Photo: Courtesy of Sheila Kohler
After that, well, the years went by. We made love frequently, we worked, and we fought. We fought with good intentions, good humor, many laughs, and mostly in the kitchen—strangely, or was it?—over food, but still we fought. I, who prided myself on my cooking—had I not done a course in Paris at the Cordon Bleu, had I not been praised by my first husband for my cooking?—was told to put the chicken back in the oven. "It's still squawking!" my husband told me. I wanted the steak rare, he wanted it well done; I wanted my vegetables soggy, he wanted them crunchy.
We fought over who would do the dishes and how they would be done: He wanted to wash them by hand; I wanted to put them in the dishwasher. We fought over what food to buy. I wanted to fill the refrigerator in one fell swoop with expensive prosciutto, leg of lamb, and runny brie from Balducci's. He wanted to go daily to Fairway to look for heart- and purse-saving bargains: no egg yolks, no fatty cheeses, no bacon fat for cooking the French toast. "Do you want to clog your arteries? One egg has the cholesterol of a tub of butter!" he exclaimed.
"Can you never screw the top on a bottle!" he shouted at me, taking out the orange juice with its loose cap and watching it splash, once again, all over the floor.
We fought over feelings: Why did he not express his more freely? Why was he often silent? What was he thinking about? Why didn't or couldn't he tell me? Why wasn't he the one to say "I love you" over and over again? How could he criticize my work—much of which I brought him to read in early stages—so harshly. "In English we say...," he would exclaim, rewriting one of my sentences.
We fought over politics. Yes, the Holocaust was unspeakable, but there had been other crimes against humanity, surely. My own South African family had come originally from a small town in Bavaria, as did some of the worst Nazis. Yes, the Germans had behaved unbelievably, but were the Americans so very perfect?
What about slavery? What about the American Indians? What about the war in Iraq? Did he always have to dump on the Christians? Should we not cast the mote from our own eye, as I had been taught? Did the six million dead Jews have to come up quite so frequently?
"How can you be so stiff-necked!" I shouted at him one morning in the kitchen over breakfast, while he drank his tea and I, my coffee.
"That's what they have been calling my people for 2,000 years," he said, looking at me askance. Worse still, in a moment of rage on holiday in Italy, hungry, hot, and tired, tramping through the street with sore feet and wanting to enter some expensive eating place, while he sought something more modest, I found myself shouting at him, "You're just a stingy Jew!"
And he, when I had asked once again for the driving directions to my daughter's house, which I had visited many times, exclaimed that all that pork-eating must have gone to my head!
Had I married a racist? Worse still, had I discovered that in my heart of hearts I was a racist? Were people then not all the same, after all? Were men and women so very different? Were Jews and Christians incompatible?
My friend who had introduced us had lunch with me one day. We'd been married a few years by then.
"Happy?" she asked, smiling proudly at the thought of her handiwork.
We Hear You!