Space patrol: Keeping the Beloved at arm's length

Can any relationship survive a broken foot? I think not. Love is based fundamentally on one's ability to walk away from the beloved and then return when the beloved has stopped ranting.

As it says in that book that everyone used to give as a shower gift– The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran– "Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you... stand together, yet not too near together, for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

It's hard to let those winds of heaven dance between you when one of you has two broken feet. The cypress becomes overly dependent on the oak to help her out, but the oak is often out in the yard having a smoke.

The least fortuitous time to fall in the yard and break both your feet is during football season when the game is on. My cries of distress went unheard for several minutes while I was as helpless as Daryl Hannah on land when her feet turned back into one big useless, flopping fish tail.

But eventually I was rescued and carried away by paramedics. For a couple of days after that, while I was waiting for a surgery slot, the Beloved and his brother transported me like a corpse in a murder mystery. I was rolled in a blanket, carried down the stairs like a rug and tossed into the back of a van whenever I had to report to doctors who held up my x-rays and made wise observations like, "Well, you really did it to yourself, didn't you?"

Then I spent six weeks in a wheelchair and another six on crutches, none of which was as annoying as not being able to drive. If there had been automobiles when Gibran wrote his poem on marriage, he certainly would have opined that love means never having to commute together on a daily basis.

The Beloved and I have shared a fundamental, critical difference in body temperature since we met. I'm always hot. He's always cold. My philosophy on cold is put on a sweater. His philosophy on cold is crank the heat. My philosophy on cranking the heat is that breathing heated air dries out your nasal passages and leads to nose picking and cold catching. His philosophy on wearing a sweater is he's not moving into Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. It's unmanly.

His love of heated spaces extends to the car. Whereas I'm a cold start driverРstart the car, scrape the windows, go­ he goes out 20 minutes early, starts the car, turns up the heat as high as it will go, and leaves it running unattended. He says this is the proper way to start a cold car on a cold day. I say that's how a cold car becomes a stolen car.

Getting in a car warmed up in this way is like climbing inside a pizza oven, and it's even hotter when you're already dressed for cold weather. I loosen my scarf and roll down the window, dramatically gasping for air, which officially kicks off our first fight of the commute, quickly followed by the second fight of the commute­ no, we don't have time to mail my letter or return my movie to the video store, but yes, we do have time to get his cigarettes.

The merge onto the highway begins the third fight of the commute, namely, why do men drive so aggressively? Why can't they all just get along? If another driver offends you, turn the other cheek. But no, the Beloved's world is divided into the Beloved vs. Everybody Else and Everybody Else is a dumb a**, which, if you're behind a steering wheel, is pronounced, DUMBA**!!!!

The dumb a**es maneuver dangerously to get one car ahead, causing the Beloved to feel the need to speed up on their dumb a**, one-car-ahead tail so he can gesticulate at them. Dumb a**es slowing down to dial their cell phones must be verbally abused and passed.

If I was a contestant on Fear Factor, the most terrifying thing they could do is make me drive a stretch of highway surrounded by an auto carrier, a cement truck, a flatbed truck hauling logs, and an oversized motor home driven by undersized senior citizens. When I see any of them on the road, I fall way back, leaving plenty of room to make defensive maneuvers when the other vehicle rolls over or loses its cargo. The Beloved speeds up to pass them...on a curve.

By the time we arrive at my office, I'm quivering, stressed out, and disoriented by having had my life flash repeatedly before me.

When we were commuting separately, the Beloved would arrive home first in the afternoon and quickly anesthetize himself with back-to -back episodes of Judge Joe Brown. No matter what kind of bad day you had, these people are having a worse one. By the time I got home, he was over his bad day and hiding in the garage so he wouldn't have to hear about my bad day.

Commuting together, we're like two Japanese fighting fish sharing a bowl. Our competing bad day complaints are spit into the overheated air of the car while we chase dumb a**es down the highway in the gathering dusk.

I start imagining my marriage is a disaster, but then I remember it's only my feet, and as soon as I can drive again, like The Prophet says, that big necessary space in our togetherness will return.

After a self-imposed hiatus, Richmond based peg-leg Mariane Matera is back on the Hook's essay page– much to the delight of her screaming fans.