She asks me the stupidest questions. I give her answers her third graders would understand.
“Babe, what’s ‘string theory‘” she asked for the third time this month as it came up in my recollection of my day at work yesterday. I’m a fucking physicist, if I felt like re-explaining myself four-times, I would be a teacher too.
“I refuse to answer that again. We have gone over this, do you ever listen to me Becky?”
“If I didn’t listen to you, I wouldn’t even realize that we are talking about string theory again.” she mumbled. It made me feel bad when she mumbled.
My wife is not the type to accidentally speak inaudibly. She teaches third-graders to read and write. Annunciation and pronunciation are probably the most important concepts in the world to her. There we go right there, quantum mechanics and atomic biology bicker in my brain, and all my wife hears is punctual pauses and word choices. So when she mumbles, I always feel bad. It means I have managed to make her feel so degraded, that not only is she inadequate at table talk with me and my PhD, she shouldn’t even be confident in her ability speak the way seven years at an elementary school and four years at a University English department taught her to.
I am not really the abrasive and aggressive type. I definitely lack power and masculinity when I’m not at home. Again, I’m a fucking physicist, I don’t have any friends. I’m five-seven and I don’t have but twenty pounds on our husky -Eisenhower Fitzgerald. (but lets be clear, he’s a big fucking dog). I cant recall the last time I voluntarily combed my hair before I left the house or the last time I got invited out for drinks. I was a virgin till I was twenty-two. I was nineteen before I could ask a girl out. I am not an intimidating piece of man; to anyone except Becky. I’m not very good at acknowledging her respect for me without abusing my intellectual authority.
“I guess I am tired. I have a hard job. Besides, I was late because I had to finish my speech tonight and you know I hate writing.” Becky smiled and nodded at me. She knew I wasn’t lying, she’d met our secretary and all my colleagues; so she knew she would never have to worry I was getting any office ass.
“Can I read the speech Babe?” She asked, clearly and loud. One point josh, crumbled the mumble.
I pushed my work across the table to her. She took the same purple pen to it she took to her third-grader’s chicken scratch and the bestsellers she bought with my credit card when she walked home from the school. Pissed me off. She has no degree of skill-set separation. Somehow I had ended up marrying the teacher I laughed at in high school, the one who told me her lower lever classes had students just as smart as me.
“Avoid the passive voice” Becky’s voice said as her pen crossed my paper. That shit doesn’t matter, physics matters, equations matter, my thesis matters. My research matters. Presentation is idiot work. I don’t even know what the passive voice is. Fuck giving speeches. Fuck social science. Fuck her nonsense editing.
“Whatever” I said. Okay, I’m a physicist, but intellect doesn’t dictate maturity. Becky smiled at me again, she is good with kids.
Pen scratch: “Vary sentence structure.” Whatever, I thought.
Ink on paper: “Connect these sentences, separate those.” Whatever, I thought.
Purple ballpoint circles in my margins: “Don’t ask questions in the middle of a piece like this. Don’t answer that which is rhetorical either.” She hmmed and ahhhed. The purple stain: “This is unclear. This is a proper noun, capital letter. That is repetitive. We should paraphrase your thesis here. Nice conclusion.” What-the-fuck-ever I thought.
“None of that is really important Becky. But you probably missed the good stuff.” I said. She hates the word good and the word stuff. But like I said, that didn’t matter.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. She was used to my belittlement. She has always said ‘its hard for me to respect how different our fields are‘. but I’m pretty sure its just hard to accept lies under a pseudonym, purple pens, romance, and third grade thought processes as a respectable field; for anyone.
“Will you please read it to me?” Becky asked. I agreed.
I did none of that nonsense she does when she reads out loud. She reads novels to the third graders, and to our cats for practice. Sometimes, if she feels like a big girl, I will come home and she will be reading grown-up books to Eisenhower. She undergoes a process before she reads to them, or to me; if I’m in a good enough mood to bear that bullshit, or I can be sure sixty pages of Judy Bloom or J.K. Rowling will get me some sex. She introduces the book and surveys the room. She stands up, or sits tall when she reads. She holds the paper at a distance, and looks up and smiles a lot. Sometimes she goes as far to ask our pets if they need any clarification or have any contextual questions. Stupid habit.
I held the paper right up close to my face. I stumbled over the first word. I mumbled out the second and third. Saliva projected as I approached what I hoped to be a maintainable vocal velocity. My hands were shaking before I got through the first paragraph, my voice soon after. Fuck that, I gave up. Dammit, I’m a physicist, I shouldn’t have to give speeches. That shit is for third graders I told myself, third graders and adults without a real field.
“You’ll get it honey.” Becky comforted. I won’t lie, the empathy helped. She rubbed my arm and held me hand. I couldn’t tell if the hand holding was like: I love you we’re married we have sex we hold hands, or like: don’t be scared to cross the street or read out loud, I’ll hold your hand.
She read my paper out loud. Then again and again. Sometimes she would read the same paragraph four or five times, with different inflections and punctual pauses before moving on. She looked at Eisenhower for questions, and looked at me for understanding as she brought life to my genius at our kitchen table.
She started a new novel after I got home today. It is about a scientist. That’s nice I guess. She is having me read it out loud to her. She asked me if I was opposed to the role reversal, I said “whatever“.
Every couple pages, I have to look up to catch my breath when I read it to her. She listens carefully, and I can be pretty certain its not because she is looking for sex. She takes notes with purple pen on blue lined paper. A couple times, I’ve found myself looking at the pets for reaction, and at her for understanding. She asks me the stupidest questions. But the sad part is, my answers are none better than a third graders.