Essays > The Blue Bowl

                                          -- 2003

There’s something foreboding about getting a divorce on a Monday morning.  I’m never even up at 8:30 on a Monday morning.  I am not at my best on a Monday morning.  My not-yet-ex-husband either. 

My attorney’s secretary is explaining it to me on the phone. It sounds like she’s nibbling on a hangnail the whole time.  My waiting period is up.  I have to come in and look over the judgment. Then they’ll schedule the court date. All the choices are Mondays.  Mondays at 8:30 a.m.

Some court drone must be out to get all us sorry broken hearted knuckleheads.  I feel crabby and annoyed, and I’m thinking about how odd it is that in the hands of the law a whole marriage seems to come down to stuff, the things we go to court over. As if that will make any of us feel better,  A car – the red car I didn’t even want, that we bought on our anniversary – this car apparently will end up being mine.  The house, his.  That beloved house.   I had to let him have the house.  I’m the one who left, I keep telling my friends.   I was so guilty that I bought him a new TV and a fancy set of pots and pans the week after I told him I was leaving.  Such sweaty, miserable humiliation.  We actually went to Best Buy together one awful Friday afternoon and he picked out the one he wanted. The memory of it makes my face burn red.   I have rosacea on my cheeks:  I swear it’s getting worse, permanently worse, from all the shame.

            “You have to come in to go over your judgment,” the secretary is saying on the phone, again, not too gently. 

            “I’ve never been through this before,” I murmur, craving her sympathy. 

“Shorry,” she shmushes, juicing up for the next digit.

And what I really want, out of all those years and all the joy and sorrow, irrationally and emotionally, is the blue bowl. 

I’ve been thickly unaware of time, hardly able to calculate the merest sums or follow even the boxy parade of days on my Magritte calendar.  I imagine the worst:  I’m going to screw up here, and somehow my blue bowl will land on the lawyer’s coffee table, full of cheap candy, violated.  I’m losing it.

It was a wedding gift, handmade by an artist we both knew, a potter who in all the years since has learned to make sophisticated forms that get reviewed in Sunday arts sections and sold at highbrow shops.  This bowl, though, was one of his first attempts.  It is simple and deep, not far beyond the coiled clay of summer camp.  And as undefiled as an Albuquerque sky.  I was proud to get married, deeply delighted by the gifts, the steak knives and napkin rings and goblets – what they signified.  The lovely blue bowl.  What a life we were going to have. There it is:  the seed of my demise:  that desire, a desire so hungry, so unmanageable I could only be disappointed. It was already there, a bat in the twilight, on our wedding day. I had no right to want so much.

Maybe I was innocent once.  I can’t remember what it felt like.  But it’s futile anyway.  Especially when I want that blue bowl back.

            I had it for a while after I left. I lifted it from the house during a particularly larcenous visit.  My ex-husband-to-be wasn’t home and I still had a key.  I slipped in and skulked from room to room, a cat burglar, and took what I could carry in my arms.  And then I slipped out. He emailed me afterwards and complained.  He was upset about two thick diner mugs. He didn’t mention the bowl.

            I was proud of my haul.  Any time anybody came to my new apartment, filled with shrines of old stuff, I’d serve them salad in that bowl.  Then an old friend invited me for Easter dinner. He kindly warned me he had also invited my husband.  I wanted to go anyway – or because.  I found a fancy recipe for beet salad in the New York Times.  You had to use fresh beets and baby spinach leaves and make a complicated sauce that took two days.  I toiled and toiled and when I arrived at the dinner with my salad in the blue bowl, everybody was amazed.  The horseradish dressing, made with crème fraiche, glistened in a pitcher, completely lumpless.   I was exhausted.  You could still see beet juice under my nails. 

My ex-husband-to-be and his new girlfriend sat across from me at the long table.  I drank too much and made about three dozen witty remarks.  Then, after I’d eaten a bellyful of roast duck and watched my husband scoop beet salad from the blue bowl, doling some out for his girlfriend while he was at it, I left without saying goodbye. 

And he took home the bowl. 

The next Sunday I went to my old house to get some books I needed.  This time he was there: he’d invited me.  We were civilized, subdued, or resigned or surrendering or whatever to our irreconcilable condition.  We each drank a single glass of chardonnay and watched the last five minutes of a Pistons game. They lost.  I petted my old cat, who peered at me accusingly.   I tried to hide my guilt, but the cat wasn’t fooled.

And there was the blue bowl, perched there brazenly, like a fine piece of sculpture, on an end table.   Maybe he forgot to hide it.  Maybe he was taunting me. I could imagine at least four or five possibilities, but I didn’t say a thing.  If I was convinced of my innocence, I might have said “Give me back that bowl,” but I just couldn’t. I tried not to look at the bowl, tried to resist my craven urge to memorize every curve.  I wanted to reach out and run my fingers over it.  Thanks to some fierce smidgen of self-control, I kept my hands in my lap.  Those days are gone, I chanted to myself, those days are gone.  I’m guilty, and he gets the bowl.