It was New Year's eve and John and I were fighting again as we drive back to New York City. But distressing as the situation was, I was already beginning to see the humor: our kids would be dropouts at age four! John, however, did not. After a half hour of recriminations, we both descended into silence. A great way to begin the new year, I thought bitterly. And, as always happened after these marital tsunamis, I began thinking: What would my life be like if I'd married the other one?
* * * * *
Benjamin was the Orthodox Jew I was scheduled to wed before I knew John. Slim and neat, with perfect olive skin, beautiful seal eyes, and a nose so large one half-expected him to remove it—Haha! Joke nose!—he was as charming and smooth as John was blunt and blustering.
When we met, Benjamin had been engaged to—as he put it—his "dream shiksa."
"She was a showpiece, but you're the real deal," he told me. (Um, thanks!) I convinced myself that his constant comparisons of Ashley to a Porsche that was always in the shop—as opposed to me, the minivan that never broke down but was far more comfortable to drive—was, in fact, a compliment.
Still, I would have happily married him, if we had not had a certain conversation two months before our wedding. Benjamin had announced to me we would have as many children as we could afford because it was our duty as Jews to repopulate the world with people of our intelligence and breeding.
"What if one of our children married someone who wasn't Jewish?" I asked, expecting a lecture about how horrible that would be, but obviously, one accepts one's children for who they are.
"Well, of course that child would be dead to me," he said.
"Oh come on," I replied. "You're kidding, right?" Before we met, after all, Benjamin had been engaged to an Episcopalian.
"No, I certainly am not," he said, his perfect skin blotching a little. "I would forget I ever knew him."
My poor parents. They had already spent thousands to reserve the banquet hall.
* * * * *
John and I continued our grim drive back into New York City. It was almost midnight, the first New Year's we'd gone out since our boys were born. I finally broke the silence.
"What would have to happen for you to disown Henry or Gus?" I asked.
"What?" he said, startled.
"What if they married someone you hated? Or… what if they were gay?"
"Has Henry asked you for a Barbie again?" he asked suspiciously. "Well… if they're gay, they're gay. What in bloody hell are you talking about?"
"What would it take for them to be dead in your eyes? Theft? Rape? Murder?"
"Don't be so daft," he said, before again falling into his brooding silence.
Another 15 minutes passed. It was 11:50, we were somewhere near Bronxville, and we had promised the babysitter we'd be home by 12:30. At five minutes to midnight, John stopped the car and pulled over to the side of the road as cars vroomed by us. I couldn't see his face in the darkness, but I did see wisps of his breath; our heater wasn't working and it was bitterly cold.
"They have British passports," he began slowly. "So whatever they did, we could at least buy them a little time by getting them out of the country. But if they were found and extradited, well, we'd buy the best lawyers and…"
I glance at the clock. It is 12:02. John has spent the first minutes of 2006 helping our four-year olds avoid the electric chair. I thought about what it means to have a father who watches your back. Watches it perhaps a little crazily, true, but watches it nonetheless.
"I think 2006 will be OK," I said, as I kissed John's creased, glowering face. "We probably don't have to sweat the homicides 'til first grade."