A Story of a Marriage

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.

A Same Sex Marriage

I’m going to be attending a wedding soon, between a couple of very good friends (actually, I’ll be performing the ceremony *blush* but that’s another story). It’s naturally gotten me to thinking about my own marriage.

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My spouse and I will shortly be celebrating our 26th anniversary. The 25th was supposed to have been a really big celebration and there was even talk of a cruise but, when the time came, we were trying to come up with the mortgage, one child had just started in a new school… It goes like that. I’m pretty sure we managed to exchange flowers from Trader Joe’s but I can’t swear to it. Okay, it was not memorable. But it was okay, you know? It’s another year later and we’re still at it.

Once you’ve passed ten years or so in a relationship, you become something of a public resource. “Wow,” people say, eyes widening, “what’s your secret?” Now, I typically respond “I married someone with infinite patience”. It’s flip, I know, but there’s a good deal of truth to it as well. I mean, in many cases, that’s longer than you have to put up with parents. Only sibling relationships have greater longevity but you no longer have to share a bedroom with them. Yep, infinite patience is a valuable component in any long term relationship. Beyond that, there’s not much advice I can give because it’s all new to me. Really. I can tell how we did things up to this point but as of today, I’m as new to it as the next person. Each day brings new challenges, like making the mortgage, getting the kids into bed, being stranded in a vast forested region of Pennsylvania with a car that has died for the last time. (incidentally, if you can navigate that one without screaming at each other, dissolving into helpless sobs or vowing to leave everyone right there and walk home, dammit, your prognosis is pretty darn good).

Parents get this a lot, as well. As though having staggered your way through raising a toddler has prepared you in even the slightest way to raise a teen. It just aint so. We’ve managed. We’ll probably manage tomorrow. We’ll make an ungodly mess of things and go to bed hoping that tomorrow, we’ll try not to holler at the kids, we’ll try to remember to call when we get held up, we’ll try, by good, to mow the damn lawn. But on balance, we’ve done alright. We still love each other even if we’re less demonstrative than we once were, we’ve raised two kids who are awesome and smart and good and who know that Michelle Bachman is a whack job and only slightly less so than the people who think she’s presidential material. They’ll do alright. They’ll probably even do better than us. So that’s okay then.

Oh, and those friends who are getting married? Very sound prognosis, there. Some very deep, mature love going on there. A solid dose of infinite patience, as well. And after all, they have some experience