than losing ten pounds, getting my motorcycle endorsement, and becoming a mother, and also the most joyous. These last few years have been our best, and I wish that long-term happiness for my friends. It is quite simply wonderful, when you’ve both let your hair go silver and given up all pretense that pencil skirts and skinny jeans will ever reside in either side of the closet and that any of that matters. Some of the dissolved marriages I’ve witnessed filled me with sadness: if only they’d stuck it out, I think. But what do I know about what really goes on behind closed doors? If your marriage is making you miserable and you’ve tried to fix it, to no avail, by all means, dump the schmuck (graciously, constructively, fairly). I sometimes think it would be nice to be alone, like Greta Garbo, but then I’d have to develop a sexy accent instead of my Show White chirp. If I dumped MIM, I’d have to train the next person I might couple with, who will be as imperfect as I, and who will carry their own set of challenges and their own family members who will become my next set of in-laws. But this is easy for me to say. Like so much of what’s on my list, I got lucky. I met some dork on a street corner, and now I’ve spent half my life with him. Sometimes we stuck together more out of laziness and thick-headedness than a Victorian notion of love. I’ve grown quite fond of him over the years, though long-term marriage carries its own set of challenges: if he justifies his word or deed one more time with, “But you ___________,” about something I did or said 18 years ago, I will fillet him. Slowly. With a dull nail file and Sriracha. The saving grace is that he still can make me belly-laugh. Besides, as he says, he comes up with all my material: I simply follow him around with a pencil and notebook. I’d have to find a new pastime if I deep-sixed him.
It’s least likely, of all my items, that I would ever sue anybody. I can’t afford cable or a smart phone, so I could never afford a lawyer. It’s more of a reminder to try to solve my own problems. Avoid blame. Get over it. Move on. Not everything can be fixed with a monetary settlement. Seek personal accountability instead of revenge. Accept that some people are idiots, and no court settlement will ever change that. Though a gig on Judge Judy would be a kick in the pants.
My son’s counselor calls Always/Never thinking a “Thinking Error,” which he terms as “Universality,” and marriage guru John Gottman lists Always/Never statements under “Defensiveness,” one of four surefire precursors to divorce.
But I never like to listen to know-it-alls who are always pontificating about rules.