How to Make Your Wife Cry at Breakfast (Or, the Grad School Blues)

First of all, don’t be handsome. Be your ugliest early-morning self. Have some tea to give you both a subtle jittery buzz. Burn all four slices of toast. Settle into your seat at the kitchen table and grumble about work and huff and hem and avoid her gaze. All of this will provide the appropriate setting for when she looks in your eyes and says you are way too busy. This is the part where she cries: when she says she’s really worried about you and she misses your goofiness and asks if you are depressed.

You won’t cry, but you’ll feel awful. You’ll feel guilty, too, because for six hours a day, Monday through Friday, you’re quite the clown. You make fart jokes and then threaten to fail kids for not laughing at your crappy jokes. You inaccurately quote Drake and other rappers and you lovingly butcher the Spanish language. Your wife enjoys most of these things about you, which you also used to do at home.

The truth is that you’re tired when you get home. It’s not always fun and fart jokes in your classroom. There are projects and lessons and discussions and homework; there are meetings and phone calls and professional development projects. Home means more work: you’re in grad school, taking two classes per semester.

As she waits for you to respond, you remember a few things. You remember that your wife is your best friend, your most honest critic, and she is very often right. Her nose turns pink and her cheeks blossom–tears threaten revival.

“We should go down the shore,” you say. “Right now.”

In college, the two of you would blow off class and hit the Parkway South, talking big ideas. Especially in winter, with the beach crowds gone and the gray sea furious in its sandy containment, the two of you would sit in the cold sand with the vast world before you. The easy release of a long highway drive and the reassurance of the sea at the end of the road compelled you back time and again.

She will hold your gaze steadily, a glint of challenge in her eye.

“Ok,” she will say without blinking. “Go get ready.”

And she can see your weekend to-do list cascade through your mind. Novels and poems and criticisms await; essays to grade, essays to write. You both know there is no food in your fridge. The laundry pile is waist-high.

With an anchor in your belly and dread in your chest, you do the math: two hours planning, two grading, at least that much time writing. Laundry, grocery shopping.

“Maybe next Saturday,” you offer, hiding behind your tepid mug.

“Maybe,” she will say, “It’s up to you.”

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