Love on the Half Shell

They bonded over an affinity for oysters, but he wasn’t the better half she had hoped for. Ten years later, could they separate without shattering?

By Pacale Le Draoulec
oyster shell image
Photograph: Yasu+Junko

He moved out of his girlfriend’s apartment so that we could pursue “us.”

My earlier relationships had been with an older Frenchman working for the department of foreign affairs, a CEO and an art director—all successful men going places. An oyster shucker? My friends didn’t see it.

One night he biked over to my apartment with a roll of butcher paper and suggested we map out our life goals by decade. Mine felt so pedestrian, sprawled out on the kitchen table: travel, work at a larger newspaper, write books, have children. His were all about human connections. At the end of his life, he wanted only to know that he had been beloved.

My parents flew up from L.A. to meet Ty a few weeks after we started dating. I took them straight from the airport to the restaurant. I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face when they shook hands across the raw bar for the first time. My father had worked in fancy restaurants his whole life, worn a tuxedo for the better part of 50 years. And as he took in the familiar crisp of Ty’s starched uniform and his beguiling way with customers, I watched a thousand thoughts cross my father’s clenched face. He knew the business too well. And wasn’t the reason he had worked so hard—sometimes three shifts a day in three different restaurants—so that I wouldn’t end up with a waiter? But my parents soon softened, and once Mina and Sabine arrived, it became obvious, to them more than anyone else, why we were together, despite the hardships that followed. Ty was a devoted, thoughtful father who was happy to let me pursue my career while he stayed home to puree carrots and read Dr. Seuss.

I botched the first three oysters, breaking their delicate, nacreous shells. But by the fourth I’d gotten the hang of it. It helped that he, too, was a lefty. The girls waited patiently with mouths agape, baby sparrows in the nest.

The plan was for him to drive the next morning to Colorado, where he would spend the summer with his mother. He’d return in September and find a new place to live. By then, the girls would have grown accustomed to his absence, and it would be easier, I reasoned, to tell them Daddy would be living in a separate house.

For the record, nothing makes that conversation easier.

It was not the first time we had separated. Years earlier, when I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with the flirtatious nature of his job, I decided to cut the adductor muscle and accepted a job as a food columnist in New York. Within days of my arrival there, the love letters started pouring in. Not your typical letters on paper, but love poems or Joni Mitchell lyrics scrawled on a giant cardboard fish, or on a rolling pin or the laminated label of a mayonnaise jar. One morning I looked out the window of my attic apartment, and there was Ty, newly arrived from the West Coast in a U-Haul truck. I took him back.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a weak person. I consider the years that were spent agonizing over this man, and I don’t recognize myself. I’m not the kind of person who gets involved with someone who’s already in a relationship. Who was I? Where was I? I look into our children’s eyes, and the questioning stops.

It had been a passionate, volatile relationship from the start, and the end was no different. I call it a marriage, but we never made it official, though he proposed on bended knee and with a ring—you guessed it—tucked inside an oyster shell. It was in Union Square Park, on the first day of spring. Abraham Lincoln and a homeless man wrapped in an army blanket looked on as I stammered a response.

The proposal caught me off guard. We had just started couples counseling.

I was 38, and my window for having children was closing. If I didn’t have kids with Ty, would I ever be a mother? He was an unconventional choice as a mate, but perhaps starting a family would change that, change him. I knew that he would shine as a father, if not as a provider.

I nodded yes.

First published in the September 2013 issue

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