Pastors' Wives By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen

Monday, June 17, 2013

What If You Can’t Be What Your Man Wants and Deserves?

My husband Chris is a musician. Before your mind jumps to long hair and groupies, let me clarify: he’s a classical musician. He makes his living playing the clarinet in orchestras, operas and chamber groups.

I am not a musician. Despite the best efforts of my Asian mother, I never mastered an instrument. My sister and I took piano lessons for twelve years. Toward the end, our progress was so painfully lacking that our teacher refused to take our mother’s money.

In the small, tightly knit world of classical music, you’ll find a lot of musicians married to each other. In part it’s because music is the kind of work that consumes a person; if you’re a professional musician or studying toward a career as such, you’re not getting out much. You meet the people in your conservatory’s cafeteria, on a gig, or at a friend’s recital.

Chris and I met at a party. His best friend from childhood was my colleague at Adweek magazine, where I was a reporter. Our friend had been trying to introduce us for months. In the end, he didn’t even need to step in; we exchanged numbers on our own.

In the twenty-one years since that night, I’ve wondered sometimes if my husband wouldn’t have preferred to marry another musician. I still can’t tell Mozart from Mahler. In a recording, I can’t always tell a bass clarinet from a bassoon. Wouldn’t he want me to get excited about a new composition, or buy us a season’s subscription to the Met? Didn’t he deserve that?

In some ways, it’s a bit like an interfaith marriage. He believes in music; I do not. He can read a score; I can not. His mind frequently fills with the sound of a symphony or an opera. Mine does not. Ever.

But I believe in him, and I believe in us. I respect his love for music, as he does mine for stories. We are raising our children to worship both music and words.

I wrote Pastors’ Wives because I kept asking myself: What’s it like when the man you married is married to God? In my character Ruthie’s case, it threatens her marriage when she realizes she can’t be what he wants and deserves in a wife: a fellow believer. And someone else—a very pretty young singer at their church—is all too ready to take her place.


“Ready?” I called to Jerry as he bumped down the stairs with a carry-on suitcase for London. I picked up the Prius key and waited by the door.

This was it. I could no longer ignore the strangeness between us. On the surface, nothing had changed. With our shared workplace, we probably saw more of each other than ever before. But our lives were like two guitar strings, thrumming along in parallel but never intertwining. And so it had come to this: the Relationship Talk.

Confrontations and me, we don’t mix. The very prospect of sitting my husband down for a Serious Discussion About Us made my armpits clammy. Putting it off till after the London trip tempted me, but I knew the week’s separation would only heighten my sense of isolation. Distance makes the heart grow distant.

Nevertheless I procrastinated until the day of his departure. In my defense, no moment previous to said date presented itself as opportune. We’d have the forty-minute ride in the car to the airport, I figured—about as opportune as I’d get.

Jerry looked at me with surprise, then regret. “Oh, honey,” he said. “I’ve got a ride.”

A car honked outside. I opened the front door. Sure enough, a black SUV waited at the curb. Tosh Takai had the wheel, with Aaron in the passenger seat.

The back door opened.

“Gee,” I said.

“What?” said Jerry.

“Giovanna,” I said. “Disantana.”

“Hi, Jerry,” she called, heading toward us. “Mrs. Matters.”

“What am I, your mom?” I muttered to Jerry. But when I looked up at him, he didn’t seem to have heard.

Gee took the handle of Jerry’s Samsonite from his hand, like a very cute porter. “All set?” she said, smiling brightly.

“All set,” Jerry said, and turned to me for our good-bye. But something in my face must have stopped him. He said to Gee, “Can you give us a sec?”

“Oh, sure,” she said. She took a step back, then stopped and continued to wait. Was this girl kidding? Could a woman have a private good-bye with her husband before he crossed an ocean for a week? So much for our big talk. I’d be lucky to get a solid kiss.

“Why’s she here?” I mumbled, so she wouldn’t hear.

“She’s going to London,” Jerry mumbled back.

This was news. “I thought you said no chicks allowed.”

“She’s performing or something. Just found out myself.”

I didn’t like this. I didn’t like this one bit.

“Anyway,” he said, leaning in close, “you gonna be okay? You seem a little, I don’t know—”

The SUV revved its engine. “We’re running late,” called Aaron.

“I’m okay,” I said to Jerry. “We’ll talk when you get back.”

Jerry looked unconvinced. I drummed up a smile. “Really,” I said. “Ta-ta. Cheerio. God save the queen.” Jerry leaned down for a kiss. At the last second, I turned my face. I couldn’t tell you why. Here I was, longing—aching—for a moment of connection with my husband before he left me for a week, and I didn’t even let him kiss me. Call it one of the millions of inexplicable moves we make in marriage. Or just call it stupid.

As the SUV pulled away, I looked down to find myself stroking my own forearm with my thumb. The specific and effective way Jerry used to comfort me. When had this become my habit—and not his?

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Lisa Takeuchi Cullen is the author of Pastors’ Wives, a new novel from Penguin/Plume, and The Ordained, a 2013 CBS drama pilot. Previously, she was a staff writer for Time magazine. Readers can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @lisacullen, or visit her website at