My wife is asleep on my shoulder. She is out like a light. This is a sweet moment between husband and wife. Wait a second. Is she drooling? If she is, so help me, I will gag.
Yes. I can clearly see saliva on my shirt. My gag reflex kicks in.
But I decide not to wake her because she is sleeping too soundly. And because I enjoy watching her sleep.
Long ago, before her, I dated girls who never seemed to actually like me. One girl in particular forced me to attend a fancy New Year’s Eve party at her aunt’s house. She told me to wear a sports coat. When I showed up, she chewed me out.
“What’re you wearing?” she shouted. “You didn’t wear a tie! I told you to dress up.”
“You told me to wear a sports coat.”
“But where’s your tie?”
“You just said ‘Wear a sports coat.’ So I bought a sports coat at a thrift store.”
“I can’t believe you didn’t wear a tie.”
“I clean up pretty good, huh?”
“You’re gonna have to borrow a tie from my uncle.”
“This is genuine Scottish tweed.”
“How could you do this to me?”
“You can’t even see the hole in the elbow, can you? This jacket smells funky.”
“Why do you always dress like a slob?”
“I think whoever wore this jacket before me must’ve died in it.”
She fitted me with a necktie. Before her aunt even served the salad, I was already in my truck on the way home. Her uncle’s necktie died a slow death on I-10.
But the woman who I married actually likes me.
We went to Charleston for our honeymoon. We had a famous time in South Carolina. Charleston is one of the most historic cities in the world—second only to Rome. On every corner you see American history. You can visit the place where George Washington slept, or where Thomas Jefferson hung out, or where Garth Brooks once ate cheese danishes for breakfast.
On our first night in town, we were about to eat at a fancy restaurant. I changed into dress clothes in our hotel bathroom. When my wife saw what I was wearing she giggled.
“Why’re you wearing a necktie?” she said.
“I thought you might want me to.”
“You look weird in it.”
“You in a necktie. Take it off before you suffocate.”
And I knew we were made for each other.
After dinner we were walking Broad Street, talking in the happy way that newlyweds do. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a better mood. We bought a handmade basket from an old woman who was weaving them out of sweetgrass. Her baskets cost a small fortune.
Then, a young man approached us and asked for spare change. I told him I had no money. But my wife reached into her pocketbook and gave him a twenty.
“Why’d you do that?” I asked her.
“Because he looked hungry.”
“What if he just blows it on liquor?”
“What if he buys a sandwich?”
They don’t make them any better than my wife.
After the honeymoon trip, we made a long drive back to Florida. On our way home, she fell asleep in the seat beside me. She drooled. I dabbed her sticky chin with a handkerchief and tried not to gag. And I kept watching her sleep. It’s one of the perks of being a husband.
It was hard to keep my eyes on the highway and watch her at the same time, but I managed.
This woman might have been the first person who ever truly saw me. A man can go his whole life without being seen. All my life I felt overlooked.
I was the kid who stood in a line, waiting to be chosen for the backyard football team.The team captain would choose his team and you would wait, holding your breath. Your entire boyhood reputation rested on this moment.
The captain chose Ben first. Then Andy. Then Nelson. Nelson? The human stink bomb? Instead of me? That hurt.
And you reminded yourself, “Hey, it’s alright, being chosen fourth or fifth ain’t bad.”
Next, the captain chose Chad, Randy, Billy, Nick, Tom, Michael, and Harrison. Pretty soon, you were left standing alone with Charles Walborski, who you were pretty sure ate glue. The team captains didn’t want you or him. So you and Charles both went home. Your mother asked about this at the supper table. You were too embarrassed to talk about it. That was how it was.
But then came her. This girl doesn’t just like you. She chose you for her team.
That’s what I was thinking about when leaving Charleston. That’s what I’m thinking about now. About this woman, her head on my shoulder. I’m thinking about how she has never—not even once—asked me to wear a necktie.
I’m thinking about the sweetgrass basket on our coffee table. I’m thinking about going back to Charleston this year for a visit. I’m thinking about how if anyone, for any reason, ever appointed me as team captain, I would choose Charles Walborski first. And I’m thinking about how I am going to gag.
Because this woman is drooling on me.