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Sunday Bagels

Updated: Feb 21, 2023


Marriage is a funny thing sometimes. In that, you can find yourself laughing at the wrong thing sometimes.


We had just gotten in bed Saturday evening. I had observed a shift in my husband that day. A hint of bristles appearing beneath his usual calm—even jovial—demeanor. Years of experience have taught me to observe quietly. Allow him to self-adjust. Assume the best. Don’t take it personally. The mark of a successful marriage is in doing this dance so many times for so many years, you master how to exist with another person, knowing when to step in and when to back off. Which, for me, often looks like doing nothing but noticing, and then refusing to let him notice I have.


I’d seen the signs all day. Yet I’d played Jane Goodall, hiding behind the fiddle plant as Jim sighed heavily within the mist. Nothing more than tiny notes jotted on my pad until that evening, when I knew it was time to speak up.


“Hey,” I said, with an inflection in my voice that immediately put us both on the same page. He knew I knew. I knew he knew I knew. But, as you do in a marriage, he played the game.


“What?” he said, lowering his book and looking at me innocently.


“You seem…” I weighed my words carefully. I thought back to what I’d observed just minutes earlier. Our oldest daughter had asked if Jim would be getting bagels in the morning. And, despite years of dutifully getting bagels every Sunday morning from a café that I strongly believe has the best coffee in town, Jim had put up his hands in protest. My daughter had rolled her eyes and laughed, thinking her dad was simply joking around.


“I don’t know about bagels tomorrow,” he had said.


“Yeah, right,” Lowery had said, swatting a hand.


“I don't know,” he had said, with a firmness so slight only a wife—but never a daughter—would notice.


I had looked over at him and saw his jaw had tightened. I had taken note and left the room.


“I seem…?” Jim looked at me expectantly, playing the part of a super relaxed and happy husband who hadn’t just gotten weird about bagels four minutes ago.


“Tense,” I finally said.


His face fell. If there is one thing to know about Jim, it is that he really doesn’t like to be observed, or analyzed. This is why I’ve developed such a covert mode of operation for 15 years. To be fair, if something is wrong, he’ll just say. If you hurt his feelings or if he is in physical pain or if he feels tired, he will tell you. That creates a beautiful chemistry in the house in which everyone just says what is on their mind at all times. Especially, how much we love or appreciate each other. This is Jim. Transparent. Honest. Open. So, to hear I was noticing something about him that he hadn't named first, well, I think it felt to him like a bending of the rules we had always played by.


“I’m just tired,” he shrugged.


I looked skeptical.


“What?” he said, closing his book and shifting his body toward me.


“You kinda got weird about the bagels with Lowery,” I said, my heart open to hearing what deep-seated issue he might be wrestling with. The pain beneath the bagels.


“No, I didn’t,” he snapped. Well, as close to snapping as Jim ever gets.


“Mmmm…”


“Meg.”


“Jim.”


We sat there, on the bed, bodies turned toward each other silently. As if Bobby Fischer, I searched his face for my next move. Eventually he lowered his eyes.


Checkmate.


“I don’t want to go get bagels tomorrow,” he sighed.


“Oh?”


“I hate going to the bagel place.”


“You hate going to the bagel place…” I repeated back slowly, working to comprehend.


“I hate it.”


“Since when?” I asked, working to stay curious, because this wasn't making any sense.


“Since 2019.”


I sat upright against my pillow. “You’ve hated going to the bagel place for four years?”


“Yep.”


“Then why the hell do you go every Sunday!?”


“Because you love their coffee,” he said. “And the girls love their bagels.”


“But you like their bagels, right?”


“Meh.”


“Dammit, Jim.” I ran my hands through my hair. If Jim’s sticking point is not being observed, mine is not being resented. “Why am I just now learning this?”


“I’m just tired,” he inhaled deeply. “I’ll get the bagels tomorrow.”


“No,” I raised my voice slightly. “Don’t you dare do that.”


“It’s fine.”


“You just said you haven’t liked going there since 2019. That’s so oddly specific. Did something happen? Were you held at gunpoint? Did the paparazzi get a bad photograph of you coming out of there? Did you develop a gluten allergy that year?”


He looked off, somberly. My mouth went dry. This was clearly about so much more than just bagels, and my brain was racing with every bad thought. I went still. I waited quietly for a revelation that I was certain would send shockwaves through my marriage.


“One Sunday, back before the pandemic,” he started in slowly. “I went into the café and was standing in a long line.” I swallowed hard. “There was only one cash register open. Eventually, a second cashier came up and opened the other register and called me forward. I stepped up, but I felt in trouble or something. He was so brusque. He already seemed irritated at me. So I said, ‘Sorry, I didn’t realize you were open.’ Meaning, the register, of course. And he glared at me and snapped, ‘Been open since 7 am.’”


My brows furrowed. “Okay…” I said, waiting to hear that the guy then jumped over the counter and beat Jim within an inch of his life.


“And it’s always like that,” he said, almost whispering. “They are always rude. Every single time.”


“They’re rude…” I repeated, trying to make sense of any of this.


“Yeah,” he said, with pain behind his eyes. “And it’s like, now I’m expected to go back there every single Sunday and have them be rude to me.”


“Be rude to you…”


“Exactly,” he nodded as if I were following his train of thought. “And at what point did I sign up for this every Sunday for the rest of my life?”


He looked over at me with the pain of a man questioning the monotony of his life, a man conflicted about doing something he hated to bring his family something they loved, a man who wondered if this—being treated badly for ten minutes every Sunday—was all life had to offer him. And you know what I did?


I laughed.


Really hard.


So hard, the mattress started to shake. Tears began streaming down my face. Lowery burst into our bedroom because my laughter had traveled out of our room, down the hall, and into hers, startling her.


Jim looked at me, slack-jawed, while I howled from deep within. I collapsed back on the bed, holding my stomach while Lowery looked from parent to parent, working out the contrast.


“They were rude to him!” I sputtered out between laughs. “For the rest of his life,” I spit with laughter.


Eventually, I regained composure and looked over at Jim with more apology in my face than the time I clogged the toilet on our honeymoon. I had done the thing you weren’t supposed to do. I had laughed in the face of my partner’s pain. I had minimized his hurt, his frustration, his need to be seen and heard and understood.


“Since 2019…” I said, my laughter erupting yet again despite my intense desire to be a decent human.


“Can someone explain?!” Lowery crossed her arms.


“Your Dad can’t go to the bagel place tomorrow,” I said, calming myself again and wiping my eyes.


“Sure he can,” Lowery said.


“And I will,” Jim said.


I turned to him. By the grace of the universe, I managed to swallow my laughter. I found my empathy. In truth, I knew the feeling well. How many times had I had to answer the question “what's for dinner?” How many trips to the grocery store had I made and felt downright violent when I got a squeaky cart? How many dentist appointments, piano lessons, permission slips, flu shots, and loads of laundry had I endured? Each one not that big of a deal, but when zoomed out, the sheer volume, the monotony, was both over- and under-whelming.


And they all felt draining when realizing I had actually—unknowingly—signed up to do them frequently and consistently for the rest of my life.


“I get it,” I said softly as I reached for his hand. “I actually do.”


He squeezed my hand. Jim always needed so little. So, so little. Frighteningly little.


Maybe the hand squeeze was enough. Because a wide smile spread across his face. And then his chest moved slightly. His shoulders began to quiver. Then, laughter began to trickle out of him. Softly at first, and then it picked up steam. And when Jim really gets to laughing, he lets out a high-pitched whooping sound that is both confounding and joyful to hear.


Lowery and I watched in wonder as Jim continued to laugh at himself. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rested his hands on his knees as he whooped and laughed, laughed and whooped. Then, as his laughter began to wane, he looked over his shoulder at us sheepishly.


“Maybe we can refer to this as the Great Bagel Tantrum of 2023?” he volleyed.


“Jim,” I said. “In all seriousness, we can pick another Sunday breakfast tradition.”


“No,” Jim sighed with a smile. “I don’t know what that was all about. I’m fine to get bagels. Tomorrow, next Sunday, and every Sunday after that.”


“So, we’re all good here?” Lowery said, eyes intensely darting back and forth between us.


“Yes, Lowery,” Jim laughed. “Tomorrow will be like every other Sunday.”


“And that’s okay?” I asked, looking at Jim with concern.


“Yeah,” he smiled.


“But what about the rude guy?” I asked.


“Well, sure, he’s rude,” Jim nodded with a grin. “But at least he doesn’t laugh in my face.”




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