For a while now, I’ve been unable to wear one of my favorite necklaces. It’s been snarled up in a “hopeless nœud de vipères,” as my husband put it. A couple days ago, I grabbed it off my jewelry tree and brought it to work with me, thinking that I would get it untangled when I could find a free moment that morning. I was sure it would be hanging around my neck by lunchtime.
By lunchtime I had made no progress at all. Instead of going for my usual walk around campus during lunch, I hunched over the cursed necklace for the entire hour, trying and failing to make any headway. I grimly resolved that the deed would be accomplished by the end of the workday. Several times that day – I couldn’t help myself – I literally shook the necklace in childish, impotent rage, no doubt creating new knots with each shake. By the end of the day, it was still a tangled mess. I stayed at work an extra half hour, trying to meet my self-imposed deadline. Finally, I gave up and drove home under a heavy cloud of failure, gripping the necklace between one hand and the wheel to save what little progress I had made in untangling it.
It was time to enlist the help of an expert. My husband had once volunteered to untangle a couple of my sister’s necklaces…We marveled not just at the feat he accomplished in untangling the necklaces, but at the extraordinary patience it took to perform these delicate operations.
“I have a challenge for you,” I said, handing him my necklace after dinner.
“OK,” he said amiably, “I’ll work on it before I leave for choir rehearsal.”
When I left the house at 7 pm to take our daughter to her violin lesson, I snapped this photo of him:
It was the last I saw of him until the following morning.
I could tell he’d been awake for some time and had been impatiently waiting for me to open my eyes. They were barely halfway open when the words came spilling out of his mouth:
“Do you have any idea what time I went to bed?”
“It was after 1 am.”
“Really?! Why?” My husband is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise-sort-of-fellow, so this was surprising news indeed.
“I was working on getting your necklace untangled all night long. I couldn’t wait to get it done and present it to you with a flourish. I kept thinking I almost had it, but it’s actually impossible to tell if you’re making progress, or just making it worse! At 10:30 I was still working on it. I had to move into the kitchen and lean over the counter for better light. I couldn’t believe it when I checked the clock again and it was after 1. That’s when I finally gave up and staggered to bed. My feet were killing me from standing there for so long. I’d worked on it for something like 6 hours, because I even took it to choir practice and worked on it there…I almost hit a deer on the way home, because I was trying to drive with the damn thing in my hand so it wouldn’t get more tangled,”
“Oh my gosh! I did that too!”
“And you should have seen what happened to my fingers!”
“Did they turn black?” I asked, knowing the answer in advance, for this had happened to my fingers too when I was struggling to untangle the necklace at work.
“Sooo…did you manage to get it untangled?”
“No! There’s also a little bit that’s broken off, which will have to be reattached when we eventually get it untangled. But I think it’s almost there.”
There was a moment’s pause.
“You know what else was really bad?” he asked ruefully. “I made the terrible mistake of turning the whole thing into a metaphor for finishing my book. If I could just get the necklace untangled, I thought, my book would also just magically fall into place…”
By now I was deeply regretting that I had asked him to help me with the necklace.
“But there was one moment when it really felt like I was truly in Hell.”
I shuddered as I tried to imagine what that moment in a day full of dreadful moments could possibly be.
“I was working away at it during choir and then we started singing that awful hymn…you know the one…” he said, breaking out a few bars of a song we both loathe in his most twee voice, “I the Lord or sea and sky, I have heard My people cry…My hand will saaaaave.”
I burst out laughing so hard it hurt.
Although my husband hadn’t gotten the necklace entirely unknotted, (and had broken off a piece in the process), he had done the lion’s share of the work so that by the end of the that workday, I finally managed to get the knot of vipers untangled.
Here are some important life lessons I learned in the process:
- Ask for help when you need it. Two sets of blackened fingers are better than one.
- Don’t set arbitrary and unreasonable deadlines for difficult tasks.
- No deer need to die. Scotch tape is your friend.
- Sometimes une pipe really is just une pipe. Investing an ordinary object or event with metaphorical significance is kooky and unproductive.
- Ration out pain when possible…Untangling a nœud de vipères is bad enough…doing it while singing a kitschy hymn at the same time is too much for anyone to bear.
- Most importantly: marry someone who will untangle your necklaces for you and make you shriek with laughter. That’s a keeper for sure.