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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Guilty pleasures

How literature can wreck a prefectly good marriage

April 1st, 2007

househusband.jpgBY CATE GARRISON

I am racked with guilt about my husband. When I hear him come home from grocery shopping or walking the dog, I start like a child caught red-handed in mischief, jump up from the computer where I’ve been writing, and run, with a shit-eating grin on my face, to help him unpack the heavy, brown paper bags he’s hauled from the car, or to unclip the pooch from his leash. When I hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner starting up and realize, once again, that my more conscientious spouse is embarking on the much-neglected housework, I dash to pick up a feather duster, or a toilet brush, and pretend I was always intending to play my wifely part. My conscience is pricked not so much by the thought that as a woman these chores should fall to me (though despite decades of feminist striving I frequently still do) but by the deep-down, incontrovertible knowledge that, baby, I done him wrong.

My sense of shame is compounded this particular month of April, as we approach our twentieth wedding anniversary, on the eleventh. I am profoundly aware that, over two whole decades, nothing major has come between us, apart from the usual marital tiffs, disagreements, and squabbles. My husband has stood faithfully alongside me through the vagaries of child-rearing, or house-moving; he has held my hand through the hot flashes of menopause and the cold horrors of bereavement. And yet, though I realize he doesn’t himself yet suspect it, I am deliberately, cold-heartedly, and with a frisson of actual pleasure, engaged in an enterprise that is killing off our marriage.

It all began some years ago, when the mother of a family friend suggested I write down the stories I’d been telling her about a pesky but lovable dog we used to own. As readers of this magazine may know, this animal was a brown-haired, long-eared mutt named JJ, who drove us mad with his garbage-eating, his nightly wanderings, his tendency to destroy our property, but who could look at us with his deep brown eyes and force us to give him, always, just one more chance. For a long while, I did nothing about the suggestion. But then our friend’s mother died, and I began to wish, as one always does when it’s too late to make amends, that I could have told her I’d taken her advice. The rest is literally history. I began to write down the canine anecdotes, without frills or modification; the dog’s doings were sufficient unto themselves to warrant no exaggeration.

The devil, as he always does, was lurking in the details. As many a writer will aver, the temptation to broaden, elaborate, or “improve on” truth is well-nigh irresistible. Think of that fibber James Frey and his Million Little Pieces. Or of the supposedly objective New York Times reporter Jayson Blair, who told downright lies to his readers. And if “autobiography” and reportage are subject to distortion, how much more likely to morph into fiction are stories that never claimed to be wholly factual in the first place? Besides, no account is ever completely accurate. By the mere inclusion of one particular detail and the missing out of another, a writer creates a version of history that someone else might properly describe as inaccurate.

For me, however, the sin has not been one of omission. The truth is that I began to tease my husband, and to a lesser extent my two younger sons, as I wrote about them in my stories. I just wanted to be a little mischievous, a tad naughty, to have some fun, to cast a smidgen of unwarranted blame. Though the dog was introduced to us by my spouse, who did unexpectedly bring home photographs just the way I described it, there was far less mystery, not to say malevolence, in his actions than I inferred. Similarly, though my husband worked long hours (as a cardiologist, not a businessman), his absences from home were not (so far as I know, at least), the result of infidelities. (And in parenthesis, I should perhaps add at this point that although we once employed a handyman to fence our yard, I never, ever fell into his arms, nor did he take a Stanley knife to a car of ours, Mercedes or otherwise. I write this not only for the benefit of any insurance agents among the readership, but also because, Your Honor, it is the truth and nothing but.)

But alas, the confession worsens. Once I had taken a single step along the primrose path to perdition, I found I couldn’t stop myself. My spouse’s imagined womanizing worsened; his trips away from home became more frequent; his outright insensitivity to my needs more blatant and unforgivable. Frankly, I found I simply couldn’t take it. Though my husband is blithely unaware of the fact, out combing the aisles of New Seasons’ Market as he is for the rosehip pills I have told him will help my incipient arthritis (it’s in my fingers, from too much typing), we are clearly headed, maybe in the very next chapter, for a much deserved divorce.

At least I can claim that my marriage has been unique. While most wives can feel remorse over their own infidelities, or anger over their husbands’ real indiscretions, I have the distinction of feeling guilty at divorcing, in fiction, the truth-based husband I have steered into the imaginary arms of another. Of several others, as a matter of fact. It is an interesting and complex notion that I would love to explore further. But I hear the sound of his car in the driveway. I can feel myself beginning to panic; I know I’m blushing. I’d better leap from my chair and run to help him, before he begins to suspect the further indiscretions of which I am about to accuse him in these pages, and that will surely lead to the fictional breakup our otherwise fine and healthy marriage. •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Marriage Issue, Garrison | Link to this Entry

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