Make Your Voice Heard
How Michael McDonald Ruined My Marriage (Sort Of)
We’d drifted apart, and my husband couldn’t believe it was Michael who had brought us together in the first place
We had been drifting apart since the kids had moved out and on with their lives. For the record, I tried. Really hard. But I just couldn’t sit through my husband Mark’s preferred genre of bleak and sinister TV shows. As a person with generalized anxiety disorder and chronic depression, it was in my best interest to go my separate viewing way.
So he stayed in the back sunroom, immersed in cold-blooded killers, futuristic hellscapes, and Blue Bloods, while I camped out in the front room, romping through witty comedies. We’d exchange pleasantries during bathroom breaks — he’d give me recaps of the predictable-to-me plot twists, and I would feign interest for the sake of the marriage, eager to get back to my episode of Drunk History.
But then, New Year’s Eve came. A night when couples should, at the very least, spend quality TV time together. I scrolled through the offerings. He passed judgement.
“Poirot?” I asked.
“No,” he said flatly.
“Lincoln? Daniel Day Lewis?”
I suggested The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. “It’s about a bunch of British retirees who move to India.”
“Is Helen Mirren in it?”
“Uh, no. Judi Dench.”
“Pass,” he said.
Mid-scroll, he stopped me. “Ooh. Back up. What was that . . . Doobie Brothers? Concert? Go back to that.”
Yes. There it was. A full video of a Doobie Brothers concert, taped in 1979 at Alpine Valley in Wisconsin. “I was at that concert,” he said.
For most people, being at a concert meant they had been in the crowd, but for Mark, being at the concert meant he had been above the crowd, working as a follow spotlight operator. AKA the guy who climbs a rope ladder up, up, up to a precarious position on a narrow catwalk.
We settled in with our charcuterie while Michael McDonald sang “Take Me In Your Arms.” I was transported back to 1979. Young. Bell-bottomed. My hair cut in a Kristy McNichol shag. Mark made a dissatisfied noise, as if he had chosen a bad selection from the cured meats and had to commit to swallowing. “God! I hate Michael McDonald,” he said.
Oh, boy. Here we go.
“He ruined the sound of a really good, kick-ass rock band . . .”
Here comes the part about how he made them sound like elevator music.
“–and made them sound like elevator music!”
I shoved a piece of crusty bread into my mouth to keep it shut.
For the length of our marriage, whenever a Michael McDonald song popped on the radio, Mark couldn’t change the station fast enough. I could have taken umbrage, but I didn’t because . . . what was it my mother had said? Pick your battles? I never thought it was a battle to wage.
“I happen to like Michael McDonald!” I said.
Mark stopped mid-chew. “What?”
“You heard me. I like Michael McDonald. Big fan. Hu-uge.”
He got up and stood in front of the television, blocking my view of Michael’s thick salt and peppered head of hair that I had dreamed of running my then 27-year-old fingers through.
“Could you move, please? I can’t see Michael’s incredibly long lashes in this close-up.”
“H-how long have you felt this way? Is this a recent thing?”
“Nope. Not recent. I’ve felt this way forever.”
Mark rubbed his forehead with his hand. He walked into the kitchen and stayed there for the duration of the concert. Fine. I had Michael et al all to myself for the next 50 minutes. I wanted to be that mic, so close to his lips, his eyes closed, probably just like the way he looks when he makes out.
Mark returned for the last song, “Listen To The Music.” “Is it safe?” he said.
“By safe do you mean no Michael McDonald?”
“Well, it’s over, so, yeah,” I said.
It was late. No more charcuterie. Michael McDonald was once again a memory, just like my hair, my wardrobe, my choice in men.
When we crawled into bed, Mark had questions. “Why didn’t you ever tell me about this?”
“Listen,” I said. “Remember when we met? All that drama? Should I stay with the guy I had been living with or leave him and go with you, a guy who I had like, just met in a bar?”
“A guy who you had asked to marry after only what . . . a few hours?”
“. . . and a few beers,” I said.
“ and what did I say? I said yes!” he said.
True. He had. I had asked him to marry me because he wanted my phone number and I didn’t want to date anymore. I wanted to cut to the chase, so when I proposed, he hadn’t missed a beat and said, “What the hell, okay!”
“Yeah, but I had to break up with the man I was living with first, and it wasn’t that easy!” I said.
“What are you saying? You had cold feet?!”
I had sobered up a bit, and while I was pretty sure my current relationship was dead and I should move on, I wasn’t totally sure I should move on to Mark.
“So, I had to decide. And do you know who made me decide to go with you?”
“Dear, God. Please, no,” he said.
“Michael McDonald!” I said. “Specifically, the song ‘One Step Closer.’”
Mark covered his face with his hands.
I recited the lyrics:
“I know it’s risky now and then, what with all the what–ifs and the whens . . .you have to admit, there were a lot of what-ifs,” I said.
“Not on my end,” he said.
“Can’t you see we’re runnin’ late . . . we ain’t got time to wait . . . we were practically 30,” I said.
“We were 27!” he said.
“Yeah. 30,” I said.
“It’s closer to 25 than 30,” he said.
“Whatever.” I continued paraphrasing. “Hold on, hold on tight, I can take us through the night all right . . . that was you telling me you had my back, and then, maybe I will take my chance with you . . . I figured if you were willing to take a chance on me, then I’d take a chance with you!”
I heard him sigh. He rolled over onto his side. “Good night,” he said.
“Uh huh,” I said.
I felt him roll back onto his back. “Unless there’s something else you have to tell me?” he asked.
I thought about telling him how there were times when I thought the Beatles were overrated, I mean, Obla Dee Obla Dah? Come on! but, that would have killed him, and I’d be arrested for murder. “Um, no. Not really.”
Listen to more of Mel’s stories on her hilarious podcast House Broken: Stories of Renovation, Romance, and Regret.