Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

A Room of OUR Own – Living with Stretch

December 17th, 2018
Greenwich, Connecticut

Loose Ends by Devorah Blachor. Sign This Before You say A Word – I loved this humorous article in the NYT.  A wife writes the terms upon which her husband can tell her about his day, the terms are binding and in effect the minute he steps over the threshold of their shared domicile. One heading reads 8.5-BY-11 PLASTIC DIVIDERS: If HUSBAND has forgotten to bring home the 8.5-BY-11-inch durable plastic dividers specified by Mrs. Herman at their first-grade-parent-teacher meeting, which WIFE attended alone, he is prohibited from telling WIFE about his day.

It’s true that I have no first graders  at home. My children are grown, mostly (key word) out of the house. Yet, I still can TOTALLY relate to Blachor’s lament about chatty partners. Stretch and I commute between two very small rentals, one in Manhattan, the other Connecticut. Up until moving from London to the States a year or so ago, I had my own office at home.  I had my own office ever since my eldest – now 26 – was a wee baby. That’s about 25 years where I had my own space. When I crossed the Atlantic, Virginia Wolfe’s A Room of One’s Own became A Room of OUR Own.

Let me just give you a typical weekend, this past one will do.

On Saturday Stretch and I went to the gym, had a late breakfast and walked the dogs. At about noon I settled into my work spot at the dining room table in our Connecticut rental – Stretch is not a room away, but a sofa away reading the paper.

Stretch, I need a few hours of work time this weekend. (That’s code for no talking)

No problem, he says, as he turns the page.

I open my lap top and start to read a work assignment due Monday.

Did you see this article, “Assume Crash Position”? Scary!

No, I’ll read it after I finish my work. (Subtle reminder)

I ordered the Christmas dinner this morning, Stretch says apropos of nothing. I think the boys and I, we’ll have a night in New York, go to Rockefeller center, see the Christmas lights then have a nice dinner out. We’ll probably Uber back to Connecticut. Or maybe we’ll stay in the city and Uber the next morning.

Stretch is spending Christmas in New York and Connecticut with his three sons. I am spending Christmas in London with my three children. I have shared little of the banal details involved in planning my family’s holiday. Lead by example is clearly failing.

Sounds good, I mumble.

I ordered our Christmas meal on-line this morning. Ham, mashed potatoes, roast carrots and squash and pumpkin pie.

I don’t reply. It’s silent for about thirty seconds. I re-read the email.

I think I’m going to decant the wine for tonight at 6. Then I’ll pour it back into the bottle just before we go out. Don’t let me forget.


Stretch disappears into our bedroom. I start to work finally. Ten minutes later he exits the bedroom. I see that he’s changed out of his track suit into blue jeans, a thick winter sweater and boots.

Should we go for a beach walk now before it gets dark?

That was Saturday. Sunday doesn’t fare much better. I remind Stretch at breakfast that today I really need some time to work.

Maybe you could hang the lights around the tree? I suggest, thinking a task will buy some silence.

Hope springs eternal.

You know, he says eyeing the tree, it looks crooked. I’ll get down on the floor and adjust the base. Can you stand up and tell me when it’s straight?

I do that. Then I sit back down. Stretch stands up and examines the tree again.

Actually, I don’t think the best part of the tree is facing the front of the room. I’m going to get back down on the floor and turn the tree clockwise. Will you stand over by the other end of the room and tell me when the tree looks its fullest?

Chinese Water Torture is now Chinese Tree Torture.

Once we have the tree straight and full frontal, I sit back down. I stare at my open laptop. Waiting.  Stretch is quiet. He’s examining the bundle of Christmas lights in a box at his feet.  He starts trying to disentangle the lights.

You really need to separate the lights when you pack them up, he says, implying that I screwed up last year.

I see him struggling with a whole mess of lights.

I might just need to buy some new ones.

I sigh, stand up and join Stretch in the descrambling task. Five minutes later, problem solved. I return to my “office” while Stretch puts the lights on the tree.

Can you move your chair?

Stretch is now crouching by my chair, inches from me.

Your chair is blocking the socket.

(I told you our rental is small.) I shimmy over a few feet. Stretch turns on the lights and silently stares at his handiwork. I realize this is my time to be supportive girlfriend.

The tree looks great.

I wonder when we should hang the ornaments?

Not now, I answer, a bit shrilly. Later this afternoon.

Stretch nods in agreement, as he quietly assesses his next torture tactic.

I wonder if I should vacuum around the tree? (which is essentially the same thing as vacuuming around me – tree and I are feet apart)

Let’s wait until we’ve done the ornaments.

Again, he’s quiet for 30 seconds, thinking, always thinking.

Shall we turn the Springsteen on?

No, let’s watch that later.

OK, I’ll just turn the football on then.

I am planning on using my holiday time writing up my own terms and conditions for Stretch. It’ll go something like this: If GIRLFRIEND tells BOYFRIEND she needs to work he must remain silent for the next hour. No music, no TV, no sound. He is allowed to vacate the premises, but must not discuss where he’s going, what he plans on doing that day or any random thoughts relating to anything at all unless it’s an emergency. See glossary for definition of emergency.

Merry Christmas


December, 2018