I grew up in the country, so not many people just “dropped by” my house, unannounced. Even when gas was less than a dollar a gallon, people called before they made the drive. When people did drop by out of the blue, it was a big deal. When I moved into my first house, I believed the same rules applied even though I lived in town and relatively close to everyone I knew. So when Steve, my boyfriend at the time, started showing up unannounced almost every night at dinner time, I thought, “Yea! He’s falling for me.” If the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, I was determined to make sure that hook got set.
My focus on winning Steve’s heart made me oblivious to the fact that he always showed up empty handed and never helped cook or wash up. It was actually my roommate, Terrie, who pointed out this pattern. Looking at things from this perspective, my “Yea!” shifted to an “Ugh.”
Confrontation would have been the obvious step but I was a Southern woman and we simply did not do such things. So I took the subtle approach. I encouraged him to join me in the kitchen and handed him knives and things to cut. He just started showing up a little later or brought paper work to do while I cooked. I told him about the rule my family had when I was growing up: “He who cooks the fishes doesn’t have to wash the dishes.” He said it was a good thing I never cooked fish. I even started making things the average person would have shunned like liver and salsa tacos and stir fried squid. Turns out, salsa goes pretty well with liver and stir fried squid is actually good.
It was Terrie who figured out how to drive him away from our table. Her family had a ranch and one night at dinner she told us about helping to castrate the calves. I grew up on a farm so this seemed like normal meal time conversation to me. For Steve, not so much. He went pale. This only enticed her to be more graphic. When she figured out that she could make him get queasy, she began sprinkling tales from the lab (she was a biology major) into every dinner conversation. Still, queasy or not, Steve kept dropping by.
It was the mouse that finally did it.
Terrie had a pet snake, Em, that she kept in a glass cage in the living room. One night Terrie thought it would be cool to feed Em while we were eating dinner. She dropped a mouse into Em’s cage and we sat transfixed as Em “hunted it down” (no big feat in a small cage), wrapped her mouth around it and swallowed it. You could actually see the lump that had been the mouse move down her body, shrinking as it moved along. Steve turned white and put his fork down. I can’t remember if he finished eating or not, but he did stop dropping by unannounced and even took me out to eat a few times.
Boyfriends aren’t the only thing that snakes can get rid of.
When Terrie and I first moved in together, someone gave her a pair of finches. Where Em was a quiet, non-intrusive pet, the finches were loud, obnoxious, and messy. They squabbled at each other all the time. Living with them was like living with an old married couple that had grown to hate each other. The female seemed to nag at the male and the male retaliated by pecking her. They were miserable to be around. I fantasized about setting them free.
And then one day, I came home to silence! The female finch was missing and the male sat eerily still on his perch. Em lounged in her cage looking a little bloated. Terrie never admitted that she’d committed “finchiside” but when the male finch disappeared, I saw a feather in Em’s cage. In retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing Terrie and I got along.