"If you submerge onions in a sink full of water," Marie said, "then the fumes won't make you cry when you slice them."
That was the last ordinary thing she said to me before she left me for a white man. Call me a racist, but I would have felt much less pain if she'd run off with another Indian. Instead she got dirty with the white boy chef who owned our favorite restaurant. Imagine that. I'd never be able to eat scallops with garlic ever again.
I thought Marie and I were an ideal couple—urban Indian lawyers working for tribes not our own. She's a Navajo who toiled for the Swinomish and I'm a Yakama who protected the Lummi, so we didn't have to deal with any of that family and clan shit that happens on the rez. Things were still political, of course. Reservations can be as corrupt as any other third world country. They're banana republics without the bananas. So we'd both come home with horror stories. And we'd end all of those conversations with the same one-liner.
"Man, Indians can't have nothing nice."
It was easier to be married to another Indian. Neither of us had to do any cultural translation while lying naked in bed. When we said "sovereignty," we both knew that it meant tribal freedom, but we also agreed that it meant the freedom that any individual Indian has from his tribe.
"Damn," I said minutes before she left. "Why a white guy?"
"I guess it's the mystery," she said.
"Since when have white guys been mysterious?" I asked. "They either want to own everything or want to give everything away."
She shook her head and walked out the door. We'd been married for 11 years. I tried to console myself by thinking that 11 years was approximately 15 percent of my life. Doesn't that mean our marriage was moderately successful? And we didn't have kids and both made plenty of money, so the divorce was easy.
She married that chef, and I've dated a series of Indian women who are not Marie. So everything is still orbiting the same planet.
But whenever I slice onions, I do it underwater. It was practical advice. And that's the last gift of our marriage. That's the settlement. Is that enough? Fuck no.