An excerpt from “Irreconcilable Differences” by Nicolette Kittinger
My Husband the Artist watched Naked Lunch a few weeks ago.
“It was pretty good,” he said, “but so much different than the source material. His wife must’ve written the book.”
My Husband the Artist tells people his wife is a writer, his Wife the Writer. She would be more accurately described as his Wife the Thief. I’ve been a thief for a long time. From middle school through high school, I stole virginities. Now I steal lives.
They are, for the most part, thefts of anecdotes only. Occasionally, they are thefts of experience. The process is more intimate than my earlier thefts, but there are fewer tears for all involved.
My Husband the Artist is a Fine Art Photographer. An Abstract Photographer. My Husband the Artist takes pictures of light. Not people or landscapes or still lifes or architecture or events, just light. “Light,” he says, “is all that matters in a picture. What I do is remove everything else, so you have to pay attention to it.”
Without the studio space and lights he had available to him in school, he shoots in the kitchen-living-room-dining-room of our apartment in the middle of the night using old lamps and other shit he finds around the house.
His first gallery show was last year.
He made a ten-piece series. He used a lot of broken mirrors—not that you can tell by looking at the prints. Not that you’re supposed to be able to tell. Everything’s blue and green and red, and I don’t know how. I don’t know how he makes his pictures. I don’t know what he sees. I don’t know if he sees broken mirrors and blue and red and green, or if he sees light, or beauty, or order.
I don’t get his art. I don’t like his art.
If we ever get divorced, it will be over Irreconcilable Differences, such as Roman Polanski, Forrest Gump, Megadeth, The Misfits, and his ugly, angular art.
“You know, it was good enough for all those rich people,” he says when we argue over whether or not we can hang his art in the house.
“Well then, let the rich people hang it up,” I say. “It clashes with the couch.” Which is true—the couch is yellow velour and clashes with everything. But really, I just don’t like his art.
Our friends say this argument of ours sounds like something out of a Woody Allen movie. When we have this argument, I feel about his wife the way I feel about his art. Don’t like her. Don’t know what he sees in her.
When my Husband the Artist was just The Cute Boy from Comp 2 class, he e-mailed me a still life he’d done. His early work had actual things in the pictures.
“I bet you can’t guess what that picture’s supposed to be,” he said, via instant message, late one night. “No one can.”
It was a scratchy black-and-white of a scuffed up baby doll missing an eye, splayed prone on the floor. But he didn’t want me to guess that.
In an effort to impress him, I recalled a comment my Mixed Media teacher had about a still life I did my sophomore year of high school: she decided, nodding, that my rusty-nails-wilted-lily-muddy-jar-on-a-block-of-wood was, “A rape, it’s a rape.”
“A rape. It’s a rape,” I typed, hit enter.
“No one’s ever got that before.”
It was one year and an engagement ring later before I noticed the V-shaped scar on his forehead. “I told you about that when you guessed what that picture was about. Knew I could trust you with it.”
I didn’t remember, but I didn’t argue, either. I must’ve blocked it out for a reason.
My Husband the Artist is an Auteur. A Director and Screenwriter. All of his work is about men who are trapped, downtrodden and abused. Sad, defeated men who come to sad ends.
All of his work was like this before I met him, so it’s easy for me to not read too far into it.
His magnum opus, his great unfinished work, is about the boy he was a decade ago: my Husband the Artist is a recovering cough syrup addict.
It sounds ridiculous, I know. He knows it, too. But as a story, it is at once universal and new. It has everything. It can be perfect.
“How about instead of talking about what you’re going to do to your screenplay, you, you know, actually do it?”
“I will, I just…”
“What? You have to be inspired? In the mood? You’ve been working on it since I met you!”
“Longer than that.”
“I don’t know.”
“Fuck it. It’s mine now.”
He packed his Bic pen hitter again. My Husband the Artist is nothing if not resourceful when it comes to getting high.
“I mean it. I’m writing it.”
“You don’t write screenplays,” he said finally.
“No shit. I’m gonna write a book. I’m gonna turn it into a book, and you know what?”
He didn’t ask “what.”
“I’m gonna finish mine before you finish yours.”
My Husband the Artist says he’s a switch, but I’m pretty sure he’s a bottom.
My Husband the Artist is into kink. Was into kink. Had kinks. Explored them.
The woman before me was a behemoth Swede built like a tall pre-pubescent boy—no hips, no tits, not even a menstrual cycle.
She was a Furry. Her character was a six-foot long-haired white cat named Mistress Wolfsbane. She made her fursuit herself; she was so, so large that she 86’d the full suit, opting instead for legs and paws fashioned into combination shoe-pants, arms and paws fashioned into a kind of weird yoke, and a head.
“Did you ever fuck her like that?” I asked when we first started dating, out of both curiosity and fear.
“In the suit.”
“Well, no; it’s like pants.”
“But I mean—”
He sighed. “Once, she came over, and got on all fours on the futon in the basement, and wanted me to finger her from behind like a cat.”
“…cats don’t have fingers.”
He sighed again. “No. I know. I mean, there’s a way you hold your hand. A way you press your fingers together. I don’t know. I wouldn’t do it. She got mad and went home.” He looked embarrassed for her and ashamed of himself. It’s the same look he gets when I tell other people about her. I never tire of telling other people about her.
My Husband the Artist did not have a fursuit, but he did have other things. They shared other things. Cuffs and collars and whips, extreme heat and cold, other things I won’t ask about, he won’t tell me about, other things that require a safe word.
I believe that sometimes my Husband the Artist misses all of it. I believe that maybe I’ve stolen something from him.
My Husband the Artist denies this.
“I’m sorry I’m vanilla,” I say to him sometimes after straightforward missionary sex. “I’m sorry I don’t whip you, or yell at you, or whatever you used to do with her.”
Usually, he just shrugs and smiles, throws a towel on the wet spot and curls up against me, sticky and warm.
Sometimes he assures me that it was only a thing for them because there was nothing between them other than sex and too much flesh.
But once or twice, after my apology, I caught his eyes drifting toward the bedside table, where the eight-inch strapless strap-on lives, has always lived since I bought it the week we started dating after he recounted what Mistress Wolfsbane used to like to do to his asshole. What he used to like her to like to do to his asshole.
It is too heavy. I can’t keep it in.
My Mother the Bitter Divorcée asks me, “Are you happy?”
“Yes, Mom. I’m happy.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Because I wasn’t sure when I was your age. I was already divorced from your father, when I was your age.”
“But that was a long time ago. I was a different person then.”
I imagine my bottle-blonde mother slumped against the wall next to her kitchen table, too drained, too tired, too drunk to hold herself upright in her chair without it. I imagine her taking the time to refill her plastic wine glass instead of drinking it from the bottle. I imagine the ice cubes in her cheap red wine, buoyant and melting.
“I was a different person then,” she repeats. “I didn’t have the patience.
“He was always high on something. Always had something stashed somewhere.”
I nod until she asks if I’m still on the line, and when I answer in the affirmative, she asks again, “Are you happy? Do you love him?”
I don’t even have to think about it. The answer is so clear that I grow angry just at the thought of her asking. But she is too tired and drunk and, “You can be very hard on him sometimes,” she says, “He’s a user, like your father,” she says, and she says other things, she implies, she implicates, says, “Just like your father,” a few more times for good measure and I say,
“I love him more than you could ever understand.”
“You wanna hear what I wrote?”
“You don’t wanna hear what I wrote.”
“Sure, I do.”
“You said, ‘Uh, sure?’…I should write that down.”
“Come look at this,” his Mother the Doctor said when we were all in Florida visiting her mother and stepfather, Grandpa War Hero and Grandma Cunt, shortly after my Husband the Artist and I were married. She was tapping a framed portrait collage on the guest room’s wall. “He’s four in these pictures,” she said, smiling her soft, secret, subtle smile. Not much about my Husband the Artist makes her smile. “He was such a loving, outgoing boy then.
“That all changed, though.”
I don’t know if she knows I know—that I know that the V-shaped scar on his forehead is not from a playground accident, that I know that instead of talking to him about it they sent him to therapy and filled prescriptions and pretended not to notice the violence-toward-children themes in his early work, the work that featured actual things—but I believe that this was the only way she knew how to tell me, by explaining who my Husband the Artist used to be.
Read the rest of “Irreconcilable Differences” in apt‘s third print annual, now available for purchase.
Nicolette Kittinger is a writer, graphic designer, and pop culture aficionado. Her work has been published/performed/broadcast locally, nationally, and internationally. Sometimes there are awards; most times, not. She holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College. She lives and works in Chicago with her husband, the Artist.