Same girl, different couch

My wife had been in what experts refer to as a PVS (Persistent Vegetative State) for several months. By that, I mean that each night when I came home from work I knew exactly where she would be in the house, in what position she would be in, and what her state of mind would be — she’d be in the family room, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the coffee table, with her face scrunched up and her head stuffed in one of many thick, fine-lettered text books, mumbling incoherently.

Now, for those of you who don’t know what organic chemistry is, well, I couldn’t tell you, even though my wife had been doing her best to educate me since spring. She would walk around the house blathering such apparent double-speak as, “Did you know that the hydroboration of alkynes works in the same way as the hydroboration of alkenes?” Or, all excited, blurt out, “I just found out that one of the most valuable features of the Diels-Alder reaction is that it is stereoselective!” And once, while looking for the TV remote, I found the phrase “electron donating groups react faster,” in one of her books, highlighted with the kind of manic ferocity usually reserved for the phone number of the poison control center or the expiration date on a Pizza Hut coupon.

Now, when the last kid leaves home, it’s not uncommon for people to go through a midlife crisis and do something seemingly idiotic (buy a Harley, shave their head, take up skydiving, eat food grown only in Croatia); but no, not my wife — she decides to get a second degree. Hence, the organic chemistry and the subsequent PVS.

Well, her (our) ordeal finally ended last week after a marathon five-hour final exam that she took at home on the computer, monitored remotely by a nice man from some far-away state who watched her every move through the computer’s onboard camera. “Do you think he’s used to people talking to themselves?” she asked me. To spur her on to good works, I got up extra-early for work that morning and pasted happy and encouraging sticky notes all over her computer, the desk, and the walls of her office: This is where organic chemistry exams go to die, and, Just think, tomorrow you will have nothing to do! and, Relax, you so have this, I love you so much, and some others that I can’t print here because this is a family newspaper.

When I got home that day I found my wife in a different room of the house, upright and smiling. It was over. Not aced, mind you, but over (she probably did pretty well — we’ll know in a week).

That evening, with no more bromination or aromatic compounds or reagents, no more double bonds to chop, solvent effects, or mirror-image molecules left to sift through, we just flopped on the couch and watched a movie, like teenagers.

It was a touching movie about a happily married couple in midlife going through a crisis. They looked to be about our age, and although there wasn’t much organic chemistry in the movie (not a single substituted benzene in sight), we could still relate to their plight, and by the final scene we were both gently weeping, yanking tissues out of the same box, and waxing nostalgic.

“It just went so fast,” my wife said, sniffling. I gave her the classic husband-needs-context with raised-eyebrows blank stare. “The 30 years,” she said, referring to our marriage. “Well, it seems to me like it took about 30 years,” I replied, trying to appeal using raw logic. “But it just went so fast,” she said. And of course, she was right.

And just then I realized how much I still adored my sniffling, red-eyed wife, and I told her that we married early so let’s go for another 30, and I thought about sidling over to her end of the couch and kissing her, but we were all cozy under blankets and there were two sleeping cats between us, plus, I wasn’t sure that the old cushions and creaky frame could take the strain of both of us on the same end at the same time. So I said, “Let’s go for another 30” again, and she smiled and nodded and blew into a tissue and I thought to myself, yup, three more decades, same girl, different couch.

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