Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Peloponnesian Love

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I went on my first date with my husband as a lark. It was a blind lunch date. I just liked the idea of going out with a cute cop - how adventurous, how absurd. Liberal Girl infiltrates the Establishment. I was a secret agent in a pleated miniskirt.

The minute I opened the door of the café, he stepped toward me, hand outstretched. His handshake was firm, formal. I could see the whiteness of his scalp on the sides of his head where it was almost shaved. On top was an oval escutcheon of half-inch black hair. He glanced from the floor to my forehead and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. I wondered if it were possible for a cop to be shy?

Seeing a chair and table nearby, he pulled out a chair for me and stuttered, Uh-h-h, I'm sorry I had to reschedule - I'm glad you were able to change it to today.

No, don't worry it was no problem. Has your leg healed up?

Yes ma'am, it's much better.

How did you injure it?

I was chasing some dope dealers and I jumped over a fence and landed wrong.

I realized this was a moment I was waiting for, a chance to pounce. I took a deep breath and slowly exhaled the words as if I were very very tired.

Dooon't yooou thiiiink drugs should be leeeegaliiiiized?

He pondered this briefly and for the first time held my gaze. Yeah, you're right, he said, and I noticed that when he smiled he looked like a little boy. Then he parried, But there should be NO drug treatment.

I continued dating him, enjoying the small gifts and flowers, the secret knowledge of the handgun on his hip. I took him to the Harlem Boys' Choir. He took me shooting.

Time passed and friends became curious - is this getting serious? At first I would laugh, later I would cry. Are you kidding? I'm from Athens -- a lover of beauty, a questioner, a seeker. He's from Sparta -- martial, a warrior. Our pairing would surely be the equivalent of the First Peloponnesian War.

Consider for yourself.

I am prone to moments of exaltation -- when reading poetry or sitting under towering redwood trees. I believe in the perfectibility of humans, in progress, in the search for truth. I am a soft touch, and have spent great chunks of my scuba/kayaking/ski vacations, tending to the needs of local dogs and cats. In college, I was a peace activist, a follower of Gandhi's principles of non-violence, and someone who really believed Mondale had a chance in 1984. When I worked, I trained low-income women to start businesses, or lent money for development in poor communities. I wear hemp; I've been known to smoke its cousin.

Before dating Daddy Sparta, I was fond of wearing a button that said "Bad Cop No Donut," riding a motorcycle, and talking archly about how I was going marry the man that would take my name. I love to garden, shop at the farmers' market, and eat salads of assorted organic heirloom tomatoes with fine balsamic vinegar. On my nightstand sits Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, Fine Gardening, and a book of Sappho's poetry.

Daddy Sparta likes to say he is a simple soldier. He likes to work. He subscribes to a magazine about "wound ballistics" (basically which ammunition does the most damage in different scenarios). He gets his hair cut at least once every two weeks, "high and tight." When his haircut particularly pleases him, he exhorts me to feel the needlepoints of his scalp, rolling his head around in my hand and crowing, "I had them use the Number One blade!" He has worn pants with cargo pockets, exclusively, long before they were fashionable.

Convinced of the inevitability of human conflict, he believes in always being prepared to defend oneself. (Hence the bulletproof vest tucked under the sand toys in my trunk.) He is the lead firearms instructor at a major metropolitan police department. He is in the Army Reserve. He knows what Numbers 1 through 5 are at McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King, which are tastiest, which are best for eating while driving, and which are best for carrying if you are ordering ten for you and your co-workers. On his nightstand sits Theodore Roosevelt's Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, American Rifleman, and four alarm clocks.

Crazy? Probably. Interesting? Often. I can't tell you any specific moment when I started thinking Daddy Sparta and I might be in it for the long haul. There was the time I called him on duty, in tears because I saw a dead dog on the side of the highway. I could hear the crackle of the police radio in the background, and then his voice like the ooooaaanh of a conch shell.

He said simply, "I'm pulling over."

There was the time, one of many, that I decided to break up with him. I asked him to meet me at a waterfront park, and sat next to him on a cold concrete bench. Through tears I delivered my message. What were we doing, this was a waste of time, I should get the break-up over with, it will never work. He held my hand and listened. I talked and talked in circles. You and I have nothing in common. We don't believe in the same things. We aren't interested in the same things. People who are meant to be together shouldn't have doubts like this.

We sat a good while holding hands. I started to feel the pebbles in the bench making indents in my thighs.

Finally, he said, so are we breaking up now.

Don't you think we should?

I don't care if you like the same things I do, or think the same way I do. I like being with you.

What tempestuous heart could resist such calm?


Sophia Raday is the author of Love In Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage (Beacon Press, 2009). She lives in Berkeley, California with her Oakland police officer/Army Reserve colonel husband, their two children, a bipartisan dog, and assorted firearms. A founding editor of Literary Mama, Raday’s work has appeared here and in various anthologies, Stanford magazine, and the New York Times.


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