These days, few things in my life can evoke that adrenaline-soaked “fight or flight” response that is common to most animals. As I age, the situations in which that might happen are fewer and fewer. We all are familiar with the feeling — the adrenaline washing over our entire body, face flushed, tunnel vision and singular focus blocking out everything in the environment but the threat, and instinct and ingrained training taking over …

But one trigger remains constant:

“Hi, Hon, how was your day?” she asked.

“Gawdawful,” I said. “You won’t believe what I had to deal with at the office. Remember that crazy lady I interviewed last week for the customer service supervisor position?”

“Yes, you said she had the listening skills of a spider monkey on crack and said she couldn’t supervise a sleep-a-thon.”

“Right. Well, guess what those morons in HR did this mor…”

“I can guess,” she interrupts. “Before you sit down, can we talk?”


Tunnel vision … face flushing … high-speed review of every single event that ever occurred in my life since I met this woman, adrenaline sending a signal to my stomach to turn inside-out, bowels turning to water … strong urge to frame the outline of a useful, universal alibi …

Then she says, “Would you help me fill the bird feeders before supper?”

Thank you, Lord! Blessed relief returns color to my vision and pulse to my arteries. As often as this happens with her, which is rarely, it always surprises me. My experiences prior to meeting her have framed my expectations such that any discussion that starts with, “Can we talk?” is the precursor to a period of deep anxiety and very dark unpleasantness. But not today. Not with this one.

She is the one who moved all over the country with me as transfers, job changes, and various crises dictated. She stayed during the failed business in ’08, a fourth cross-country move to return home to Maine to care for my mother, stayed during my illnesses, surgeries and most recent chemo, during which she designed and supervised the complete gut-renovation of our house while supporting me and then continued to work as I settled into an uneasy retirement.

She puts up with and even encourages my music hobby, claims to like most of my cooking and hardly ever makes fun of my wardrobe selections. Without planning to, we pray for the same things, and you know what? It works.

I learned as a boy to treat every stovetop as hot. Kind of like my first “Can we talk,” it’s one of those one-and-done life lessons. If the lesson is painful enough, there’s no need for a second class on the same subject. Other life lessons require more training. For instance, it has taken me a while to learn to ignore a ringing telephone. If it’s legit, the caller will leave a message. However, these days nearly 95% of the calls are from telemarketers, Nielsen surveys, telemarketers, political parties, and, quite often, telemarketers. I’d turn off the ringer, but I’m not trained to look for a flashing light on the phone base indicating the presence of an unheard message. As one of my favorite writers says, I digress.

A kind of ease has settled over me as I approach yet another in a series of more than six dozen laps around the sun. The rare occurrences of the old “condition red” are benign now, thanks to my life’s partner. But make no mistake; no matter their age, women can scare the crap out of a man with three little words.

“Can we talk?”

Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.