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. You 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 homecoming queen.
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 ours.
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 white snow.
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 reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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