The Reflex (July 17, 2012)

“Every little thing the reflex does
Leaves you answered with a question mark”

– Duran Duran

On Sunday evening, my boyfriend and I were walking back from a quick dinner at the local Wendy’s franchise. It was t-minus two hours until the Season 5 premiere of Breaking Bad, an event I had been anticipating for several months. I was sipping on a Strawberry Frosty Shake he’d gotten “for himself,” knowing full well he doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth and I’d be likely to consume it. Acquainted with me for years, he intuitively understands that a second hand dessert somehow leaves behind fewer traces of guilt.

We crossed the street, he with a firm grip on my left hand, when we heard the familiar sound of squealing tires. We both rotated just in time to see the pickup truck and SUV collide in the middle of the intersection, a sequence of events that couldn’t have taken more than a second. But I can’t report on the denouement because like a mother sparrow whose nest was under attack, he used my left arm to whip me around behind him protectively. Then, with a display of Gumby-like dexterity, he moved one hand to shield my face while manipulating the other to retrieve a cigarette from the pack in his front pocket.

Moments is too long a duration to describe how quickly events moved, but as the iconic pop band Duran Duran concluded for us in the 1980s, my boyfriend’s reflexes left me answered with a question mark. Of all the options his fight or flight response could have chosen, my safety and smoking a cigarette were the two deemed most critical.

The accident occurred at least 50 feet from where we stood rooted to the pavement with other passerby. But it wasn’t until the adrenaline simmered and we saw a dog and a small girl emerge from the wrecked pickup unharmed that I began to reflect on what it all meant for us. We were never in danger, or to put it more succinctly, I never was, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

Time was I didn’t think I was the traditional type. I didn’t want or need a man to hold open a door for me or pull out a chair or even pay the bill. I’m an independent woman and can take care of myself. But was that my genuine ideology or simply a response to a lack of kindly treatment? It’s often easier when starved to simply go with a claim to not being hungry.

As the sirens began to wail and emergency vehicles arrived on the scene, I met his eyes and found myself speechless with gratitude. Without thinking I said “thank you.” He returned my gaze, perplexed, smoke wafting from his now relaxed right hand and asked “What for baby?”

“I can’t ignore what I just saw. You mean what you say. You’ll take care of me, without waiting for more information or consent. Thank you. You’ve told me to judge your love based on empirical evidence (he’s a scientist by profession) and you just gave me some.”

As we finished the walk to his apartment, I wrestled with the usual existential questions: Why? Do I deserve that kind of instinctual care? Would I have behaved the same way? Until it occurred to me that his reflexes just are. Whatever answers my neurotic mind could spit out are rendered meaningless. Whatever I think of myself, I can’t control what his synapses decide is most worth defending.


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