It was 1985 and I was just shy of my 25th birthday. I was living in Philadelphia, where I had created Morgan Calabrese and penned the weekly comic strip for a handful of of queer papers around the country. My day job was designer for a Main Line party planner for ridiculously low pay and insane hours. (It remains, weirdly, my favorite job.)
It was on that job that I met Kate Bornstein. Years before she became known as the gender outlaw, the two of us connected over art and politics and the impossible coincidence of having occupied the same apartment, one after the other. (I was still receiving utility bills in her dead name).
Unlike New York, Philly in those days didn’t possess a single all-night cafe (no really – we looked), but we stayed well into the morning hours, night after night, in whatever cafe would have us, and over countless coffees, conceived of a women’s performing arts company. (We called it a “feminist evolutionary arts ensemble” but hey, we were young and it was the 80s.)
Over the next few months, we launched our first production. To help with casting and possibly, to stage manage, Kate wanted to bring in someone she knew from NYC, who happened to be between shows.
Sue came on board and instantly meshed with our all-night cafe and art/politics habit. As she needed a place to stay while in Philly, she ended up with a room in the the large Germantown house I shared with a half dozen lesbians and a revolving cast of girlfriends.
The two of us worked every day, rehearsed for hours every evening, then stayed up all night to talk. We were somehow able to do this for weeks functioning, without sleep, on caffeine and creative energy alone. Our conversations never faltered, never lapsed into awkward silence. We never ran out of things to talk about and never tired of our talks together. It was time compressed; we packed years of aquaintance into those several weeks. We became great friends.
Then we fell in love.
Serious love. The kind that bitterly resents the intrusion of mundane obligations that made us part ways for even a few hours. The kind that, all the same, doesn’t miss a beat over distance or time, but picks up as if there’d never been any interruption.
Sue is the shaft of sunlight that breaks across my shuttered gloom. She’s the soft ground I return to after a new enthusiasm has me untethered and drifting into power lines. She’s the adorable goofball on the dancefloor when my vanity makes me too self-conscious to just have fun.
We lived together almost from the day we met. 34 years later, we’ve never been apart.
Life has made it’s demands. Sue left theatre for the regular, if inadequate, paycheck of social work. I continued to do art – but of the commercial, client-centered kind, rather than the kind that kept me up at night, stewing in passion and energy. And always, it’s supplemented by a Faustian-bargain day job that’s meant to make pursuing art possible but leaves no time or bandwidth for it. Our struggle with money has never for one moment relented.
From the beginning, we dreamed of having kids. For years, we played a sort of Mr Potato Head, combining and recombining our favorite parts of ourselves onto our imagined kids. And for years, we held off, waiting for the time it made better financial sense. Until it became clear that it never would. Ten years after we met and privately exchanged vows and rings at a women’s music festival, Sue became pregnant with my brother’s donated sperm.
And lo, our son and daughter look like the best of both of us. They mirror us in their talents, and quirks, and flaws, and in their very best qualities (of which they have a very great many). I have been fortunate to have known great love – but it did not prepare me for the intensity of the love I feel for these two beautiful humans who call me “Ima”.
They are young adults now; our daughter, our baby, is just days away from leaving home for a year in Europe, before starting college. When I allow my mind to touch on this fact, I can’t breathe. Even as I write this, I feel my eyes tear, my lower lip tremble, my throat close. “No!”, I want to scream. “Do-over! It was all too fast!”
There is no happily ever after. There’s sometimes hardship and discord. We’ve grown up together, but we’ve also changed as we’ve grown and so there is negotiation and navigating the unfamiliar.
And every day, we get up again and make it up as we go along. Because that’s what marriage is.