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  • Ten Years I'll Never Get Back
  • Liz Stephens (bio)


Everyone told us it would be hard, but no one told us how boring it could be. I can take hard; hard is a dare. But we look at each other, my husband and I, over the head of our daughter, over the dishes, over the stacks of uninspired student papers and dual twanging cell phones, and I imagine he's thinking the same thing I am: "How did you talk me into this?" Subtext: Where's the freewheeling bachelor I meant to be? Where's the bossy girl I was? When did I become this? When did you become that?

I hear the stuff that comes out of my mouth, and I cringe. I hear the stuff that comes out of my mouth, and I sense the way I am walking around in my mother's body, everyone seeing it but me pretending it isn't true until those moments I hear her come right out of my mouth: "I need to talk to you" this and "I sure wish that we could" that. The way her physical self never lets her transcend her mien: her short and solid stature an unswayable pedestrian matter-of-factness, her passive, wheedling aggression couched in her pursed smile on a bad day, on a worse day her livid anger stunted by her traffic-stopping snarl of syntactically convoluted conversation. I'm every bit of it.

And my husband has met my mother; I know he can see this about me. The wonder is that he can stand it. They seem to get along.

But he: talk about the sins of the father. On hard days it's hard to be around my husband's father, so like the worst parts of my husband is that man. Belligerent. King of the last word. Sulky. His very skin the mark of a man who won't listen: the dark tan of a man who won't wear sunscreen, the lines [End Page 27] and dull sheen of a man who can't seem to quit smoking and make it stick, the flush of a heavy drinker on him, the danger we barely avoid in the son.

On the other hand, it is also from this man my husband gets his charisma, his goes too far and then lets you in on the joke, his sings karaoke too loudly but very well, his sung with closed eyes oh Danny boy that'll embarrass you and then break your heart.

We look at each other, my husband Christopher and I, over years of past versions of selves we have known in each other, and we are uncertain which one we may be standing with at any time. Is this the one who may bolt? Is this the one who will stay?


We have in common that we both view art in much the same way. We agree that the real drama in living an artist's life is making the art, not making the drama of making the art. We can communicate to each other how we feel about that ephemeral state of creation, and how we crave it above almost all else. How bitter we become without it.

Our beliefs in the rewards of an artistic life are important, because this is the only reason we live where we do. We moved to Athens, Ohio, because both of our graduate programs, mine in writing and his in theater, accepted us, and not only accepted but courted us. That seemed to bode well.

I had no idea how claustrophobic I'd find the place, a small town unrelieved by any grandeur of any sort, even that of smallness, and now he has no way to help me out of the place but to keep going. There is always a tension in our days between politely glossing the facts ("My day was fine") and telling the bald truth ("I nearly got in my car and started driving after the sun as it fell"). It goes without saying that this doesn't help a relationship; he always wonders (because if I haven't been clear about...


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pp. 27-37
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