Thom and I had been married for two months.
We were mini-celebrating at the best steakhouse in Los Angeles. I consume steak only once or twice a year. It often feels like a religious experience. That night I was still living in the glazed-over, post-honeymoon world I didn’t want to end.
What could possibly go wrong?
Thom peered over his glass of Cabernet and sheepishly said: “We need to talk about something, Bobby.”
Uh oh. Didn’t need Google Translate to understand something more than a mic was about to drop.
“That sounds ominous,” I said.
“It’s not a big deal. Don’t get nervous.”
“Really? Because your voice just cracked in half when you said it.”
“Maybe I’m the one who’s nervous. You tend to overreact when you first hear things.”
“Is this where you tell me you have a prison record?”
“No,” he chuckled.
“Do you have two young children with a woman in Barcelona?”
“No. That’s ridiculous.”
“Then I think we’re good.” I leaned in and waited but no words were forthcoming. “Are you breaking up with me, Thom?”
He laughed. “Of course not. And married people don’t break up. They get divorced.”
“Then what is it?”
I was losing my patience. My hand tightly gripped the steak knife. For stability, of course.
Thom picked up his glass of wine, holding it casually in front of him, swirling the red liquid around the circumference of the glass. “You know I read a lot about nutrition. I’ve done a lot of research lately and based on what I’m seeing I think we need to stop eating gluten, dairy and probably one other thing.”
First I felt relief. He wasn’t breaking up with me. Then I realized he was announcing something far worse. I could feel the slow build of an anxiety attack with a vertigo kicker.
“Please do not tell me the third thing we have to give up is sugar,” I begged.
“Sugar is worse than anything else we put into our bodies,” he replied.
The waiter interrupted, delivering two sizzling, butter-drenched steaks. The irony of the situation had not escaped me. My beautiful once-a-year steak indulgence suddenly had a dead man walking quality to it.
“I barely eat meat. I don’t eat chicken. Farmed fish is on the forbidden list. When I pick up a salt shaker you look as if I were clubbing baby seals. All vegetables and fruits have to be organic. Now you want to take away cheese, bread, pizza, yogurt, butter, Oreo cookies, and ice cream. And pie. You want to take away pie?”
“You’re being dramatic. There are gluten and sugar-free pies.”
Where do I report elder abuse? I began gripping the knife again. You know – for stability. I readily admit, however, that I was thinking: no jury would convict me.
“Inflammation, Bobby. It’s all about inflammation”.
“Inflammation,” I repeated, as if it were some new mantra we were adapting. “Sorry. I need more information than that one word to stop eating pie. And a hundred times as much information if cheese is off the menu.”
“Everything I read tells me gluten, dairy and sugar contribute to diabetes, heart disease and a host of other killers. It’s inflammation that does it. We’ve both been suffering from the symptoms.”
“What kind of symptoms?”
“Fatigue, brain-fog, mood issues, depression.”
I pushed my plate to the center of the table. Except for the depression, which I will now forever call adult-onset, gluten-free depression, I had to admit the other symptoms sounded vaguely familiar.
“Couldn’t we do one thing at a time? Eliminate dairy, then slowly wean off of gluten. Then cut out the sugar a couple of days before we die. Because what you’re talking about is a hospice diet.”
“You don’t get the full benefit if it’s done piece-meal. Don’t you want to feel better? Maybe add a couple of years on to your life? Lose some weight?”
And there it was, ladies and gentlemen.
“So this is about my weight?”
“No. It’s not about your weight.”
“I’m curious. How is it I didn’t hear anything about inflammation prior to the wedding. Up until then I was the little boy toy.”
“It’s not exactly something you put in a prenup.”
“Really? Because I’m fairly certain Oprah has a gluten clause in her prenup.”
“Oprah isn’t married.”
“More to the point. When she goes down to the basement where she keeps Stedman locked-up they aren’t talking about nutrition.”
“I can do it on my own,” he said. “I just thought it would be sexy if we did it together.”
“You’re gonna use up your sexy card on gluten?”
“I actually hadn’t realized I get only one sexy card.”
I pulled the plate back to me and asked him to pass the sour cream.
Epilogue: Where are they now?
Thom and Bobby are still married.
Thom tells everyone he’s gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, and orders the most tasteless thing on the menu as an entrée. Driving home, he and Bobby stop at a Marie Callender’s where they order a desert whose three sole ingredients are gluten, dairy and sugar.
Bobby tells everyone he is gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free. He does that mostly when he’s with Thom. Bobby tries to be good. But when he’s been bad he returns home like a quiet drunk, slipping into bed so there won’t be questions, frightened that Thom has special glasses that can spot inflammation.
They have a once-a-year free pass allowing them to buy a Blizzard at Dairy Queen.
They regret eating the Blizzard within ten minutes of its consumption. Yet the 12 month wait for the next visit to Dairy Queen seems worse than waiting for the new season of House of Cards.
They both know each-other’s truths.
And that’s okay. Because that’s what marriage is all about in the first place.