"Avert your eyes, for I am hideous," I whimpered á la the Elephant Man.
"No, seriously, you look...not horrible," which was true, provided you're drawn to individuals who appear to have combed peanut butter through their hair. Finally, in what can only be described as a genuinely pathetic effort to change the subject, he added, "So, I'm just curious. When was the last time you, uh, you know...showered?" I gathered up my Sudafed, my Tylenol, my Mucinex, my Puffs, my honey-and-lemon cough drops, my lip balm, my thermometer, my blanket, my TV Guide, my diet ginger ale, my wonton soup, my cordless phone, my few remaining shards of dignity, and with all the icy élan a woman dressed in a soup-stained frolicking-puppy print can muster, I replied, "Good day, sir!" He tried for a last-minute save: "Are you losing weight?" But I cut him off. "I said good day!" and flounced gracefully (okay, I tripped over the vaporizer) to our bedroom, where I proceeded to lapse in and out of seven back-to-back episodes of Law & Order.
Loving somebody and then having the guts to let them love you back doesn't always come easy. For the first three years of our life together, I kept waiting for him to rip off his Mr. Nice Guy mask and turn into every boy who ever broke my heart. I poked, I prodded, I harangued, I guilted, I entrapped, I tested, I stopped just short of waterboarding. But Johannes refused to take the bait. Instead, he maintained his calm, retained his benevolence, and developed migraines.
He made sure I understood that he was in it for the long haul; I would never again have to sit on a blind date listening to some guy tell me what Pink Floyd was really trying to say on Dark Side of the Moon. The man makes me feel loved—even when he hates me. And that, I've come to realize, is no small thing.
I have a friend, we'll call her Jane because Jane is a lovely, classic name. Jane is married to this guy, let's call him Dick because, well, suffice it to say the name suits him perfectly. I've had fun with Dick and Jane; we've gone to the theater and dinner and a couple of Knicks games together. With Johannes frequently in Europe, I became like a little dinghy tied to the boat of their marriage, just kind of bobbing along behind them in case of an emergency. One Sunday a few years ago, we were brunching in SoHo—because before there were kids and cartoons and Honey Nut Cheerios, there was sleep and sex and brunches in SoHo. Anyway, Jane knocked over her water glass, prompting Dick to spend the rest of the meal excoriating her for every single misstep she'd ever made. He opened his rant with "Christ, it's excruciating to sit next to you at a table," and closed with a reference to her "fat idiot sister." Check please!
"What's the matter? Are you coming down with something?" Johannes asks as I crawl into bed. I assure him that I'm fine. His eyes narrow suspiciously. "Then why are you wearing the magenta puppy nightgown of death?" I explain that I'm working on a column and it's got me thinking about him and me and Dick and Jane and love and homicide and that point when a working relationship becomes more work than relationship. I admit there are moments when I'm not sure if it's luck or love or fear of failure that keeps us going, and I ask Johannes if he knows what I mean. There is a very long pause. He is contemplative. He is introspective. He is sound asleep.