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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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Practice wife

April 1st, 2007

BY STEPHEN STARBUCK

“Sit down so you can enjoy that!”

That’s probably the last thing I’ll remember from my first marriage, my practice wife erupting, harping on my favored practice of eating a kitchen sink salad I’d just thrown together, scarfing it up actually at the kitchen sink, standing, on my feet, imagine that. A couple of kinds of lettuce, daikon (I’d say Japanese radish — thick and sweet, that grows like a giant white carrot — except when you’re living in Japan, you don’t say that), shaved carrots, olives, chunks of tomatoes, sharp cheddar, raw nuts, sprouts, and whatever else the fridge was hiding, drenched in olive oil and balsamic and minced garlic and cracked pepper… eaten directly from the stainless steel bowl I mixed it in, a pure pleasure.

She actually said that, and it stuck, graven; it seemed emblematic at the time, something I laughed about that never struck her as funny, then or any time it came up subsequently. The moment was etched into my brainpan: this is what this relationship is all about. It’s the caption that’s worth a thousand words to me. The vacuity of that moment, made solid as a brickbat and sharp as a battleaxe.

Everything else about that time will fade eventually, burn off or evaporate, leaving the crystalline clarity of that command glinting in the dim light of my eventual senescence. This will be the one that raises a last unprompted cackle before some endless sleep. I can let everything else go.

There were other things to remember, of course. She wasn’t Japanese, for instance. And how we wound up there, our round-the-world honeymoon that never got out of Asia, prosecuting our instantly failed marriage for nearly two years of what seemed like a life sentence… the whole thing seems preposterous in retrospect but that’s what this vantage allows. At the time, in those grinding moments, it was all the possibility we knew or rather the only one we could brook, support, endure. Nobody wants to divorce. Nobody wants to fail: fail the person you thought you loved, or, more tellingly, admit you’ve failed yourself so miserably by being in the situation in the first place.

Oh well, anyone can have a bad decade. It only cost us five years of throwing in together and however many, probably an equal amount, let’s say another five, separately, to work through the cold calculus of the aftermath on our own. I can’t speak for her, but that was about it for me.

I did hear, fifteen years later, from friends from Japan who routinely came to visit the States, that she had: 1) broken up with her golf pro coke dealer boyfriend (uh, way to go? or: I’ll see that and raise her a crack smoking debutante PhD candidate); 2) got a nice little business writing career going for herself (nice!); and 3) was moving to Switzerland to be with her lesbian lover (triple yay!). Not that I expect that any of that necessarily led to any more self-discovery and self-love than I saw the potential for long ago in the person I once knew (or rather, was so inextricably proximate to), it was still good to hear. Good for another laugh I suppose, too, faint and wan, like the echo of an echo.

Sit down so I can enjoy that, indeed. •

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

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