Sleepwalking Through Marriage

When Melanie Gideon’s husband gave her a to-do list suggesting space travel, she feared he was having a midlife crisis. In The Slippery Year, she recalls rediscovering happily ever after.

08.03.09 6:48 AM ET

A while ago my husband emailed me his to-do list. This wasn’t an out of the ordinary occurrence. He had been emailing me his to-do lists for years. It was his little way of staying in touch, letting me know what was going on in his life.

The lists were pedestrian enough. Pick up the dry cleaning. Replace the batteries in the fire alarm. But this list was different. The header read TO DO MELANIE—BEFORE WE DIE.

It turned out my husband’s and my to-do lists were not so different after all. We both wanted to see the Earth from outer space. We would just get there in different ways.

I scanned it quickly. There were over a hundred items on it.  No. 1 was Drive to Baja.  No. 100, See the Earth from outer space.

I laid my head down on my desk, feeling faint. Had he forgotten to whom he was married? I wasn’t a risk taker. Or a planner. And I hated to travel.

Wow, I emailed him back. This is a joke, right?

No joke, he wrote back. And I would appreciate you giving this some serious thought. Perhaps you should come up with a list of your own, he suggested.

Fine. I emailed him back my THINGS TO DO BEFORE I DIE list. It had two items on it.

1. Eat more kale

2. Explore the possibility I might have ADD.

The Slippery Year. By Melanie Gideon. 224 Pages. Knopf. $24.95.

My husband, apparently dissatisfied with my lack of enthusiasm, made some additions to his list and sent it back to me again. And again. And again. And each time I felt worse and worse. The list was an indictment. It might as well have read THINGS THAT SUCK ABOUT MY WIFE.

1. No sense of adventure.

2. Gets motion sick even on a swing.

3. Intends to sleepwalk through the rest of her life.

Eventually I stopped reading my husband’s list. I just emailed him back replies like I worry about your knees and Didn’t you already hike Mt. Aconcagua?

Well, this was a grave mistake because I missed when No. 1 went from an innocent Drive to Baja. To Drive to Baja with family. To Drive to Baja with family in a tricked out, jacked-up, five-ton, 4 x 4 van with diesel engine and after-market hydraulics.

I tell you this as a cautionary tale. This is what happens when you stop paying attention to your husband’s to-do lists. Because one month later, this van was sitting in our driveway.

Welcome to my Slippery Year.

The Slippery Year isn’t really about a van. It’s about all the things that matter: childhood, summer, a good mattress and ancient dogs, but the van was the catalyst for my journey. It was the thing that woke me up.

Slippage is a phenomenon that I suspect many of us have experienced. Friends, dreams, our younger, braver selves often slip away from us, and they slip away slowly, in dribs and drabs, which makes it hard to track their disappearance. The monster van parked in my driveway told me I had two options. I could climb back into my life or I could be left behind.

It turned out my husband’s and my to-do  lists were not so different after all. We both wanted to see the Earth from outer space. We would just get there in different ways. His preferred method of travel was a space ship. Mine was no travel at all.

Many times over the course of my Slippery Year I had that feeling of awe I imagine one would feel gazing down at our blue planet from some heavenly perch—that delicious sense of being outside and inside your body at the same time. And the brilliant thing was that I didn’t have to leave home or my marriage to get there. All I had to do was wake up to the bounty of my ordinary life.

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Melanie Gideon was born and raised in Rhode Island. She now lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son. She is the author of two young adult novels, The Map That Breathed and Pucker. The Slippery Year is her first memoir.