Looking for Mr. Calm


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.



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