On a winter night, a cozy snuggle helps heat the blood. My husband, however, doesn’t like my kind of cuddle. After agitatedly grousing at me for pressing the backs of my ice-cold hands onto his warm ribs, jolting him from the narrow path to slumber, he attempts a groggy apology, “Cold hands, warm heart.”
I doubt his sincerity. Though I do have my good features – I seldom complain; I don’t saddle friendships with expectations; I don’t require my husband to prove his love for me with flowers or gifts; I avoid engaging in senseless busyness done only for the sake of busyness; I like to read funny blurbs out loud; I’m eternally, crazily, annoyingly, clinically optimistic – I’m not very nice.
For years I aspired to nice. In the ninth grade, I modeled myself after an upperclassman named Susan; athletic, inclusive, button-nosed, sweet-voiced, likeable Susan, known and loved about school for her girl-next-door freckles and perky attitude. And she was nice. And I tried hard to be like her, grooming my personality, clipping off the sharp points and sarcastic edge. But, like a clean house, I couldn’t maintain it. It slipped into disorder the instant I didn’t make a conscious effort to see the world through roses and kittens.
In college, I aligned myself with the bow-wearing, ruffle-skirted Lou Whittle. Niceness lifted her right off her heels so that she bounced when she walked and bubbled when she talked. Lou had perfect curls and cutsie clothes and oozed generosity of spirit. And again, I tried niceness, thinking that in a new place I could make a fresh start and get it right.
But, no, I stood up in a chapter meeting one Monday night and berated my sorority sisters, Lou included, for being a big bunch of thin-skinned, fearful, humorless ponytails because they voted against putting “RATTLE RATTLE, HERE COME THE CATTLE, PHI-MOO” beneath a knock-off Farside cartoon on the back of a date-night T-shirt. Lou didn’t mentor me anymore. No one bought the nice routine after that.
Just like I gave up working toward morning-person status, finally accepting that I’m a night-person living in a morning-person world, I’ve given up on ever being nice, accepting that I’m an optimist in a nice environment. Really nice has its issues, too. Nice people have to always smile; big toothy, sincere swaths of teeth glinting in the limelight. They must bob their heads agreeably. Nice people have to comment on how nice everyone else is, too, even when everyone else isn’t. Nice people can’t say what’s really on their minds unless, of course, it’s nice. Nice people have to remember the nice things they know about other people and mention those things in conversations. Nice is not as easy as it looks.
I’ve recovered from my longing to be nice.
When my husband says, “Cold hands, warm heart,” I hurumph, and stealthily slide my palms across the bed toward him. He pulls the sheet around himself to shield his chest from my icy fingertips and again says, “Cold hands, warm heart.”
“Not really,” I warn, his teasing repetition wearing on me. “That’s a myth. Cold hands. Cold heart. All day.” Fortunately, the man met me after the CATTLE tirade. Over the last 19 years, he‘s patiently put up with fending off cold hands. With his last breath, before sleep catches up with him, he mumbles, “Cold hands. Cold feet. Cold heart. Hot stuff.”
“All day,” I tartly add, but I’m thinking I wish I could be nice like him.