There are things that I do slowly and things that I do quickly. Take running, for example. I’m no sprinter. I move at a plodding pace, with plenty of time to take in the scenery. Then there is speaking. Once during high school, I launched into an oral presentation in my history class only to be met with laughter after about seven seconds. I stopped cold and glanced uncomfortably at the teacher, wondering what foul word had inadvertently escaped my lips or what article of my clothing was incompletely fastened. When she was able to contain her own chuckles, she explained: “Becky, you need to slow down. I can’t even begin to write that fast.”
According to my husband, my quick speech is related to my tendency to jump quickly to conclusions, a habit that consistently irritates him. He speaks, then I counter with a rapid-fire assertion that what he has said is untrue or should be done differently. After a testy “if you’d let me finish,” he provides the key piece of information that negates exactly what I have just said, after which I huff that he should really offer up the important points sooner.
Not long after we moved back in together after having spent the better part of a year living apart for work reasons, I found him in the guest bathroom of our apartment giving himself a haircut. For years he has eschewed the idea of paying a barber when I – and over the previous year, he – could easily shear his thick dark hair with an electric clipper. A shorter blade attached for summer, a longer one for winter; what more, he reasoned, could he need?
“Hey honey,” he called out as I passed by. “Could you come here and fix the back?”
He wanted my help? How nice! From my approach I could see the area that he had missed. It would be difficult for him to see the locks that sprouted from the back of his head, still so long in comparison to their newly trimmed neighbors.
“Sure,” I agreed enthusiastically, stepping into the room and taking the clipper from his hands. With one smooth motion I raised it to slash away the renegade patch.
“What are you doing!” he cried out at the exact moment that I realized what I had done. “I said the back!” He pointed to what I held in my hand: the clipper with no blade attached, set to buzz anything in its path. He had been asking me to clean up the stray hairs that always remained at the nape of his neck. I had been right: he couldn’t see the few too-long strands that had remained higher up in the back. And so he couldn’t have been asking me to cut them.
“How bad is it,” he asked without inflection as I stared numbly at what I had done. Any glimpse of his scalp appears shockingly white against his dark hair; a small scar form a fall down the stairs as s child already marks a bright apostrophe against a field of black. Now an entire bald patch glared back at me.
I stalled, searching for some way to hide it, to make it better. To at least prevent him from seeing it for a little longer. With eerie calm he asked me to get my hand mirror.
After he saw the result, he sighed, put down the mirror without a word and left the room. I heard the shower in the other bathroom ignite.
I set about clearing away the clippings scattered across the floor, my insides churning with disbelief, self-reproach, regret. Eventually the water stopped but I was surprised when, not long after, I felt his arms wrap around me.
“I don’t care about the haircut,” he said softly. “It’s stupid. It will grow back. But I care that you don’t stop to listen. That’s what you need to work on.” I turned and hugged him back, nodding into his shoulder.
In a few days it would be a funny story. Months later it still lingers as a cautionary tale. But I’m fortunate that there are also things that my husband does very quickly. He is fast to forgive. And his hair is fast to grow.