My married name is Lisa Strauss. From the outside, I resemble a respectable woman. A photographer seeking to capture the essence of the American female might stroll into my local supermarket and take a snapshot of me unloading a cart full of milk, maxipads, Cheerios, Boston butt, Idaho Spuds, onion bagels, and a king-size box of Junior Mints. Later the photographer would develop the picture and say: Voilà. Yet another ten-pound-overweight wife and mother who wears a stained jogging suit, drives a Toyota Camry, and pigs out on Smarties or Dum-Dums when she gets pissed at herself. Or her husband. Or her kid.
Okay. So maybe that’s an accurate portrait of me from the outside. But on the inside, I’m anything but an ordinary wife who purchases California prunes for her sometimes-constipated husband at the Price Chopper market (her eyes firmly turned away from those Cosmo and Redbook headlines that read ten ways to fire him up 2-nite! and turn your marital angst into marital bliss). And my true self is miles away from the regular mom who mock-threatens her son squirming in the front seat of the shopping cart, “Put a stop to that whining right now–or I’ll put you on the grocery belt and refuse to pay for you when the cashier says, ‘And your grand total is . . .’ ”
I loathe admitting this to anyone, but I’m an (aspiring) writer. Which means I’m a professional liar. Or maybe it just means I lead one lusty-slut of a fantasy life and that I neglect myself and my family–never mind my broom and my mop and my toilet brush–to nurture the odd assortment of characters who keep moving their cumbersome furniture around in my head.
My husband, Eben, on the other hand, is so grounded in reality–so normal, so disgustingly logical–that people often remark on what an “unusual couple” we make (translation: Whoa! Are you two ever mismatched!). If I were seeking a shorthand method of characterizing Ebb, it might run like this: For the past ten years, he has worked for the same pharmaceutical corporation, whose hottest-selling drug is an over-the-counter medicine meant to promote regularity. Plus he wears a lot of gray. Plus–I mean–the guy has never ridden a bike in his life!
But I love him anyway. And even though Ebb always tells me ’love you instead of I love you (as if to disavow any responsibility for harboring such a foolish and uncontrollable emotion), I know he loves me just as much back. He, after all, was the one who proposed we honor Valentine’s Day by cocooning at home. I didn’t put up an argument. Although I know that a truly sexy woman (i.e., a single woman) would expect to be wined and dined at some romantic candlelit restaurant, the moment I got married I morphed into the world’s cheapest date. Nothing makes me–or Ebb–happier than sitting cross-legged in front of the coffee table eating take-out Chinese, watching our son, Danny, crack open the fortune cookies and phonetically sound out our fates. (“Daddy, your cookie says: Hap-pee is he who is CON-tent with his lot. Mommy, your cookie says: Life is a tray-juh-dee for those who feel, and a co-muh-dee for those who think.”)
But this year fate wouldn’t let Ebb and me stay at home–and thus stay out of trouble–on Valentine’s Day. At the eleventh hour, Ebb’s CEO and his wife found out we had “no plans to speak of” for the evening, so they asked us to substitute for them at a benefit cocktail hour and dinner for the American Heart Association. Ebb–ever the good company man–said yes, which meant I had to do everything short of calling a dog kennel to find a last-minute place to park Danny (who kept repeating, “But I don’t want a baby-sitter. I want chop suey”).
Ebb was the designated driver that evening–not because I planned on boozing it up, but because his car (a silver Audi with a meticulously vacuumed gray leather interior) was much more presentable than my car (a baby-blue Toyota with Froot Loops pulverized into the floor mats and sticky grape Juicy Juice splattered on the red plastic booster seat).
Ebb had picked me up straight from the office, so he had to heave his heavy briefcase into the back before I could climb into the passenger side. I was too aware of the date–a holiday meant to celebrate amour–and so the kiss I first gave Ebb felt obligatory. My lips hit his cheek, and my nose bumped his glasses. But then Ebb drew me closer–or at least as close as we could get with the stick shift between us–and said, “Again?”
“Yes,” I said. “Definitely. Again.”
The second time we kissed was a lot more wowsa. Ebb sneaked his hand underneath my unbuttoned winter coat and I slipped my hand beneath his gray wool jacket. My mistake–because when I pulled away, Ebb’s jacket fell open, revealing that he carried one of the worst masculine genetic deficiencies nature ever invented. The specifics pain me, but they must be admitted: My husband is severely color-blind. And he wore a turd-brown necktie that made me want to shudder!
I might have strongly suggested that Ebb change his tie (with these loving words: Lose the tie!) if he hadn’t told me, “You look nice tonight.”
I glanced down at my white silk blouse and black velvet skirt. “I look like I should be standing on a riser, belting out the ‘Hallelujah Chorus with five hundred other amateur singers.”
Ebb peeled back my coat placket and gave my blouse a closer look. “I think I can see your bra–”
“That’s because you are looking to see my bra.”
“Do you want to change?”
“If I change,” I said, “will you change?” I pointed to his tie.
Ebb immediately put the car in reverse. “We’re running late,” he said. “Do me a favor and look out your side window.”
“This morning–when I backed down the driveway–I almost crushed a cat.”
Once we made it out on the main road (without flattening a single feline), I looked down at my wrinkled skirt and sighed. I couldn’t believe I had married a man who thought that brown went together with gray. And I just knew I should have put on a better outfit. But I’d been in a rush to feed Danny a consolation meal of La Choy chow mein before I dropped him off at the home of one of his Montessori schoolteachers. I hadn’t had time to fix myself up. And I guess by not paying much attention to what I wore, I was making a silent statement (which, of course, Ebb completely failed to get). I was telling Ebb that even though he was a loving, faithful husband who just that afternoon had sent me the standard overpriced dozen red roses, I still didn’t like the way he forced me to call around for baby-sitters at the last moment. I didn’t like the way he always put the office before home. And I especially didn’t like attending these work-related parties where, whenever I got separated from him, I was forced to introduce myself as “Eben Strauss’s wife.”
Just for the record, “I Gotta Be Me” was not playing on oldies radio as we sat in traffic on Route 9. But the lyrics to that obnoxious song were running through my head as Ebb idly drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, then glanced over at me when I reached beneath my skirt to fix my twisted slip.
“I know you don’t like to go to these . . . doo-rahs, as you call them,” he said.
“Whatever gave you that impression?” I asked.
“You keep fidgeting.”
“I’m wearing control-top panty hose,” I said.
“They’re squishing my ovaries.” I stuck my thumb under the too-tight waistband of my stockings and gave the elastic a dissatisfied snap. “And speaking of fashion–”
“Let’s not. Since I know exactly what’s coming.”
“But, Ebb. Really. I just have to say. That tie of yours–”
“This is a perfectly respectable tie.”
“–is the color of diarrhea.”
Ebb cleared his throat. “I prefer to think of it as burgundy.”
He pushed up his glasses. I bit my tongue. Someone really needed to inform Ebb that gold-rimmed glasses never should be worn by men whose jet-black hair is getting shot through with glistening silver. But it wasn’t going to be me. I had compassion (never mind a few gray hairs coming in myself).
I pulled down the mirrored visor, fished my lipstick out of my clutch purse, and applied a sloppy coat of Winter Frost to my chapped lips.
“You know,” I told Ebb, “we hardly ever spend any time together anymore.”
“But we’re together right now.”
“Together alone.” I tossed my lipstick back into my purse and closed the gold jaws with a decisive click. “Why do I have to accompany you to every social shebang?”
Ebb kept his eyes on the road. “Because.”
“ ’Cuz why?”
“ ’Cuz if you don’t, then people will think–”
“What?” I asked.
“–that we have marital problems.”
“Imagine!” I said.
“I don’t have to imagine.”
I laughed. Ebb didn’t. At first. But after I puckered up my Winter Frost lips and blew him a kiss, he finally smiled. “This tie is burgundy.”
“No, it’s turds.”
He shook his head. “You’re impossible to live with.”
I nudged him on the arm. “And yet you do it.”
“I take my vows seriously,” he said.
“So do I,” I said. “I love. And I cherish. But I never promised to choke down smoked oysters and bacon-wrapped scallops at cocktail parties. Nor did I pledge to act like I’m fascinated while your colleagues drone on about the virtues of this or that junk bond or hedge fund. Although I have to say, even after all these years–”
“All these years,” Ebb said. “Five years we’ve been married.”
“–that I still get a kick out of watching people’s faces when you introduce me and fail to pronounce my name right.”
Ebb flicked me a warning look before he glanced over his shoulder and changed lanes. I didn’t heed the warning. I put my hand up to the base of my neck as if I were adjusting my own imaginary turdlike necktie, made several manly-man throat-clearing sounds, and said (with just the right touch of Ebb’s Brooklynese), “ ‘This is my wife, Lisar.’ ”
It took a second. But the corner of Ebb’s eyes finally crinkled up with pleasure, the way they always did whenever I displayed my talent for mimicry.
“I give you an A for accuracy, Lisar,” he said.
“Not an A plus?” I asked.
“Now, that I might give to your imitation of Nixon.”
“I’m most fond of my Liberace,” I said. “But unusual voices like that are easy to get down.”
I shook my head. Ebb’s voice–at least initially–had eluded me. Maybe I had trouble capturing it because my own voice is loud and raucous (like a donkey braying or a shore bird cawing), whereas Ebb’s voice is low and level, like the sad, smooth notes that come out of the dark, black bell of a clarinet.
“I really have to listen to you,” I said. “And watch you. At these thrilling social pageants we have to attend.”
“And what have you observed?” Ebb asked.
“That you like to keep me by your side.”
“Most women wouldn’t complain about that, Lisar.”
“I’m not most women. And so I’ve been wondering why–lately–you get this totally hemorrhoidal expression on your face every time I head for the ladies’.”
Ebb tucked his tongue into his cheek. “I just know you’re getting yourself into trouble in there.”
“Everybody knows,” Ebb said, “that the ladies’ room is where women go to complain about their husbands.”
“I never complain about you,” I said, “to anyone but you. Besides, you know I can’t take the women at these parties.” I shuddered. “Those wives . . . are such wives!”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Remind Me Again Why I Married You by Rita Ciresi. Copyright © 2003 by Rita Ciresi. Excerpted by permission of Delta, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.