A year or two ago, Keith was quietly suffering from an annoying post-nasal drip. It manifested as a bitter taste in his mouth, and lasted for a few weeks. He didn’t talk much about it, a is the way of men, but he did decide to try and gather data on why it might be happening, as is the way of scientists.
At night, he wrote in a notebook what he had eaten that day, and how severe the symptom had been. I didn’t really notice, until one night we were in bed chatting when he suddenly said ‘Oh!’ and pulled a notebook from his bedside table. He turned his back to me and scribbled for a moment.
‘What are you writing?’ I said.
‘I’m just filling in my bitterness log,’ he replied.
I was stunned. What was this? I thought back on our conversation. It was nothing out of the ordinary. What had upset Keith so much that he had to make a note of it in some kind of resentment diary? What else was in that fucking diary?
What kind of trouble was our marriage in?
Of course, the problem of the Bitterness Log was quickly resolved, and his post-nasal drip went away too, but it was not the first odd health behaviour I noted in my husband. He combines a distaste for visiting the doctor with an engineers love of a challenge, and so when something goes wrong in his body, he likes to tackle it himself. Techniques have varied over time.
Sometimes he stands on his wobble board for a while to strengthen his bad ankle. Then he might get into bed and use his ’flippers’, an eye-muscle training technique that he is sure would help him avoid the need for glasses. The flippers involved a sort of paddle that he stares at while turning it quickly from side to side. This takes a few minutes. After that, he will strap his legs together, a trick his osteopath had taught him ten years ago, and that he swears has done wonders for his surfers back.
I have always found this amusing. But recently, I’m going down a similar path.
Chronic sinusitus has been causing me a lot of pain, and I’m doing anything I can to alleviate it. So I’ve been flushing out my sinuses with a neti pot, which is a technique where you pour salty water in one nostril and let it run out of the other; and also ‘oil pulling’ where you swish a mouthful of coconut oil around for fifteen minutes to draw bacteria from your palate and throat.
At night, if I ask Keith ‘Can you get that light?, he might answer ‘Sorry, honey, I’m strapped.’
And in the morning, when the kids ask ‘Where’s my breakfast?’ I’m often mumbling ‘Oming, arling’ through a mouthful of oil.
Keith’s been in Shanghai for a few days for work (smog so thick you can taste it, he says) and I miss him. Racing to catch a train for the airport on Sunday, he quickly packed my chicken-cutting scissors so he could trim his beard. Back before the beard, he would slap straight gin on as aftershave when he had to clean up for a meeting. No Old Spice for this man’s signature scent. It’s either alcohol or raw poultry.
Here’s my theory: bit by bit, one strange and offputting behaviour at a time, we are making ourselves unavailable for any other partner. In fact, I think it might be one of the great joys of marriage.