I Do. I Do?

COTTLE, THOMAS J.

MEDITATIONS ON A MARRIAGE I D0. I DO? THOMAS COTTLE I wasn't prepared for marriage. For the woman barely, but for marriage not at all. After fourteen years of marriage I still will say, "I'd like...

...But angel, my spinach has a little of my saliva on it now...
...this one hasn't said a word since he/she got married...
...In that you're both destitute, my tables here indicate, you understand the computer figures out your need based on income and outlay, I merely consult the table, according to the table you should be carrying no less than a three hundred and fifty thousand dollar policy...
...Exactly ten hours and eighteen minutes...
...Yes, Mr...
...The little lady doesn't have money of her own...
...The bride, furthermore, resembled my wife to an absolutely uncanny degree...
...You know that, I hope...
...Then I'd whisper, "Okay, marriage, here's your chance, do something...
...Now it is gone, and you hold hands brushing your own or your partner's teeth, wishing for the day you will have enough money to build your dream house...
...That is, if you both were to die, the country, strangely enough, would owe you money...
...He/she watches you shave, frumple your hair to hide the baldness, squeeze your blackheads...
...I mean, bar mitzvahs and serving in the army, getting shot at and coming home with a purple heart after flying nine thousand missions over enemy territory is kid's stuff next to marriage...
...Then the wordsó enduring, permanent, mortgages, amortize...
...Look in the top drawer of your desk...
...Are we never satisfied...
...Okay...
...And you have no other source of income, trust funds, treasury bills, industrial papers, income from real estate, municipal bonds, the like...
...I have come to hold in suspicion and contempt people who write books telling other people how to find success in marriage, or what a genuinely loving marriage means...
...More precisely, it is the setting on a path that now has a few less bends and turns to it...
...You said 'I do' once in your life and now you act like it was some extraordinary achievement...
...You're going to die...
...The acetone from your nail polish just sends » me...
...Why can't you leave my things alone...
...And as you look into your loving partner's eyes and scan, longingly, each other's acnomel and rinsing cream and see the white toothpaste in its liquid mush barely clinging to the other's Ups, you secretly and privately design your dream house with individual bathrooms so far apart that a platoon of soldiers can stand guard between them and still have room to pace up and down...
...Tragically, our culture, sexist through and through, makes aging a manifestly more despicable enemy for women than for men, and so women feel a rush to get into these "things," like beds and wedding chapels and maternity wards and nice houses (not necessarily in that order) before it's too late...
...It is fatuous of course, because we all do know...
...the University registrar's assistant was asking me, bored to tears by my cuteness...
...If I could tell you when would I be wasting a beautiful Sunday afternoon stuffing myself at your wedding...
...Call me Rod...
...Cottle...
...Now then, according to my figures, your total life's worth, that is, you and your wife together, comes to almost exactly minus eight hundred dollars...
...What, are you in love, too...
...Sometimes your partner watches you bathe, or bathes with you...
...Here, sweet, push your fingers through my potatoes...
...Because, Tom, I'm tired of getting out of bed every morning and tripping over your rotten underwear and socks and your dirty old hands lying around...
...Intimate questions, Uncle Sid...
...But it touched on something else, obvious as it was...
...The question is rhetorical: If marriage is not important to a man's public assessment of success and failure, why then is one's marital status asked on every application form ever created...
...Jesus, it's hard to believe a little scrawny kid like that went and did it...
...You're sixteen years old, how can you introduce such a perfectly nice woman as your wife...
...But when...
...Now then, let's take a look at your situation...
...Then, all of a sudden a bald man was pronouncing us man and wife (a sexist phrase if I ever heard one) and my Thomas Cottle is Visiting Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Amherst College and Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School...
...Amidst the success smells, the loveliness of everybody, the slurring sounds of the mazel tov's, I heard a voice somewhere inside me whisper, "You're going to die...
...And it's the section on Early Church Slavonic that interests you...
...It necessarily made me confront the issue of individuality, remaining myself, whoever that is, when living in the constant presence of somebody else...
...Nothing personal, but you understand, Tom...
...His most recent book, Children in Jail was published by Beacon Press in November, 1977...
...the process of adolescence was the performance, the performance the process...
...Incidentally, I put your ring and watch in your jewelry box...
...Then, at age twenty-six and feeling as immortal as I ever did, dazed a bit, of course, from all the ceremony and the strangeness of it all, people suddenly were concerned about the bequeathing of my worldly goods to the appropriate beneficiaries...
...One never knows, after all, what happens behind the bedroom door...
...After a few years you're into the touch system...
...Too many people believe that marriage looms as a frightening specter strictly because it closes off these other possibilities...
...You share things with your wife or husband...
...So just say so...
...Oh, she's around...
...If you want to be a skier, the first thing you do is buy the sexy clothes, not even the skis or boots...
...You married...
...That's all...
...Doris, where'd you put my hand...
...You don't understand a word I'm saying...
...But from marriage on, earliness has abandoned me...
...It was a lovely party...
...But it's the same spinach as mine, sweet love...
...Love...
...best man was giving me a nudge which meant either, "Congratulations you lucky boychik, it's time to kiss that gorgeous woman of yours," or "Schmuck, I had the tickets for Guam right here in my tuxedo pocket...
...secrets, stories of the past...
...And may I ask, not to pry, of course, but you can see why I'd have to ask these questions, what do you pay for your little palace...
...The potlatch, the exquisite ceremony, the look on the couple's faces that said happiness, enduring love...
...It's behind the bathroom door that one must peek to discover the secrets of marriage...
...Sweetest angel, love, tomorrow night, can we go out to dinner...
...And your bank balance...
...that one has developed nocturnal migraines for the first time in his/ her life...
...I got it...
...Happen, marriage...
...Each of these terms reeks of impermanence, especially that one, permanent...
...Strange...
...And how often have we heard that expression...
...my God, he's/she's changed...
...Not only that, my property and material wealth increased not at all when I married, so why now a will...
...Let me make a note ofthat...
...That's my father...
...In fact, it did...
...Of course, my darling...
...Thought I'd phone up and ask you some intimate questions, now that you're really a man...
...Nobody cared whether I lived or died until the day I put Chaim Gottlieb's missing filling on my fourth finger...
...But why am I so upset by the insurance salesman...
...Was it really us who just got married...
...Cottle, you seek admission to the rare book collection of Houghton Library...
...As a kid I thought, if you want to be a writer, the first thing you do is get a desk...
...I hung up the curtains, no pop...
...Anything different about me...
...Part two of Cottle's meditation on marriage continues in our July/August issue...
...Contraception, oh, hell no...
...More serious, however, than the privacy one forfeits, is the struggle to make certain that not all one's psychological and spiritual property is placed in one's partner's name...
...Yes ma'am...
...I was 1, 2, 3,4, 5...
...I have in our account as of this minute, and I can be precise because we got a letter from our bank just today, an overdraft of $81.62...
...I have heard the doors of certain opportunities closing, by which I mean not that relationships with other women were over, but that the clay form of my life had just hardened significantly...
...Couples embrace in the strangest places and make nonchalant conversation while sitting in places where, in the past, one found exquisite silent moments for reading...
...Well, I did, but that was about other things...
...Let's see this old marriage thing pop...
...that one has begun to wear the strangest clothes...
...I never once heard the word "bequeath" before I was married...
...An uncle congratulated me, slipped me some money and ushered me aside: "Tommy, tell me now, while I have you, you're a doctor doctor or a doctor doctor...
...No...
...Sure, Rod...
...Would it sound improper if I claimed that some men conceive of marriage, then enter it because it is the thing to conceive of and enter, or because it is essential for their careers and social standing, or because it quiets, usually for good, those nasty fag criers of the world...
...Cute line...
...I study sociology...
...Typing...
...Nu," she was saying, "if you don't like it, you'll force yourself...
...Marriage is a bit like one's hand...
...You've lost your hand...
...I might have been married, but couldn't these people see I was still nine years old...
...After fourteen years of marriage I still will say, "I'd like you to meet my wife," while a little voice inside me asks, "What do you mean, wife...
...Hey, buddy, you wanna poi-chase two absolute beauties for the Knicks-Bullets next Sunday, right at center court...
...Huh, what do you say, big man...
...What's the magic word...
...Guadalcanal would have done as well...
...She shrugged and giggled...
...Everything about it added up to success...
...Clearly, everyone works it out for himself or herself, or both himself and herself...
...Nothing...
...Then, just as Uncle Sid had intimated, out of the woodwork they came, the life insurance salesmen and the lawyers specializing in estates, trusts and wills...
...Yes ma'am...
...Five years later you need a new ribbon...
...The whole matter of marriage remains wretchedly perplexing...
...Oh, but love of my life, then I must try it...
...That's why...
...The gold band I was wearing made by a dentist friend and melted down, I'm certain, from an inlay of some poor person in Kenilworth, Illinois, who still, after twelve years, is going around with his hand over his mouth, crying, "Oi, it hurts so much when cold air hits it," this ring made me an instant success...
...One third of it serves as our kitchen, one third as our study-living room, and the other third as bathroom, bedroom, guestroom and patio...
...Granted, marriage closes off certain opportunities (not as many as one believes), but it also makes other things possible for the first time...
...Cottle, this is Ed Goody of Bartholomew Insurance...
...All rightie...
...Men have it easier in this regard than women, as from the onset they are not obliged to change their family name...
...I like to get close to my customers...
...I like it...
...How long you been married...
...You noticed...
...The dream house can have one kitchen, but it must have separate dining facilities...
...She's five feet seven...
...Both partners are to rely on the strength of their marriage to get on with their individual and collective lives...
...It doesn't take any special talent...
...You only thought you heard me...
...Around all my corners are drug stores, newsstands and fish markets...
...Honey, look at me...
...that one hasn't gotten off the phone since the honeymoon...
...You think she calls you husband...
...this one in the name of liberation beats her husband...
...those two aren't matched at all...
...And what is that supposed to mean...
...Everybody's married, you know...
...It is...
...Yes, I have a trust fund that pays me ten thousand dollars a day...
...Then the will, and the insurance, and the ring which, after two months of good cooking and the consequent weight gain in the fingers can never be removed...
...Like in my rod and staff shall...
...You want Dr...
...I got 'em, all you have to do is say the magic woid...
...except perhaps in a meditation, the reader might excuse one brief word...
...Like to know, if I .may, how you're set for life insurance...
...Tommy, did you get the bread and eggs...
...Now when they asked on these formsójust above the line that says religious preference (where I invariably write Protestant because they don't ask for one's actual religion but one's preference)ólist your marital status, I wrote, "One helluva lot more than before, believe me...
...Big little woman, eh...
...Like you too, and where's the little woman...
...Take, darling, take...
...Everybody who's anybody...
...I mean, seriously intimate, my boy...
...I would rather try to make a list of every book, song, story, poem ever written before I would try to write even one word about success or failure in marriage...
...I told you I'd keep the living room neat, but why must you constantly be straightening up the bedroom...
...All rightie...
...I didn't think of it at the time, but death was in the air, even at that truly wonderful wedding ceremony...
...Well, then, your marital status...
...And my wife, probably, was the same age...
...Yeah, you've heard of hunt and peck...
...You mean like what sort of contraception we're using...
...But nothing happened...
...Or how about eating off one another's plates...
...Look closely...
...Try some of my spinach...
...Marital status...
...Yes, darling...
...Are you actually asking, Uncle Sid, what we do in bed...
...It's like typing...
...Even during the wedding ceremony I kept asking myself, "What am I doing here...
...And all of it is meant to add up to a sublime feeling of success...
...Bigger than both of us, Mr...
...Well, it's all here, what you see...
...And I like^oM...
...In adolescence, everything seemed to be the show...
...Tommy, my God, where's your hand...
...Dead 1 year, 2 years, 3 years...
...I'd come home from a grueling day on the tennis courts and call out, "I'm home...
...When are you going to happen...
...Well, the little woman and I pay twelve dollars a month for our palace...
...Behind the bedroom door people dress and undress, talk or don't talk, sleep or wake, snore or don't snore, make love or don't make love...
...I answer the telephone...
...The mistake, of course, was not recognizing that the process of marriage, a quietly difficult, not outrageous, and somewhat mystical process, was there to be enjoyed, not advertised, and to be used discreetly...
...May I ask what kind of a set-up you have here...
...It's my name...
...Well, Tommy, my boy, you're marrie ba week now...
...Hullo...
...For me, marriage evoked issues of potency, sexuality, being desirable, successful, the usual...
...We live in this six-by-nine room...
...The so-called advisers needn't have good marriages themselves to be of service, but all of us should be wary of making marriage and love into commodities from which profits can be turned...
...Dr...
...We're both graduate students...
...Quite lovely...
...And they said it wouldn't last...
...Wait 'til you meet the little woman...
...Similarly, I got married thinking, all right, let it go...
...Putting it differently, can a man be a success and not be married, and still not be Ralph Nader or Monty Rock...
...What I did not fully appreciate back then is that women too hear this knell of mortality...
...For your saliva is like an erotic bernaise sauce...
...How many people, I wonder, ever acknowledge the fear that they might catch some hideous disease from their partner because they share bathroom facilities...
...that henpecked guy sleeps with eighty different women a month...
...The little band, Chaim Gottlieb's missing filling (and incidentally, change the above reference from Kenilworth to Win-netka, as no one named Chaim Gottlieb ever lived in Kenilworth, Illinois) transformed me into a mature, healthy, stable, calm, cool, dependable, responsible psychopath...
...Cute joke, Tom...
...Stein...
...How do I know that just around the corner is...
...I like it...
...I'm not home, sweetie...
...No, Tom is fine...
...That couple, we say, is perfectly matched...
...Thank you...
...Was I more successful as a married man...
...Then he pauses, and, because the act of counting pleases him, he continues: 211, 212, 213, 214, 215____So, how old was I when I got married...
...I mean, what's your life insurance position and do you have a will...
...An aunt kissed my cheek and whispered, "Tsotsie, you look gorgeous...
...I took out the garbage, no pop...
...One loves it, naturally, needs it, but hardly stares at it every day or worships it, or thinks just because it is there, hanging at one's side like a dish rag, that that's all there is to life...
...Yes Sir...
...I'm looking forward to that...
...Aside from my total lack of preparation for marriage, my worst failing was the bizarre way I conceived of it...
...Where are you, marriage...
...I was supposed to be on a fishing expedition in Guam, wasn't I?" The groom that beautiful Sunday in June looked so much like me the coincidence was unbearable...
...For someone who saw and felt such failure in his youth, how could something as divine as marriage drive me to believe that that same youth should now be retrieved...
...You don't mind if I call you Tom, do you, Tom...
...Go on, my sweet, shove your whole palm into it...
...Hey, I'd love two seats for the Knicks game...
...You get my meaning...
...Apartmentwise...
...I think I'm going to like it, Auntie Lilly," I replied, dreaming of the south coast of Guam...
...Why must everything in this house be moved...
...so it's not that...
...So, given the facts that at this stage in your life you're both destitute, you know that word...
...The symbolism of that holy trinity, marriage, life insurance and wills, always has troubled me...
...Before I was married I didn't think thoughts like, "it's too late...
...There's really nothing one can say...
...Your partner hears you burp, smells your smells, observes how often you change undies and socks, shine your shoes, check your bank statements...
...Don't you hear me, son, I said intimate...
...There are ways to help, and people to consult...
...Possibly because marriage brought with it the first knell of mortality, and the insurance spiel is the annual tolling of that frightening bell...
...Yes, I most certainly do...
...Til death do you part," he said...
...Life insurance is for men, not for children...
...I feel like the child who, when asked how old he is, answers by counting until he reaches his proper age...
...You don't like being married, do you, Tommy...
...Goodbye...
...Everybody...
...Was this too, part of the scenario for success...
...All right, here we go, big marriage...
...See anything strange about me...
...Unconsciously I glance toward my fly...
...No matter what our age and circumstances, some time earlier or later always appears better...

Vol. 3 • June 1978 • No. 7


 
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