Next to love, balance is the most important thing. – John Wooden
The little yellow dresser someone has left out for the taking at the corner of Myrtle and Adelphi just half a block from my building would look great in the entryway of my apartment. The table sitting there now with its one miniature drawer is more decorative than useful. This dresser, on the other hand, could hold sunglasses, hats and gloves, reusable cotton bags, and face masks, the kind of stuff you grab on your way out the door. It’s perfect! But I don’t take it home. Bed bugs are real. The risk is not worth it. Halfway across Myrtle Street, however, something compels me to turn around. To open the top drawer. There’s a swimmer in there.
She’s wearing a yellow bathing suit and swim cap. She’s doing the crawl. On her elbow stands a little frog holding a megaphone in his left hand. Where does he come from? There is no frog holding a megaphone in the paint stain. And yet, there he is in the watercolor. At first glance, you might think the artist’s subconscious added the frog in as a coach of sorts, to offer words of encouragement: “You go, girl! You got this! You’re lonely and afraid and feeling like a used-up old hag but chin up! Things will get better! Just keep swimming!” But you would be wrong. The frog is just running through the list of things the swimmer must do when she gets out of the pool: “Do the laundry! Take the trash out! Call your mother! Pay the rent!”
“The publisher is coming,” Jerry says. He’s standing in the doorway to the living room of our first apartment on State Street in Portland, Maine. I’m sitting at the desk, in front of my computer, working on a family cookbook. It’s based on a four-hour long conversation I had recorded the summer before of my mother and her five sisters talking about cooking. Jerry and I are leaving for Québec City in August; I’ll start my doctoral studies in September; the project needs to be finished by early June.
For months now, Jerry has watched me work on this cookbook as if the deadline I had given myself were written in stone somewhere. His comment about the publisher makes me chuckle; it is incredibly witty and perfectly astute. No one is waiting on this thing. In fact, besides Jerry, my mother and my five aunts, no one knows that it’s in the works. No one even cares. No one, that is, except the little frog. The one who’s been yelling at me since the summer before: “Transcribe the recording! Compile the recipes! Pick out the funny anecdotes! Type it all up! Edit! Translate it into English! Edit! Make the drawings! Scan the drawings! Upload the drawings! Format the book! Reformat the book! Edit! Edit! Edit!”
Poor Jerry. This frog was intense. Had he not noticed it while we were both working on our master’s theses the previous year at UMaine? We weren’t living together at that point, so he may not have. If he did, perhaps he chose to ignore it, the way people in the first stages of a relationship do. He shouldn’t have. This frog, it’s one of the things about his future wife that will drive him crazy. He’ll have to compete against it for attention, he will never win.
Fifteen years later, he’ll stand in the doorway of the bedroom of the last apartment he’ll ever share with this wife on Dean Street in Brooklyn, and he’ll ask her a question. Has she seen the attachment to the vacuum cleaner, maybe. Or does she need anything at the Coop later. She is sitting in the chair by the window studying the lyrics of Céu’s Veranda suspensa. She has Spanish under her belt. Now she must learn Portuguese. She’s got thirty minutes to do this before heading off to work, and Jerry has just interrupted her. With a question. She doesn’t look up. She doesn’t respond. At least, not directly. What does she say under her breath? Who knows anymore. Nothing nice, in any case. Jerry doesn’t hide his anger. He has had it with this woman and her frog. In less than a year, their marriage will be over.
As the swimmer crawls forward in the pool, it’s not like the frog will drop down into the water, to sink, to die. He’s a frog. He’ll just jump from one elbow to the next, yelling always his endless list of things to do. He’s not going anywhere, in other words; the swimmer will never be rid of him. This isn’t necessarily bad since the frog is instrumental in helping her accomplish great things. He shouldn’t, on the other hand, drown her in the process. She must find a way to contain him to the pool area, to keep him from following her into the locker room, into the street, into her next relationship. She must establish a better balance between work and play. To love and be loved the way she dreams it is possible depends on her ability to do this.
It can’t hurt, either, to pick the right contender.
The man who goes up against this frog and wins is the man who doesn’t stop himself at the doorway. The man who goes up against this frog and wins is the man who comes into the room, who speaks with authority: Viens ici. Fais-moi des bisous. Bois ton café.