Excerpt of The Love Wife by Gish Jen
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The Love Wife
BLONDIE / The day Lan came, you could still say whose family this
was--Carnegie's and mine.
We had three children. Two beautiful Asian girls--or should I say Asian
American--Wendy, age nine, and Lizzy, age fifteen, both adopted; and one bio
boy, Bailey, age thirteen months. Carnegie's ancestry being Chinese, and mine
European, Bailey was half half, as they say--or is there another term by now?
With less mismatch in it--'half half' having always spoken to me more of socks
than of our surprise child, come to warm the lap of our middle years.
Our family was, in any case, an improvisation. The new American family, our
neighbor Mitchell once proclaimed, tottering drunk up our deck stairs. But for
Carnegie and me, it was simply something we made. Something we chose.
His mother, Mama Wong, thought this unnatural.
The trouble with you people is not enough periods, she liked to say.
can say I think like Chinese, but I tell you. A child should grow up, say this
is my mother, period. This is my father, period. Otherwise that family look
like not real.
Always good about assigning blame, she blamed the family on me.
I know Blondie. Everything a nut do, she do too. She is not even a real
nut, like her friend Gabriela. She is only try-to-be-nut.
To which my friend Gabriela would say: Janie. Your name is Janie, I can't
believe you let Mama Wong call you Blondie all these years. And Carnegie too!
That is like the definition of low self-esteem.
I tried to tell her that it was my choice--that I liked nicknames. I tried
to tell her that she could think of Blondie as my married name, as if I'd
changed my first name instead of my last. For that was the way I was--or
thought I was, before Lan came. An open person. A flexible person. Had I not
been voted Most Sympathetic to Others in high school?
CARNEGIE / Our very own Blondie had, in her day, held the Kleenex for the
But, whatever. Gabriela minded the Blondie bit far more than she minded
being called, herself, a nut. She being the first to admit that she had gone
back to the earth two or three times, maybe more. Also that she had spent
years finding herself without much progress.
BLONDIE / At least you have your family, Gabriela used to say, thumbing
through the personals. She circled possibles in pink; her red hair looped out
the back of her baseball cap.
At least I had my family.
I was forty-five when Gabriela last said that; Carnegie was thirty-nine. It
was 1999. We lived in a nice town with good schools, outside of Boston--a town
within easy driving distance, as we liked to say, of both city and ocean.
At least I had my family.
Every happy family has its innocence. I suppose, looking back, this was
Back then, our bird feeder was the most popular in town. In the snow we
could have a hundred birds or more. But squirrels came too sometimes, more and
more squirrels as the years went on. I fixed a tin pie plate to the top of the
pole from which the feeder hung; I greased the pole itself. Yet still the
hungry birds huddled in the bushes, some days--too many days--twittering.
Clumps of snow pitched themselves from the branches as the birds refined their
positions. In contrast, the squirrels leapt at the feeder from the trees,
often from two or three directions at once. They gyrated midair--hurtling,
twisting, flailing--only to plummet, midflight, to the ground. It was only
every so often that one would make it to the seed, tail twitching; but then
how the feeder would shudder and swing! Seed flying in black sheets onto the
Excerpted from The Love Wife by Gish Jen Copyright© 2004 by Gish Jen.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights
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