Essay: On Coming Home From The Conference

Sep 18, 2020

In the not-so-distant past, going to conferences was common. Whether for work or a hobby, conferences can give people meaningful experiences.

For Lake Effect contributor Joanne Nelson, writers conferences would energize her and help hone her craft. But she sometimes wonders if her desire to be out exploring instead of at home could lead to unforeseen consequences:

I came home from the conference buoyed by the breakout sessions, refreshed by time with friends, and packing plenty of convention hall swag. My flight came in early Bruce, my husband, met me outside the airport as planned.

The house sparkled and smelled of Pine Sol when I arrived; happy to be home and grateful for my better half, a guy who enjoys cleaning and takes good care of the family.

After I unpacked, I headed into the upstairs bathroom and discovered a new ruby colored curtain adorning the window overlooking our backyard. I called to Bruce, “It’s okay, but it sure cuts off the view.”

“We can take it down.”

“No, no, it’s fine.”

In the shower, washing the travel away and returning to myself as wife and mom, I noticed a new body wash. Dial for Men. It sported an attractive red and gold label featuring the word “Magnetic” and the tag, ATTRACTION ENHANCING. Underneath this, penetrated by a strip of manly blue, was the phrase: PHEROMONE INFUSED. What, you might ask yourself — as I did, while working my own mild-mannered shampoo into my hair — is a contented husband doing with body wash labeled “pheromone infused?” And, you might wonder — again, as I did having moved onto conditioner — exactly what pheromone infused means. I thought pheromones were naturally occurring chemicals that withered away once you were happily married.

The phrase “attraction enhancing” concerned me. Although I figured product placement in such a highly trafficked area — used by daughters, guests, and me — implied a certain innocence. Or, could it suggest an initial, subconscious inkling of dissatisfaction in what, only moments earlier, had seemed a solid marriage? In fact, toweling off, I pictured myself typing these very words on some future tearful morning, alone but for a lukewarm cup of coffee, relating how I missed the first signs of trouble, and paid the price — the children only visiting and the house for sale. Bruce now with a woman more appreciative of his window treatments, who would remark on how the color complemented the tile flooring instead of criticizing.

A woman who would have been home helping instead of off adventuring.

Bruce was watching television when I came downstairs. Regretting my comments about the new bathroom curtain, I casually asked, “So, what’s with the body wash — the pheromone infused one?”

He replied, “The Dial? It was on sale. $2.79.”

After describing the cost of the other brands he added, “I don’t even know what pheromones are.”

I countered, “Well, you know what ‘attraction enhancing’ means.”

“I don’t think it says that.”

Bruce refused to understand the implications. He suggested no need for enhancement was necessary as he remained a “stud muffin.” Then he returned to the antics on Storage Wars.

I couldn’t let it go. For days I studied the accusatory block letters throbbing against the blue ribbon. I wondered if this was how it happens, small omens laughed off or dismissed in the busyness of work and raising kids.

Eventually I had to ask myself, Why all the concentration on this? Afterall, aren’t I the one with opportunities? Night after night of post conference schmoozing and, at the very least, all that elbow rubbing?

It’s not only opportunity. It’s history. My family includes generations of gallivanters. Heck, both my great-grandfather and father became mid-life runaways.

Perhaps projection scented my over-concentration on body wash.

I’m attracted to the adventuring though, not some need to stray — an ever-increasing desire to be off exploring more than at home decorating. It’s an itchy feeling of not fitting in when everyone gathers around the TV for the night. It’s an understanding that my fears of becoming like my overanxious mother may have kept me from recognizing the more captivating danger — that of my father’s wanderlust.

Several days later, I pinned back the curtain, the color nice against the woodwork, the window no longer muffled.

“Did you notice I changed the curtain?” I asked Bruce when he hadn’t praised my domestic exertion within an hour.

“Yeah. You can see the backyard a lot better.”

He was right. The hammock swaying between our apple trees, the patio furniture, and our colorful flower baskets were more inviting without the gauzy material in the way.

Too often it was my thoughts I saw outside the window though. My focus resting on whatever confirmed the images tumbling around my head. Maybe my own sneaky pheromones caterwauling through the air, looking for trouble. Most days it’s the cars journeying on the highway just visible beyond our backyard that catch and hold my attention at least as much as the hammock, the planters, and the cushioned deck chairs.

Lake Effect contributor Joanne Nelson lives in Hartland, Wisconsin and she’s the author of, This is How We Leave.