In the 25 years since we’ve known each other, I have never met the man that is sitting at our dining room table nor have I ever heard the laugh that spontaneously escaped from his lips during a Zoom meeting. Growing up together as high school sweethearts and accumulating over two decades of data, I was confident I knew the man I married inside and out almost to the point of stale predictability. Yet here I was, sitting at my own computer startled by a foreign sound that never entered my life before COVID: a work laugh. It was borderline hysterics, and louder than any sound he’s ever made before.
A measured man, he usually is a hard play to get any emotion from. He is the consistent base to my peaks-and-valleys personality type proving that opposites do attract. He is grounding, calm, and impossible to rile. I have heard him raise his voice in anger less than a handful of times in our entire existence together. Each outburst was more than justified. I pull curses into 80% of my sentences for fun. The most dramatic behavior I’ve ever experienced from him is a possible eye roll as he walks away from my antics. So this flaring laughter that filled the air around us was unexpected and completely challenging to my reality.
I started to wonder what other new qualities I could find in this work persona I now share quarantine time with. They revealed themselves quite quickly after a few days of observation.
He’s left handed (at work).
While this seems like something I should have known by now, what I can confirm is that he is right handed by nature. Walking past his new makeshift workstation, I noticed his mouse was placed on the left side of his computer and watched one day as he used his left hand to maneuver it despite being a natural righty. When asked why, his response was “because I wanted to see if I could.” Apparently he can and has for several years. Who knew? But also, whhhhyyyyyyy?????? Isn’t life full of enough challenges when you’re already using your dominant hand? Don’t even get me started with the touchpad on my laptop. Everything I do on it looks like a toddler was holding a fat crayon for the first time. I’ve also learned that the natural progression from this remastering of hand dominance is that his signature can now be created by this non dominant hand as well.
He has a work nickname.
Like our endearing names at home, my husband has a work name, “Steve.” This may not seem like a surprise as it is a natural shortening of his name, but it is simply NOT his name. Everyone in his life has exclusively called him Stephen for as long as I’ve known him. I’m curious as to when this deviation took place. Did it naturally occur by a coworker and he just rolled with it instead of correcting them? Or even stranger, did he initiate this new persona himself? Either way, to hear “Steve” becomes just as jarring as when your children call you by your first name instead of Mom. “Hey, Lauren. Can you pack me PB&J for lunch today?” Your brain does a somersault through its identity. “I’m sorry. What did you just call me?” Hearing people at work calling him Steve is just as alien to me as Steve’s work laugh.
He is an office chair yogi.
While I slump in our oversized couch typing emails and carefully observing him for more qualities I’ve yet to learn, he is sitting straight as a pin at the table. My back aches just looking at him. Noticing that he’s sitting on a bench chair instead of one with back support, I offer to bring one over. He kindly declines saying that he’s been working on his posture during working hours and finds the bench preferable as it forces his core to engage and correct his laziness. Laziness is sitting on an oversized couch while still in pajamas at noon, Steve. Pretty sure what you’re doing is called exercise.
His memory is better than I thought.
What I am most impressed about is his ability to remember the most minute details during work calls when I normally can’t get him to remember my birthday, a once annual reminder that happens exactly two weeks after his. In fact, any time I ask him to remember something in our life, he replies with, “I’ll never remember that. Email it to me.” Put new toilet paper on roll in bathroom — email sent. Work Steve sits at his computer about an hour and a half before his work day actually starts and almost never gets up. It’s a solid eight plus hours in one spot with his attention instantly meeting the needs of a million simultaneous demands and overlapping calls. He manages all this chaos with incredible clarity and patience. I’m exhausted after 20 minutes of watching him manage even though he has barely moved an inch from his perfectly postured sitting position. He can be on hours-long Zoom meetings and remember the tiniest detail stated from a coworker two hours before in explicit accuracy, or reference the most random element on a construction document that no one else in the meeting remembered at all. But the two minute lag to remember the toilet paper is too big a task. Give wife a hug in 20 minutes. Email sent.
He has office supplies that are dear to him.
As our dining room table has now converted into his cluttered work space, I have learned that he has work pens—beautifully multicolored work pens laid out purposefully in a rainbow colored row. I have also learned I am not allowed to use them. Or move them. Or touch them. Ever. Period. It’s nice to have as a reference if he ever tries to use my fabric scissors to cut anything other than a string hanging off his T-shirt.
Mr. “Oatmeal and Kale” has a sweet tooth.
At the end of a long day, our family would converge around our wood stove and watch some TV while eating dessert together. My daughters would sit with cookie crumbs scattering their laps. On particularly stressful days, I could be found eating gluten free, dairy free, frozen product straight from the pint (with the list of allergens I have accrued, it’s a miracle I even have that). My husband, the health guru, could be found eating a handful of dates for dessert. Yes, dates. For dessert. When I kept hearing reference to coworkers missing “Steve’s secret snack drawer” I pressed in to learn more. In Steve’s corporate world, it is customary for wonderful gift baskets to arrive at the beginning of December and into the new year from clients to thank their company for their support. These baskets are filled with gourmet treats that are quietly pilfered by my husband and stashed in a drawer in his office for other coworkers in his department to snack on throughout the year. A bottomless stash of Godiva chocolates, handmade cookies and other sweets are on the ready to be consumed throughout his 8+ hour day. For 25 years, I sat shamefully eating dessert next to Mr. Handful of Dates never knowing that he was detoxing from a daily sugar rush.
It’s at times hard for me to recognize the daytime man who is currently occupying our dining room during this quarantine. He looks just like the man I saw every morning and evening during his commuting existence; the dry oatmeal-eating, measured man of few words and emotions, but now I see him with a deeper level of workday existence than I ever knew possible.
He laughs and speaks with coworkers with animation and kindness. He listens to their problems with the care and patience of a professional therapist and shows genuine interest in stories about their kids and weekend plans. I knew the concept of what he did everyday, but the amount of workload he manages every minute of every working day is beyond impressive.
Sometimes I wonder if the grueling commute is what muted this lively Work Steve back into the Stephen the rest of us know and love. Working long hours at a challenging job, is it possible that we only met the recovery state of a man while the rest of the day got him on all his sugared up cylinders? It makes me think about the impact of a work/life balance and how this moment in time will impact that dynamic in the future.
I am growing to love learning more about this person that I thought I knew inside and out. He always impressed me with his incredible patience and intellect. I knew that he would bring that to his work life as well, but what an unexpected gift this quarantine experience has been seeing him in his element and learning who he is from 9-5, or in his case 7:30-5. Will Work Steve become the new norm in our household? I certainly hope so.