Jeff has a rich inner life. One I’m not always privy to. Periodically, he gives me glimpses into it. More now than in the beginning. Usually, it will start with ‘I’ve been thinking…’ or ‘I’ve been doing some research…’. And it means that he’s been thinking about, and finding ways to solve, whatever it is – for a long time. It will be only in that moment, that I’ll be clued in. I’ve always been supportive of whatever he wanted to do, and these days he clues me in earlier in his process than he used to.
When he wanted to learn to sew, back in the US, I bought him a sewing machine for Christmas and signed him up for classes at the sewing center in Issaquah. The gaggle of old ladies there were suspicious of him at first, but then he became their mascot or substitute grandson – who liked to sew. They were in heaven.
So, what happened this weekend shouldn’t have taken me by surprise, but it did.
I was sitting on our new sofa taking practice test after practice test for my theory exam first thing on Monday morning. Jeff got up and came back in carrying his shoes and a backpack full of stuff. Clearly, he was getting ready to go somewhere, I asked him what was up.
‘I’m going to my class.’ he said – as though I had any idea what he was talking about.
Huh? ‘You’re taking a class?’ I had no clue what and where that would be and when he might have considered this.
‘I signed up for a beginners programming class via MeetUps’ and he kept putting on his shoes.
A beginners programming class? He’s made a career as a software engineer. He can whip up an application or optimize a data base in any language you choose. He’ll build you an app for your i device, tout suite. It’s like a brain surgeon taking Life Sciences 101 at a community college. Jeff hasn’t needed a beginner’s programming class, well, since the beginning of his career 25 years ago. It didn’t add up.
‘I don’t get it.’ I said – eyes narrowing.
‘Well, I gotta go, its an hour to get there, or I’ll be late,’ He leaned over and kissed me, grabbed his backpack and left. Like it was no big deal.
The silence in his wake was deafening. He’s not an ‘Affair’ kind of guy, not the least of which, because he’s a terrible liar. And even if he was, I can’t imagine how he could meet someone – we spend a lot of time together. Granted, maybe too much. ‘Do they have Tinder here?’ I wondered. But he had on an old shirt, and he wouldn’t have needed to take supplies in the back pack. Or would he? I don’t know the rules of etiquette on Tinder (this was the actual thread of my thought process). Maybe in Spain they wear special outfits. But I had to study for my test and I needed to focus on that. While still wondering what he was up to.
Later,I went to a play with a friend, before Jeff got back. She’d already bought the tickets and I did want to see Ken Watanabe in ‘The King and I’. Masterful performance. When I came in, he was sitting on the couch, smiling like a Cheshire cat. OK, maybe it was Tinder.
‘Hey – how was your beginner programming class?’ I asked – using air quotes. I hate air quotes. Waiting to see if he would spin a good yarn. If he did, I’d know. His lips wouldn’t move.
‘Great!’ still smiling.
‘Learn something new, did you?’ I kept it casual but I was suspicious.
‘As a matter of fact, I did. I met some new people and I’m going back next week.’
Next week? Another beginning programming class? This was too much.
‘Like what? What did you learn?’ I was starting to form some hazy pictures in my mind. A matador costume and a bull mask. This would not end well.
‘Spanish.’ he said proudly.
Again – huh? We had taken that disastrous Spanish immersion class when we first got here. He had declined the offer to go with me to my tutor, and the classes I took in the summer. But his Spanish was getting better – I had noticed it in Brazil, and since we’ve been back, he’s using what he has when we go anywhere. No longer afraid to stumble to communicate.
‘I don’t get it.’ The bull ring not yet fading from my mind.
‘Well, I’ve struggled to learn Spanish – in a regular language class. So I’m picking up some here and there. But then I thought – I know a lot of programming languages. So if I went to a beginner programming class, I would learn Spanish in the context of languages I’m already fluent in. And there’s context – something we didn’t have in that class we took.’
Huh? Red cape gone – mind blown! Of course he’s doing this. He’s been trying to solve the problem of learning Spanish in a way that makes sense to him, ever since the Spring. And this is what he’s landed on. It’s very Jeff.
‘What did they say when you introduced yourself.’ I wished I had been there.
‘They were a little confused why I was there. Everyone else said they were changing careers or learning to code for fun. I said I was there to learn Spanish and they seemed surprised. But I explained my theory, and I think they got it after halfway through the hour and a half class, all in Spanish, the instructor turned to me and asked if I understood what was going on. And I told him what they were talking about. He seemed pretty surprised that it was working.’
‘Afterwards, I talked to a few people and I offered to help tutor them for free, if they would help me with my Spanish. Kind of like an intercambio for geeks. At first, I think the instructor thought I was trying to move in on his students and poach them. But I told him that wasn’t what I needed. I just want to learn Spanish in my own way.’
I wanted to laugh, but it was such a perfect solution. And it was his solution. Kind of genius, really.
When we got married, Jeff was very firm on adding a pledge that we would always ‘surprise and delight’ each other. It was the only real thing he insisted on. And, after knowing him for nearly 20 years, I’m happy to report, he’s kept up his end of the bargain.