• Jen Knox
  • A Meditation on Marriage (Part One)
A Meditation on Marriage (Part One)
Written by
Jen Knox
December 2009
Written by
Jen Knox
December 2009

The repetition and awkwardness of the question evoked irritation, something like the metal scrape of a dentist's pick as it moves along the gum line. When’s the wedding? I know it’s a fair question, a somewhat fair assumption. When two people are in a long-term relationship, the discussion of marriage seems inevitable. After all, when Chris was offered a better job out of town, I didn't think twice before stuffing my wardrobe into a few bags, giving away furniture—one television, two lamps, a bamboo rug, and an underutilized hall tree—and asking for a work transfer. Chris and I were partners, but marriage wasn’t part of our formula. We didn’t want to ruin our relationship with a set of shiny rings and stamped approval from the state. We marveled at those who did. I say "we" but really, these were my thoughts, my impositions on our relationship. What I didn't know then was that Chris had other ideas. I was eleven. It was 1990 and my mother was alone, sneaking a cigarette at the kitchen window before my father got home. I walked in. She exhaled out the window, the same way I would when I would turn fourteen and begin sneaking her cigarettes up to my room. Mom had combined the last of our ketchup, some bread crumbs, half an onion, a huge chunk of ground beef and a few eggs in a big bowl. She threw the oven mitt at me. “You can finish the meatloaf,” she said as she lit another cigarette. When my father arrived home the meatloaf was in the oven, filling the house with the smell of onions and comfort. He said hello and walked upstairs to change. I helped Mom set the table. She sat, picking at her own plate as she watched my father eat his meal. He patted his stomach and burped. “You're welcome,” Mom said. She meant it. I laughed. Meanwhile, Mom continued to watch my father closely as he ate. He never returned her gaze. He wouldn’t speak to her again during the meal. I used to stare at the wall of our living room, which was adorned with my father's art. When they were still dating, Dad drew Mom’s body in sections, charcoal outlines of her thigh or the side of her arm, her waist, framed grayscale pictures. Those portraits were a series of framed mysteries. I didn't understand their symbolism, and I remember searching for familiar lines in the shading. # I was thrilled to see my father again, six months after the move. He has remarried since divorcing my mother almost fifteen years ago, but lately—only lately—he has begun telling me stories about his love affair with Mom. This day, he told me about the time the two took an entire summer to make things from scratch; they made cheese, bread, and three kinds of wine in their small apartment in Toledo, Ohio. “That raisin wine was a chore,” he said. A dark piece of straight, limp hair fell low on his forehead and he pushed it back. “We drove all the way around the city, just looking for raisins. I think there was a grape shortage—the one summer I can remember in history that there has been a grape shortage! And we picked that summer to make our wine.” Dad went on to say that for some reason, their goal was to fill a large plastic tub so as not to alter the recipe they had acquired—one that made a few gallons. As they slowly amassed the stock at various markets and grocers around the city, they only got more determined. They listened to loud music and laughed, kissed, sang. “Man, that wine was nasty,” he said. “But we did it.” Dad laughed, looking toward reminiscence; that spot another’s eyes can’t quite trace. When I asked Mom about the wine a few days later, she laughed without pause. “You're father and I drove around all day. We were on a mission and we weren't going to give up for anything.” I told Chris about the wine. He suggested we try it. We purchased 1 lb of sugar, 2lbs of raisins, and a lemon. “Why are we doing this?” I asked. “It’s fun,” he said, reaching for the instructions by my computer screen. “We add 6 quarts of boiling water to these ingredients then we just have to stir it every day. In a month, we’ll have wine.” Chris kissed me on the cheek, and reminded me that they probably just did it wrong. We stood in the kitchen, hovering over a large glass bowl. I instructed Chris to stir as I poured. I noticed that his beard is growing back in, shading his jaw. I've always found this stage of a beard attractive on him, masculine, natural and fleeting. He has to keep a clean-shave for his job, so this look is a rarity, reserved for long weekends and holidays. “I can’t guarantee this will be good,” I said, handing him a wooden spoon. Chris bent his knees until his eyes were in-line with my own. He rested his arm on my shoulder and I could feel the length of the spoon down my back. “Then again, maybe it’s worth a shot.”

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  • Patty Kay Mooney

    Cool piece... And I love the photo of the two dogs. Are they yours? Did you snap the shot? Adorable. Don't worry, why get married unless you want to have kids? (Or get your husband on your insurance policy). That's why we married in 1987. It's just a piece of paper. We both feel we got "married" the day we met, on Valentine's Day 1982. And it's been a "honeymoon" ever since! (How did the wine turn out?)