Rules Of Engagement

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Rules Of Engagement
For Amy Sohn, saying yes was easy. Getting her parents' approval was the hard part.

Soon it became clear that in addition to being hot, he was also an avid reader, a gentleman, and a rough-edged romantic. He cooked for me, well, in his tiny galley kitchen. He read me Bernard Malamud at night. He bought me used books by Kleist and emailed me photos of vintage porn, saying the women’s bodies reminded him of mine. We went to see Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, and during the closing credits I told him that I loved him.

One night a couple months after we met, I invited my parents over for dinner. “I can’t believe you’re cooking,” said my mother.

“I’m not. Jack is.”

We all sat around my tiny table and Jack made a bouillabaisse with good salad and sourdough bread. My dad ate three portions. When he found out that Jack had gone to Harvard for graduate school, he seemed doubly impressed. So Jack wasn’t Jewish but he was a mensch, a great storyteller, and he loved me.

The next day, my dad wrote to say how happy I seemed, and how beautiful I looked. I got choked up reading it because most of the time when he sent emails, they were passive-aggressive and weird.

Over the next few months, my parents got to know Jack better, and given the fact that he was from a different background and a lot older than me, I thought they did a pretty good job of making him feel welcome. There was only one thing they didn’t seem to like: They weren’t exactly sure how he made a living. When they asked, I explained that he sold his paintings, but I rarely gave details about how often or how many. Then I’d change the subject. Soon they stopped asking, and we settled into a kind of uncomfortable silence on the issue.

That winter, I invited Jack to spend the holidays with my parents, my brother, and me at their country house in the Berkshires. For my brother’s birthday our cousins always came over and my mom always made lasagna. This year, Jack offered to do it for her. “That’s very generous of you,” my mother said, but she didn’t look happy.

In the morning, Jack did his prep work, all except for the salad, and then we left to go see Gangs of New York. We got back at five o’clock and I saw an entire salad in the bowl sitting out on the counter. “You didn’t have to do that,” Jack said, blinking.

“I was just trying to be helpful,” my mother said.

Jack looked at the heap of vegetables on top of the lettuce—carrots, tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers. It was a Jewish salad, the kind I’d grown up eating, with everything thrown in. It wasn’t a gourmet salad, the kind they served at restaurants with just lettuce pre-dressed with vinaigrette.

Our cousins came over and Jack set out the lasagna, to oohs and aahs. I didn’t see the salad and when I looked up at him he was at the kitchen counter, with the garbage drawer pulled out, gathering the carrots, tomatoes, celery, and cucumbers and tossing them into the trash.

I glanced over at my mom. She was squinting at Jack, her mouth in a tight, thin line.

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