Why didn't you wake me up?


Sometimes, Stephanie and I argued. Not a lot and not often, but we had some misunderstandings and disagreements. Most of our arguments were in our first few years together, and as we got to know each other better over time, the arguments came farther apart. An argument never lasted days, and I can only think of one argument that lasted even hours (a story I've already told).

Most of our arguments lasted maybe a few minutes, before one or both of us apologized and it was over. We never much disagreed about anything politically, but we argued a couple of times about whether to argue politics with someone who scattered Republican talking points into every conversation. We argued about whether we could afford to buy shrimp.

Stephanie's preference was always to stay up late and wake up late, while my habit was to turn in early and get out of bed early. We never argued about that; it soon became the norm that I'd go to bed two or three hours before Steph, and because I was always awake before she was, she asked me to be her back-up alarm clock. That was what we argued about, more than anything and everything else.

She would tell me when she wanted to be up, and she would set her alarm for an hour before that time. On work mornings, the alarm routine was rigid — her alarm went off at 6, and she'd usually use the "snooze" function to sneak a little more sleep, but if she wasn't up by 6:30 I was supposed to rouse her, and I did.

"Hey, Steph. It's 6:30 and you're supposed to be awake."

"Oh, thanks," she'd say, and then she'd yawn and she'd be up and starting her day.

On the weekends, though, and after she was no longer working, things were a bit more flexible. There might be something we wanted to do, but there was rarely anything we absolutely had to do. She would ask me to make sure she was awake by, let's say, 10:00, and she would set her alarm for 9:00. I'd be up and about, quietly so as not to disturb her, and her alarm would go off at 9AM, and she'd hit "snooze" and I'd hear the alarm in another ten minutes, over and over again. If she didn't emerge eventually, I'd nudge her at ten like she'd asked, but she also used the "snooze" function on me, like she did on the alarm clock.

"Steph, you asked me to make sure you're awake by 10. It's ten o'clock now."

"Mmmmmmmm, could I have another half-hour?"

"Sure, I'll be back to nudge you at 10:30."

And come 10:30 I'd nudge her again, and maybe she'd get up, or maybe she'd ask for another half an hour. She might ask for another half an hour three or four times, so she'd end up sleeping hours later than she'd intended, but — no worries. It's not like we had reservations anywhere.

Our wake-up call system worked well, except when it didn't, and there were two ways it could go wrong. Sometimes I’d be absorbed in a book or newspaper I was reading and forget about my nudging duties. "Sorry, honey, I was supposed to re-nudge you at 10:30 but I forgot and now it's 11:15." Or sometimes when I nudged her at the appointed time, she'd tell me that she wanted to sleep for another hour, but when I re-nudged her an hour later she'd have no memory of telling me that, so she'd be annoyed that I'd let her oversleep.

It seems silly now (and it also seemed silly then), but we argued about her wake-up times. "You were supposed to wake me at ten, and now it's noon. Damn it, Doug, why didn't you wake me up?"

"I did wake you up."

"Well, obviously you didn't wake me up," she'd say, "as I'm just waking up now and it's two hours later."

"You told me to let you sleep longer."

"Yeah, that's what you say, but I don't think so."

"You're a grown-up woman. Not my fault if you refuse to use an alarm clock."

"If I ask you to make sure I'm awake, maybe you could sure I'm awake?"

Ninety-nine mornings out of a hundred our nudge routine worked fine, but even 99/100 means we had three morning arguments a year. For a while I'd be stubborn and refuse to do nudge-duty, or require her to open her eyes and sit up in bed and ask if she wanted another half-hour of sleep. Usually, though, if she asked me to nudge her I'd nudge her, and if she asked for a little more sleepy time I'd let her sleep a little longer.

Our last such argument was just a few weeks before she died, when my brothers and their wives and my mother came to Wisconsin for a visit. Steph so very much wanted to spend time with my family, but for the most part she wasn't feeling up to it. It was their fourth day in Wisconsin, and Steph had already missed two days, staying home in bed. She had to do overnight dialysis, which meant we couldn't be out the door before ten, but we hadn't arranged a meet-up time with my family, nor had Steph asked me to nudge her, and her alarm hadn't sounded. Like I said, she'd been feeling poorly, so I figured the sleep would do her good, and let her sleep until noon — our normal nudge-time, if she hadn't specified an earlier nudge-time.

Well, that morning she had forgotten to set her alarm clock, but she wanted to be up at 10:00, and she was quite certain she had told me to nudge her no later than 10:30. I was equally certain she'd never said anything about nudging her that morning, so we argued on our way to the Wisconsin Dells, where my family was staying.

When Stephanie and I argued, we said mean things to each other. The mean things she said to me were mostly just true — "You're irresponsible," "You don't follow through on things," etc. Since Steph had very few shortcomings, I couldn't throw mean things at her that were true, so I just said mean things. "That's stupid," "You're full of crap," etc.

How is it possible that I said mean things to her, ever, let alone when I knew she wasn't feeling well? So many people deserve mean words like that, sometimes, or often, but Steph never deserved mean words.

We apologized to each other, long before we reached the Dells. We always apologized, after every argument. We apologized solid, and we forgave each other, and we were in good spirits again almost instantly. But this argument sticks in my mind, because it was our last. My apology feels like it's not enough. If she asked me to nudge her that morning I didn't hear it, and I want to apologize again and forever, or better yet, I want to have not had that argument. I want to wake her up at 10:30 that morning.