This morning, after I saw my wife’s pajamas on the bathroom floor, I kicked them just far enough behind the door so that she would have trouble finding them tonight when she got ready for bed. I would like to say that I thought twice before my deceptive act, but I don’t think I did.
Later in the morning, I noticed that Vicky had left her hat on the ground in our entryway, and instead of picking it up and placing it in the closet, I kicked it farther out into the middle of the floor. I didn’t think twice about my decision in this instance, either.
I’ve developed a pattern of shady behavior, focused on deviously hiding Vicky’s belongings, since we moved to Switzerland a month ago. When Vicky left a sock on the couch after a night of binge-watching Netflix last week, I didn’t put the sock in the laundry bin but actually snuck it behind the blanket on the couch so that she wouldn’t be able to find it. And when she left her slippers under the coffee table this past weekend, I found myself trying to push one of them behind the leg of the coffee table and under the ottoman so that she would have trouble finding it the next night.
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While I am trying to irritate Vicky with my scheming, the only one I seem to be hurting is myself. The reality is that Vicky has no memory of where exactly she took off her pajamas or if she left her hat one foot or three feet from the front door. As for the sock that I hid behind the blanket, by the time she realizes it’s missing I will have hidden its partner, so it doesn’t make a difference.
I, on the other hand, spend the whole day stressing out every time I see clothes on the floor or socks on the couch and could have alleviated all of my frustration by putting each item where it belongs. How my living space is organized has been a constant issue throughout my 25-year struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but that doesn’t tell the full story of why I keep hiding my wife’s clothes.
In December, when Vicky and I decided to move to Basel for her career, I initially thought about staying in New York and teaching until the end of the school year. I had made strong connections with a handful of students and wanted to see them through the end of the year. Unlike many professions, teachers don’t get to see a “final product.” Seeing our students leave our classes on the last day of school is the closest we get.
But after having been married for only six months, the thought of living away from my wife until July didn’t seem tolerable. So, in mid-December, I gave notice to my school so that Vicky and I could move to Switzerland together. Supporting my wife, her career, and our marriage was the right thing to do.
I have always loved the fact that Vicky is a businesswoman, and I look up to her for having the stamina to work 70-hour weeks and travel around the world for work. I’m the opposite: I once had to go to a conference on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and complained about it for a week. And, while I often work at home during the evenings, I whine when I am at school past sundown. Every so often Vicky works until sunrise. I fell in love with Vicky for many reasons, one of which was that she thrives in the pressure packed world that I grew up thinking was only inhabited by men. Her degrees from Oxford, Cambridge, and Wharton were intimidating, but I was also captivated by her ability to think quickly through problems that easily confused me. With this in mind, I knew that her career would be the focus of many of our life decisions. But as our departure date and the last day with my students neared, I became more and more uneasy about my decision to leave school halfway through the year.
In addition to feeling sad about leaving my students, I also felt uncomfortable not earning a salary after we moved. Vicky’s job comfortably supports us, but not providing any economic support has been harder for me than I thought it would be. I have always made less money than Vicky, but we split our bills evenly. It doesn’t matter that I am doing important tasks like moving us into our apartment, figuring out the banking system, and learning how to take out the garbage without getting fined. I am still dependent on her for our rent. At times I feel embarrassed.
I also get lonely. In Brooklyn, I was surrounded by rowdy teenagers all day and lived in a bustling city. In Switzerland, my only obligations during the week are three hours of German classes. And there is an absence of noise here that can easily frighten a New Yorker. This loneliness, it seems, is being taken out on my wife’s wardrobe.
When I came home from German lessons this afternoon, I noticed that the cleaning people had picked up my wife’s pajamas and placed them on the toilet seat. I stared at them for a moment and felt incredibly ashamed. But that didn’t stop me from putting them on the floor again so that I could use the toilet. About an hour later, I walked into the bathroom and saw the pajamas staring up at me from the floor. I shook my head in disgust at my own behavior, picked them up, and brought them into the bedroom.
After Vicky left for work this morning, I walked into the bathroom and on the floor, in the same exact spot as yesterday, were her pajamas and slippers. They seemed to be peering up at me, almost goading me into some catty act. However, after showering, I picked up the pajamas, folded them, and placed them on our bed.
I am still lonely and out of work, but Vicky is thriving in her new job and right now that is all that matters. Sadly, I don’t imagine that my surreptitious hiding of my wife’s clothing will immediately stop, but I do hope to have more afternoons like today.
Tommy Mulvoy is an American expat living in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife, Vicky, and son, Aksel. When not chasing after Aksel, or keeping the peace between the family’s pets, he teaches English and Special Education at the International School of Basel.
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