I should've known I was in for an interesting time when Mark first asked me out by saying, “You don't want to go to a movie or anything, do you?” I should've known when, in the first two minutes of watching the classic mystery film “Laura,” he leaned over and whispered in my ear, “She's not really dead,” that he would show me levels of romance and irritation hitherto undreamed of.
But what the hell. We married soon after in City Hall in Manhattan. The couple in front of us got into a fight during the ceremony. (He paused a wee bit too long before saying “I do.”) And half of the couple behind us spoke only Chinese and for all we knew, thought she was there to mail a registered letter. In other words, we fit right in.
Fast forward (although it didn’t always feel that way) sixteen years. I mean, sixteeeen years I spent with that man and I still have the facial tic to prove it. There was the time I spent breaking him in: not-so-patiently teaching him to sleep on sheets, use utensils and not to spit in the shower. When we met, my hand to God, the only thing in his kitchen was a Boy Scout mess kit. He wore a leather belt with his bathrobe and owned one half of one towel. Guileless, unspoiled, untouched by any effort at sophistication or self-improvement, he kept me rolling in the aisles for years.
He woke me up on our first Sunday morning together by saying, “Are you going to make French toast?” When I looked into his eyes and told him gently to drop dead, he offered to make breakfast himself. He asked me how to make French toast and I told him to scramble some eggs, dip some bread in and fry it all up. I walked into the kitchen ten minutes later to find him standing quizzically over a pan of cooked scrambled eggs topped with raw Wonder Bread, waiting patiently for it all to transmogrify into — voilà! — French toast.
He thought that jackalopes were real and that my family was sane. Somehow he wound up accused of sleeping with my grandmother, and at any restaurant where he'd have more than two beers, he was guaranteed to make a beeline for the ladies' room. Every single time we got in a car for sixteen years, he'd say quietly, “Buckle up.” People thought I was naïve and crazy when he came home from the Philippines and told a story about his watch being stolen by a bar girl, but I only laughed because he was beyond suspicion and because I knew it must’ve been hilarious.
Sending him to the store was, by far, my favorite thing in the world. When I put “black pepper” on the shopping list, he came home with eggplants, explaining that they were right next to the green and the red ones. When I put “Tampax” on the list he was so mortified to ask where they were kept that he unintelligibly mumbled his question, and the manager thought he'd said, “Where are the thumbtacks?” and asked him if he wanted “the kind you push in with your finger or the kind you bang in with a hammer.”
He came home quite shaken that day and I suppose it's not fair to kick a guy when he's down, but when he asked me what a bay leaf was prior to his next shopping trip, I told him that it was a rare herb that only grew on the banks of certain bays. That there were Hudson Bay bay leaves and Chesapeake Bay bay leaves, but to be sure to ask for Bay of Bengal bay leaves because they were the best. Which he did.
He brought me green carnations the day after St. Patrick's Day, when they were cheaper. I once saw him in briefs so irreconcilably ragged that he was able to take them off over his head during the second half of a Giants' game. Ignoring my advice, we showed up at a party without so much as a bottle of wine or a babka. When he saw that everyone else had some hospitality offering, he pressed a $20 bill into the hostesses' hand and told her to “get yourself something nice.” If we were out to dinner with real people and I kicked him under the table by way of warning him against saying what I KNEW he was about to say, he'd say, “Stop kicking me under the table.”
Did he have good qualities? Only by the truckload. He was kindness personified, loved dogs, was well-read, honest, loaned money to my deadbeat friends, knew millions of jokes and once spent half a day speaking only in words that began with the letter “F” — “Forsooth, fastly find friend foodstuffs for feasting.” I tried to get him while he read the paper: “What news today, F Man?” “Facile fiduciaries fraudulently ferret funds,” he said, after just a few seconds.
He danced like Walter Brennan and could talk just like Pepe Le Pew, took magic lessons from The Great Zovello and when he messed up a trick would look you straight in the eye and say, “You did it wrong.”
But everyone changes and life moves on. One day, when I was complaining about some minor ache or pain, he said, “Maybe it's a tumor.” And that was the beginning of the end. He said I never dusted. I accused him of nagging. But for the most part, I honestly don't have any complaints against the way it ended. Unbeknownst to either of us, whatever civility we failed to demonstrate during our marriage blossomed forth just in time for our divorce.
“You take the dining room set,” he said. “I won't hear another word about it.”
“It's yours,” I parried. “You have the bigger dining room.”
“You can't have too many cheeseboards,” he said.
“Yes you can, you miserable …” I said and paused for a moment to look in his eyes. “Thank you very much for the four cheese boards.”
These days we don't talk very often, maybe a few times a year. We have to watch out because we get along too well and that confuses people. We definitely don't want to be married again or anything, but I dunno … every year around his birthday, I still have a nearly uncontrollable urge to send him a cheese board, and to hear a few well chosen F words.
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