I think I can sum up my husband, Olof’s, and my different styles by the funeral instructions our estate attorney had us write when he set up our trusts. Mine went on for three pages. Olof’s were all of six words: “I don’t care. I’ll be dead.”
I’ve always found the topic of why people pick the spouses they do endlessly fascinating, and particularly how people (not mentioning any names) try to compensate for their own perceived shortcomings in a spouse. In one sense, Olof and I couldn’t be more opposite. He’s a Cal Tech-educated engineer trained in reactor physics. I read once that some incredible percentage of “Techers” of Olof’s generation would now be diagnosed as having Aspergers. (The rest would be simply be considered socially maladroit.)
(As an aside here, my younger son, Henri, always thought Olof was saying “COW Tech” and kept asking him about the animals. I thought that would be a cute story to send to the alumni news. Or not.)
Olof also spent 10 years as an Air Force pilot happily traversing the world stopping in exotic places to drink beer. But three of those years involved extremely hazardous flying, requiring nerves of steel. I mention this because the one thing no one has ever accused me of is having nerves of steel. I myself have always embraced the creative but handwringing anxious wreck branch of the family.
I was always clear I could never be married to someone like me. We’d work ourselves into a frenzy of catastrophic possibilities, no outcome too implausibly dire. So it’s no accident that I managed to marry not one, but two husbands, who possessed quintessential calm. (My first husband was a physician.) I’ve always hoped that my spouses’ inherent serenity would somehow rub off on me. Choosing Mr. Calm turned out to be a choice that had ramifications I could never have imagined.
Several years ago we were coming back from the airport after having gone to the Bay area to visit our newborn first grandchild, Elliott. We were in the second from right lane on I-5 when a very impaired driver in a white Mercedes roared up behind us and slammed into our car in excess of 80 miles per hour, obliterating the entire back end of the car and sending us hurtling toward the low concrete berm of an overpass. I was sure that at that speed, we were going to go sailing over the side and end up seriously deceased on the freeway 30 feet below. Several totally diverse but profoundly grateful thoughts flashed through my mind in what I was sure were my final seconds: first, that I was so incredibly glad that I got to hold Elliot. Second, that I’d never have to fly Southwest again.
Olof’s mind, not surprisingly, went in different directions. Equally possible to the Thelma-and-Louise scenario, he feared that the car would ricochet off the concrete barrier, bounce back into six lanes of fast moving traffic, and be turned into aluminum foil. Hence he must get the vehicle under control immediately after impact with the berm.
In the nanoseconds I was musing about Southwest, Olof was already calculating the cosine of the vortex of the velocity, factoring in the torque, and of course, adjusting for mass, instantly concluding he must not over-swerve at this speed or he’d roll the car. The fact that Olof could so quickly formulate a plan (those might not have been his exact calculations) never mind execute it with a clear head astonished me. But then, I guess the Air
Force frowns on you panicking and plunging to your death in their $30-million airplane just because the oil light flickers.
I, meanwhile, was doing what I do best in an emergency: scream. (We all have to play to our strengths.)
I didn’t think there was any possibility we were going to survive this crash that excised the front end of the car as well. So when we did, my third grateful thought (filtered through the agony of a broken sternum as sirens wailed in the distance) was: “Calm husband. Good choice.” Had it been me driving, see “seriously deceased,” above.
So I’ve always been clear why I picked him. (Besides being calm, he’s a total sweetheart and quite possibly the most honest guy alive.) But why did he pick ME?
Well, we both love anchovy pizza, and believe me, that’s not so easy to find. One might think techno geek looking for outgoing social type, but despite the engineer image, he’s actually as social as I am.
On one thing we definitely agree: we each think we got the better deal, that the other person could have done – nay,
– better. In the end, maybe that’s all that matters.
* Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life every other week in The La Jolla Light. Reach her at