Can you hear me now?
In our world of partnered bliss, Edna and I have our…um, mumble, mutter, sigh….
What’s that, you say? You couldn’t understand that last bit? Welcome to my world. For two people who communicate really well about the big stuff, a lot of our ‘little’ stuff gets lost in translation. I find our miscommunications fall into two categories: ‘bumbling’ and ‘muttering.’
The bumbling often begins with the deadly trailing-off of Edna’s sentences. (I know what you’re thinking: aging man refuses to admit he’s losing his hearing. But I’ve been tested—it’s not me!)
Her statements often start out something like this: “Trouble,” (that’s what she calls me), “I think I need to, um…” (The rest too quiet and otherwise incomprehensible.)
In response, I try to model clear speaking with well-enunciated endings, but (as Edna will gleefully point out whenever the gloves come off), I usually begin those sentences with my head stuck in the fridge, or while still in the bathroom, saying the first few words before I’m actually facing her, so that she never hears my beginnings, and I never hear her endings. We’ve learned to interpolate from context. (That is, make it up, based on the shared, impatient laziness that comes from having known each other too long.)
Add to it that Edna sometimes speaks too…um…you know…(pause)…slowly. Coupled with my cocky confidence in that I know what she is going to say before she says it, it can lead to some awful, crossed-wire conversations.
Here’s a sample phone call conversation from a recent late afternoon. I was out buying movie tickets and groceries before the babysitter arrived, so we could celebrate a rare night out:
Edna: Did you get…the…um…the um—
Me: They’re sold out.
Edna: Of…milk? Really.
Me: What? No. Of tickets. For the movie, right?
Edna: I mean the milk. And they’re out?
Me: What? I just got here.
Edna: Then how do you know they’re out of tickets?
Me: I mean I just got to the grocery store. I doubt they’re out of milk…are you even paying attention...?
Edna: Yes! Oh, crap, the babysitter just got here. (pause) We need toilet paper, too.
Edna: She prefers cash.
Perhaps you, gentle reader, also know the terror of living with a mutterer. Not sure? Check out these well-documented muttering types.
The mnemonic mutter: This occurs when the ‘inside’ voice escapes over the mental wall that separates ‘inside’ (the mind) from ‘outside’ the mind (such as in the psychologist’s office, on a city bus, or at high school reunion). It is actually a noble attempt to keep things together.
Edna (muttering): I’m putting my keys down RIGHT here, so I won’t forget them...I just have to remember I did this…I should write this in my iPhone…wait…where’s my iPhone?
The self-talk mutter: Made famous by cat ladies, this favorite occurs when all the other voices inside their head have gotten so loud that they have to drown them out by asking questions (which listeners think are directed at them). Beware: this ‘gateway mutter’ can lead to more debilitating forms of muttering (see next example) and even infect listeners by functionally melting their brains—as I fear it’s doing to mine.
Edna (muttering as she walks past me): I don’t know…I could swear I left my keys right around here. What was I thinking…?
Me (too stupid to ignore her): Your left is what?
Edna: Did you say something?
Me: No, YOU did. Something about your left not knowing what your right was thinking.
Edna (muttering): You’re weird.
Me: I guess I am…(muttering) I married you.
Me (exasperated): You were muttering again!
Edna (finally loud and clear): I was not!
The Passive-Aggressive mutter: This one is more nefarious, and only works on partners who’ve been subjected to muttering for so long (like me) that they have stopped actually listening to anything their partner says—and thus fall into their wily traps.
Edna (muttering as she fishes a stinky sponge out of the kitchen sink, mimicking perfectly the pedantic drone of my voice): It’s so easy to put your keys away. I don’t know why you can’t do it.
Me (flippant): Couldn’t hear you—come again?
Edna: Oh, I’m sorry, was I muttering? I was just remarking on how you never manage to RINSE THE SPONGE OUT!
Maybe I’ll have to start a group, a sort-of Mutterers Anonymous, before my brain melts any further. Organize a Meet-up online…I just have to figure out where I put that…that thing…the…what do you call it? The…(incomprehensible)…mumble, mutter.
Sean Toren loves living the full catastrophe in Minneapolis with his wife and son. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org with thoughts or suggestions.