The Perfect Husband

Personal Essay published by High Shelf Press (2019)

My husband Walter is in the kitchen swinging a golf club when I finally dare to bring it up again. 


“It’ll be fun,” I say. “How often does a friend throw a birthday party in Morocco?”


“Ideally, never.” He repeats his follow-through, just missing our ceiling beams. “I’ve already been all over the world.” 


When put into a social setting, he’ll engage—mostly by debating politics—but he’d rather be out on the course. At his age, a generation older than me, he knows what he likes. He’s unmovable. 


“All the husbands will be there,” I insist.


“You really want me to go?” His eyes look pained.


“I don’t have any other husbands to invite,” I say, which triggers a thought: what if I did? I wouldn’t want a lot of extra husbands—just three or four, so it wouldn’t get confusing. 


One of my husbands would love people. He’d be friends with everyone—journalists, philosophers, the Celtics, the pilot on every flight, the person who hands out towels in fancy restaurant bathrooms, plus a few U.S. presidents—and he’d get invited to all the best parties.


While he’d be out late, my introvert husband would be home writing love sonnets. Unlike Walter, who’s dyslexic, this one would never ask how to spell “yoga.” He’d use long words known only by the dictionary—like leptorhine, horripilation, and funambulism—and the yearning in his poetry would linger in my mind for days. 


As Walter evades the Morocco decision by repeating his backswing, I put on Amy Winehouse, to which he remains indifferent. I’d have another husband who would play electric bass—raw and edgy R&B, from the heart. On stage, too cool to seek affirmation from the audience, he’d make subtle, sensual moves while looking down at his plucking fingers, oblivious to the roomful of adoration. 


My final husband—because who needs more than four extras—would be a mover-and-shaker. Having built a high-speed railway across the U.S. as an entrepreneur, he’d now be working on fixing the inner-city public-school system. He’d wear fitted Italian suits, even around the house on weekend mornings. Master of the grand gesture, he’d sweep me on his private plane for an intimate catered dinner with the Dalai Lama at the Taj Mahal (India, not Vegas).


I’m delighted by all my new options for Morocco. The natural choice would be Party Guy, adored by all. Of course, he’d probably invite all the other Morocco guests—as well as our tour guide, the hotel concierge and their cleaning staff—to visit our summer home for the entire summer. Prince of small talk, he’d agree with everyone about everything. Then it strikes me that for someone who dares offer no original or controversial thought, he talks too much about too little, and the Morocco flight takes over six hours. 


Back home in Boston, down in the unheated basement, Shakespeare would be writing under the light of a bare bulb. He’d wrap his cold fingers around my own, exposing his soul, his self-doubt and his anxiety, draining my body of all vitality. He wouldn’t want me to leave him home alone, but even if I could coax him past his fear of flying, how could I possibly get him through three days of humorous jabbing in Morocco by my sassy friend group?


At midnight, Bass Man wouldn't answer his phone because he’d be in a tattoo parlor having a flame etched onto his flesh. He’d offer to come to Morocco because he’d have no gigs that weekend, but hadn’t he promised to find more work? For someone with such disdain for commerce, he’d sure have an appreciation of the good life (on my card). In Morocco, he’d sleep during the sightseeing tours, spill room-service tagine all over the colorful tile floor, and forget his passport at a music club in Marrakech, so I’d spend the entire time cleaning up after him and bailing him out of lock-up for trying the local hashish. 


I could bring Mr. Mover/Shaker, but he’d resent the conversation shifting from his recent achievement award to the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. Our friends would tease him for inviting the Stones to play at the Hassan II Mosque, but he wouldn’t see the humor. Ego bruised, he’d stay up late wiring a few million dollars to a prestigious university which would already have several billion dollars, but now they could also have a building with his name on it and a new board trustee. 


Then there’s Walter—my real husband, in over-sized sweatpants, hoping I might’ve forgotten about the trip in the two minutes I’ve been lost in my mind with my mythical husbands. 


“If you want me to go, I’ll go,” he says.


I do. I'd love his irreverent perspective on the sights, although the long flight would hurt his back. He doesn’t do small talk, yet our crowd will be too lively for meaningful debate. He’d explain details I’d missed about the leather tanning process, but he’d be exhausted from passing the day on someone else’s program. I don’t want to force him on a trip that he won’t enjoy; I just wish he’d want to come.


Or do I? I admire Walter’s obsessive single-mindedness about his passions. He used to drive hours every few days to snowboard, despite hips in so much pain that he hobbled to the chairlift in crutches. He used to win bike races, came in 6th place for his age group in the Nationals, and has twice ridden his bike across the country. His professional ambition was in pursuit of freedom for thrill-seeking, not to impress others. When pushed into a social gathering, he welcomes debate, using logic to argue his position. Indifferent to the winds of public opinion, he thinks for himself. While he'd rather play golf than travel, he doesn't mind my traveling without him. I can’t complain about his independence which is at the root of my attraction to him. The price of having what I want—a partner made of rock who needs his autonomy and supports mine—is that I can’t simultaneously have a husband who will want to follow me around the world. 


“I’ll miss you,” I say.


He puts down his club to give me a drawn-out, tasty kiss. “I’ll be here when you get back.” 


In fact, when I return, he may even surprise me with a scrawled love note thanking me for letting him off the hook (which he spells "hock").

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