When a Bird Marries a Fish

When people from different countries (or religions) marry one another, interesting things can happen over the course of their union. This post may be misunderstood as a comparison by some, but any fish who has married a bird will understand.

I was in Scotland when 9/11 happened – specifically, driving home from teaching a very successful workshop on using storytelling with abused children. It had been glorious and I was high on life–until I turned on the car radio and the world flipped upside down. Scotland is five hours ahead of the US, noon here is 5 pm in most of the UK. The fourth plane had just gone down.

A pit opened in my stomach.

In the days that followed, the usual anti-American sentiment one finds in the UK intensified, oddly enough. It was a bad time to be American in places other than the US.

But for two different reasons. The first was that people who heard your accent would turn to you in the grocery and say things like, “Well, since you’re here, I guess Cupar will be bombed next, ya bloody Yank.” (Cupar is a market town of about 8,000 people.) The second was that a sad, terrible, terrifying thing had just reinvented the future of your homeland, and you weren’t there to be a part of it.

For reasons I don’t fully understand even now, I didn’t watch the news coverage for four days, and by then they were playing the last cell phone calls of people who had realized they couldn’t get out of the Towers. One was a sweet 20-something who called her husband and told him she was sorry she wouldn’t be seeing him any more, but she wanted him to know how happy she’d been, being married to him. “Bye now,” she said at the end.

And I sat up in bed in the middle of the night, about a week after 9/11, and started crying my eyes out, thinking about that poor girl all alone, reaching out to someone she wanted to know she loved, and then dying, for nothing she’d done. Poor Jack woke up and put his arms around me until I fell asleep, still sobbing.

It is hard to be away from your country when something intense is happening. It doesn’t matter what it is: a chance to change, a good thing, a bad thing, an uncertain thing. What matters is that you are not there. You have made a home somewhere else, with someone else, and you have traded in one set of influences for another.

Jack had to watch the Scottish vote from afar. And if he wakes up crying in the night, I’ll be there. It will not be the same as being in his homeland, but it will be home. Because we made our homes with each other.

It is not always easy. When Jack ran for town council here, a handful of ignoramuses made rude comments about his accent and equated ‘foreign’ with ‘godless.’ Sure, I’d like to see Coalfields Appalachia come into its own by shaking off such stereotyped behavior, but what seared my soul with blue-white heat lightning was their disparaging of a good man. My husband. Jack.

I still hate them. That’s part of the package. We protect each other. We defend each other. Our homes are each other. The voice from the tower says, never mind the madness; it’s just you and me.

To watch your own country struggle is hard. To be somewhere else while watching it is harder. But Jack and I pledged to each other, and this is a union that will not dissolve.


10 thoughts on “When a Bird Marries a Fish

  1. My husband was in Canada when 9/11 happened. He had just the opposite experience with the people there–bent over backwards to be helpful, would come up and express condolences, pat his shoulder. Sorry you didn’t have the same sort around you. (He was also stuck there until his group decided to drive back to MD.)–Jane

    • Many people experienced sympathetic outpourings, and Canadians are about the loveliest people on Earth (said the woman who did her PhD in Canada). Sebastian Junger has a great book about the planes that grounded in Gander, Newfoundland after 9/11 and how they coped.

  2. I’m so sorry that you and Jack ever experienced bad treatment from others–anywhere. I don’t know you, but it feels as though I do, and you seem like such genuinely warm, thoughtful folks who are kind to lots of people and critters others might not warm up to. You deserve respect right back.
    I’ve been surprised by the results of the vote yesterday and really expected that others would take what I guess is a very American view that independence is always preferable. I really appreciated the link to Dougie yesterday! Hang in there, Jack and Wendy. I’d like to think that you can’t be where you’re not supposed to be.

    • We know we’re in the right place, and we don’t worry about the small stuff. Yesterday was big, and that vote will come again in the next twenty years. Meanwhile, anybody who’s mean to Jack will have to deal with me. And my army of well-trained foster kitties. :]

  3. What a lovely, heartfelt post! Thank you! My husband and I have visited Scotland and dearly love it. We were last there last year and there was much talk about the upcoming vote for independence which caused us to do a lot of reading. We were rooting for the Yes side and I know there is much disappointment. I’m glad you and Jack have “safe harbor” in your marriage!

    All good things to you both!

  4. Your blog today brought tears to my eyes first and then at the conclusion of your piece, I was happy with your thought that all is well wherever you are as long as you have each other. Good for you! You have made your homes with each other.

  5. Wendy, having been in your delightful bookstore twice in less than 24 hours earlier this summer, all I can say is “To know you both is to love you both!” Hope you keep doing what you’re doing where you’re doing it – together – forever.

  6. Wendy–David and I were in Scotland, too, when 9/ll happened and we had just the opposite response. Neighbors who’d barely spoken to us before came over, knocked on the door, asked if there was anything they could do for us. Some brought flowers, some food. We were amazed.


    • Yep, and when I was shopping in St. Andrews a lady in a thrift store patted my arm and said, “it’s terrible, isn’t it? Your family all right?” A friend in Glasgow said someone in a bank told her “you got what you deserved.” Several fellow storytellers sent me nice emails. Life is full of lovely and weird people, sometimes at the same time.

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