Katherine's High Notes


            My wife is upset with me again. When she elevates her voice in her frustrated state, I listen as it scales its way up, one word at a time, at least an octave, before it crescendos in a falsetto of agitated lexicon.

            "John, why can't you ever clean up after yourself?  There are crumbs everywhere!  And why are those papers still spread allover the dining room table?  They've been there for a week!" She stops, sucks in a deep breath, and continues in haste, as if afraid of losing her pitch. "Isn't an entire room, the hallway, 2 spaces out of our 3-car garage and your office enough space for you already?" she shrills.  It's true, no one has ever accused me of being neat and organized, but I work from the home now.

            I tell her, "I've got to have space when I work. It's the nature of my profession to produce a lot of paperwork."

            "But I've asked you nicely so many times, John! You know how important a clean house is to me!"

            "The lady doth protest too much, methinks!" I borrow from Shakespeare. Katherine is not amused.  I must admit she perplexes me at times. She acts as if she is the only one who should be allowed to be home during the day.

            "I just wish I could have a few moments to myself..." she trails off.

"Why don't you go to the park or the beach?" I suggest. "How about the library?  It's nice and quiet there."

"...in my home!" she finishes with emphasis.


Then there is the issue of my laundry.

"Katherine, where did you put my blue shirt?"

"In the dirty clothes hamper where it belongs."

"It wasn't dirty"

"It was on the floor of the closet! I tripped on it"

"But it wasn't dirty! Now, what am I supposed to wear tonight?"

At times I can't help but be entertained by her histrionics. Yesterday morning, for example, she gets upset because I am angry with her for her stubborn persistence in the use of profanity. (Mind you, I only want to help her be he best she can be. I know she is capable of much more restraint than she is currently managing.) She cooks her usual omelet for breakfast in the microwave, and the bell rings, signaling it is ready.  She opens the door only to discover eggs and cheese splattered everywhere. It's an explosion of colossal proportion.

"Goddamfuckingsonofabitch!" her voice perforates my eardrums.

"Would you watch your language?" I say.

"What do you care?" she snorts. "There are no children present."

"You're ruining my peace, that's why! For chrissakes, Katherine, get a grip on yourself!"  She proceeds to clean up her mess and eat her breakfast in silence.


This morning we have another episode. While I eat my breakfast at the kitchen table with our teenage son, Stephen, Katherine stands at the counter, breaking her eggs into an egg separator attached to the side of a glass measuring bowl. She tosses the yolks into the sink and reaches in the refrigerator for the low-fat, shredded cheese to place on top of her egg whites. To her intense vexation, there is no cheese to be found, fattening or otherwise.

"I just bought two packages of cheese day before yesterday at the grocery store!"  She glares at Stephen who is having cheese with crackers and a diet Pepsi for breakfast.

"What? Am I not allowed to eat cheese in this house?" Stephen asks.

"I bought that particular cheese for my omelets!" Katherine crackles.

"There wasn't any of the other kind of cheese left! God, Mom, don't be such a bitch!" Katherine, who is usually so patient with both of our children, straightens her posture and delivers a few select words for Stephen that surprise me.

"Call me a bitch one more time, Stephen, and I'm going to knock the shit out of you!"

"I don't care," Stephen yells back, mortification in his tone, "you are a bitch!"  Katherine stands at the counter for a minute, gazing down into her coffee cup.  The quiet is punctuated by the low hum of the refrigerator. Then she turns, coffee cup in hand, solemnly exits the kitchen, and walks upstairs. I allow her a few minutes of reflection, and follow her upstairs into our bedroom.

"Do you want to know what my opinion is?" I speak soothingly, so as not to upset her more. I only want to tell her where she went wrong with the way she handled Stephen. She tells me to mind my own business, more or less.

"No," she says with a stony face. "I don't want to hear your opinion because I know exactly what you're going to say. It will be an admonishment, I'm sure, and I don't need a father. I need a husband. So frankly, John, I don't give a fucking rat's ass what you or the kids think anymore!"  I just throw up my hands and walk out. Okay. Fine. If she wants to be immature, I can't do anything about it. I don't understand why she can't appreciate the fact that I just want to help her. Sometimes I think she may even be jealous because I have a better relationship with both of our children than she does.  Ten minutes go by. Katherine knocks on my office door and hands me a note she has typed upstairs on her computer. She looks at me with eyes poignant, and closes the door softly behind her.


I feel helpless, frustrated, anxious, misunderstood, unappreciated, insecure AND PISSED OFF!


I study the note for a moment, thinking of the best way to handle this. For the past few months, Katherine has read a considerable number of self-help books.  She also visits regularly with a therapist. Her newest fixation is learning how to express her feelings with more precision. She keeps a piece of paper on the side of the refrigerator which lists any number of various adjectives she can use to help her pinpoint with accuracy how she is feeling at a given moment.

While I do agree she should stop using profanity, the rest of it, I fear, is just an exercise in self-pity. I write at the bottom of the note in large capital letters.




I then walk back into the kitchen where she is helping herself to another cup of coffee from the freshly brewed pot I have prepared. I pass the paper to her with my response at the bottom and keep a straight face, taking note of a slight alteration in the clarity of her eyes. Her posture shifts as she lifts her chin and takes a sip from her coffee cup, eyes darting left to right. She closes her eyes without looking up and swivels on her heel. Exit again, stage right. No sound, no shrill, no higher octaves.

Five minutes later Katherine knocks on my office door once again. This time she doesn't wait for me to invite her in, and she hurls yet another piece of paper directly at my head. She then stomps out the front door, banging it shut behind her.


I was hoping for a different response from you, but then of course, I have always been a dreamer. There's a time and a place to use the phrase "get over it, " AND THIS ISN'T IT! I feel like I am beating my head against a brick wall!

PS: Don't wait up for me!


I think back to a time when unsullied harmony presided over our fresh marriage. Katherine was more tranquil, more certain then. I remember lingering deliberations late into the evening: pondering, planning~ and affable debating. I would explain the intricacies of my latest court case; she would speak loftily of her dreams to open art therapy centers for abused children. One year later, our daughter Julia was born.

"I feel complete," Katherine had said. But then of course that was all well before Julia's drug addictions, and the therapy centers never really did get out of the initial planning stages. Somewhere between the Katherine that was and the Katherine she thinks she should be, exists an accomplished woman who is oblivious to her own integrity, I place the note in a special file I have labeled "Katherine's High Notes," and turn the golf game on.

Within a few hours, Katherine will walk through the front door with shopping bags in each hand and a few bottles of dry, buttery chardonnay. I'll thaw out some salmon fillets and start the barbeque around 5:30 pm. Katherine will prepare her gourmet tartar sauce with fresh dill. After dinner, we'll sit outside on the porch swing late into the evening and wax philosophic about the possibility of life on other planets, boggling our minds with discussion about the enormity of the universe. Then we'll gently clink our crystal goblets and make a toast, interring our reflections in the shimmering gold of the absolving wine.