I have a simple philosophy - if you’re careless with words, what else would you be careless with? Me? Best you leave now – and buy a ‘Grammar for Idiots’, for heaven’s sake. And, while you’re at it, a dictionary.
Words, language and grammar are all important. Just think how they drive every aspect of our lives. Try ordering a cup of coffee, a meal, without them, describing symptoms to your doctor, stains to your dry cleaner, telling your kid a bedtime story, your spouse that he forgot to pick up the dog food again and that even though you love him, you are going to kill him! Or at least make him sleep on the couch. Use your words, yes. But please, for the sake of all that is holy – use them correctly!
That’s what I liked about Paul. I met him at the library – a match made in heaven. What better place to meet the love of your life than between ‘Romance’ and ‘History’? To my eternal delight, this tall, broad-shouldered, ruggedly handsome man with a close beard and knee-weakening, toffee-coloured eyes wandered around the end of the book case. He was wearing one of those geeky T-shirts that said, ‘My favourite dinosaur is a Thesaurus’. Then he smiled and asked if I knew where he could find the Jane Austen section. Everything, plus the Irish lilt in his voice, almost made me swoon. I thought I’d died and been buried in dark chocolate.
We clicked immediately. Paul fulfilled all my dreams, both physically and literary. After endless cups of bottomless coffee at the Bookends Café, a trip to the museum’s Rare Editions Display and copious, long and intricate discussions on almost every subject under the sun, or should I say the moon, while sitting on the climbing-rose-covered balcony of the Waterfront’s Jules Verne Restaurant, I was in love. Okay, so I’m an easy date if you’ve read a few books…
and not all in the same genre, by the same author,
and can actually talk about them intelligently.
What can I say? For some women, I’m embarrassed to confess, the most interesting thing about a potential spouse is his status and bank balance. Sad, but true. For me, it’s language and the ability to use it extremely well. These things are imperative. No, inviolable. Most importantly; ‘Hamlet’. If you know your ‘Hamlet’, you’re a keeper as far as I’m concerned. And Paul not only knew who Hamlet was, but also Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He had a great argument about the ethics of what Hamlet had done to them. The fact that he had both read and enjoyed ‘Jane Eyre’ was sublime.
But it wasn’t just talk, talk, talk all the time. Let’s just say that Paul can be eloquent with both words and silence. He’s pretty good with his hands as well.
My mother wasn’t completely convinced Paul was as perfect for me as I proclaimed. Well, declaimed would be closer to the truth. That was before she smelled the coffee and saw his high-ceilinged loft apartment in the publishing district. Every wall was floor to ceiling bookcases. Windows were only allowed space to save on electricity, and give Henry, the bloodhound and James, the cat a few warm, sunny spots in which to drape themselves over each other. Circular, open-sided book shelves framed the spiral staircase in the middle of the room. I was never sure if the bookcase was built to surround the stairs, or if the stairs had been built simply to reach the tomes on the higher shelves. Finding a good book to read and a comfortable place in which to devour it was never a problem. Big wide sofas littered the place. Even the bed was a thick, comfortable-beyond-belief mattress on a bespoke base, housing what he called his ‘Favourites Collection’.
So, you think that with all those books to read, there wouldn’t be time for conversation? Pfft!
Shows what you know about people who read a lot. Books don’t stifle conversation, they inspire it, open it up, enrich discussions. People who don’t read, I find, don’t really have much to talk about except who’s-sleeping-with-who-and-how-could-he-have-said-that-and-did-you-hear-what-that-idiot-did-yesterday. Blah, blah, blah.
One of the nice things about being married to Paul is that my inner Grammar Nazi, having nothing to do, soon got bored and finally packed its bags and left. Life has been so much easier now that the only people I correct are the twenty English Language students I teach, a delight for which I’m paid.
I was trying to explain the difference between past, present and future tenses to my class of college students - who seemed to have been dropped on their heads as infants - when the Headmaster strode into my class, followed by the elderly Mr White.
“Mrs Collins, please come with me. There’s a call for you in my office. Mr White will take over.” Language is important, but tone, well, sometimes tone can say even more. That unspoken, yet implied, impending doom. I wasn’t the only one who’d heard it, judging by the looks on the students’ faces.
Paul had collapsed. He’d been running a bit of temperature that morning, but to be honest, neither of us had thought it was serious.
He spent ten weeks in ICU. Ten weeks where the only conversations I had were with the doctor and the nurses. Friends and family came en masse at first, but as the weeks dragged on, their numbers dwindled. Even if your soul mate is fighting for his life in a small, pale blue hospital room and the only reading material is his medical chart, life moves on for everybody else.
They say people in a coma can hear you talking. I talked to him as much as possible, telling him I loved him, keeping him updated on little things I knew would interest him. How Bookends had decided to go with blueberry muffins today instead of carrot. How the students kept asking how he was. How the folks sent their love. How Henry and James had taken to sleeping on the bed with me in his absence. How I’d tried to read Atlas Shrugged, but couldn’t get past page five without dying of boredom.
Please don’t die, Paul. Please. Come home.
He did, eventually. Much thinner and paler than before. The doctor had warned us it could be a difficult adjustment, but if we had the right attitude we should, hopefully, be able to live as normal a life as possible.
Now, we both have to learn a new way of communicating, a new way to have all those life-giving conversations, a new language.