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Perhaps unsurprisingly, I struggle. One day, Michael asks about going to a Red Sox game—a friend got last-minute tickets—and I say, "Tomorrow? The one night that my brother's family will be here from Switzerland?" He nods. "Maybe I can do both," he says. The game is at 7; Boston is two hours away. "So what time would dinner work for you?" I ask, and he says, "Four? 3:30?" I explode: "This has been on the calendar for six months!... Are you kidding me?... Dinner at 3:30! No really, that's a great idea!... I can't even deal with you right now." Also I make the khhh sound. Michael cowers, apologizes ("I only asked"). But I'm too mad to listen or learn or do anything right. I storm out of the room and busy myself with seething.

Only when Michael sits tentatively beside me do I replay the fight in my head. I hear my excessive fury, and I am sorry. He is a good partner, just a person who is different from me, one who also really wants to go to the ball game. "I'm sorry you're going to miss your game," I say, meaning it, and he says, "I'll be glad to see your brother. There will be other games." I smile. "Wrap your arms around me," I say, and he does.

The next time I'm annoyed, I do better. High school friends of Michael's come into town. "What were you thinking of serving?" I ask, preemptively irritated but doing my darnedest to scrub it from my tone. "Uh, pasta?" Michael says, grimacing. "With some kind of, uh, sauce?" Michael's haplessness is the trigger here; typically I'd say something like, "Why am I the one who always has to figure this stuff out? They're your friends. It's not like I don't have a billion things to do!" And I'd say that even though what I really want is connection. Were I a set of nesting matryoshka dolls, the tiniest one inside would tell him clear, gentle things like "I just want to feel appreciated." But the big, bullying outer doll prefers to engage in a sniping tit for tat. And I don't like the way it sounds, or rather the way it sounds like it would sound, because—hooray!—I catch myself before I speak. "Did you want to ask me if I would please make dinner for your friends?" And Michael smiles back. "Would you please?" he asks. "Happily," I say. We are unrecorded, but sounding, I hope, better and better.

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