She tries to furrow her brow, eyes squint, lips pursed. “Like this,” I say. I pull my right eyebrow down as I lift my left eyebrow up. I flare my nostrils and compress my lips. She smiles her new smile. An echo of what it once was, but clearly her smile. She tries again, but just squeezes both eyes tightly. Squinched face, wrinkled forehead and I burst out laughing. She smirks. She knows that she’s made me laugh and enjoys her accomplishment.
I’m not a morning person. Never was. Neither are any of my siblings. My mom drove us to school every day of my life that I can remember and didn’t bat an eye when I asked her to drop me off half a mile from the front of my high school entrance the first day of 10th grade. Mornings were a somber stint. Each kid staring into his bowl of cereal with small breaks to read the back of the box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch only to return to the milk slogged cereal bowl. Zombified, we didn’t really wake up until 9 or 10am, long past that expressionless drive to the awkward momzone drop off before lumbering in to first period.
So it was a culture shock those first few years waking up to chipperfest every morning after we got married trying to pretend that I enjoyed discussing the outfit that I would wear for the day the minute I opened my eyes. “Hey there sleepy head,” she would rouse me to cognition before my left eye could even join my right eye, “I’ve been waiting on you to wake up for so long.” And it would begin. A peppering of words and thoughts and ideas and reflections and ponderings before I had time to blink for the first time. My ears and eyes accosted by my sprightly life partner as I struggled to remind myself of my vows.
At some point I remember telling her, “You’re going to have to give me a few minutes before you attack me with the morning.” Which didn’t seem to compute well, except to offer an intermission of explanation to herself in between thoughts.
“Good morning sunshine, guess what crazy dream I had,” she would begin. If my eyes worked yet, I would roll them, if not I always had a reclose. “Oh that’s right, you’re not a morning person, I’m sorry. I’ll give you a minute. But before I do, I have to tell you about this crazy dream I had.” And the ever-elusive minute never quite actualized. I guess my face sometimes looked like I was awake before I really was because regularly I would open my eyes to mid-conversation and scramble to catch up, dazed and disoriented, reaching for context clues and keywords.
Eventually we reached a compromise. Ear plugs.
I hate grammar police in everyday speech. If you want to correct my syntax after I deliver the State of the Union, fine, but when I’m just telling a fun story and everyone is laughing and enjoying themselves and you point out that I ended a question with a preposition, leave me alone. Sometimes I use the wrong word and someone corrects me. And I just want to scream, “Did you understand what I said? Do you know what I meant? Then I communicated. What I wanted to say, you heard.”
Communication is a funny thing. While words matter, correct words, they aren’t deal breakers. There are so many other ways to communicate. The eyes convey a language all their own. The body speaks messages that words sometimes can’t. Pauses, tone, inflection, speed, volume can all dramatically change the smallest of words and phrases. The truth is that you and I could have spoken a fraction of the words that left our lips today and have gotten across what needed to be said without any misunderstandings.
Words are hard to come by these days. Tiff makes dozens of phonecalls everyday and I get dozens of apologies, “I’m so sorry, I just can’t understand what she’s saying. I keep having to ask her to say it again.” She repeats those few worded phonecalls over and over just to make the connection. In public, I stand at her side as a translator like we’re on the mission field. But the truth is, it’s getting harder for me too. I have to use context clues again. If she’s holding her brush, I assume that she needs her hair brushed. If she hands me her cup, I’m fairly certain that she’s asking me to refill it. She regularly reaches for the volume while in the car and I know that she wants me to talk to her.
After over twenty years there’s not a lot that needs to be said with words anymore anyway. A smile, a laugh, a tear, a frown. Empathy is in the eyes. Compassion in the hands. And love in that crazy little eyebrow furrow that she just can’t quite get, but she keeps doing it over and over and over because I keep laughing. A million words, a million feelings, a million joys- not one word.