Thom and I had been married for two months. I was still living in a glossy, post-honeymoon world.
We were mini-celebrating at the best steakhouse in Los Angeles. I consume steak once or twice a year. It feels like a religious experience.
What could possibly go wrong?
Thom peered over a 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? Your voice just cracked in half when you said it.”
“Well, then maybe I’m the one who’s nervous. You tend to overreact when I introduce a new concept.”
“Do you have a prison record?”
“No,” he chuckled.
“Do you have two young children with a woman in Barcelona?”
“Then I think we’re good.” I leaned in and waited but no words were forthcoming. “Are you breaking up with me?”
“Of course not. And married people don’t break up. They get divorced.”
My hand tightly gripped the steak knife. For stability, of course.
“You know I do a lot of research about nutrition.” He held his glass of wine casually in front of him, swirling the red liquid around the circumference of the glass. “The research is saying we need to stop eating gluten, dairy and probably one other thing.”
This was worse than a breakup. I could feel an anxiety attack with a vertigo kicker making it’s way up through my body.
“Are you going to tell me we have to give up sugar?” I asked.
“Sugar is worse than anything we put into our bodies,” he said.
The waiter interrupted my impending crime of passion, delivered two sizzling, butter-drenched steaks. My beautiful once-a-year indulgence suddenly had a dead man walking quality to it.
“Listen to me, Thom. 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 a baby seal. 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 gripped the knife again – you know – for stability. All the while thinking that if I did carry out a momentary desire, no jury would convict me.
“Inflammation, Bobby. It’s all about inflammation,” Thom continued.
“Inflammation,” I repeated, as if it were some new mantra. “Inflamation. Sorry. I need more information than that to stop eating pie. And a hundred times as much information if cheese is off the menu.”
“Gluten, dairy and sugar contribute to diabetes, heart disease and a host of other killers. They create inflammation. The inflammation overheats the body, makes it harder for everything to work properly. 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, the other symptoms sounded vaguely familiar.
“Couldn’t we eliminate one thing at a time? First dairy, then slowly wean off of gluten. Then cut out the sugar a couple of days before we die. Because that’s what you’re basically talking about. A hospice diet.”
“Full benefit isn’t gained if it’s done piece-meal. Don’t you want to feel better? Add a couple of years 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.”
Okay. Maybe that was me imagining I was a little boy toy. I get confused.
“It’s not exactly something you put in a prenup., Bobby.”
“Really? Because I’m fairly certain Oprah has a gluten clause in her prenup.”
“Oprah isn’t married.”
“More to the point. When she walks down to the basement where she keeps Stedman 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 toward me and asked him to pass the sour cream.
Epilogue: Where are they now?
Thom and Bobby are still married.
Thom tells everyone at the dinner table that he’s gluten-free, dairy-free and sugar-free, then orders the most tasteless item on the menu as an entrée. Driving home, he and Bobby stop at Marie Callender’s where they order a desert whose three sole ingredients are gluten, dairy and sugar.
Bobby tells everyone he is gluten, dairy and sugar-free. 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 for 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 is 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.