I have a lot of trouble sleeping. I have just about every sleep disorder a person can have, things you’ve never heard of, esoteric sleeping disorders.  When I can’t sleep or I wake up and can’t go back to sleep, Victor wins. I’m too tired to write or to paint, so I give him massages. He can get a massage when he’s fast asleep, wake up enough to enjoy it and then go right back to sleep. He’s an unusually gifted sleeper.

Recently we were in a hotel in Sweden where there was this sign in the bathroom:



My daughters both love “products.”  I got my love of “products” from them.  I wanted to try all of them. The “Schampo” and the “Balsam” were both in the shower. I didn’t know if the “Balsam” were a conditioner or a body wash, so I regretfully didn’t use that one when I took my shower.  I didn’t want to body wash my hair after “schampoing” it, in case it wasn’t a conditioner.  The only balsam I know about is that really unusual wood that is so soft you can carve it with your fingernail.  I couldn’t figure out if that would be good for conditioning my hair or washing my body, so I used a bar of soap I saved in the plastic hair cover from the last hotel.






Also on the counter were these two lotions:





Naturally, I couldn’t sleep and Victor was snoring away, so I grabbed one of the lotions and tore off his blanket and gave him an exceptional massage.  Victor does love a massage, regardless of whether he is asleep or awake.  I gave him a good, hard working over.

But I was still awake.

So I snatched the other lotion and gave him a second massage with that lotion. I thought it would be interesting to compare them.  It’s not like I had something else to do in the middle of the night.  My eyes wander out towards my ears when I’m tired, so I can’t even focus to read. The massage started out perfectly, but after a while the lotion dried out, which was weird. I had never had this happen before.  His skin felt like paper. Victor mumbled that he thought perhaps the aloe vera was not a lotion but was instead a liquid soap. I went into the bathroom and ran water over my hands and, by golly, it sure got sudsy.

So I returned to Victor and I told him he had to get up and take a shower, because he couldn’t leave the liquid soap rubbed into his skin all night. Surely he would get a rash or at the very least it would dry out his skin and make him super itchy. He was snoring again.  I shook him awake and repeated myself. He declined. He had no intention of jumping in the shower in the middle of the night.  He wanted to sleep. He didn’t care one whit about the state of his skin in the morning, or ever, if truth be told.

But I felt bad about using soap on him for his second massage of the night, and I still wasn’t tired, so I gave him a third massage with the original lotion. I gave him a super-long, super-greasy massage to try to counteract the crusty film of dry soap. By this time, I had tired myself out enough to go to sleep myself, which sometimes happens.

In the shower the following morning, Victor was completely obscured in suds, without having to use any product whatsoever. It was as though I were watching a body wash commercial where they used lots of computer animation. And in the end, his skin was soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom.

In our four decades together, we have been continually calculating and honing all sorts of strategies which make our living together function as best it can. When we first retired, we were together all the time. That might sound like fun, but it did not turn out to be.  After we came to our senses, we decided to do our volunteering in different places and on different days, so that we have some time apart. This keeps us from being together 24/7, which we quickly discovered was a recipe for getting on each other’s nerves. We’re in our sixties now, and we simply don’t know how much longer we will have together. We want to make the time we have good time.

Don’t get me wrong, we still get into arguments; we’re far from perfect, but you learn certain tricks over the years. I can’t say I know what tricks Victor uses to keep me from making him crazy. I’m sure that he must have tons of them, though. I know I can’t be easy to be around all the time. My kids have told me that enough times. These maneuvers must be covert or they simply wouldn’t work. I’m quite sure he has no idea how often I have to count to ten and to ten again until I can answer a question that might well have resulted in a snide answer, without the requisite pause to get knee-jerk anger out of the equation; or how often I keep my eyes closed tightly when he is driving, so I don’t make that squealy noise that escapes when I think we’re about to be smashed in a massive car accident. That squealy noise really ticks him off. You know, that is the sort of thing is that I mean here. We had to learn the art of making concessions to each other. The art of compromise, done clandestinely, so as not to call attention to itself, done smoothly, no keeping score. (That part’s important.)

There was a time when my sleeping difficulties used to cause friction between us. He used to wake up if I left the bed and then he’d be grumpy all day from lack of sleep. When I figured out that he didn’t care if I woke him for a massage, it totally fixed that problem. It gives me something to do when I’m bleary and tired and it makes him happy. I really feel a sense of accomplishment when I can make Victor happy, since Victor is calibrated a bit off to the cranky side, truth be told.  Frequently it leads to a nice bit of hanky-panky which is always rewarding.  He goes right back to sleep, and there is the added bonus that sometimes it wears me out enough to go to sleep myself.

When we got married, we honestly didn’t understand what being together entailed. We each came with pre-conceived notions that turned out to be hopelessly fanciful. It took us a good long time to learn that for our marriage to survive and to thrive, we had to work at it. We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons. For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.

(Excuse me a minute, Victor is hollering at me from across the house, so I need to count to ten a few times before I go to see what he wants this time….)

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IRENE ZION has been married to the same curmudgeon for 40 years. She has 5 children, none of whom sufficiently appreciates her. The one you probably know is Lenore, who frequently gives her mother hives. Irene paints oil portraits and makes her own frames. She has been described as an outsider artist. Most of her paintings creep people out, especially her family. She finds this to be greatly satisfying. She writes non-fiction for TNB and loves every minute of it. She is writing fiction now too, but is too chicken to show it to anyone. She has two golden retrievers who will inherit anything of worth she leaves behind. Her kids will delight in dividing up her famous cork collection and her notorious stockpile of bubble wrap.

142 responses to “The Massage Story: Or What Might Actually Be A Sort of Love Letter to Victor (Which He Will Never Read)”

  1. Jessica Blau says:

    I love this Irene. I’m going to read it aloud to my husband.

    Victor is so lucky to get all those massages. Wish you were (not)sleeping with me so I could get that body work every night.

    • Irene Zion says:

      You know, Jessica Anya,
      If we ever found ourselves in a place without our husbands,
      I would totally massage the hell out of you.
      But that’s where it would end.
      We’d go to sleep afterwards.
      My heart belongs to Victor.

  2. J.M. Blaine says:

    You know when
    you are swimming
    in a lake
    and you get out
    past the shallows
    and the water has
    that wonderful
    cold deep feeling
    to it?
    This is that depth.
    Depth we so sorely need.
    Reality, wisdom, humility.
    Thank you for teaching us all
    what the words are
    really for.

  3. Ben says:

    For those of you unfamiliar with the inner workings of the Zion household: Our parents communicate with one another almost exclusively through yelling across the house, even though both of them hate it.

    Most of the time they yell to inform the other that a phone is ringing, a dog needs to be taken out or some other menial task needs to be performed. It is a negotiation ploy, or more precisely a game of chicken. Whomever is least willing to keep yelling across the house is obligated to perform the task.

    A hypothetical example:
    Dad: (In the computer room.) Irene, the phone is ringing!
    Mom: (In the family room.) You get it!
    Dad: I am in the computer room!
    Mom: I am busy!
    Dad: You are closer!
    Mom: You are just playing games!
    Dad: But you are closer!
    Mom: (Tired of yelling, yields and answers the phone.)

    • Irene Zion says:


      This was 100% correct in the old days.
      Unfortunately for your parents,
      neither us can hear much at all
      (and neither of us is willing to admit it!)

      So, actually, this is what happens:

      Dad: blahblahblahblahblahblah!
      Mom: What?
      Dad: blahblahblahblahblahblah!
      Mom: What? I can’t hear you!
      Dad: blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahbalh!
      Mom: Fine, I’m coming.

      (And you’re right.
      It’s usually something
      totally stupid.)

    • Lisa Hogan says:

      Enjoyed reading this, especially after spending weeks with you and Victor. Lots of common themes for us but no massages. Here is a similar conversation from our house.

      Tara: (yelling) Mom!!!
      Lisa: I’m in the kitchen.
      Tara: I know; that’s why I’m yelling!

      I admit I have not read through all of the comments but enjoyed what I read. Best to you both.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Hi Lisa!

        So I take it you didn’t make the same mistake with Hoag?
        No soft soap massages?
        You did strike me as the smarter one of the two of us.

        (I love that conversation. So very familiar.)
        Great to hear from you.
        Squeeze Hoag for me.

  4. I love this. It’s so real, so for-the-long-haul. Even 20 years in to my relationship with David, I can learn a thing or two from reading this.

    Though for a woman who will give you 3 massages in a night, perhaps really Victor does not require that many tricks up his sleeve to keep you from annoying him. Sounds like he has a pretty sweet deal.

    In the vein of the Six Question Sex Interview, since I still have sex on the brain, may I suggest masturbation as a sleep aid? It’s less messy than foreign massage lotion, does not require reading, and if Victor wakes up and catches you at it, it would probably still lead to hanky panky. Plus it’s a natural relaxant, though if it doesn’t lead to sleep, it still carries a nice pay off.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I wish you were right, but Victor is basically asleep and most of the time doesn’t even know that I’ve been giving him massages all night.
      But at least I learned not to leave the bed for longer than to pee.
      If I do that, he gets up,
      gets dressed,
      and says
      so I guess we’re up for the day, huh?

      It’s better my way.
      Trust me.

      Oh and your trick?
      It might certainly work on most people,
      but I have restless legs syndrome,
      periodic limb movement disorder,
      pain in affected limbs,
      (That would be four.)
      If my medicine doesn’t work,
      I have to keep moving and moving and moving
      or I will lose my mind.

      You never want to be on coach with me
      for a long flight.
      Of this I am sure.

  5. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    On the surface alone, this was a funny story (snorted at “…we simply don’t know how much longer we will have together. We want to make the time we have good time.”). Under the surface, it was a beautiful love story. The vision of cascading falling-in-love-gasms makes my heart smile. Victor is a lucky man, with or without the massages.

    • Irene Zion says:


      You’re right.
      We may have limited time together,
      but we don’t want to spend it fighting!
      We want to spend it having fun
      and feeling comfortable together.
      That’s why we can’t be
      all the time!

  6. George says:

    Obviously, you should have given Victor a sponge bath. That would have solved the problem and he would have woken feeling more refreshed.

    Seriously, I do hope Victor appreciates how he won the lottery of life when he married you.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I did think of that, however, a sponge bath, no matter how warm it starts, becomes cold and would have taken a soothed, happy man to a chilled, unhappy place!
      I only could have covered the soap with oodles of lotion.
      It was really my only choice.

      (Me too.)

  7. Zara Potts says:

    Isn’t it funny what each reader brings to the piece? I just saw Anon’s comment where he snorted at ‘we simply don’t know how much longer we will have to together.” whereas I found this line unbearably sad. Just because of its undeniable truth.

    But you make the sad happy by deciding to have good times. It’s true that if you have everything you need, in terms of basic needs (food, shelter, money, etc) then happiness IS a choice. It is a decision and you remind us that we all need to make this decision every day.

    And you are so right, Irene – NOT keeping score is a very important ingredient in a successful relationship recipe.


    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Ah, but it was the followup line that made me laugh! It was a bit like punchline to the joke about giving up vices to extend your life – “Who wants to live longer? Those last years are all the crappy ones anyway!” My parents despised each other but stayed together because “that’s what you did”. Quality is more important than quantity and if the former is great enough, it makes the latter irrelevant.

      Now, of course, if you can manage to have both….

      • Irene Zion says:

        anon, my love,
        how smart you are!

        (Perhaps you can tell me what I did wrong with the comment thread thing?
        I keep getting a warning that I did something wrong, and I don’t understand it at all.
        I don’t think I did anything with the comment thread thing.)

    • Irene Zion says:


      It depends how you look at the line. When I first wrote it I thought of it as desperately sad, but then I realized that what time we have is what we have and that’s all she wrote.
      We have to do what has to be done to make our time the best that we can make it.
      I hope you don’t think I knew all this at your tender age, Zara, because I certainly did not.
      Ask your mom.
      It takes years of figuring and planning.
      And I agree,
      keeping score is the worst thing you can do.

      • Tawni says:

        The best marriage advice I’ve ever received was from my father-in-law: “Marriage will never be fifty-fifty, so never expect it to be. Sometimes it will be forty-sixty, sometimes it will be eighty-twenty, but it will all work out in the end if you don’t keep score.” Wise man.

        I loved this piece, Irene. And I was happy to read that I’m not the only insomniac who sometimes uses the hanky-panky-back-to-sleep technique. (:

        • Irene Zion says:


          I knew I wasn’t the only one to use that technique!

          Your father-in-law and I agree, it seems, keeping score can ruin everything.
          (What a smart Machutin you have!)

  8. Stefan Kiesbye says:

    “For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.”

    Oh, Irene, I wish he WILL read this…

  9. Irene Zion says:

    Yeah, me too Stefan,
    but not a chance in hell.
    not a chance.

    • Gloria says:

      Sure. But there must be something kind of freeing about that, no? Like – can say anything you want and he’ll never know!! That’s kind of the silver lining there.

      • Gloria says:

        YOU can say anything… 🙁

        • Irene Zion says:


          That is indeed the silver lining. Even his friends who read my stories don’t mention them to him. He’s made it clear he has nothing to do with my writing. Don’t understand it, but sometimes it works in my favor.

          (It’s good to see that other people sometimes post without proof-reading! I thought it was just me!)

  10. Richard Cox says:


    I was all ready to make a crack about the massages and how lucky Victor is, but then you went and wrote the rest of that post and it made me feel all fuzzy and warm inside and incapable of composing a joke. So never mind that. Reading about yours and Victor’s tug-of-war, the concessions and intelligent, realistic way you look at your long-term relationship…it’s the sort of thing that reaches me where no goofy Hallmark card or Chicken Soup book ever could.

    And of course your gorgeous writing renders it that much more honestly. I love this paragraph:

    “In the shower the following morning, Victor was completely obscured in suds, without having to use any product whatsoever. It was as though I were watching a body wash commercial where they used lots of computer animation. And in the end, his skin was soft and smooth as a baby’s bottom.”

    A perfect capture of your dry and sweet sense of humor.

    Great post.

    P.S. I can’t sleep, either.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Aw, Richard,
      I know how to make you sleep….

      • Richard Cox says:

        Hire a live-in masseuse? I think Ambien is probably cheaper.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Ambien stops working after a while.
          Two don’t even make me sleepy.
          It’s the ants crawling in my legs that are the worst part.
          I have to keep movingmovingmoving to keep them at bay.
          I get so tired.

          I don’t think any masseuse will work in the middle of the night when she’s been sleeping.
          It would cost a fortune for that.

          (Thank you for your kind words, by the bye.)

  11. Don Mitchell says:

    I loved this piece, as a (wounded) veteran of several failed marriages who’s finally gotten into one that works. And it’s because of those things you mention.

    It seems to me that, ignoring the specifics, it seems that you and Victor have found the balances between too much together, too much apart/not interested, and maybe more important, ways to deal with things like sleeplessness that aren’t intrusive and don’t make everything worse. Like the massage thing.

    I admire that. It’s the way to go, and to have written about it in a setting of incomprehensible bottle labels . . . genius.

    As a dirty old man, I confess I was wondering whether “duschtval” might be, ah, a feminine hygiene product. Sounds like it, doesn’t it? But Google to the rescue: it’s “shower soap,” just as you thought.

    I was recently in a long string of motels and at my age I’ve finally figured out to look at the little bottles before I take off my glasses and get in the shower. Otherwise, is it conditioner? Shampoo? Body lotion? Without my glasses I can’t tell. Some of you are saying, He washes his hair? Yep.

    You said you’ve tried everything but just in case — 5HTP? Works for some.

    • Irene Zion says:

      I was in China for a few days at a nice hotel and I washed my hair every day as usual and used conditioner because my hair is really straight and tangles like crazy.
      I just loved the conditioner because I could just comb right through my hair without a tangle.
      But after my hair dried, it still looked wet.
      It took days before I realized that I was going by the color I expected the cream rinse to be, since I couldn’t read it.
      You guessed it.
      Body lotion will completely detangle your hair, but it sure does make it greasy.
      That was when I learned to read the bottles with my glasses on before I took a shower!

      Another thing you’re right about is that I sure can’t read Swedish or Japanese.
      (And why were Swedish hair products written in Japanese, anyway?)

      • Irene Zion says:

        We went for sashimi last night and I asked my friend Junko what the Japanese words meant.
        Well, they are all the same word and it means “spring.”
        Not the season, though, the water spring.
        Oh, and, duh, “izumi” is how you pronounce it.
        Sometimes I feel so stupid.
        It’s good to know folks who can translate for you!

  12. Melissa (Irene's friend) says:

    I have been waiting so long for another story from you. This is so sweet. You are both very lucky to have each other.


    • Irene Zion says:

      Thanks, Melissa, who is moving away and breaking my heart,
      We are lucky, that’s true, but it’s not just luck.
      It’s continuous reevaluation and adjustments,
      because love is a fragile thing.
      It needs tendingtendingtending.

  13. 1159 says:

    There’s no time
    in heaven.

    • Irene Zion says:

      no time in heaven
      no earlier
      no later
      no young
      no old
      only nownownownow
      and now

      • 1159 says:

        when I am plunged into
        there will be no fear
        & I will swim
        for the shore
        like an old soldier
        going home

        • Irene Zion says:

          if I were on the other side
          I would see you coming
          and I would dive
          into Jordan
          and swim to greet you
          all soldiers
          coming home
          will be
          with all the words
          they have waited
          to hear

  14. Stephanie says:

    It’s rare now a days to see a couple actually work. Coming from a family that had to split up for the greater good of every ones sanity has left me feeling that marriage is just a terrible way of living, and a recipe for family disaster, financially and emotionally.
    I don’t know how you and victor do this, and did it. Both of you really stand out in my book of married couples that have lasted for more than 10 years.
    You really give me hope Irene.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I could be wrong, but I think this is how it used to be in the old days.
      You married for life.
      There was so much more work to do then.
      No conveniences that we take for granted.
      No running water, no power other than wood which you had to cut yourself, outhouses, farms, animals,
      work from dawn to dusk and beyond.
      You had to worry out how to make your life good, or at least bearable.
      Usually there were children to make a home for, a safe place, a restful place at the end of a hard day of work.
      There was no one but family, and church or temple, if you were lucky to feel as if you belonged somewhere, in a group of like-minded people.
      It was hard then, but the good parts were really good.
      I think emulating those people in that time is an exercise that comes with great rewards.

  15. Hooray for unasked for (and apparently unrequited) massages, Irene. I intend to read this again, right now, and learn (more) from it.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I can never look at your name without hearing Erika Rae butchering your name.
      It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.
      (You can see it on the first page on the top right corner where it says:
      just click you tube and look for “This is the Nervous Breakdown…Sort of.”
      It’s worth several watches!)

      Sean bow doin (like coin.)
      Sean bow dweee ( like the schwa sound, my personal favorite.)
      Sean ba dwon (like the A in Latin, I love how the “bow” has morphed to “ba” now.)
      Sean ba doo (just like that.)
      Sean ba dwan (like swan.)


      But back to your comment.
      You are a sweet guy Sean.
      (I pronounce your name as though it were French, since it looks French.
      Is that right?)

      • Oh, I’ve seen the video, Irene.

        Yeah, it’s funny. Fortunately, somewhere around the 3rd grade playground, thick callouses grew up over the subject of pronunciation. What was once a swinging offense is now the source of merriment for all. It’s nice to be able to give back. I slap up a lousy post? No sweat, my name’s got it covered.

        And I am indeed as French as Freedom Fries. You know, with some other stuff mixed in.

        • Irene Zion says:

          My French friend, Sean,

          I have yet to see you “slap up a lousy post.”
          Far from it.

          When I taught school half the kids called me Mrs. Zoin.
          I liked that; it was silly.
          My maiden name was “Hunt” which could not be mispronounced.
          I got Mrs. ZEEEEon too.
          In fact, I still do, get both of those in, say, Doctors’ offices.
          I don’t mind.

          I’ve tried really hard to see, but the best I can come up with is your gravitar is holding a purple cupcake with a purple candle in it. Is that it?

        • That’s funny. A long time ago I taught at an outdoor education school that brought a new group of 7th graders in every week. None of the them could pronounce my name, so the director suggested I use something else. I decided on Mr. Soul, and stuck with that the rest of my tenure. I never tired of hearing these little deadpan voices calling me Mr. Soul.

          Yes, it is a purple cupcake. Here’s the scoop on why: http://tinyurl.com/2g47k9e

        • Irene Zion says:

          Sean, (or should I call you rabid lizard now?)

          It is simply wonderful that you appropriated that name and stuck with it throughout the school term. Every time they called your name you must have smiled, and smiling makes for a happy, therefore, good, teacher.

          You should all click that web site up there. It’s nice.

  16. sara a. z. says:

    how cute! and i can relate to the ‘work at it’ idea. i think happiness in general is something you have to work at. you usually don’t just wake up in a super fantastic mood =)

    • Irene Zion says:

      You’re right,
      happiness is not a given, sara a.
      It’s something to strive for.
      But it is done every day by lots of folks.

  17. M.J. Fievre says:

    “Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons.” Thank you for this, Irene. My husband and I have been married for less and five years (and God, how it gets hard sometimes!) and we’ve come to realize that “consciously working at it” IS the key.
    Beautiful piece!

  18. I absolutely loved this one, Irene. I was laughing so hard when you gave Victor his third massage… Hilarious! It made me think about me and Amy. I’m also a “gifted sleeper” and she is very definitely not. Sometimes she’ll wake me in the night to tell me something, and whether it’s that the house is on fire and my feet are burning or that we need to buy more cat food, I’ll simply grunt something passive and continue slumbering away.

    It’s great that you guys plan to get along. That is certainly necessary. Time apart is sometimes as important as time together.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I had to give him his third!
      His skin was just like onion skin paper.
      (Do people know what that is today?
      It’s really crackly sounding paper that’s uncommonly white and see-throughish.)
      I couldn’t leave him like that!

      I think Victor would also continue to slumber if his feet were burning too.
      You are birds of a feather, David.

      • You mean tracing paper? The stuff they give to kids when they’re too young to draw well but who want to feel like they can draw things exactly as they appear?

        • Irene Zion says:

          No, David,
          It wasn’t tracing paper.
          It was fancy paper to use on an important letter, say.
          Very pretty, very crinkly.
          I wonder if it still exists?

        • Hmm… I suppose I’m a bad person to ask, since I’ve always been into typing and e-mailing and have never actually been able to decipherer my own handwriting. The only “fancy” paper I recall using was extra thick creamy stuff that actually looked really ugly, but was quite heavy and so no doubt cost a lot of money and trees.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Was it crinkly?
          Was the color blotchy?
          I’m going to google it.
          I’m sure people like it too much to let it disappear.

        • Quite the opposite, actually. I was sort of smooth and waxy and very, very thick. It felt expensive, and not in the least delicate. I wouldn’t have said it was blotchy… more like streaky.

        • Irene Zion says:

          It does still exist.
          Here is a description that I got off the web, see if you recognize it.

          “Onion skin paper is a type of very light weight, almost translucent paper which somewhat resembles the outer skins of an onion. It is also relatively durable, given how lightweight it is, because it usually contains a high percentage of cotton fibers, which make for stronger paper. There are numerous practical applications for onion skin paper including airmail stationary, Bibles, and other situations where lightweight, strong paper is needed. Along with other specialty papers, onion skin paper is available from paper supply stores and companies in varying sizes to meet differing needs.”

        • Irene Zion says:

          I can’t find “edit” so here’s the part about it being crinkly:

          “The finish of onion skin paper is usually cockled, meaning that it was air dried while it was being made. Cockled paper has a slightly wavy, hand made feel to it, along with a mildly dimpled finish. This property means that onion skin paper often crackles while it is being handled, as the sheets do not lie flat against each other. It also prevents leaves of onion skin paper from sticking to each other or other surfaces, a common problem with very light weight papers. ”

          Doesn’t it sound great, David? I feel like buying some right now! It brings back memories of being a kid to me.

        • You should buy some, Irene, and you should write me a letter with it whenever I get myself an address.

        • Irene Zion says:

          I will!
          If only to coax you to actually get yourself an address!

      • Melissa (Irene's friend) says:

        Onion paper does not beat our banana fiber paper. Just saying.


        • Irene Zion says:


          Banana paper is the bees’ knees, but it doesn’t crinkle like onion paper.
          You know, until I looked it up, I thought there were actually onions mixed in with the cotton.
          Don’t forget to meet me on the roof tomorrow!

  19. Judy Prince says:

    Irene, this has a gentleness and sweetness—-and a kick that kicked in suddenly when I’d finished reading, which made me tear up bcuz it all touched me so deeply. After all, what could be more important in the world than the love you’ve described?

    Though not new at relationships, I’m somewhat new (5 years) at loveship, and I thank all the goddesses and gods in the universe for leading me to dear sweet Rodent. We, too, come up with ideas for what we’ll do together and apart, and we find ourselves fine-tuning them, laughing most of the time. Lots of what gets us to accommodate to one another may sound to outsiders like “work,” but it’s more like consciously being straightforward and clear, each of us saying what we think is important, what we want or need, and saying how something might work—-just *saying* it, getting it said and hearing the response, which usually is immediate agreement and acceptance, or at the very least an offer of practical suggestions or meaningful compromises from which we go on to plan and then carry out the plan.

    Sometimes we’ll think the other person has gone mad or stoopid, and we find out it’s been caused by some word or phrase that the other person doesn’t understand (easier to do when you’re divided by a common language like we are)…..or when we *assume* what the other one means when in fact they don’t mean it at all!!! Makes for some weird frustrated moments, but inevitably a big HOOT when we realise that a teensy word or two has completely perplexed us!

    Rodent seems to have no problem being generous, tolerant, flexible, sweet and appreciative. I seem to have no problem being entirely the opposite. But, Irene, you nailed it for both of this with this:

    “I’m quite sure he has no idea how often I have to count to ten and to ten again until I can answer a question that might well have resulted in a snide answer, without the requisite pause to get knee-jerk anger out of the equation; or how often I keep my eyes closed tightly when he is driving, so I don’t make that squealy noise that escapes when I think we’re about to be smashed in a massive car accident. That squealy noise really ticks him off. You know, that is the sort of thing that I mean here. We had to learn the art of making concessions to each other. The art of compromise, done clandestinely, so as not to call attention to itself, done smoothly, no keeping score. (That part’s important.)”

    The advice of a love-genius, my dear Irene! Thanks for the reinforcing!

    More love to you and wonderful Victor!

    • Irene Zion says:

      Remember Judy, little squirrel,

      There’s honesty
      and there are
      You need them both
      to keep the ship afloat.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Irene, I rather think that it’s not “subterfuge” (deceiving someone to achieve one’s purpose), but exactly what you wrote in the post—-namely, holding back a response “that might well have resulted in a snide answer, without the requisite pause to get knee-jerk anger out of the equation . . .” A brilliant observation!

        It’s a new thing for me to do what you’ve so aptly described, and I pray to do it—-not always succeeding, but trying, mainly bcuz Rodent himself forbears snide remarks, so he’s a great model. In fact, the primary clue to his being ill is when he gets grouchy. Then I know it’s time for him to sleep and get well or to go to the doctor.

        Maybe you and others at TNB should write a love book, a kind of loving book that gives suggestions and examples of loveships.

        Many years ago I read a book about longstanding loveships, each chapter devoted to describing the relationship of a couple. The author said she was surprised, in gathering the facts and information from the couples, that the only thing all the couples had in common was their love. Otherwise, they were utterly unique in how they acted and spoke to one another. Some would yell and curse and throw things around when angry. Some individuals would yell and argue, others seemed unfazed about any probs, some would happily “kiss and make up” and some would just move on to other activities and wait out the prob. I guess it makes perfect sense bcuz everybody’s different, but somehow I’d expected some similar *ways* of behaving and talking when you’re in love. OH! Now I remember one such similar way: The couples, all of them, didn’t disrespect their mates; that is, to themselves and to others they didn’t speak disrespectfully of one another.

        Other sources I’ve read say that, typically, those that people in love will describe their loved ones with a “hallow” in their tone and examples which is not matched by others’ neutral observations about that person.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Oops, Irene, I didn’t edit my last little paragraph. Here’s I hope a clear version of it:

          “I’ve read other sources which say, typically, people in love will describe their loved ones with a “halo” in their tone and examples, and that the “halo” effect is not matched by others’ neutral observations about the person.”

        • Irene Zion says:

          “Hallowed” and “Halo” have the same sort of meaning to me, Judy.

          Did I ever tell you that when I saw Victor for the first time,
          he had a halo all around his body?
          He really, really did.
          I saw it and I knew he was the one for me.
          October 11, 1968.
          That was the day.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Yes, that makes sense, Irene (“hallowed” and “halo” having the same sort of meaning)!

          I do indeed remember your first seeing Victor with a halo—-but I had misread it, apparently, assuming it was just around his head. Wow! A body halo! What is a body halo called….”penumbra”? I haven’t looked its meaning up or checked it out…… on way to hand in our Very Official-looking, signed, home-purchasing papers to the solicitor for the the house closing on the Temple! Exciting!

        • Irene Zion says:


          We will all be expecting pictures of the Temple, both before and after you fix it to be yours!

          A penumbra is a shadow.
          Victor was surrounded and supported by a halo.
          It was mystical and life-changing and 100% real.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Victor was surrounded and supported by a halo.
          It was mystical and life-changing and 100% real.”

          I absolutely believe you, Irene, all four of your assertions. I’ve experienced too many such so-called “coincidences” of life-changing reality to question what you say.

          Example: Six months before I visited my twin grandboys, I had a “vision” of William, the elder by 5 minutes, taking his first steps, towards *me* in their kitchen. As my visit neared its end, on the last day’s morning, I of course assumed my vision had been incorrect. But within a couple hours, William did exactly as the vision had predicted, to the last detail, and the next morning I was flying back home all awonder at it.

          Another example: Years ago I phoned my sister, telling her of a dream in which I saw a little girl toddling about their kitchen, as well as an older girl, both which I took to be her daughters. At the time she had only one daughter. Sis said: “How did you know I was pregnant?! I haven’t even told Bud (her husband) yet!” In those days they didn’t know the sex of the unborn, so there she had it told to her, and that little baby now has given birth to a girl and boy of her (and her husband’s) own!

        • Irene Zion says:


          Those are amazing stories!
          I believe that they are not coincidences, as most people would say.
          I believe that they are 100% true and real and life-changing!

          It happens, if we’re open to it.

  20. Greg Olear says:

    Massages while half-asleep: that’s love. As always, the Zions are fascinating.

    In our house, I’d be willing to forgo massage altogether if my daughter just stopped coming into our bed every night…

    • Irene Zion says:

      Ah Greg,

      We had boomerang bedtime.
      I’d put them to sleep
      and they’d come back down.
      I’d put them to sleep
      and they’d come back down.

      You are dealing with parents who had little discipline.

      The way we dealt with the kids in the bed problem was unusual.
      When they finally got big enough,
      we had them bring down their bedding and make beds for themselves on the floor of our room.
      We had kids sleeping on the floor for years and years and years.

      There were only two of us and hundreds of them.
      We were outnumbered!

    • Judy Prince says:

      Greg, bedroom door locks are essential for marital bliss.

      After a dozen times of door-pounding, weeping and wailing, kids find something other than their parents to occupy them. They’re quite versatile.

      • Irene Zion says:

        Victor and I were total weenies.
        We couldn’t stand them crying.
        (But you would be really surprised at how very, very quiet a couple can be, fooling around after the kids fall asleep on the floor.)

  21. I so enjoyed this! Funny, sweet. Your work is always so wonderfully conversational, like a friend leaning in to tell me a good story.

  22. Irene Zion says:


    That is so kind of you!
    I’m full of stories
    and before TNB no one really wanted to hear them.
    (Yea @Brad Listi!)

  23. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    Okay, that is seriously sweet! Lucky Victor. And what a clever, creative way to help ease you into rest.

    I work from home, and if Todd is off from his job for some reason, the energy of the house changes. I find this disconcerting. It’s something I must learn to manage because one day, he will be around more than evenings and weekends. At least he has interests that could keep him busy, though.

  24. Irene Zion says:


    It took us almost a full year to go from Victor working full-time,
    through Victor telling me the better way to do all the things I had always done alone,
    to being attached at the hip,
    to an amicable arrangement.

    Be prepared, and don’t give up, it takes work!

  25. Gloria says:

    This story made me simultaneously sad and happy. Wistful might be the word.

    Thank you, Irene.

  26. Irene Zion says:


    I’m feeling pretty wistful myself.
    I love it when you read my stories.

  27. Mark Rotunda says:

    It’s truly remarkable how much you and Victor still love each other. A person can really feel how close you two are while reading what you write about him. I feel closer to Erica everyday and look forward to each day with her. It’s a shame that not everyone can experience that. You two are a very rare couple nowadays being married and still madly in love with each other after 40+ years. Love to your family.

    Mark, Erica, and Nicholas Rotunda

  28. Lorna says:


    I love the line about you not making that squealy sound while Victor drives. I can so relate to that. I got tired of putting on the imaginary brake in the passenger seat so now I pull out my cell phone and read inspiring true life stories on TNB and laugh out loud instead. I don’t have a problem sleeping, my husband does. Like Victor, I also get irritated when my husband leaves the bed and sleeps elsewhere. Somewhere in the back of my head, even though I know it’s because he can’t sleep and he thinks he’s being considerate, I feel abandoned. He and I could take a few pointers from you. 🙂

    • Irene Zion says:


      Victor turns absolutely BLUE when that noise escapes me!
      He says those noises are going to CAUSE an accident!
      Really, it’s a sore point for sure.
      I have to keep my eyes closed or reading my phone or it’s curtains for the rest of the day!

      I don’t know how Victor knows when I leave the bed.
      I swear that I’m quiet as a mouse.
      I tiptoe and take the dogs with me, but inside of 10 minutes he’s up, dressed and saying:
      “So I guess we’re up now, huh?”
      I honestly don’t get it, but there it is.
      That’s why I had to come up with something new.
      (He is so grouchy without enough sleep!)

  29. angela says:

    shit! i wrote a comment, and it didn’t post. let’s see if i remember it.

    i love this, irene. let me count the ways.

    beauty products. i LOVE beauty products. sometimes i get out all my little samples with the pretense of “organizing” them, but really i just want to hold them and marvel at their possibilities.

    spending so much time together. i understand that need for time apart. my boyfriend and i love hanging out and working together, but it’s so much better when each of us occasionally goes off to do our own thing.

    asleep massages. i wonder if my BF would enjoy this. though i’m usually the first one asleep, and while my BF is wonderful in so many ways, he gives awful massages. he has huge hands and often doesn’t know his own strength, and they’re usually ice cold. he is a zombie in his hands and feet.

    • Irene Zion says:

      There’s been something weird with TNB for the past few days, Angela.
      It’s really slow and strange poltergeisty things are happening.

      I had no idea about “products” until my girls introduced the concept to me. Now I find myself with the strangest bottles and jars in my bathroom. I know in my head that there’s nothing to make me look any different, but my heart still hears the siren call of the next great product.

      The reason we have to shout across the house so much, is that we even do things in different parts of the house when we are home together for part of each day. Life-saving, that is.

      My hands are cold as ice too. What I do is I scoop up a huge dollop of eucerin cream, usually, and rub it all up my arms to my elbows and keep rubbing until my hands and arms are warmer. Then I start the massage. I have arthritis in my hands, so although I use my hands, I also do a lot with my lower arms and even my elbows. Sometimes I even use my feet, but that is complicated and I haven’t perfected it yet. It’s really good to hear him make his little happy noises, even if he isn’t quite awake and doesn’t know why he’s feeling so good.

  30. Amy says:

    I am writting this while a little bleary eyed myself today. The redeye from Long Beach, CA was not my best idea. Only my daughter slept some and is sleeping again now. I don’t know how you go without sleep, I become a raging maniac after a while. It takes everything I have to treat everyone around me normally and not bite their heads off in the process.

    • Irene Zion says:


      When I heard you were arriving into Miami at 5:30AM, I knew you were nuts, with a two-year-old, no less! I hope you got a really good bargain on that, cause you’re going to be paying for it for a week for absolute sure.
      Just go to sleep when you’re baby’s down! What are you doing up? The work will still be there but you’ll be less tired. Sleep when she’s sleeping. (How many times have I told you that?)

  31. Jude says:

    Oh Irene – how you do make me laugh! You have a way of telling stories that reminds me of my Irish aunty, who is a superb storyteller. You bring laughter to the table as your contribution to dinner and I would have you at my dinner table every night if I could. Laughter is so very good for the soul.

    Now, never having been married and if I had been, I would wish for a marriage such as yours with Victor. I see and hear the love you have for each other shine through the years of reality.
    And Victor sounds like such a love – even though he may be “calibrated a bit off to the cranky side.”

    I think the whole story and your life together is summed up in this line…
    “For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.”

  32. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Jude,

    If only he knew it!

    One day we will travel to your neck of the woods and I would honored to eat at your dinner table, although unless you get a drink into Victor, he won’t say a word, and once he does get a drink, he will say only humiliating, but funny, things.

    Here’s to that day, Jude!

  33. dwoz says:

    I’m terribly sorry, Irene.

    I think it’s a conceit, and a mistake, to think that Victor doesn’t invest in your ministrations.

    Perhaps not OVERTLY.

    I think, since April, I’ve come to know you a little bit.

    Just a tiny bit.

    And while your painting style is primitive, your thought process isn’t. You are not a fool, and you don’t suffer fools.

    Victor is no fool.

    He’s a fucking lucky bastard, that jerk.

    fucking lucky bastard.

    damn his ass.

    • Irene Zion says:


      If I understand you correctly, and I’m not completely sure I do, you misunderstood me.
      (That was more complicated than I meant it to be.)
      Victor loves massages.
      He tells me all the time, although I’m not sure that he remembers all of them, he remembers most.
      He’s funny, though.
      This morning he told me that he loves the calf massages I give him.
      I asked him why he didn’t tell me before, since I rarely do them.
      He said he didn’t want me to think he didn’t appreciate the back massages.
      See? He’s thoughtful in his own strange way.
      And it’s not like he doesn’t do stuff for me.
      I just haven’t told you all about that, cause that wasn’t the subject of the story.
      (He appreciates his damn ass massages too….)

  34. Simon Smithson says:

    At least it wasn’t tiger balm… that would have been interesting.

    God, I enjoy a good massage. I wish I was wealthy enough to get one every day. Or I had a woman who would dispense them as easily as yourself, Irene.

    Victor, I tip my hat, sir.

    • Irene Zion says:


      I’m thinking that over.
      I think that tiger balm would be tingly and interesting, but it always feels cold.
      I think a good massage is always warm.
      Tell me if you think I’m wrong.

      We have a thing here called “groupons” where you can buy for one day only a really cheap massage, although the tip is the normal 20% of the regular price. I’m going to get one on Wednesday for only $35 for an hour of deep tissue! Look on line and see if that has made it’s way to your neck of the woods. They send you e mails every day with offers. Most of them are not for me, like tanning or boxing or hair dye and cuts. I just look for the massages and the pedicures.

      You can tip your hat to me and I’ll know it. Tipping your hat to Victor is a waste of time, cause he won’t know about it.

  35. ksw says:

    ah, young love! your oyster has made some great pearls. it has been an honor standing in the effluent from your bivalve.

    • Irene Zion says:


      You are nothing short of amazing.
      For real.
      You honor me and tease me at exactly the same time.
      It takes talent to do that.
      You should be a writer.

  36. Ruthie says:

    Well , this is a lovely one. Makes me want to sleep with you so I can get a message too.
    I love the part about not keeping score. Great advice for all newlyweds.

  37. Joe Daly says:

    >>We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons. For Victor and me, the world is our oyster now, for as long as we have together.<<

    A beautiful piece, capped off with sage advice and no small dose of inspiration. It’s true, isn’t it? That falling in love is easy but staying in love requires work and patience. Thanks for the reminder that love isn’t a process of irreversible erosion- it can grow just as easily as it can fade.

    Good stuff, Ms. Z.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Joe, sweet sugar pie,

      You are such a kind and funny person.
      It is my good luck that you read my stories.
      Love can grow just as easily as it can fade,
      and it’s all up to the people involved,
      no one else.

  38. Uche Ogbuji says:

    You put your left hand on
    You rinse your left hand out
    You squeeze the product on
    And you rub it all about
    You do the hanky-panky and you turn yourself around
    That’s what it’s all about!


  39. Tim says:

    My mother gives me the heebie jeebies.

    • Irene Zion says:

      That’s what mothers are for, Tim.
      You should have learned that by now,
      smart as you are.

    • Judy Prince says:

      I didn’t know young people said “heebie jeebies” anymore.

      • Irene Zion says:

        HA! Judy,

        My kids have run out of ways to say that I creep them out.
        Besides, they learned how to talk from how we spoke and what we read to them.
        They have an old-fashioned vocabulary along with today’s.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I am proud to say that both of our children accurate call balderdash, hogwash and poppycock when they hear utter nonsense being spewed by an adult….

        • Irene Zion says:

          You two are doing a great job of raising literate children, Anon.
          I applaud you.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I just hope they use their powers for good. By which I mean, “I hope they don’t piss off their parents too often.”

        • Irene Zion says:

          Sorry, Anon,
          no chance of that.
          They’ll piss you off plenty.
          It’s how it has to be.
          Gird your loins for the coming battles.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I don’t know, Irene. Or Anon. Kids are born to kill us, a little at a time…..or at least maim us enough to preclude our functioning more than 50%, so what’s up with talking to them or reading to them? We need to save our energy to claw our way through 30-plus years of child-raising. And If they’re *really* smart, they’ll pick up all their words from their friends.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Ha. Nice, Judy. My parents were devout Darwinists. If they kept wolves from eating me before I could feed myself, their work was done. I’m trying to raise the parenting bar just a smidge higher.

        • Judy Prince says:


          Anon, just don’t raise the bar high enough to let them limbo under it and eat the puppy’s food—-or the puppy.

          What kind of puppy is it???!!!

        • Irene Zion says:


          I think that that is the natural thing.
          Our children have to slay us to grow up.
          It does hurt, I’ll give you that, but once they’re grown,
          they see with adult eyes.
          They notice that you did your best.
          Then they have children.
          They see it’s not as easy as they thought.
          So far from the black and white they assumed it would be.
          They love you again.
          (You simply have to live long enough to see it.)

  40. Marcia, still in Illinois says:

    I think Ben got it just about right– another common occurrence: you’ll be talking to one of the on the phone, and the other one will yell to them to answer the door, and then they go from there. You don’t even have to be there to experience it. Calling them in the car is also amusing.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Well, Marcia, still in Illinois,

      Calling in the car is different, since for some reason I feel I should have my eyes open while speaking on the phone, even if it is bluetooth. Therefore, I am able to see that which I close my eyes to avoid seeing, ordinarily. Perhaps this is the reason one might construe my voice as a bit more high-pitched. I am, in fact, holding in small screams, thus altering the usual timbre of my voice.

  41. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Irene, this is really very sweet. I always enjoy hearing about life mates. It’s inspiring. Also, I think your midnight massage tonic for insomnia is pure genius.

  42. Irene Zion says:

    Thank you, Lisa,

    I believe that is the first time anyone has used the word “genius” in regards to me!

    • Irene Zion says:

      For some reason I do not have editing abilities anymore, so I would like to change the above
      “in regards” to “in regard.”
      I wish my editing abilities would return….

  43. Ed says:

    You sure covered a lot of important stuff. I thought the only place you could get “products” was at the hair cutting place. They’re always offering “products”. I have never succombed to their “product” pitches, but maybe if they positioned their breasts in just the right way, I might. But much more important, you provided one of those “ah-ha” insights with your observation “The art of compromise, done clandestinely, so as not to call attention to itself, done smoothly, no keeping score. (That part’s important.)” I was married to a woman who was among the elite at “keeping score”. During the divorce there were scores of scores that I hadn’t even known were being scored.

  44. Irene Zion says:

    Oh my, Ed,

    I have seen myself many times the cost of keeping score.
    Many people misunderstand what a marriage means, and the keeping score blunder has got to be up there with the worst.
    It is insidious and it is destructive to a relationship.
    Often it is fatal.

  45. Irene — this story and your marriage is a thing of beauty and wonder. xx~ robin

  46. lori says:

    I LOVE this piece!
    Especially: “…We each came with pre-conceived notions that turned out to be hopelessly fanciful. It took us a good long time to learn that for our marriage to survive and to thrive, we had to work at it. We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons….”

    • Irene Zion says:


      The best part about it is that it’s all true.
      Learning it was no simple thing, but over time it was easier and easier.
      I appreciate your kind words.

  47. Erika Rae says:

    There is nothing better than a good rubdown at the end of the day. It just covers all manner of sins, doesn’t it? Well, almost all of them. I mean, with a shoulder rub, for example, I’m willing to overlook a lot. It covers at least 2 or 3 of the 7 deadliest. A good strip-off-the-shirt-with-lotion massage is better, of course. 30 minutes covers up to 5. An hour pretty much pays it back to zero.

    At any rate.

    I am inspired by your stamina, Irene. And your willingness to make things work for the sake of falling in love again and again and again. So very inspired.

  48. Irene Zion says:

    Erika Rae,

    It’s mainly the touching, I think.
    We all need to be touched in all sorts of ways by the person we love, and by the same token, we need to touch those we love. Different kinds of touches for different people, but connecting all the same.

    When I taught school, after years of hugging my kids when they needed it, we were told not to touch them anymore, for fear of lawsuits. I went on hugging them when hugging was appropriate, and touching their arms to congratulate a job well done, and swatting their shoulders when they were funny. Never did get into trouble.

    (By the way, Erika Rae calling me “inspiring” has just touched my heart.)

  49. This was so sweet, Irene.

    I love your candor. You are a very inspiring and intelligent woman.

    I still want to make a documentary of Victor on Ambien. But we can leave out the massage parts.

  50. Irene Zion says:

    Hey Megan,

    I’ll give you candid, but I think that inspiring and intelligent are above my pay grade.

    Victor will never take ambien a second time.
    If only you had been on that plane with us,
    it would’a been swell.

  51. Gregory Messina says:

    i need to try that counting 10 seconds thing before giving a snide reply. that would save us from so many moments of tension. and when i give those snide replies, i can hear myself and know exactly what it’s about to set off.

    are you the record holder on this thing with the most number of comments?

  52. Irene Zion says:

    Oh hello there, Gregory,

    Nice to see you!
    Sometimes it’s more than one ten-second count, it can add up. But if, when you’re doing it, you think of being your partner and what he’d hear if you said what you were thinking, that helps. Of course, already knowing what it would set off should be enough.

    On the second question, not by a long shot. I’m not positive, but I there are quite a few people with more than 300 comments. I’m just minor-league.

  53. Marni Grossman says:

    Oh, Irene:

    “It took us a good long time to learn that for our marriage to survive and to thrive, we had to work at it. We had to figure things out. Sometimes it was hard, but we fell in love for a reason and over time, consciously working at it, we grew together and fell in love over and over again for a million other reasons.”

    This killed me. I think it’s a lesson my Dad forgot.

  54. Irene Zion says:


    For me to come up with ways of making things work depended on my wanting them to work.
    Your dad just gave up, for some reason.
    He’s all the poorer for it, as is the family left behind.
    Just learn not to be like him, learn from his mistakes.
    When you get married, it will be forever.
    I have confidence in you.

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