A short story about how men and women think differently.
In my household, I’m in charge of paying the bills. I’m in charge of all paperwork, actually. Actually, I’m in charge of all things related to organization: I keep the social calendars, school calendars, doctor’s appointments, and baseball schedules. I plan the menus and stock the pantry. I arrange closets by season, sock drawers by color, and linens by bed size. I created our filing system for bills, our notebook for recipes, and our binder — with plastic protective sleeves — for all major household appliance warranties. I could keep going, but I trust you get the point: managing the home is my job.
A job I take seriously — as seriously as the husband takes his job. He and I have had many, many discussions about this very thing. Many discussions.
So a few mornings ago, I was working at my desk. A desk I specifically requested during the planning phases of last year’s major kitchen renovation. It’s customized to suit the way I work. It houses all my important supplies. My computer is here, and so is a pretty glass jar for containing like-colored pens and pencils. I have a fabric-covered pin board — coordinated with the window cornice — for all important paper reminders. Depending on my mood, I sometimes even have a little vignette on display, made from equal parts Threshold for Target and some sort of something from etsy. There’s always a faux bird or some chinoiserie involved. It’s style and it’s substance and it works.
I like it here at my desk. It’s my space. And it’s my space.
So, I was working at my desk — my space — hunkered down to pay some bills and update the household budget. Breaking for a moment of review and reflection, I propped my elbow on the keyboard stand, wedging my thumb between my teeth. Total concentration mode. I stared at the numbers on my computer screen, reasoning out the different ways to manage some new payments we’re now responsible for. Serious stuff.
And then I saw it.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw at first what I could only recognize as something “other.”
Something that did not belong.
And I knew immediately that I did not like it.
Now, I have grown accustomed to the stray action figure or nub of crayon or handheld gaming system left errantly within the boundaries of my territory. The perps are young and mostly innocent. And as a mom, I’m supposed to pardon these kinds of things, which I do.
But this was no child’s play.
This was the handiwork of a skilled invader.
Etched in black Bic pen against the stark white of an MVA envelope was a large question mark.
A question mark. A very particular kind of question mark, actually.
It’s top arc was not round and friendly, but sharp and impatient. It’s tail did not wisp into the oblivion of endless possibilities, but continued dark and deliberately down in a pressing and urgent probe.
This was no casual query, but an inquisition. An interrogation, clearly. And all this communicated without the added effort of actual words. Just an effectively drawn and strategically placed symbol. A “what” and a “how” and a “were you” and a “do you” all rolled in to one piece of haughty geometry, assuming its validity by default.
Apparently, not only was I being interrogated, but it seemed I was also already being accused.
On further inspection, I noticed that the question-marked envelope had been opened already. It had my name on it, but it had been opened nonetheless. And not just opened, but molested, really. Ripped into with such fervor that fine pulpy fibers were jutting out from the top edge previously secured with a seal of glue.
I sat back in my chair and considered the scene.
Someone assumes that without nudging, I won’t be able to do my job. Someone doesn’t trust that I will open and properly address an important piece of mail. Someone is worried that I will somehow fail to renew my driver’s license.
Suddenly, my desk felt fake, like some kind of imaginative play set-up. My computer might as well have been a cardboard display. I half-expected to open my drawer and find a bunch of rubber date stamps only covering the first part of the century, like the office cast-offs a dad would bring home to his daughter, “just for fun.”
My pretty glass jar and my pin board and my little vignette at once felt frivolous — silly, really.
In an instant, I felt gutted. Minimized. Mocked.
All because of that damn question mark.
Little did my poor husband know that his reckless question-marking would lay the foundation for a week’s worth of tension in our house.
Did he not take me seriously? Did he not appreciate all that I did? Did he not trust my capabilities to handle important things all on my own? Each of these questions seemed to work their way in to our every discussion. It took me some time to not see the watermark of cavalier punctuation on his face.
I’m finally over it now. Indignation is an exhausting front to maintain, and it almost always gives way to surrendered resign. At least I feel at home behind my desk again, like I belong there. I’m stamping and hole-punching and stapling and typing, and it is most decidedly not feeling like pretend play, but like real work that has meaning. It’s an actual job, and I do it well. No question.
And while this whole 900-word story speaks volumes about my own inner workings, and how I see things playing out in my little corner of the world, my husband, upon getting the full explanation for my unrest, had only this to say, 19 words total:
“The question mark was just reminding you to renew your driver’s license. Are you about to get your period?”