Writer shocked, envious to learn that men can actually think “nothing”

Categorized as Grounds for Insanity column, Rhonda's Posts

For an entire year, they’d been in my head. Ever since the message had come, they’d huddled there, waiting, expectant in the back of my fertile brain.

It was in October 2012 that an email had come, slipping into my inbox on an ordinary day with a not-so-ordinary request. “We’re having a retreat, our church, for the women. We’re needing a speaker. Four sessions. Would you?”

At long last, it was the night before retreat. We had decided that Mr. Schrock would play Jeeves, the butler, as the conference was out in Ohio. The Schrocklets would have the house to themselves, a prospect that excited them terribly, though their excitement dimmed noticeably at the mention of “chores” and “list.”

I was standing at the sink, preparing a small whale toothbrush for a little set of teeth. All at once, I heard what I shall only describe as a boy sound. This was followed by uproarious laughter from the little tooter and his dad. Seeing my cue, I made what I’d describe as a girl sound that went like this: “Disgusting!” Unfortunately, in Manville here, this is taken as a compliment. (You’d think I would know this by now and would find a new sound, but even I have lapses. Even I.)

Anyway. So in the midst the chaos there by the bathroom sink, I lifted my eyes to the heavens and uttered this plaintive cry, “Where are the girls in my life?” Just that quick, the Cheerful Little Cricket piped up, “They’re in Ohio.” That quick, with his unbrushed teeth.

And that’s how I opened it up. I took Little’s line with me to the camp in Ohio and shared it with all of the women. Standing at the podium, the girl from Elkhart County found herself giving thanks for the girls of Holmes County and for the privilege of speaking to them.

Little was right. “My” girls were in Ohio, and my boys were not.

While Mama spent the weekend in a sea of estrogen, an unheard-of phenomenon, there was no such thing back home. Where Mama was, there was laughing (a lot) and crying (a little). A horde of girls sipped all manner of beverages from matching pink glasses, thoughtfully personalized with each one’s name, and shared their feelings.

But in No Estrogen Village, there was no crying (at all) or sharing of feelings. Judging by the way the cash we’d left had evaporated, there’d been significant purchasing of pizza, subs and snacks. And judging by the state of the pantry, a team of highly-organized termites had blown through. The bare studs and empty shelves hinted at that, along with the mound of chip bags in the trash. No one here had succumbed to starvation, that was sure.

All this talk of males reminds me of a tidbit I heard recently. A friend had been listening, she said, to the authors of a popular book on the differences between the sexes. They’d done the research and determined that when you ask a man what he’s thinking about and he says, “Nothing,” he really is. Thinking about nothing, I mean.

Flabbergasted, I’d turned to her husband and said, “Is that true?”

“Yup. Nothing.” That’s what he said.

Claiming column research, I took it to Mr. Schrock who confirmed it as well. Whereupon I promptly moved from the State of Flabbergastedness to a state called Envy. As one whose brain rarely sleeps, I could scarcely fathom a condition of nothingness for even five minutes. It was worth a try, I thought, and gave it a whirl.

Closing my eyes, I focused hard on clearing my mind of all thoughts. For about 1.2 seconds, nothing. Then, coughing from someone upstairs. My eyes flew open. Was that Little? Was he getting sick? Come to think of it, he’d sounded snuffly last night at dinner. Now, where was that cough syrup the doctor had—wait. Rats. I was having thoughts.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried again. Would humming help, I wondered? Hopeful, I hummed two bars of Silent Night, a Christmas favorite. Speaking of which, when Mr. Schrock, the world’s foremost authority on Christmas music, came home, I’d ask him to dig out the holiday CD featuring Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton that I’d nearly worn out last year. It was time to—shoot. Foiled again.

In one last valiant attempt, I added deep breathing. And ended up lightheaded with my head between my knees. And that’s when I noted that the carpets needed vacuuming and no one had carried out the Sunday paper. Double rats.

I now know that this thing of thinking about nothing is way harder than it looks. Kudos to the men for nailing it. How wonderful to have a spot in your brain uninhabited by kids, laundry, the latest specials at Kohl’s and the evening menu.

If practice makes perfect, I’ll hang in and keep trying. If no one coughs, dirties clothes, or comes looking for snacks, I might have a shot. Might. I said “might.”

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