Friday, September 11, 2015

I Told You So

A Fergus Johnson story of gender relations

You have to understand that discretion is often about what you choose to not say.

Fergus and his wife, Loraine, were on vacation in southern Arizona. It was more than a vacation, actually. They had decided that it was time to move to a warmer climate for him and a place kinder to allergies for her. So, they were also keeping their eyes open for climates and communities where they might like to live.

Fergus and Loraine enjoyed each other’s company and enjoyed exploring new places together. They noticed things and pointed them out to each other. They worked well together and they, especially, traveled well together. Sometimes, Loraine’s heart would swell with affection and she would spontaneously offer: “I love you.” More often than not, Fergus would be caught off-guard and look like a deer in headlights. Truth be told, getting that reaction might actually have been part of her motivation for saying it.

This was the nature of how their love had come to be. Fergus and Loraine knew each other very well. They loved each other. They (mostly) accepted and tolerated each other’s faults. Loraine frequently told Fergus that she loved him. Fergus, a quiet, introspective man, disliked feeling that returning an “I love you too” made his reply seem like a compulsory addendum. When pressed, he insisted that he showed his love, most times, by the genuine affection that he demonstrated in the considerable time, attention and service that he devoted to their life together.

In this, they were not unlike many couples. Most women tend to talk about how they are feeling far more than their men do. And, they can produce the words out of their heads a few fractions of a second faster. For guys, it can be hard to compete with that quantitative and temporal advantage. And so, it becomes easier for men to listen and respond (more than take the lead) in mixed-gender conversations. At least, that’s what Fergus, after careful and deliberate thought, had explained to Loraine. Loraine hadn’t entirely bought the argument. She didn’t feel that this excused her man from, at least, continuing to make an effort.

There was also the matter of criticism. Fergus had discovered that “constructive criticism” was not as helpful as he had first imagined. Loraine had taken it personally, grown to resent it and had become determined to give as good as she got. And, being better at verbalizing and expressing emotions (as Fergus had previously pointed out) she easily made use of her unfair advantage. Their relationship had been heading into serious trouble.

One day, after suffering through some more of Fergus’ unsolicited advice, Loraine had told him to stop the car and pull over. She turned to him and said “I love you.” Fergus caught his breath. “I love you” didn’t always mean “I love you.” Sometimes is could also mean any number of other things including “Thank you,” “I’m sorry,” “Not tonight,” or “You need to shut up now.” This time it was probably that last one.

Loraine then made a small but stunningly memorable speech: “You know, I’ve read that relationships are fragile and must be nurtured carefully and deliberately. I’ve also read that it takes saying fifteen positive things to compensate for every negative, critical thing. I think you owe me fifteen nice things.”

Fergus had offered an apology and taken her unsolicited advice to heart. He hadn’t said much for several days while he internalized the thought. In due time, he realized that discretion is often about what you choose to not say. Loraine noticed that he was making a serious effort to be less critical and more pleasant. This had made her very happy and she had suddenly said, “I love you.” This took Fergus by surprise and she could almost see his mental gears rotating one full turn before he answered back, “I love you too.”

On this day, they had visited Bisbee and decided to drive down to Naco, a very small town on the Mexican border, before doubling back and heading to Benson by way of Tombstone.

“What does such a small place need with a golf course in the middle of desert?” mused Fergus.

“Well, at least the place is small enough that the local mom and pop businesses don’t need to compete with a mega-mart,” observed Loraine. Having each found something neutral to criticize, if only obliquely, they headed back, looking forward to driving the crest of the Mule Mountains.

Not two miles out of Naco, Loraine announced that she needed to pee. Fergus was perplexed. As the driver, this was suddenly his problem. He hadn’t seen any public facilities back in Naco and Bisbee would probably be too far. Besides, he suspected that Loraine kind of enjoyed sitting behind the passenger door and squatting in the open. It worried him and he took the opportunity to remind her, again, that if she were caught, she could end up being listed as a sex offender. She gave him “the look” and he realized that you don’t mess with a woman when she’s gotta pee and that discretion is often about what you choose to not say. Point taken.

A dirt road ahead looked promising and Fergus slowed down and turned off. No more than fifty yards further on, a bulldozer had carved an angled spur into the brush. You couldn’t ask for a more remote and concealed place for her to do some quick business. Fergus relaxed; this would all be over soon and he could quit worrying. Loraine relieved herself while he stood guard and listened in the unlikely chance that some vehicle might be approaching this mote of privacy on the open Sonoran desert. Loraine got back into the car and said, “I love you.”

They had lunch in Tombstone, continued north and, like clockwork, Loraine needed to pee again. They were approaching Saint David, where she had seen there was a historical old adobe church for sale. Loraine had a fascination with the idea of remaking old and odd buildings into a home. But, first, Fergus obligingly went on into town, spotted a mini-mart/gasoline station and pulled in.

While Loraine went in to find a restroom, he commended himself for thinking to go before leaving the restaurant. His moment of hubris was undone when he remembered that he had forgotten to measure his blood sugars at lunch. He got out his diabetes test kit and took his insulin, tucking the used syringe into his shirt pocket to discard later. “I’ve got to start eating better,” he reminded himself.

Loraine came back with ice cream bars, potato chips and two diet sodas. Fergus decided to not say anything. They had long since given up on asking each other if drinking diet sodas somehow made up for eating junk.

“Doing better?” he asked, pulling back onto the road. “Not actually,” she replied, “I didn’t think it looked clean.” Fergus gave her “the look” but reminded himself, again, that discretion is often about what you choose to not say. He consumed her peace offering and decided that he would take some more insulin at the next stop.

Doubling back through town and approaching the outskirts, Fergus found the road leading to the adobe church and was about to turn left when he saw an oncoming vehicle speeding toward him with siren and flashing lights. Being a defensive driver and responsible citizen, he pulled onto the shoulder to let it pass. Instead of passing, it stopped in the middle of the intersection to block traffic. A uniformed officer jumped out and Fergus put his window down. “Stay there,” yelled the officer, “We’ve got a situation coming down the road.”

Fergus pointed left and yelled back, “Can I turn there and clear the intersection?”

The officer replied, “even better” and waved him through. The road was graded dirt, marked “Dead End” and only wide enough for two cars to pass if they were very careful. Fergus drove slowly, wondering what the hell was going on and kind of wishing that he had stayed put to watch the action. Loraine was already looking for addresses or anything that matched the picture she had seen. “I think you just missed it,” she offered helpfully. She paused a moment and added, “I love you.”

Fergus continued on slowly, looking in vain for a driveway or someplace wide enough to turn around. The road turned out to serve two abandoned houses and a barn. Good enough. He turned around and headed back. “This would be a good place to pee,” Loraine suggested. She was right. They were on the outside of a curve. There was brush crowding in on both sides and Fergus had just seen that there was nothing for half a mile in either direction.

Obediently, he pulled over at a spot that was ever-so-slightly wider than most, leaving enough room on the passenger side for her door to open most of the way. Loraine gave him her sweetest “I told you so” smile. She opened her door, pulled down her pants and panties, sat against the bottom of the door frame and lifted her shoulders.

All hell broke loose. They both heard the wail of sirens coming down their road. An old dirty-brown truck skidded around the bend and roared past, leaving a tail of thick dust in its wake. Three Border Patrol vehicles, all with lights and sirens, followed immediately behind it in hot pursuit. Zoom, zoom, zoom. A fourth, evidently alerted by the first, locked his brakes and skidded to a stop in front of Fergus and Loraine. Two agents sprang out with guns drawn and crouched behind their doors, squinting through the still-billowing dust. You watch TV, so you can imagine for yourself the missing details. Fergus raised his hands as ordered. Loraine insisted on pulling up her pants before raising hers. That caused a small misunderstanding, which was resolved in due order.

Fergus seemed to be remarkably calm but it was obvious that Loraine was totally freaked. On later reflection, he concluded (but decided to not mention) that this fit the maxim, “The more one suppresses, the more the other expresses.” The officers obviously had other things they wanted to get to; they simply took IDs and warned Loraine of the potential for arrest for public nudity. The officers called in driver’s license numbers for a database check which, as you might expect, came back clear.

Just as an officer was returning their licenses, his dispatcher came back on the radio, “Hold on a minute. That license plate was picked up near the border by one of our drones yesterday and the operator logged it and two occupants, a man and a woman, for suspicious activity. They drove off before we could question them.”

The officer glanced over at Fergus and noticed, for the first time, the plunger of his insulin syringe showing above the top of his shirt pocket. “Paraphernalia,” he shouted. He and his partner quickly moved in for the take-down. You watch TV, so you can imagine for yourself what happened next in the dust and the dirt and the testosterone and the drug bust.

It was classic, it was rough, and the suspects were promptly and professionally rendered immobile and compliant. It was a well-practiced work of art. It was kind of like rodeo calf roping which, when it’s done right, is a thing of beauty. The officers stepped back to catch their breath, let their adrenaline settle down and admire their work. They knew their supervisor would commend them for precision and teamwork when their dash-cam video was reviewed.

Of course, it was all a misunderstanding. Everything was properly explained, warned and logged. Fergus and Loraine were told that they were free to go. They dusted each other off and got back into their car. Loraine was unusually quiet as they drove back to the asphalt highway. Approaching the church, she commented, “I don’t think I’d like living there.”

Fergus turned at the stop sign, headed away from town and carefully accelerated to exactly the speed limit. Fergus, ever the quipster, wondered if Loraine still needed to go. After all, they had said that she was “free to go.” He snorted at his own cleverness. Loraine just thought he was reacting to the dust. Having second thoughts, he asked, “Did you ever get to finish peeing?”

Loraine hesitated. “A gas station would be nice.” Nobody gave anybody “the look.”

Fergus agreed. “Yes, and I’d like to wash my hands and face while we’re at it. Think you’d like to share some chocolate?” He found a good place to turn around and headed back to the mini-mart. Fergus glanced over at Loraine. He read her posture and the set of the small muscles in her face and felt his heart swell with affection. He thought about how much really never needed saying. He thought to himself how much he loved her.

And then he told her so.

David Satterlee