A Dish Best Not Served

For me, that’s true—of revenge and spinach.

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Growing up, I dreamed of marrying someone who loved gardening as much as I did, and together we’d become one of those cute little old couples you see tending their fertile plot of land. When I met Jim, he was eating pears off his own tree and giving out tubs of homegrown tomatoes. It was love at first garden site—uh, sight. We had a marriage made in heaven until his gardening flaws revealed themselves.

That’s where spinach comes in.

My husband loves spinach, so we grow lots of it. I, however, loathe how spinach thrives when my eggplants are deciding what disease to get. I detest how spinach bolts and sets seed overnight—the day before I plan to harvest it. I am repulsed by the rubbery, grainy texture when it’s raw, the slimy, gritty feel of it when it’s cooked, and how the oxalic acid eats away at my tooth enamel with every forced bite.

The spinach was trashed. Compost! I put the hoe down. And as I stared, panting, I came to my senses.

Jim shouldn’t even eat spinach. His perspiration is so corrosive it eats holes in his T-shirts. He doesn’t worry about losing enamel on his teeth because he has none left. And he prefers it boiled into a blackish-green splotch that would look at home on a rock at low tide.

Last year, on a glorious spring afternoon that made you yearn to go outside and run barefoot through the grass, I slumped at the kitchen sink, processing Swiss chard. As I toiled, I saw Jim walk past the window, striding toward the garden with a shovel slung over his shoulder, looking like a dwarf on his way to the diamond mine. I should be so lucky.

You see, Jim is a maniacal gardener. With a shovel in his hands, his eyes glaze over. Leave him in a garden alone and he’s no longer responsible for his actions, or that’s the excuse I’ve made for him all these years. But since I was busy, I left him unattended. So what happened next was, in a way, my fault.

An hour later, dirtier and sweatier than when he left, he entered our kitchen with something green.

“Do you want this?” He asked, holding the dying specimen out for my inspection. The hapless plant was a parsnip. I love parsnips.

“Did you only pull this one?” I asked, knowing the question was in vain.

“No,” he said casually, “I pulled them all up before I thought to ask. This was the last one.”

This, my sympathetic friends, is the story of my married life. What difference did it make after the damage was done, whether it was a parsnip, a petunia, or a rare cattleya orchid? They were gone! And I told him as much. Did he offer to replant? No. He shrugged nonchalantly and walked off.

Fuming, I stepped out to the garden to assess the carnage. There, next to the perfectly mulched and cultivated, 15-foot, triple-rowed, almost-bolting spinach was the ground whereon lay the wilted, dismembered corpses of my massacred parsnips. The attack had been brutal and indiscriminate. Violas, whose purple and white faces graced the garden the previous day, now ate dirt. Tender needles of leeks I would’ve transplanted into well-ordered lines would never flavor pots of potato soup. Seedling hollyhocks were now hockless, and bachelor buttons would never marry and have little buttons.

He had changed. He’d gone from gardening with me to gardening at me.

All these years I minded my own business, naïvely trusting that I could leave him in the garden unsupervised. This year, I’d kid myself, he’ll ask what I want to save before yanking them up. He’ll respect my wishes because he remembers What Happened Last Year. And again, he’d forgotten.

Or had he?

Was this a perverse form of domination? Was it his way of marking his territory? Showing me it was his garden and not ours? Was he demonstrating by his deeds that my feelings and desires didn’t matter? Ho Ho! Not this time, mister! This time he’d pay! With a malevolent gleam in my eye, I loosed the long-handled hoe from its peg on the pumphouse wall and marched into battle with a vengeance.

The spinach didn’t have a prayer. Whack! I wielded the implement, flinging green, gritty matter in every direction. I’d never felt such a surge of power! I lost control, slaughtering one plant after another. I suppressed my crazed laughter because I didn’t want our teenage daughters to hear and think their mother had finally gone insane. With me in the nuthouse, they’d be the new owners of my car. Why get their hopes up?

I put the hoe down. The spinach was trashed. Compost! And as I stared, panting, I came to my senses. I, liberator of spiders, rescuer of honeybees from water buckets, savior of orphan kitties, had willfully and with malicious intent, committed first-degree plant slaughter. Granted they were disgusting, even with melted butter and a pinch of salt, but still…

Dropping the hoe, I trudged to the shade of a cottonwood tree to sulk. I was ashamed of myself. It wasn’t about a stupid vegetable and what Jim assumed were weeds. The roots went deeper. I was enraged about all the times he’d caused irreparable damage to things I cared for. But the most distasteful realization was that he’d brought out the worst in me.

I knew this anger wasn’t good, so I started seeing a counselor. She actually applauded me for taking my hostility out on the garden and not Jim. Then the work began. I learned to stand strong even though I’d rather lean. To, like spinach, have some grit, and be acidic when I had to be. I also learned to step back from my anger. Then Jim and I did a session together. He sat smugly when the counselor went over my issues, but when it was his turn, he crossed his arms and set his jaw.

“She married me the way I am. I won’t change.”

But he had changed. He’d gone from gardening with me to gardening at me, and from heartfelt apologies to not caring. He could also take a lesson from his favorite vegetable. If we don’t tend and nurture the things we love, cultivate a hospitable environment where they can grow, and observe them closely for signs of distress, eventually they’re going to bolt.

Sadly, that is what is going to happen with me, even though divorce is even more repugnant to me than spinach. I have begun growing toward the sunshine of a new future. Someday I’ll have a new life with a great garden. Maybe I’ll even find someone who it’s safe to garden with.

I believe there’s a lesson to be learned in everything we go through, and that day I learned many. The most important one, though, the one that helped me find the peace to go on, was this: Revenge is not a dish best served cold. It is, like spinach in my opinion, a dish best not served at all.


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