The Do Over

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some people fail to shut cupboard doors, while others are driven insane by this habit. Furthermore, most marriages contain one of each type.

If such a couple lived, say, on a British estate attended by servants who discretely closed doors behind them, all might be bliss. If instead they lived, say, in a house in Cleveland Heights, with an unimproved kitchen barely big enough for said couple to turn around, those sharp, jutting doors could become a source of repeated nagging and even seething marital irritation.

So it was the other night, when I stood by the kitchen window and remembered something I'd meant to tell my husband. Something good, so that I spun about with great verve, and immediately got clocked by a gaping cupboard door.

He is the one who leaves them open.

He is also the one who, now that I've retired from the kitchen, does all the cooking and dishwashing. Superbly. With great love, to boot.

But that night, as my brain ricocheted inside my skull, and my fingers discovered a bloody, lemon-sized lump, all I could think was, Look what he did!

And that, dear reader, is precisely what I said to him.

Perhaps my words had more to do with a certain meanness of spirit than with my husband's carelessness. And yet, as I watched him blanch, one thing was undeniable. There was no taking them back.

Immediately, I longed for The Do Over.

When I was growing up, it was a sacred part of every game, but we invoked The Do Over most often during baseball. We played in the street, the tar bubbling beneath our PF Flyers. First base was my family's mailbox, and I well remember the feel and sound of my palm against the hot metal, the triumphant slap of Safe. We played as if our lives hinged on the outcome.

That was no foul tip — that was strike three!

You can't tag her ponytail — you have to tag her actual body!

You're not allowed to steal! We agreed, no stealing!

We'd argue ferociously until someone finally intoned, "Do over."

The Republic of Do Over — that rare and grace-filled country! Rivers run backward. Anything might happen. I, for once in my life, might not go down swinging but instead whack the ball clear to Jones Lane! My PF Flyers might sprout wings, and I'd tap our mailbox, toe the deflated kickball that was second base, round third (a long-suffering evergreen) and head home, my team wildly cheering. You never knew with The Do Over, that second, magical chance.

Years later, I've longed for it more times than I care to count. When I gave away a secret I'd sworn to keep. When I blurted no, but in my heart meant yes. When my criticism wounded one of my kids instead of helping. When I made a joke that turned out not to be the least bit funny, thank you.

Those are miscalculations of the tongue. Dear reader, what about the things we've done, or not done? The lover we betrayed, the terrible job we stayed in, the investment we should have known was foolish? The chance we were afraid to take, the talent we let wither? These are the realities that keep us awake at night, itching with regret or remorse. Two a.m. is prime time to invoke The Do Over.

And yet, sadly, it's not going to happen, not on most of life's fronts. The rivers run downstream, and we are swept along.

But a few nights ago, after I accused my husband of a do-it-yourself-lobotomy, he ran for the ice. He held my hand and later fetched the Band-Aids and Tylenol. My head throbbed and my resemblance to Frankenstein was striking, but as I returned to my senses, I realized the reason that cupboard door stood open was that he'd just put away dishes he'd washed and dried. We'd eaten a delicious dinner, cooked by him, from those dishes.

Did I apologize? Not in so many words. Instead I turned my wrath upon our cramped, outdated kitchen. He, in turn, reminisced about our first parental trip to the ER, when our oldest daughter hit her head on a radiator and needed stitches in the very same spot I'd just hurt.

Running beneath our conversation was the shared knowledge that he'd never hurt me, not if he could help it, and that I was forgiven for implying it.

And now it came to me how a good, long marriage is an endless series of Do Overs. We excuse one another's failings, we finesse one another's failures. Every day is another lucky chance to take the old and make something new.

Oh, but if he'd just close a door, at least once in a while.

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