Thursday, June 24, 2010

"what am I, a fucking meteorologist?"

I grieve as I remember.

I grieve for the loss of knowing glances; the death of deep interpersonal understanding; communication by touch of familiar bodies; sighs that are clearly "yes" or "no"; words that mean something different because of how they were used once a long time ago.

I had a boyfriend in high school with whom I actually made up complete sentence meanings of words I liked... names of places in Africa... the only one I'm sure I remember now was "Mozambique." It meant "I shall embrace you in my dreams." It almost seems wrong to write that translation here in black and white because it was our secret love language in its own time. We said "Mozambique" along with "goodbye" and "I love you."

Private language and especially inside jokes are strong threads in the fabric that hold relationships together. Old friends make one or two word references and simultaneously burst out laughing, or exchange knowing glances.

When I was dating my husband, and about to go with him to his parents' home, an inside joke was born. It was near the beginning of our relationship, but not my first time to meet them.

Mike's family is culturally Jewish. I wouldn't call them religious people, or at least not spiritual. In any case, they fasted for Yom Kippur and we were to join them for "break the fast" at their home on that particular fall evening.

Merry: "What time are we supposed to be there?"
Mike: "At sunset."
Merry: "What time is sunset?"
Mike: "What am I, a fucking meteorologist?"

He didn't say it in a mean way... he didn't say it in a bad tone at all. It was equivalent in tone to "Hell if I know!" but more surprising to me in that moment. We both erupted in laughter and tried to gauge our arrival time by the look of the evening sky.

"What am I, a fucking meteorologist?" took on the meaning "Hell if I know!" from that point forward in our relationship.

"Why is that light blinking?"
"Is there a weight limit for carry-on?"
"Will your brother be there?"
"Are we supposed to dress up?"
"Where are my keys?"
"Do we need to bring swimsuits?"
"Will they check ID?"
"What is that buzzing sound?"
"Are we expected to bring a gift?"
"Is his poop supposed to be that color?"

The answer to all of the above: "What am I, a fucking meteorologist?!" followed by that familiar glow that happens between friends or lovers who know what they mean without really saying it.

This was not an equal opportunity phrase. Mike was definitely the non-meteorologist in our family. I may have unsuccessfully attempted to use his familiar phrase once or twice, but I maintain that he didn't ask me as many questions that I, know-it-all that I am, couldn't answer! (Insert just a hint of laughter here... Mike would have laughed a little when I called myself a know-it-all, and then he would have agreed that I was indeed a know-it-all.)

"INSIDE JOKE." Inside of what? Inside of me? Inside of him?

They must be inside of the relationship... they do not reside in the one who alludes to them... without the correct audience the reference is lost. You cannot tell an inside joke to a new person without a lengthy introduction and explanation of the origin. This is usually accompanied by a humor-defeating explanation of WHY it was originally funny in its original context. If the inside jokes survives that, I suppose it is possible to revive a joke.

If he'd lived long enough, Mike would have received that phrase embroidered on a cap. I looked at making it several times... just never hit "Order Now." I think I mentioned it to him once and he wasn't as excited about it as I expected he might be. "Other people won't get it" was his response. In my mind, that meant it could be a conversation starter.

I didn't ask why he didn't want it as much as I wanted to get it for him, but I imagine he thought that our inside joke was personal and he wouldn't want to share it with random people who asked its meaning. Perhaps he felt that the phrase was too long for a hat, in which case a simple word "Meteorologist" with a red circle around it and a diagonal line across would have been perfect.

Is it worth trying to revive old inside jokes?

As I think about this trivial minutia from my relationship with my late husband, I think "YES, I WANT to revive it. I WANT someone to know what is funny about not being a fucking meteorologist." But then it would never REALLY mean what it did once...

So I grieve for more than my dead husband. With him I lost common references, stories, memories, sights, sounds, words, voices, intonations, temperaments, attitudes, touches, feelings...

I grieve for the things INSIDE of my relationship with my husband that are lost now in his death.