Patagonian Toothfish

by Karen Gsteiger

I was at dinner with Nick the other night, and we were in one of those low-lit, fancy-schmancy seafood restaurants, and I think the waitresses were better dressed than me at the time, but that was a problem of miscommunication. And I was scanning the menu looking for something acceptable to eat because I'm not really into seafood, and there really weren't very many "land-lubber" options listed when suddenly Nick announced his intention to order Chilean sea bass.

"You can't do that," I said, not looking up from the menu.

"Why not?"

"Because...they're endangered or something. I read somewhere that you're not supposed to eat Chilean sea bass."

"Oh really?" he asked dryly. "And, pray, in what trustworthy, objective source did you find that information?"

I rolled my eyes. "I just read it somewhere. Don't be a prig."

"Well, if you're going to try to force me to boycott something, shouldn't I have reliable information to make this kind of decision?"

This is always what happens when you try to argue with Nick. He wants statistics, bullet points, PowerPoint presentations--all to decide on which movie to see or which restaurant to go to or, as you can see, what to eat when we get there.

"Okay, we've been over this. I'm not Google. I just know for certain that I read somewhere about how you're not supposed to eat Chilean sea bass, that they're overfished or something. Maybe it was from the World Wildlife Fund. Does that make you happy?" My eyes burned straight through him, and he smiled. This sort of thing, as annoying as it is to me, is exactly what turns him on most.

"You know, it's not even really a Chilean sea bass..."

"Oh yeah?"

"Their proper name is the Patagonian toothfish."

"Great. Well, don't eat any fucking Patagonian toothfishes, okay--until I can write up a comprehensive report for you? Better safe than sorry."

In the end, he ordered some tilapia filet--I had no idea about their current population in the wild--and I got a stuffed pork chop. It was a satisfying, if quiet, dinner. We had gotten to the point where we mostly ate in silence rather than chatter brightly about our life stories, crazy things that happened at the office, gossip, opinions on current events, etc. We had gotten to the point where we felt married to each other.

Except he was already married, a fact I am hardly allowed to even momentarily forget. As it turned out, he couldn't come back with me that night even for an hour or two, as he promised that shrill harpy that he would come home straight away from his "business dinner."

Every now and then I feel a twinge of guilt about the whole situation. I know that I wouldn't be doing anyone proud back home. But for the most part, I frankly don't consider the ethical crisis. Just like I barely think of the children in Southeastern Asia who work 20 hours a day to make the clothes I wear to work every morning. Nick is an attractive, successful young man. He's 26--only a year older than me, and he could have been my supervisor, but we were in different work groups. We want each other. We like and appreciate each other. "Love" is probably going too far. When I do ponder his wife, I only think of her as one of the minor nemeses that life sometimes throws in your path. Like the Starbucks employee who always screws up your order and gives you the wrong change when you encounter her between 8-8:30 on Tuesday mornings. Like the annoying new admin. assistant in the cubicle next door who types too loudly and smells up the office with her tuna fish sandwiches. Like the next-door neighbor in your apartment complex whom you are 90 percent certain has been stealing your magazines from the mailroom and then returning them to you two weeks later, with some of the pages bent or stained with grease and all the perfume samples open.

I don't really mind that Nick has a wife. Hell, it keeps him from trying to propose to me, a step I'm certainly not ready to take. I don't even care that we have to keep our relationship hush-hush...that just adds to the excitement, truthfully. I certainly get annoyed when we have plans that have to be canceled at the last minute just to soothe her. And what do they do together anyway? They don't go out, they don't have sex, they don't even play a friendly game of cards. They eat her homemade dinners together, and then he's on the computer, and she's watching TV, or maybe they're both watching TV, and that's it. A bedtime smooch, and the lights are out. That sometimes gets on my nerves, but for the most part, I appreciate the time that I have to myself.

Anyway, after that dinner, I haven't been able to get the words out of my head. You know, like that tired old universal observation that if you think about or say a word often enough, it turns into a bunch of meaningless syllables. Patagonian toothfish, patagonian toothfish, patagoniantoothfishpatagoniantoothfish...

The phone rings. It is Marnie. Mercifully, she doesn't even mention how long it's been since we've talked in that piteous/accusatory way of hers. Instead, she launches straight into her mission.

"Gertie, you have to talk some sense into Iona," she demands with a very un-Marnie-like urgency. "She's trying to get a divorce."

"Sweetie," I say, in the kindest of my condescending tones. "How am I supposed to do anything about that? I'm not only not married to her, I'm also over 2,000 miles away."

"She's two-and-a-half months pregnant." Marnie states flatly.


Iona had been quite preoccupied with the question of childbearing and child-rearing over the past year and a half, to the point of being utterly tiresome. To get knocked up or not to get knocked up? I have to admit that I understand what haunted her. I find children to be vile, screaming, vomiting beasts, terrifying in all of their manifestations, but what is even more frightening is the concept of a life without them. What on earth are you supposed to do in your 40s if not fret over your children's moral development as you cart them endlessly from one scheduled activity to another? Plus, what would happen to you in your elder years without someone to drag you off to a nursing home when you're wandering naked in your rent-controlled apartment, munching contentedly on a breakfast of orange juice and kitty litter? Who would sort out your shit when you die? What if you figure out that you've missed out on some superlatively rewarding experience when it's too late to do anything about it? It's the sort of thing that can keep a narcissistic 20-something awake at night although I had long decided that if I breed some brats, I breed some brats, and if I don't, I won't sweat it. After all, children are no replacement for a good retirement plan: sometimes they don't show up no matter how badly you want them; sometimes they have some kind of unfortunate disability, and you take care of them as you would a three-year-old for the rest of your life; sometimes they're perfectly healthy, but they turn out to be selfish fuck-ups who could give two shits if you're roaming around the town in a senile haze and frightening the local children; sometimes they leave you and go as far away as possible and are unable to help you in your time of need; sometimes they die too young, leaving you broken for the rest of your too-long life. No, they are what we need insurance against.

But perhaps Marnie does have reason to be concerned. Personally, I was not crazy about 'Ona marrying that geriatric probation officer, but he's a nice enough guy, and he certainly seemed like he was nuts about her. And I can't even imagine voluntarily becoming a single mother before you at least get the kid out of diapers.

"Why is she...?" I began.

"No one knows. She won't tell me. She won't tell her dad. I've even had Brian calling me up in tears, begging me to get her to just talk to him."

"Maybe the pregnancy's made her flip," I suggested.

"Could be. I don't know. There certainly doesn't seem to be any rational explanation for what she's doing. Please, Gertie, you have to talk to her. She always adored you."

"Well, if she's not even talking to Brian, then what chance is there that..."

"And she's always valued your opinion. Please?"

I promise Marnie that I will indeed talk to her and hint that I may be overdue for a visit to the old hometown. She sounds happy about that. We shoot the shit for about maybe 20 more minutes, talking about work and other such annoyances, current developments on Six Feet Under and Trading Spaces, etc., and then I let her go.

The news about Iona leaves me slightly shaken, as I wonder what demons are bringing her to wave the white flag (again), but I realize that it's too late to call her, especially if she's camping out at her dad's. I let the television lull me to sleep, and my dreams are filled with crying babies, George Clooney, small monkeys with frightening, tiny faces, and the Seattle Mariners.

* * *

I have never fancied myself to be a therapist, confessor, philosopher, or diplomat.


I pick up the phone and dial a familiar number.

MR. ROCHE: Hello?

ME: Hi, is Iona there?

MR. ROCHE: Just a second...'Ona! Is this...?

ME: Gertie, yeah.

MR. ROCHE: How's the weather out there in Seattle?

ME: Oh, gray and...

MR. ROCHE: Right, well, you have a good time then...

IONA: Dad, I've got it! (flatly) Hello?

ME: (feigned perkiness) Hey, 'Ona, what's going on?

IONA: Marnie told you I was here?

ME: Uh...yeah. What's up?

IONA: I'm living here now. It's a long story.

ME: Hey, man, I heard you were...

IONA: I'm just on my way to bed...can I give you a call tomorrow?

ME: (taken aback) Uh...yeah, sure. You got my cell...?

IONA: Yeah, I've got it written down here somewhere. I'll give you a call tomorrow or something? Okay?

ME: Okay.

IONA: Talk to you later then. Bye.

She hangs up. I am left holding a phone that has surrendered to a shrill dial tone.

ME: (to no one) Bye.

* * *

I have never had ambitions to become a celebrated writer.

Date: Sat, 4 Jan 2003 11:04:25-0700 (PDT)
From: "Gertie Schoenberg"
To: "Iona Roche-Kapusinski"
Subject: Re: Happy New Year!!!


What's up??? i hope your new year was fun and free of projectile vomiting. Speaking of vomiting, I heard that your preggers...congratulations!!!! I don't mean to bust out Marnie, in case you wanted to tell me yourself, but I didnt want you to think that I didn't care. I'm super happy for you, and I can't wait to meet your new baby. Have you thought of any names for the rugrat?

Mar did tell me that you were living at your dad's, and i'm sorry we haven't had a chance to talk about that yet. I do wish you'd let me know what's up. Is everythign okay with you and Brian? If not, please know that I'm always here to talk even though I'm a cynical smart-ass and even more so now that the weather's shitty again. Oh well. Not as shitty as back home, I bet.

Please write back soon and let me know what's new with you.



Date: Wed, 8 Jan 2003 10:58:31 -0500
From: "Iona Roche-Kapusinski"
To: "Gertie Schoenberg"
Subject: Fwd: Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: This is so true!


A friend is someone who is always there to talk.
A friend is someone whose shoulder you can cry on.
A friend is someone who is courageous enough to cry on your shoulder.
A friend is someone who leads you to Jesus.
A friend is someone who makes you laugh.
A friend is someone who would give you everything they have before you even ask.
A friend is someone who is not afraid to tell you what you don't want to hear.
A friend is someone who stands up for you in front of others.
A friend is someone who shares your sorrows when you are hurt.
A friend is someone who makes you feel like a child again.
A friend is someone who appears in all your fondest memories.
A friend is someone who lives in your heart forever.

Now...scroll down...
keep scrolling
make a wish
If you send this message to five people, your wish will come true in two weeks.
If you send this message to ten people, your wish will come true in one week.
If you send this message to everyone you know, your wish will come true tomorrow.

Nothing bad will happen if you don't pass this on, but you have a choice--to either tell the people you love that you care or to delete this message. I don't usually send these on, but I never told my best friend how much I cared, and then she was hit by a drunk driver. I would do anything to tell her how much I love her, and I will never have that chance. You should express your feelings for your friends, and you may just receive it right back from them...showing how much they care about you!

Date: Thur, 9 Jan 2003 14:32:04 -0400
From: "Gertie Schoenberg"
To: "Iona Roche-Kapusinski"
Subject: Re: Fwd: Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: This is so true!

What the holy fuck is all this quasi-religious-sentimental-chicken-soup-for-the-soul-chain letter bullshit?

Ive been hearing crazy stuff about you, and I send you a simple email, and this is what I get back?

You know I care all the time.

anyway, you can run but you can't hide. I've just booked a flight for the 17th of Jan. Yes, Gertrude Schoenberg is coming back to the region for an impromptu reunion of the Weird Name Girls. Anyway, I trust we'll talk when I see you. Please don't make me have to interrogate your father of all people.


* * *

The three of us. Back together again. Sitting in that same miserable booth in that same miserable 24-hour-Greek family restaurant. Wilting under the same golden-orange-ish lights. Eating the same lemon rice soup with the same glue-like consistency.

How the fuck did we get so jaded and disillusioned and dull and miserable? You would think that one of us would have been able to find happiness. Marnie--the bad girl turned born-again evangelical. Me--the good girl turned bad and worldly. Iona--who was and remains Iona. Marnie learned to play everything by the book--regular (and unprecedented) church attendance, sacrificing cigarettes, alcohol, and sex to cleanse what she perceived as damaged and polluted, all in the name of mourning a boy who left home one night and never came back. I left home as well (although not quite as permanently) and pretty much tossed every value and more I'd ever been taught into the Pacific Ocean. Iona was always kind of the control group, scientifically speaking. And yet we're all unhappy in remarkably similar ways. It could be generational, but that makes us look like a bunch of pathetic, balding 40-year-old men with erectile problems. No, I don't want to make sweeping generalizations about my peers. I can think of a dozen people my age who can at least plausibly pretend to be successful and productive and contented. Not us, though. You can see it in our eyes, read it in our half-smiles, hear it in our forced gaiety and heartfelt profanity (well, except for Marnie, who has infuriatingly sacrificed even the dirty words that were essential components of the high language of our youth).

Christ, no more. To hear myself talk about it is to hear myself sounding whiny and pretentious and painfully naïve. It's the ones who truly suffer who never complain, and that scares the living shit out of me.

The three of us. Four, actually. Iona and I reach for the same stale roll in the bread basket,and I surrender it to her. She avoids eye contact. I think about what it must be like to inhabit her body. She is completely uprooting herself, moving back in with that pathologically passive-aggressive father of hers, about to assume responsibility for a demanding and utterly helpless new person. She probably needs more help than ever before, yet she is stoutly refusing it all. Maybe she feels stubborn and proud, but she mostly looks terrified.

Of course this screwed-up situation is like the biggest deal ever, at least in our young lives. So naturally, we don't bring it up once during the entire evening.

Nope, nope, not a word about Iona's latest nervous breakdown, but, naturally, they have to devote at least 25 minutes to Frank.


"So anyway, Frank's got this new apartment where you can kind of see the lake out his bedroom window. It's pretty cool. He had me over for dinner one night...we just hung out and watched the basketball was a good time. He's been dating this girl for like six months..." Marnie drones.


It's not like I wish him ill or anything. He was my best friend throughout most of grade school and high school and half of college. Marnie and Iona met him through me. I doubt there's anyone who really knows him better than me. We have seen each other through a lot of shit, okay? I don't need to be schooled in the more admirable characteristics of Frank.

And I know that Iona and Marnie were disappointed with the way things went, and I know that Frank was the sympathetic character in that episode, but they weren't in my shoes. They didn't find themselves at a seemingly innocent Sox game three days before they were supposed to depart for a year-long study abroad program. They didn't see the words on the jumbotron, suddenly and unexpectedly addressed to them. They didn't see themselves on the obscenely oversized screen as everyone in the goddamn park awaited their reaction. They didn't have to disappoint thousands of people waiting for their five seconds of "aw, gee whillikers" romance. They didn't have empty beer cups thrown at them as they tried to flee. And they didn't have to listen to their so-called best friends gingerly point out, "Well, he really has been in love with you for ages...there's no possible way it could work out?" No! We weren't even dating at the time! There is, as I explained to them then, a fine line between romantic and psycho.

Back to the present.

Frank Talk earns Marnie a much-deserved glare from my side of the table. I swear I can see a faint smirk on Iona's face as the pressure is lifted from her shoulders for a few seconds.

We yap until we can no longer justify keeping a table. Not that any customers are lined up at this time of night--we just sense the waitress getting sick of us. Three hours in a booth, and we order three cups of soup (.99 each), one large diet coke ($1.29) and two waters (free). I don't mind so much, as the day's travel had left me kind of exhausted and breathless, and I really can't stay up late like I used to. An hour and a half into our little late-night dining ritual, and I was wondering when I could finally retire to the bed of my adolescence.

I drop Iona off at her father's. We don't speak during the ride. I suppose I can try to reach out to her once again, but I am afraid that hers will be a long story, and I am just too wiped out to give it my full attention. I pull into her father's driveway. There is no snow on the ground, but the cold is shocking and painful, like a sucker punch to the gut. The heater in my mom's car has yet to kick in, and we can see our breath float towards each other as we bid farewell in our rambling, passive sort of way.

"Well, I'd better get going..." I announce with a yawn.

"Yeah," Iona replies.

We look at each other for a second. Some sort of emotion passes over her face like a fast-moving cloud, and she suddenly throws her arms around my neck.

"I'm really glad you came back," she says.

"Yeah, me too," I lie.

She smiles as she pulls away, resembling more closely the Iona I had always known.

"See ya later," she says as she steps out of the car.

* * *

I had anticipated--although not eagerly--that at least one of the days of my long weekend would be devoted to the family. I find my family--a mother, a younger sister, no surviving grandparents, no father worth mentioning--tolerable enough, but I'm not the kind of person who makes a religion out of her blood relations. When we do get together--perhaps twice, three times a year--we are civil, amiable, and restrained. I have friends with passionate, enmeshed, argumentative, joyous families--like the stereotypical Italian-Americans most often found on Olive Garden commercials. I have no desire for such relationships. I am, after all, mildly claustrophobic.

My sister, though, is getting to be a problem.

Now that she is no longer under my tutelage and influence, Elise is gradually turning into everything I once hated. She is now in the middle of her senior year of high school, and she seems to float in the air, intoxicated by her own self-importance and elevated status. There's bound to be some miserable, shortsighted, uncoordinated girl at Griffith who both detests and is in awe of my sister and who can be made to feel like a sack of shit at my sister's whim.

Elise is on the pom squad for the love of Christ.

I suppose I could have stopped this, but my own destiny took me elsewhere. Whatever she does during what will likely be the best years of her life, she will have to live with. And when she winds up drunk and naked in some filthy frat house...I don't even want to contemplate it, frankly.

Anyway, even though I had promised that I would never again walk through the hallowed sea green halls of my alma mater, I am browbeaten into watching my sister ooze on the basketball court, humping the Panther mascot painted on the floor. Someone "retro"-minded must have assembled the hyperactive New Wave medley, remixed up and down. I spend these few minutes pondering whether or not they included a portion of Nena's "99 Luftballons" as a subversive anti-war gesture. Judging from the gleeful, unironic, stripperesque choreography, probably not. They don't teach German at Griffith.

I swear to God, they are briefly doing "the robot" during the 30-second sample of "She Blinded Me with Science." Tee hee.

When they finish, they jump up and down, shaking their black-and-gold poms at us. But I still have one more half of this dreadful game to go. It's not even like the good old days when my friends and I would sit around gossiping during the proceedings. I am now trying to avoid my old classmates (a frightening number of whom are they do this every weekend?), and I chat politely with my former teachers, reciting the same routine I use on second cousins and potential employers, "Yes, I'm living in Seattle now. I got my degree in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Oregon. That's about it, really, just working for a medical supply company." I explain. "Nope, ha ha, not married yet!" I add, feeling my mother's eyes burning into the side of my skull. "I really just want to focus on my career for a while..." A cliché, I know, but it works on the home crowd. Some of the more annoying matronly types with whom I am compelled to converse cluck-cluck at me about ticking clocks, but what-the-fuck-ever. I mean, I'm not the most glamorous former student to revisit this old gymnasium, but don't they have enough 25-year-olds around here who have never mentally left high school, dutifully breeding every two years and lurking around at sporting events long after their youngest siblings have graduated? Jesus.

Well, I'm sitting here too, so I suppose I can't be too judgmental. Still, I guess I always thought that when I would come back, everyone would be all envious that I escaped. Instead, they look at me as if I'm crazy for even wanting to leave. And I think that's always what infuriates me most--the fact that no one around here even pauses to ask themselves the following questions: is there a world beyond the town limits of Munster? Is it absolutely necessary to build this Home Depot, which is next door to the Menard's, which is next door to the Lowe's, which is next door to another Home Depot? Are black people really that scary?

I would just like to add that I don't allow outsiders to diss the Region. You're only allowed to snort derisively when such derisive snorting is your sole survival tactic.

We finally leave the high school approximately an hour after the game ends, waiting to collect Elise, to pry her away from her touchy-feely friends and her scowling suitors. We wind up eating a late dinner at a Chinese restaurant. We are the last customers before they close. Mom smiles at us as we scarf down hunan beef and sweet and sour chicken and vegetable lo mein. "It's nice to have my two girls together," she said. She has a way of making every sentence pregnant with meaning; either that or I just think that way because I imagine myself to be a constant target of parental disapproval. I left them. Dad left too. We kind of...cauterized ourselves after he left. It was healthier when it was just the three of us. I'm the one who fucked that up. And on a monthly basis, I assure myself of my right to live my own independent life, the right to live where I want and do what I want and fuck who I want and skip the religious services of my choice and visit when I want, which is not often--all this without panic and fear and guilt. I look over at my sister, who's almost imperceptibly bobbing her head to some tune in her mind, a dreamy expression on her face, reliving some flawless pom routine, some invitation to a formal dance offered by a football jock whose shifty eyes are obscured by the pointy brim of his pre-frat baseball cap, some Machiavellian drama that ended in her favor.

When I was seven, she was my own living doll. I barely allowed my parents to touch her. When she was five, she originally wanted to dress as me for Halloween, but my mom had already sewed a Dorothy (as in Wizard of Oz) costume in exacting detail for her, so she was forced to wear that. I had no choice but to play Glenda the Good Witch as I begged for candy from our next-door neighbors.


My fortune cookie that night reads as follows: "God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another." And with that, our beleaguered waitress starts to clear the table. "Pay up front," she sternly commands.

* * *

"So, 'Ona," I chirp into the phone, "are you up for doing something today?"

"Oh, I don't know," she sighs. "I'm feeling a little under the weather..."

"Well, it's my last day here," I remind her. "I'm heading to the airport early tomorrow."

"Yeah, I know. I mean, I want to see you and all..."

"Well, we can wait an hour or two and see how you feel..."

"No, just come get me. If that's okay with you. I'm not sick, really...I'm just...I'm just kinda worn out."

"That's understandable. You just wanna go to the mall or something?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Okay, I'll come get you. You sure you're all right, though?" I asked with a slight accent of alarm.

"No, no, I'm fine. It's cool."

So we're waiting in line at the bank so I can get some money from the ATM, an utterly banal moment. And I'm filling her in on all the gossip from last night, and even though she lives here, she doesn't really keep up with all those assholes, so when I tell her that Tim O'Connor was arrested for aggravated battery when he punched Scott Olsen (who's now a Griffith cop) when Scott pulled him over for driving under the influence (of what, it was not specified), she finds it as entertaining as I do.

After a comfortable moment of silence, she asks, "So what's going on with you? I mean, what's really going on with you? Not like, working and paying the bills and trying to exercise three times a week..."

"I don't know...nothing much, really. After you get out of school and start working, one day is pretty much like another."

"You seeing anybody?" she asks.

I weigh my options at this point. I'm not the kind of person who tells the truth for the truth's sake. To be perfectly honest, I tell the truth when it makes me look good. When it reflects me in a less than favorable light, I'm constantly looking for ways to spin it. But I feel a certain longing as I punch in my PIN and wait for the machine to spit out four crisp $20 bills. We used to be able to read each other's thoughts. An entire paragraph of information could be communicated through rolled eyes and a crooked smile. We used to want to "Parent Trap" her dad and my mom, regardless of how creepy that would be were it ever to happen in reality. Just so we could always be that close.

On the other hand, there's always the possibility that she won't take this information well. Iona, who was never able to toss aside religion as gleefully as I. Iona, who married the only person she's ever slept with. Iona, who, back in the day, positively freaked out over the prospect of one of her nearest and dearest getting laid, driving home with a slight buzz, smoking a cigarette or worse, etc. etc.

And I look at Iona, and I'm wondering what she's keeping from me, and as I drive away from the ATM, I pull over into one of the parking spaces in the bank's empty lot. I sigh, and I look in her eyes, and I think she knows that there's some sordidness going on, and I'm so terrified that I start laughing.

"I'm fucking a married guy," I say, my shoulders shaking with laughter.

"Yeah, I was too for a while," she says nonchalantly.

Does she mean...? Oh. Well.

"The baby is Brian's," she explains.

"No...I mean, I didn't think..." I stammer.

She laughs. "No, it's okay. It's a perfectly valid question." She pauses. "You're the only person other than Brian who I've told."

"You're the only one who knows about Nick."

"I would normally be lecturing you, but I now know how things just kind of 'happen' you know, it's okay. I am kind of curious...about what you think of me."

I shrugged. "Well, it's your business and no one else's."

"I guess. Marriage is kind of a community thing, though."

"Only to Republicans. Fuck that shit."

"So are you still seeing this guy?" she asked.

"Nick? Yeah, when I can."

"His wife doesn't know?"

"Not that I know of. It makes me sound like a bitch, but I don't really care. I know I'm contributing to the decline of western civilization or whatever, but I just don't feel like it's her business, you know? Like, if he's got to do dinner with his in-laws or something, that's fine. I don't get all up in their business or bust him out or follow him around like some kind of psychopath. When he's with me, he's on my time. You know?"

"Kinda. It was harder for me to screw around on Brian. He really loves me," she says as she looks out of the passenger window.

"So what's going on with that whole situation?" I ask.

"Well, I had this thing with this guy I met through Cara. Just like a mutual friend of hers. It's all really sort of big romantic drama or anything. It was just kind of a sex thing for both of us because Brian and I just couldn't work that out, and it was getting a little frustrating."

I am kind of creeped out by Iona talking sex, but I let her continue, murmuring assent and comprehension at various appropriate points.

"And it was just really nice to be wanted in that way, to be really wanted. With Brian, so much was taken for granted, and I think a lot of my needs fell by the wayside, and I didn't want to cause a fuss. So when this guy came around, I just kind of let myself lose control...because everyone else gets to. None of them are married, and they get to do whatever they want, and I just wanted to experience once in my life what it was like to really, really want someone and to be able to have him. Just once. And it didn't last very long because we both got bored with it pretty quickly, and it was just all too much to keep inside, and I was getting depressed about it, so I told Brian. You can imagine how well that went over."

"So did he want the divorce then?"

"No, he wanted me around. He just wanted to be able to pout for the rest of his life over it. I mean, he had reason to pout, and it's not like the whole thing wasn't my fault. But how many fucking times can you say 'I'm sorry'? So, I'm like, screw it, I'm leaving."

"Where does the baby come in?"

"Oh, the baby," she sighs. "Yeah, um, that was a product of some sad, pathetic 'for old time's sake' sex."

"And Brian knows...?"

"He certainly does. Now he's all gung ho about getting me back, raising the kid, yadda, yadda, yadda, and I guess it would be better for all of us, but he's not my true love, you know? I mean, I love him and everything, but..."

"There is no true love," I interrupt.

"You don't believe in love?" she asks.

"No, I believe in love--like love for my mom and sister and love for you and Marnie--I just don't believe that there's one person out there for you. There's probably about 300,000 men you could live a comfortable, happy life with. You just have to pick one, based on various pragmatic issues--geography, economics, religious beliefs or lack thereof...But anyway, I just think that you're not going to find anyone who you're going to be crazy about your whole life. You get to feel in love with someone for about a year or so, and then it will most likely fade away. They wouldn't make romantic comedies if people were in love all the fucking time."

"So you think I should stick with Brian, then?"

"Well, he's the father of your child, he's got a good job, he loves you and will take good care of you. Practically speaking, it's probably just better that way."

"And the love thing doesn't enter into it at all?" she asked with a sad smile.

"Well, you do love him, right?"


"I think that's really all you need. You don't need to be 'in love' with him. You just have to be able to coexist with him peacefully and not purposely hurt each other and shit. And maybe you'll be able to get that 'in love' feeling back if you just really devote yourself to him, and you guys will have your kid and everything..."

Iona smiles. "I can't tell whether you're telling me to do the right thing or to resign myself."

"I've noticed that most of adulthood revolves around resigning oneself."

"So what are you going to do?"

"About Nick? Oh, I don't know. Sleep with him until he tells me it's over. He won't pick me over her, and I don't want him to. I don't love him or anything, but I'll be a mess when he ends it. Stupid fucking men, you know? Look what we put ourselves through. It's so stupid."

"Let's just go to the mall or something."

I agree. "Just one thing..." I begin.

She finishes my sentence, "We don't tell Marnie a word."

* * *

I get back home on MLK day, and it's a little after 10 a.m. It's always a little strange to get those hours of my life back. I have approximately 3,650,047 junk emails in my inbox, even though I had only left it unattended for three days. Who are all these people, concerned about my weight loss, the size of my penis and breasts, who want to offer me thousands of dollars a week working from home, who want to teach me how to hypnotize others, who want me to order a customized Russian bride?

There's also an email from Nick, canceling our plans to catch a movie tonight. Oh hell.

* * *

What I do when I should be working:

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 09:34:25-0600
From: "Iona Roche-Kapusinski"
To: "Gertie Schoenberg"
Subject: what's up?

Hey gertie,

What's going on? I'm sorry I haven't gotten back to you in a while. Just been busy with work and doctor's appointments and stuff. I'm kinda pukey in the mornings, so I come in late (they're really cool about that), and then I'm racing to catch up when I get here. I guess Brian and I are seeing each other again...kinda sorta. Not like I'm going to move back in with him this weekend or anything. But we do see each other a few nights a week. We're just taking it slow because, obviously, he's got issues, and I've got issues. But he's all excited about the baby, and his mom's getting all worked up (in a good way, for once) and buying us all kinds of stuff. I don't really know how I feel about him and this little person I'm toting around, but at least I can't say I'm bored!

I'm working on that resignation stuff we were talking about a while ago. What's up with you?

Write back soon!



Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 09:57:14-0700
From: "Nick D. Graham"
To: "Gertie Schoenberg"
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Hi

Hey, babe, what's going on? You've been quiet today...

Hey, did you hear about how one of your beloved Chilean sea bass (patagonian toothfish, thank you very much) was found in the arctic, and they only ever found them on the other side of the world before? I thought of you when I read that. Because I know how you like to track their population...

You're going to hate me, and I really hate blowing you off for the third time in a row, but I just really can't get out tonight. You know, more of the same.

Oh crap, Sergio's waddling over here...better go.

I miss you.


Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 10:15:01-0700
From: "Gertie Schoenberg"
To: "Nick D. Graham"
Subject: Change Your Subject Lines Every Now and Again

Hi there.

Poor Chilean Sea Bass. Here he is, thinking he's heading off to someplace exotic, probably wanted to go as far away as he can possibly go, probably sees himself drinking little tropical drinks in a coconut-shaped glass, and then he winds up in the arctic, where he finds only more glaciers and ice, and maybe the fish look a little different and speak with different accents, but they're probably bureaucratic and pissy in their fishy way, just like the ones back home. To go all that way, and he's got the same patagonian problems.


Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 10:20:37-0700
From: "Nick D. Graham"
To: "Gertie Schoenberg"
Subject: Re: Change Your Subject Lines Every Now and Again

Your such a weirdo. But I like it.

Date: Thu, 6 Feb 2003 10:21:26-0700
From: "Gertie Schoenberg"
To: "Nick D. Graham"
Subject: You Never Learn, do you?

Thanks. I think.