Of Rubber Bands and Marriage

 Inquiring minds want to know: How do you and Eric live together on a 35’ boat without strangling each other? To answer which, I must first relate the following true episode, which occurred about a week ago.

We were at a Walgreen’s drugstore near the marina and had split up to search the aisles. When we met at the checkout counter, Eric held out a plastic bag.

“I’ve found some rubber bands,” he said.

“Oh, good,” I replied. When you live on a boat and need food or supplies, it often means a long walk from the anchorage or marina to get to any sort of store. Even then it’s often hit-or-miss that they’ll have what you’re looking for. But not only did we have the loan of a car for the day, Eric had just crossed off another item on our list. So I didn’t understand why he sounded less than happy. To me, the well-stuffed bag of rubber bands in assorted widths and lengths looked fine.

That night after dinner I was relaxing in the saloon with a crossword puzzle book when Eric sat down at the table opposite me with a box of plastic sandwich bags, a black marker pen, and the newly purchased bag of rubber bands. Having been married to Eric for nearly 46 years, I knew immediately what was coming, and I ordered myself not to laugh. I went on with my crossword puzzle and tried not to look up. We are all entitled to our quirks. So I bit my lip and once again ordered myself to hold back. But I couldn’t help peeking at Eric, and as I did, my shoulders began to shake. I covered my mouth and bent my head deeper into the book. Alas, resistance was futile, and I could contain myself no longer. I doubled over, quaking from head to foot and sputtering with laughter.

“What?” said Eric indignantly but beginning to laugh himself. “What?”

There on the table were eight piles of rubber bands, neatly sorted according to width and length. There in his hand was the black marker pen. There on the resealable edge of the first sandwich bag, in Eric’s impeccable printing, was the notation “NARROW – XL.” To his right sat seven more sandwich bags awaiting his attention. To his left was the original rubber band bag, empty and discarded.

“I almost didn’t buy the bag because I knew I’d have to do this!” he retorted, though I hadn’t said anything. I was still laughing too hard. Because it’s not just that he did it, but that I knew it was coming.

We discovered this basic personality split between us forty years ago on Duprass. As I wrote in our log at the time, Eric exists in a state of chaotic organization while I live in a realm of organized chaos. It’s the difference between engineer and writer, and it doesn’t mean that Eric is unimaginative or I am scatterbrained. But we do approach things from entirely different angles. Had it been a pirate’s treasure chest instead of a bag of rubber bands, Eric would have sorted and inventoried every last jewel, recorded them on a spreadsheet, and researched their value on the Internet. I would have dug my hands into the chest, admiring the beautiful colors and shapes, and further mixed them up.

The reason we don’t strangle each other is that we have to come to appreciate our divergent personalities and to laugh at each other and ourselves. Whenever Eric’s obsession with detail threatens to drive me to distraction, I remind myself that it could save our lives. When I start freewheeling crazy ideas, he remembers the times my out-of-the-box thinking has provided a solution he wouldn’t have thought of. That’s not to say we never fight. There are other ways to irritate each other or cause hurt feelings, and at such times even a 100’ boat wouldn’t be big enough.

But neither of us could do this without the other, and when we put our heads together we make a pretty good team. Though I do have to stifle an urge to take out those rubber bands and jumble them all up.