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L.A. Affairs: The fine, funny art of their absurd annulment arguments

(Lehel Kovacs / For Los Angeles Times)

My husband of 30 years recently asked for an annulment. It was not related to any domestic grievance, although there was another woman to blame, a very famous one: Harper Lee.

As millions know, she published “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1960 and then went silent as a novelist until “Go Set a Watchman” was released this month.

My husband did not sleep with Harper Lee, although given the opportunity, he once might have.

No, this particular marital rupture was purely literary, and it occurred after I casually mentioned to him that I had finally read “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

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Past L.A. Affairs columns

“For the first time?” he said, his blue eyes ablaze.

“Well,” I replied, “everyone misses a classic now and then.”

“Not this one … the greatest novel ever written!”

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I considered “Anna Karenina,” “Beloved,” “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

“You,” I replied, “are a typical white male reader who refuses to acknowledge any literary canon other than your own.”

“Annulment!” he shouted.

“Grounds?”

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“Deception! I was under the impression I had married a literate woman.”

“Religious or civil?” I asked. (Faith-based activities, with the notable exception of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, make my husband cranky.)

“Religious, of course,” he replied.

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In our marriage, ridiculous allegations emerge as frequently as sea gulls on the beach where we live. They, too, twist and turn in the breeze. We excel not so much at fighting as in the art of it.

When my parents fought like this, my older brother played referee, and we all wound up laughing. So, for a long time, this type of verbal pas de deux made me feel as if I had known my husband all my life. It provided relief from the truly vitriolic, and quintessentially marital, arguments we began to have as life became more complicated. Certainly, it helped when our older son was diagnosed with autism.

There was, though, something different for me about the “Mockingbird” kerfuffle.

It made me weary. I wondered if our modus operandi were aging along with us.

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Instead of banter, I wanted to tell my husband that my honesty was an honorable act for someone who loves books and is the author of three. I wanted to talk about how reading the book had helped me to better understand a lovely story about my late parents:

As a college student, leaving them for a semester in London, we spotted Gregory Peck boarding the same flight at JFK. My parents said they knew the plane wouldn’t crash. I now realized they were looking at Peck but seeing Atticus Finch — the Atticus they knew from the movie. Atticus would protect their daughter, even if he hadn’t saved Tom Robinson.

Musing over this, I also thought back to the marriage counseling my husband and I tried twice — an abysmal failure. Both psychologists said they would treat us individually but not as a couple because we could not be in the same room together.

At the time I figured they just didn’t get our jokes.

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Now, though, I decided to try their advice. Rather than seeing a looming figure, I imagined my husband as someone in the distance. That made him less imposing, more agreeable. When he said something absurd, I told him he was correct and let it drop.

He, on the other hand, kept on being himself.

I was feeling particularly low one evening. Taking the high road was hard, and it had not made me happier. It also had not changed the tenor of our conversations.

We were having another ridiculous discussion when our younger son arrived from his job, supervising an after-school program.

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He told us how delighted his students had been when he popped in to play duck-duck-goose with them. Of course, they all tagged him as the goose.

“What’s duck-duck-goose?” my husband asked.

“You never played it?” I said, incredulous.

“So what?” he replied.

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I paused. And then I considered grounds for — yes — an annulment.

Alas, much of what has kept this marriage alive are the allegations. The funny ones. The artful ones. We love this — perhaps a little too much. It’s not about the realities of our lives. But reality all too often comes with closure.

Art is so much better when it leaves its audience wondering and wanting more. Maybe that is why Harper Lee did not publish another book for so long. And maybe it also shows that we don’t want this marriage to end.

At least not until a referee declares a winner.

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Fischkin is a journalist and the author of two satiric novels and a work of narrative nonfiction, “Muddy Cup: A Dominican Family Comes of Age in a New America.”

L.A. Affairs chronicles the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, email us at home@latimes.com. We pay $300 a column.


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