Lena and I had recently gotten an apartment together in Gainesville on our road to tying the knot. (We knew we wanted to get married, but we felt that both sets of parents needed a little time to get used to the idea before we sprang it on them.) It was a pretty standard student apartment, townhouse style, with an extra bedroom we could use as an office, and carpeted stairs for the cats to race up and down.
Between the bedrooms was a bathroom, attached to our room by a walk-in closet. It was itself a small room, with vast amounts of hanger space. I still do not understand how an apartment that was so cheap in so many other ways could support so huge a closet. It was easily twice the size of the kitchen, probably more.
Our bed, an enormous old king-size inherited from one relative or another, had been made even taller by our placing cement blocks underneath the feet of it. I am about 5, 11″ and the mattress came to my elbows. The only way to get in was to jump or climb, and being the crazy bed-monkeys we were, jumping was really the only possible option.
It was early one December morning, and we had neglected to turn the heater on the night before. (Actually, I think we were just too cheap. I seem to remember we always wore coats inside unless there was company coming over.) Lena had crawled, naked, out of bed and gone through the closet into the bathroom. I blearily climbed out of the bed myself and put on a robe against the chill. I believe I was waiting for the toilet to come free again, but in truth that’s only a guess. My recollections of those particular half-asleep thoughts thirteen years ago are somewhat spotty. What happened next though, I recall with perfect clarity.
With a speed born of a cheetah protecting her young from an icy cold toilet seat on a frozen winter’s morning, Naked Lena came barreling out of the bathroom and through the closet, with the intention of launching herself into the air to land softly amongst the still-warm pillows and blankets on the bed. This she did in fact do.
The single obstacle to her progress went almost entirely unnoticed by both herself and me, until it was far, far too late. In her haste and in my fugue, neither Naked Lena nor myself noticed that my right foot projected ever so slightly into her flight path from the cold and terrible toilet. Projected not far enough to trip a running, naked woman, but apparently — and unfortunately — fully far enough to catch a pinky toe.
As my fiancé went zooming past (I imagine my thoughts at this juncture were something like “Mm, coffee…”) I did not feel, but only heard, a small “pop!” — and then she was airborne. I turned to look and make certain she was okay. There was really no way I could resolve “pop!” into a good noise. Lena was rolling back and forth on top of the covers, face contorted, gripping her foot silently.
Now of everything I have described so far, it was the silence which unnerved me the most. My wife, raised in Texas and daughter of a Navy Master Chief, is a world-class, champeen potty mouth. She comes constantly armed with a bewildering array of castigating linguistic shotguns that would leave Dennis Leary crying into his ashtray. Pain only elevated the threat level of this verbal Daisy-Cutter. Silence was not something I was prepared to deal with.
“Are you…” I gamely began.
Through reddened face and tear-filled eyes, Lena managed to suck up enough air to gasp out, “Don’t… you… dare… laugh… at… me… nnnngh!”
Now I have to admit that until that very second laughing had not even remotely occurred to me. But from this point on, it was all I could think about. I pursed my lips, bit my cheek, stomped on my own foot… nothing helped. Lena was beginning to recover, just enough to slowly start to cuss — and to notice my distress, as well as the cause of it.
“Are you… laughing at me?” she growled ominously. “Mm-mm.” I replied in the negative, unwilling to trust myself to open my mouth for an actual spoken reply. I knew what would have come out.
“Because if you are I’m going to ******* kill you, you ****** ******* ****-heel ****-sucking *******, ***-end with your **** head ****** *** in the ********** **** water buffalo!”
I began to relax. Clearly things were going to turn out all right after all.
Lena had in fact broken her pinky toe against the side of my foot. There was very little we could do except for tape it to the toe adjacent, which was an adventure all in itself. Eventually she healed up fine and true, and we both learned a little bit about looking and leaping. I wish I could say that was the only thing I left that experience with, but alas, it isn’t so. Much as it shames me to say it, ever since then any time Lena stubs a toe, bangs a finger, or bites a lip, I have to run out of the room — so I can laugh.