Getting to Know the New Boyfriend - or - The Feminine Mistake
By Alison Lapp
†††††††In June of 1999, I found a new boyfriend, graduated high school and moved from California to Asheville, North Carolina with my family. Attempting to escape the fact that anytime I henceforth walked the streets of the only town Iíd ever called home, it would be as a tourist, I imported a small piece of that California town for myself - the new boyfriend, Christopher. It didnít take much cajoling to get my parents to agree to this arrangement, mainly because they wanted two free pet-sitters to watch the animals while they took a road trip through New England.
†††††††My fatherís leaving for this trip offered us much-appreciated freedom in a house that would otherwise have felt uncomfortably small. My motherís leaving, however, presented us with the problem of a glorious, new kitchen and no one who knew how to conduct herself in it. Chris proposed a solution, whereby I, the better cook, would prepare all the meals, and he would take care of the cleaning, which primarily meant doing the dishes. It was a neat and tidy division of domestic labor, perfect for a woman of the Ď90s, and I prided myself on having found the man who came up with it.
†††††††The unfortunate thing about human beings is that they require daily caloric intake. Dishes, a less demanding, though not entirely hygienic species, are content to wait days or even weeks for a cleaning. As I labored, parboiling and steaming food day after day, my anger and sheer panic rose with the pile of dirty dishes beside me. I saw the eyes of my mother and grandmother peering out of my own reflection in the grease-stained crock-pot, women so strong in their public lives and so willing to let themselves be mistreated at home. I felt a pulling in my genes toward a life of silent submission in a time-honored family tradition of devaluing women.
†††††††I went about with conspiracy theories baking in my head until finally the champagne cork popped on my fears, and they bubbled over in a torrent of tearful accusations directed, of course, at the heartless slave master eating my chicken curry. What did Chrisí not doing the dishes mean? Was I to do all the chores? And who was I?†† Some 17-year-old girl just out of high school, trapped in the South, barefoot and most assuredly just months away from being pregnant, intellectually gagged and bound to a creative void of endless housework? Thatís what the week-old ravioli sauce now crusted on the plates in the sink told me, and thatís certainly what Iíd told myself. I told Chris how his actions were oppressing me, oppressing all women and oppressing the idea of the eternal Woman.††He told me how he was just waiting for the sink to fill up before he got to washing.††
I decided to consider my misreading of the situation and strategize ways to communicate my anxieties before they turned into full-fledged paranoia over a bowl of cereal. Chris washed it.
© Alison Lapp