Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Catholic Boys: fourth installment

13. The late humiliation of wrong-headedness.

I pushed you to attend college. To rise above your minimum wage job.

It was none of my business, and you said so. You were right. It was none of my business to make you over. I thought I could do that, back then. Find smart people and make them over into the people I wanted them to be. More accurately: the people I wanted in my life.

By this I meant people I thought could be intellectuals, people who simply lacked the correct tools. Who, once handed such tools, would take them up with gratitude, becoming, in the process, my friends and lovers.

I was not trying to be selfish or demanding, though of course I was. I truly thought the world was filled with people like you, people searching for the right person to extend a helping hand. I had seen this happen within my own family and extrapolated, wrongly, to rest of the world. I have no excuse apart from being very young at the time. Now my early thinking amazes and embarrasses me. But I learned my lesson well. I am sorry for what I did to you. It was wrongheaded, if well meant. After you, I never did it again.

Much later I heard you attended college. I don’t know whether you finished.

There is so little I truly recall of you. It’s shocking to realize how much of our relationship, one I considered pivotal, was purely projection. Though this belittles you, the good things you offered, your side of the story.

14. Other people

For all my talk of weight and face, I was a reasonably pretty teenager, certainly presentable girlfriend material. I was funny and smart. Your brothers liked me; Ryan and I got along especially well. One friend, Carl, was universally feared for his impatience with stupidity. We hit it off instantly. He told you to marry me.

And then there was Marcus. He was a madman, given to extreme drink and loud temper. His girlfriend, Lanie, was the girl you so lusted after. Lanie was indeed pretty. But she was also a high-school dropout and heavy druggie, drifting from job to job. She and Marcus had an arrangement: Fridays were free. They could see anybody else, do anything, and neither was held to account. Saturday nights were spent together. This arrangement intrigued you. Go for it, I said. But I’m not interested. I’m a one man kinda gal.

I thought myself so advanced, so sophisticated. I meant it, though. I’m not the jealous type. You never took me up on it.

Marcus liked me. He liked a pair of black suede boots I wore; he told me to tuck my jeans into them. Like this, he said, then lifted the toe of one socked foot to my calf, tucking the denim edge into the boot cuff. I did not take his behavior as flirtation; I simply accepted it as fashion instruction from a man whose beautiful girlfriend knew how to dress.

I was—am—prone to laryngitis. Any cold I get is certain to settle in my throat, leaving me hoarse, then voiceless, for days. So it was I came down with laryngitis and was reduced to whispering.

Marcus reached up to a high kitchen cabinet—unlike the rest of us, he was tall—and brought down a bottle of Crown Royal. He poured me a shot.

Here.

Swallowing it felt wonderful. My voice returned.

You and your brothers were shocked. Marcus shared his Crown with you?

Crown Royal was the hard liquor of choice in your house. Like coke, it was precious, expensive, hidden and hoarded from others.

Marcus shared his Crown with you?

Soon afterward Ryan and Marcus fought over the dishes left to molder in the sink, and Marcus moved out.

15. Meeting your parents.

Then it was summer and you took me to meet your parents.

They lived about an hour north of us, in a house built beside a lake. When we arrived they were not home. This was expected; you let us in with your key. You took me down to the dock, leading me to the small speedboat. It was a hot, clear day, the kind of day people call glorious. I was very happy in that boat, with you smiling beside me in blue bathing trunks. The summer spread before us, days of parties and the wet slapping sex of humid weather. We docked and went up to the house. We cleaned up, dressed, and then your parents were home.

Your mother looked shocked when she saw me. “I thought you’d have dark hair,” she said. At the time I attributed this to Jay’s girlfriend with my name. Perhaps your mother had conflated us. Now I think it was simply me, my Semitic face and red-brown hair, the too-big body. Your father said little. He was not a large man but in his younger days had been violent. You were afraid of him.

Lunch was served. It was sliced ham. I forget what else. Your mother looked at me maliciously.

My family did not keep kosher, but we ate little pork. Still, I ate the ham.

Somehow the afternoon passed and it was dinner time. Your mother served pork roast with potatoes. I picked at the meal, leaving the meat untouched. Her nastiness sickened me. Not only to me but to you. I was the first girl you had ever brought home. They lacked the decency to even fake kindness.

Driving back we said little. I thought of your oldest brother, who had married a Jewish woman and moved far away. He was highly educated, with a good job. He had little contact with the family. Now I knew why.


16. Interlude: the present.

I found a website where you can track people. Type in a name, and you get a list of cities inhabited and “relatives.” I typed yours: Jay came up, a list of plausibly blue-collar towns near our hometown, and a woman’s name. Foreign. That is, a foreign variant of a common Catholic name.

Obviously a wife.

Of course I Googled her, and you, and found nothing. At stay-at-home mail-order wife? A woman with an unusual name who somehow has avoided the net of the net?

For $9.95 I could have learned more. For $35, the works. I looked myself up, noted with relief the great amounts of misinformation surrounding my name, and logged out.

This wife. I always imagined Lanie: short, slender, irreproachably blonde. But this woman makes me think of dark hair and telephone conversations in Baltic languages.

I’ll never know. That’s fine. I don’t need to.

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