It finally struck me as I was shoving a peeled onion up what used to be a chicken's ass: I am no longer a vegetarian. It really hit home as I followed the onion with a stalk of celery. Such a moment requires a little reflection. You have to wonder how you made the journey from refusing to eat honey because "the bees are not our slaves" to performing acts on a dead chicken which would violate tenets of all major religions and laws in every state if it were alive. After much thought, greatly facilitated by the mindless tasks that are housekeeping, I credit the active process of loving someone.
No woman should do anything because of a man. There is a generation of women who were raised to embrace this firmly, yet every woman I know save one person has thrown some dearly held belief onto the compost heap for the sake of the approval of a man. I believed in balanced meals and good cooking, and that a nice roast chicken with a salad and stuffing was just the thing for entertaining. Well, onto the heap with that along with my belief in monogamous marriages and saving yourself for one special person. I gave up meat for the approval of a man who had promised me and had given me nothing in return.
After some time, meatlessness becomes a habit. Eyes that once sought out favorite dead animals slide right over offerings of Chicken Caesar salad and Beef Fajitas and find the Fettucini Alfredo and the Vegetarian Black Bean Soup. Tastebuds that used to wet themselves in anticipation of nice sausage and peppers attune themselves to roasted portobellos and red peppers in feta cheese and balsamic vinaigrette. Eventually the philosophy sinks in and the animals that used to adorn the table find themselves room in your heart. You adjust.
Yes, I adjusted. The man held up hoops and I jumped right through them. The payoff would come after the next hoop, or the next, or the next. What payoff? Oh, right, the payoff that meant I'd passed the tests, that I was worthy, that I could become a wife and a mother. Meat was the first test. Then the test of "how little money does it take to make you happy?" Then the test of "will you drive me to the strip club so I can get drunk and make a fool of both of us?" Then "can I hit on your friends? And can I still hit on your friends until one by one they stop talking to you?" Then "we have an open relationship and you have limits but I don't." Then "can I yell at you every day about something?" I kept answering "anything you say, just don't leave me alone." Silly, pathetic, desperate, insecure little monkey that I was.
After seven years, the answer became "to the heap with this." Alone, lonely, desolate was better than all that. Yet, the meat stayed off the table. There was a promise in that one. If you don't eat the meat, you'll avoid the diabetes and the cancer that takes nearly everyone you call blood relative. Another lie, but...
Then one day, another man showed up. Not where I expected to find him, nor where I should have found him. He was looking up at me as I looked down at him from my teacher's desk, where I had climbed to show the difference between "on" and "onto."
Fast forward. We committed to each other, which meant that there was no need to test each other, or prove worthiness to each other. Through this, other things become apparent. First, there is nothing in this world that cannot take care of itself while you take care of the thing that is the most important. Someone else will have to save all the innocent animals slaughtered in this world. More than that, someone else will have to stay until midnight to tutor the quarterback who has to lift until ten, or will have to come in Sundays for the kids who won't give up a Saturday morning. You've got something of your own to care for.
For this man, who accepted all of me, I embraced meat again. Not in the spirit of "Ok, you put up with my PMSand I'll make you a chicken," but in the spirit of "because you like it, I'll roast you a chicken and ask if you want a cow along side it. Because I need you, you'll hug my bloated moody ass and call me beautiful. Neither of us deserves this, but we're getting it and doing it because that's what we signed up for."
The implications of this promise hit home because I heard something about someone I hadn't thought of in years. I knew him and his wife when I was in The Limited Period Trial Relationship. He and his wife had an open marriage, and because of his debilitating nerve disease, that open marriage shut down. Yes, and I suppose my colostomy would have shut down such a marriage, too. If you can go and get anyone you want, why would you attend to the needs of a woman who poops uncontrollably into a plastic bag held to her side with denture adhesive? If you can have any sweet young thing who makes eyes at you, why would you take the trouble to seduce a bloated hairless monkey who can't even enjoy a kiss?
But if your choice is that bloated poop monkey, you celebrate the moments you can. You learn to be happy when she sleeps through the night, and when she manages a cold drink, and when she finishes a project in spite of the wrenching bone pain. And she, in turn, learns to celebrate your moments and love you the way you need her to. She is happy to get you just the silly fat frog cookie jar you've always wanted, and to lend you her credit when you want to buy a truck, and to do your business paperwork because you just don't want to be bothered. You adjust. She adjusts.
Open marriage promises you constant delight, constant stimulation. Monogamy promises you constant companionship. This doesn't mean thrills, frissons of delight, or heart pounding arousal. It means an island of certainty in a confusing world. It means an absence of hoops to jump through and a presence of small, attainable objectives that add up to a greater goal.
It means that where you used to see a roasting corpse, you now see the promise of a good dinner. You imagine his delight when he chews the end of a leg bone, and as you regretfully sigh and tell the chicken "you're gonna have to take this one for the team," you're more concerned that the man you love will want a nice heap of potatoes and you grab the peeler to make it happen. Vegetarianism can go on without me. My husband can't. My choice is obvious.