I'll go on... I was writing about Edward Dahlberg, first great writing teacher of my life, who tried to seduce me (and everyone else in the class who had breasts), but instead drove me to tears (like everyone else in the class with or without them). Life is difficult, perhaps most of all because it tends to be repetitious.
What Dahlberg and I had most in common was a passion for beautiful language, which had originally brought me to his feet, so to speak, as well as an obsession with our mothers. Dahlberg's mother had been unmarried, (and he, illegitimate, something he loved to discuss at length), and therefore socially visible in the early 20th century, the early 20th century. She had also been erratic, and ultimately mad. My mother had been married, however unhappily, but was also bisexual (although she never actually admitted to it, there were myriad clues), amazingly artistic and gifted but undermined by her conditioning and her surroundings; erratic, and ultimately mad. She had expressed all these talents and dispositions during the entirety of my childhood, whenI was too innocent to realize that not being genetically linked to the madness of her Russian family was not the curse I thought it was, but a blessing in disguise. I inherited neither the Rochesters' bipolar disease (they all had it), and the whininess and coronary failure inherent in my father's genes . I thought of myself as a stepchild, and therefore bereft and alone; but what it took me a solid third of my life to discover was that because of that, I was also free.
So there I was, all grown up, both parents whisked away by their various genetic disabilities, and married to Mr. Conventional, who became more autocratic and more boring with every academic honor and financial raise he garnered -- my first husband, a man named David Alberts. (He's still around, teaching somewhere in New York, I think, so I have to be discreet because he's the type who'd sue). He wanted to leave New York, to which we'd moved when I was accepted into the Columbia MFA program, and where I had the only social structure in my life which had supported my desire to write. I was already halfway through my first to-be-published novel, The Second Story Man, when we broke up.
And it was all because of Pat Mainardi.
Pat wrote an article in a woman's journal to which I had begun to submit essays, which were actually getting published. My first, if I remember correctly, was entitled "Out of the Menstrual Hut," referring to the anthropological artifact in which women in many societies were sequestered while they endured their monthly flow, both to keep their dangerous mana away from the vulnerable men of their tribes, and to give them a little rest when they needed it most. (Smart, those "primitive" societies). Generally speaking, to keep the men away from them, I think, while they mysteriously bled.
But Pat's article was far more practical and mainstream than my own, of course. She wrote about something that had never even occurred to me before: the fact that the arrangement of a household, like all social contracts, has a political underpinning and current, which will affect everyone involved. Her piece was called "The Politics of Housework," and having read it I began to realize that David and I had entirely different priorities in our household roles, no matter how much lip service we both gave to my desire and need to write and his desire tohave a releationship based on equality with a woman he respected.
That is: I did the housework, and he earned most of the money.
Okay. He did one or two things around the house, it's true. He built things. He carried heavy packages upstairs if the doorman was off duty. (Yes, we were living with a doorman in those days). He advised and consented on important purchases. But that was it. Responsibilities over.
I, on the other hand, cooked, cleaned, did most of the shopping (unless it was for something that piqued David's interest, like rare cuts of filet mignon or unusual crockery or cabinetry from another era), all of the cooking (except for David's particular gourmet dishes like chocolate mousse and Bouef Wellington, over which he preened), and almost everything else. What? Well, I was working, but he earned most of the money. That imbalance seemed to have nothing to do with gender as he was in a field that was and still is notoriously highly paid -- to put it simply he was a software engineer -- and I, as a writer and then college instructor in a liberal arts field, was at the other end of the spectrum. Did that matter? Nah. He was the principle breadwinner. I washed the dishes.
Finally, edging toward the cliff of disaster, I decided to change the odds. "Each night we'll divide the tasks," I chirped optomistically. "I'll cook one night and you clean up. The next night you'll cook (you're such a good cook, dear), and I'll clean up. That way we'll both have time both for work and housework, and we'll have a harmonious and equally balanced home."
Fat chance. The first night came and I did cook. Can't remember what -- it was years ago. But a nice meal, filled with delightful little gourmet touches served on Rosenthal chine,which we had both learned to appreciate, wine in good crystal and modest desserts eaten with silver spooons. At the end of this repast I rose to my feet, gathered up my favorite cat and retired to my study, where I went back to work on what would eventually become my first published novel, "The Second Story Man."
It was a halcyon evening, peaceful and harmonious. David and I were going to make it, I decided. Even he said once, "We're going to be one of those couples who live and work together succesfully." Um hum. Until I woke up in the morning and there was the dining room table, tiger oak in all its glory with wonderful lion claw legs and bentwood-and-wicker antique chairs, carefully laid and prepared for dinner, still covered with grease-smeared Rosenthal china and half-filled crystal glasses, still uncleared, still unwashed, cats licking their chops over the leavings, everything an absolute, total, mess.
"Somebody didn't clear the table!" David cried. His dismay seemed genuine. I must have known just in that moment that my marriage was doomed. What I didn't know, what I couldn't have known, was that the rest of my life was finally about to begin.