Thursday, December 28, 2017

Howard's Further Reflections on Matrimony

Everyone who knew Howard Desseray well -- his parole officer, his stepdad, his former students at Medford Preschool, his freezer repairperson, his Buick Riviera body specialist, his penitentiary French bunkmate Maurice -- could tell how deeply in love he was with Tally Dolcet.

But as we learned earlier, he was beginning to get pieds froids, as Maurice called his prenuptial trepidation. 

He balked at a contract that compelled him to restrain a passion (spiritual, not sexual) too strong to be restrained, but he also fretted about more tangible issues.

He knew at least four men, two from when he was doing time, and two more from his teaching days, who left their wives for greener pastures (literally), then wound up losing their houses and having to "shack back up with Mama," as one of them called it.

Oddly, these mother-and-child-reunion arrangements didn't always work out that badly. Howard's friend Stuart Abram, for example, was welcomed back to his mother's snug one-bedroom, one-bath cottage in Hahira, Georgia, where she prepared him three square meals a day, did his laundry, co-signed his loans and made sure he had complete privacy whenever he invited a woman or two over. 

When she sensed Stuart and his lady friend (or friends, obviously) were ready to physically demonstrate their great love for one another, she would tiptoe the 10 feet from the living room to the kitchen and tactfully exit through the purple velvet curtain (Maurice called it a portiere) that separated her from her offspring's loving dalliance, courteously allowing him and his sugar dumpling(s) "their own space." 
Is perfection possible in this world?

He had another issue with Tally, even though many would call it petty: While admitting she was a fine physical specimen, Howard found her asymmetry a mild irritant, a kind of Hawthornian* blemish that was figuratively only a speck or splinter in Tally's eye, but a beam or log in his.

Literally, however, it was her nostrils. The left was slightly larger than the right, a deformity most visible back in her smoking days when she emitted plumes of unequal volume after a French inhale, and, on occasion, would emit no smoke at all from the right nostril. Good God, did that make Howard uncomfortable!
French inhale in progress

Finally, there was the sexual incompatibility. As we've noted many times, Howard was not some prude disgusted by this time-tested, biologically-encouraged, Charlie Rose-sanctioned display of fondness, but he just didn't care much about it, didn't see the appeal, much like a native rural southerner sitting through a hockey game while visiting his in-laws in Winnipeg.

The upside of this was that Tally was tolerant of his lack of enthusiasm and usually went out of her way to keep him from feeling awkward about his nonpreferences.

The downside is that she snickered, chuckled, giggled and snorted every time he referred to sex as "anticlimactic." Howard didn't get why that carefully selected adjective was funny, and Tally's insensitive response  embarrassed and angered him.

Okay, there was just one more burr in Howard's saddle.

When he was a child, he often heard his mother say to his stepdad, "We need to talk" or "There's something I need to bring to your attention" or "I feel like you are being dismissive about my needs." 

Then his dad's face would mirror the anguish of one whose favorite cat just died. When his parents left the room to have their tete a tete, as Maurice called them, his dad looked exactly like he was entering the gates of Hell.

So by the time Howard was 12, he swore he would never room with, date, abduct or certainly not marry anyone whose partnership -- in any sense of the term -- required meetings, treaties, haggling, reparations, rapprochement (yes, Maurice), compromises, persistence, owning shortcomings, contrition, apologies, forgiveness, resets, priority shifting or shopping at Sam's Club.

No, no! Howard could not bear the thought of living with Tally locked in what was little more than an oversized canary cage with central air and cable.

Somewhere on Earth, our island home with its 7.6 billion souls, surely there was one person -- perhaps in DuBuque or Louisville, who knows? -- so much in harmony with another that no such entanglements and negotiations were required. 

The couple could complete each other, as if they were reunited from a more Edenic era, continuing a love that would have no end, without the haggling, without the "sandspurs in their socks,"as Howard's friend J.W. said.

Was that too much to ask?

Was Tally, asymmetry and all, that someone?

*Editor's note: If the author uses the word "Hawthornian" one more time in this series, I swear I'm gonna lose it!


  1. Ha! "owning shortcomings"! Ha!!

    1. Wasn't marriage invented to remind us we aren't perfect?