I've been trying to do more of the things I did before I gave up my car. One of them is hiking: here in upstate Illinois, the closest thing to a hill is the handicapped ramp at the local bank. "Hiking" in the forest preserves near the city pretty much means a stroll along a flat crushed limestone path and a stop at SuperDawg after.
So it is that outdoor enthusiasts pack into vehicles and drive several hours to where glaciers tore slowly over the land, leaving mountains and valleys behind.
The hike was in a national forest just over the border in Wisconsin. The temperature was supposed to be in the 90s, and the hike was about 9 miles. Hikers. We love exhaustion.
I'd been able to arrange a ride through the group online chat board with a new member, we'll call him Steve. Another member, let's say Tim, was also meeting us at the El stop to the north of me in a tony suburb, where Steve would pick us up.
We met as planned and piled into Steve's Mini, me in back, of course, because I'm short. (When I die and my life flashes before me, much of what I'll see will be the backs of heads and car seats. And live bands, but only one or two members at a time, usually from the waist up, seen from around the side of someone's shoulder.)
The ride began well, with a unanimous vote for The English Beat on the stereo/iPod mind meld. Then Steve and Tim quickly realized that they were both forty-something single dads with kids and ex-wives who insisted on being residential parent.
It was love.
They bonded breathlessly over discussions of child support, dating, women, custody schedules. I tried to contribute to the conversation, but they pretty much just ignored me. As in, talked right over me. So I sat back and let the bromance bloom. They moved on to jobs, since both work in IT-related fields, and the talking was nonstop. To each other, that is; I was still a non-entity.
At one point, the subject of division of labor in a marriage came up, and I tried valiantly once more to be social by offering the story of my friends, Jane and John. I call it the Post-It story, and it goes like this:
Jane and John have been married for about 10 years and have two little boys. John is a programmer; Jane is a director of IT at Harvard Business School. Bright, resourceful people. Jane told me of feeling angry that she did more than her share of work around the house, but realized that it's easy to feel that of course you do more, so she wanted to see whether reality bore out her impression.
So she and John tackled the problem using a white board and Post-It notes. They divided the board vertically into two halves, one for each of them. They then wrote on Post-Its every job associated with running the house, from making dinner to sending out thank-you notes. They then put the Post-Its on the board, placing them on the side of the person who did it most, and then further up vertically depending on how much effort/time the task took.
When they were done, they stepped back and it was clear that Jane did more by far. John agreed that he needed to step up to the plate.
Now, the response to this story from people I've told is generally along the lines of "How cool that two people worked to resolve conflict in a cooperative, creative way rather than bickering."
This time? This time, as I explained how they placed the notes, Tim cut me off with a disparaging snicker. "Why don't they just write a fucking program?"
"Or just do the fucking work?" Steve laughed back.
I said, "Well, I guess the point was.."
I was cut off again. "Geez, how hard is it to figure that out?"
I stopped talking. Completely. Sat back, put on my sunglasses, watched the scenery. It's at times like this that I sense God leaning down and saying, "Joy, see what I have to work with? You're not single because you don't deserve something good; you're single because you don't deserve something bad."
Steve seemed to realize they were being rude and made the kind of attempt that cancels itself out.
"Well...I guess if it works for them.. (snicker) even though the rest of us think it's way too fucking complicated!"
Sitting there, I thought, "Am I going to say this? Hmmm. Yes. Yes, I believe I am."
Leaning forward between the two seats, I said quietly,
"They're still married."
On the way home Tim got a ride closer to his home and I spent 1.5 hours with Steve and his ADHD, listening to the story of his new tattoo (which is OF COURSE of a Chinese character), his confession to his ex-wife that he'd sought the services of "Professionals" when the sex had left their marriage, and being forced to listen to not just folk music; lesbian folk music. And I do not lie when I say that he'd mentioned a men's drumming circle previously.
It was the mother of all cliches.
To be fair, he wasn't a terrible person, just very needy and immature and trying to find out who he was after 15 years of an unhappy marriage, and I can understand, even if I found him kind of pathetic and ridiculous.
I hope he and Tim call each other for a second date.
And the hike? Flying colors, baby. Thank God for hydration packs.