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When the NHL lockout began last September, I admit that I rejoiced.
I anticipated a winter of peaceful nights spent with my husband, Scott, watching Downton Abbey and Girls and the occasional romantic comedy.
Our sons’ bedtime routine would not be rushed on game nights so that Scott could watch the puck drop, and Hockey Night in Canada would not impinge on our social life every Saturday until June.
At first, the lockout was all it promised to be. No longer intellectually and emotionally preoccupied by the inner workings of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Scott was a more present and interactive husband and father.
Instead of hiding in the bathroom reading hockey blogs on his tablet, he made himself useful around the house, doing the laundry when he had a spare minute or emptying the dishwasher. Instead of nagging him to get off the computer and pay attention to his wife and kids, I found myself praising him for tidying the foyer and putting his tools away.
There was a significant shift in his mood, too. During hockey season, my husband inevitably shifts into a more anxious, emotionally unbalanced human being. His beloved team toys with his emotions, losing game after game until his spirit is crushed, then winning just often enough to keep his hope alive and his imagination burning.
During hockey season Scott begins most of his sentences with, “If only,” as in, “If only the Leafs could get a real power forward,” or, “If only they could get an all-star goalie,” or, later in the season, “If only they could get this new prospect I’ve been reading about.”
Without hockey this year, without the Leafs toying with his emotions, Scott was a stable, happy human being. Until he wasn’t.
“I’m bored,” he lamented one night in late October. He was sitting on the couch, flipping idly through Netflix, his tablet screen blank on his lap.
“Look up something online,” I suggested, happily creating an idea book on Houzz.
“I’ve read all of the hockey websites – there’s nothing new.”
“That’s because there’s no hockey. Look up something else,” I suggested.
“But that’s all I do online – read about hockey. I don’t know what else to look at.”
“Read the news,” I suggested, “or check out MLS.”
“I did that, too. MLS is the same as it was an hour ago, and the news is depressing.”
“Go on Houzz and tell me what you think of this colour for the foyer,” I said.
He looked. “I don’t like that colour,” he said finally. I ignored him.
“Do we have any snacks?” he asked a minute later.
“I don’t know; look in the kitchen,” I said.
“But do you know, off hand, if you bought anything good this week?”
“I bought all the same stuff I usually buy,” I said, irritated.
Sighing deeply, he got up and returned a few minutes later with a platter of cheese and some wine. He ate his cheese and scrolled through the Netflix menu again. Then he picked up his tablet, checked his hockey sites and put it back down. He got up to get more wine.
“Are you sure we don’t have any ice cream?” he complained.
“The corner store’s five minutes away,” I said. “You could get some yourself.”
“It’s raining,” he said, sighing again. “I’m going to bed.”
The next night, the same listless boredom took hold of him. And the next night, and the night after that. Finally, I stopped hanging out with him.
“What do you mean you don’t want to watch TV with me?” he asked, alarmed.
“Well nothing’s on, so I’m just going to hang out upstairs and do stuff on the computer,” I said. I did not add that his inability to entertain himself was driving me crazy.
“But what am I supposed to do?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Why don’t you read?” I suggested.
“It’s too early to read. I’ll fall asleep.”
“Well, you could sand the baseboards in the living room, or paint the trim in the bathroom.”
“But I just want to relax.”
Then he developed lockout-induced insomnia.
“Why can’t you sleep?” I demanded as he tossed and turned one night.
“I usually build a fantasy Leafs team in my head when I’m falling asleep,” he said. “I can’t build a team if I can’t watch them play.”
He started sleeping in the guest room so his restless frustration wouldn’t keep me awake.
The lockout I had thought would bring us together was slowly driving us apart. Worried, I started to pay attention to the daily news coverage, hoping Gary Bettman and the NHLPA would make amends before my marriage unravelled. I silently apologized to the hockey gods for not recognizing the game’s vital role in keeping balance in my relationship.
When Scott announced gleefully on Jan. 6 that the lockout was over, and that hockey would soon return, we both breathed a sigh of relief.
The Leafs may toy with his emotions and the league may occupy his thoughts, but if that restores the harmony in our marriage, so be it. I’d rather be a hockey widow than a lockout divorcée.
Michelle Gibson lives in Hamilton.
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