September 2022
Leaves from My Notebook
Elaine Greensmith Jordan

Scenes from a Marriage, Part One

A cow?  You bought a cow?” I’m not surprised. My sister had left civilization for the simple life on a Michigan farm.

“She’s got that gloomy look — has a white triangle on her face,” Connie says. “I do the milking every morning.”

“I can’t imagine it.” My conventional kitchen looks tidy and shiny. Outside the window, a solitary black cat roams our green lawn. Not a cow in sight.

By the time I hang up the phone I feel as tired as if I’d been milking that cow myself. Connie not only has a cow; she has four children. Four babies! She’d gone back to the earth like so many others, and she raises her brood on a farm. She’s two years younger than I am and has given birth four times, while I teach at a high school in suburbia.

I’d played with dolls when we were young. Connie was more interested in climbing onto the roof of our house to frighten our mother. She wore toy guns in holsters and played cowboy. If I were the one with children, we wouldn’t live on a farm. We’d live near a library and a park. We’d have pets and I’d read to my children every evening.

Kurt, my husband in silky shirt and long sideburns, comes into the kitchen and we stand together preparing our breakfast, two tall figures, a flamboyant young man smoking a cigarette and a prim schoolteacher holding her favorite porcelain cup, a wedding gift. She gazes outside at the black cat tiptoeing through the dewy grass shaking the droplets off her paws before each step, a dark shadow in a green world.

“Connie’s bought a cow.”

“Oh.” Kurt takes a drag on his cigarette. I can’t be sure how he feels. Kurt and I have been married for ten years and have been estranged for some time.

I’d rejected the boring men I dated and chosen him, a man of adventure and excitement. That’s what you do when you’re twenty-one — you choose adventure and excitement. What would another man look like in this kitchen? Sighing a dramatic sigh, I take a sip of tea from the pretty cup.

While buttering two pieces of toast I think of Connie’s butter-producing cow — barns, livestock, the smell of soil. I offer Kurt the bread. “Want one?” He shakes his head, and I turn to face the window again. The cat has disappeared.

Kurt lights another cigarette and snaps the lid of his Zippo lighter. The sound has the crack of the last word, a steely pop. Case closed. Then the screen door slams as he leaves with his coffee mug and heads for work. “Take it easy.” Maybe Kurt would be home for dinner or maybe not. I don’t know where he goes in the evenings.

It doesn’t occur to me to leave my marriage. In my universe, women don’t divorce unless they’ve been attacked or deserted. The solution to my despair is a pregnancy and babies. I believed that children would bring more warmth and love to our relationship.

I’d chosen an expensive specialist to find reasons for my infertility. I trusted that Dr. Brighton could find what was wrong even though he’d started me on pills that left me weepy. He’d tried painful procedures too, like injections with a long needle to cauterize the cervix, and other methods I’ve chosen to forget.

David Ring

I rinse my cup and make my way along the path through the grass to the carport. No cat. No glance from her yellow eyes. When I open the door of the car and raise my foot to get in, I’m amused to see my blue terry slippers instead of teaching shoes. I’m not surprised; slippers keep me in a soft retreat from fertility doctors and Kurt’s neglect.

In the days that followed, I left teaching and we adopted  two infants. Nothing changed in our marriage, but at the same time an evolution of new ideas about women’s lives emerged in American culture. I found women friends who encouraged thoughtful scrutiny of where we’d found ourselves. We sat and talked until I could risk the truth about my marriage. Those times with friends nurtured and embraced me. I began a process leading to courage to remove my slippers and leave the kitchen for a green world outdoors.

To be continued next month.

Elaine Jordan, author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp, is a local editor who’s lived in Prescott for thirty years.