Sunday, April 26, 2015
Last Friday morning, a card waited at my breakfast place. On the envelope was Ann’s unmistakable script: “Sweet Mary.” That’s what she calls me. The card announced “Another Year of ‘Damn! I’m lucky.’” At the bottom, she had written, “So true.”
It was the perfect card for marking the twentieth anniversary of our decision to move in together, which included each of us committing to living together so long as we could be true to ourselves and to each other and me writing everyone I knew—my immediate family on one day and other friends and family two days later—coming out to all of them.
Our most common comment to one another through the years has been about how lucky we feel to have found one another, to have found someone who understands and loves us like we never imagined anyone else could. Indeed, our nightly dinner blessing is, “O God, remind me that all of life is grace. Let me respond in gratitude.”
In the beginning, it seemed that rough waters lay ahead. Having divorced my husband and become aware that I had allowed myself to misunderstand myself in such a fundamental way for so many years, I was depressed. To add to that frustration of not having known myself, the superintendent in the district where I taught was harassing me, threatening to take my job and my career. (Fortunately for me, not for his wife, the superintendent was already under investigation for harassing his lover’s husband. There was a restraining order because his lover’s children were in district schools, so he was not allowed to enter some of the schools in the district he was responsible for leading. Great guy. Before long, he was found guilty in court of harassing his lover’s husband, and the district bought out his contract, so he left before I did, though he left with a chunk of cash. I stayed in the district four more years more just to show that I wouldn’t be intimidated.)
Ann and I traveled down the west coast to Monterrey, California, our first summer. We drove her Dodge Caravan and camped along the way, visiting coastal parks on the way down and interior national parks on the way back north. At the end of the three week trip, we stopped in Ashland, Oregon, where we stayed with our friends Joe and Stephanie. I remember feeling filthy from the weeks of camping when I stepped out of the van and into a very white house: white carpet, white bedspread, white towels. In the shower, there was a wall vase with a single flower. I felt too dirty even to get in the shower. (I did anyway. I think it was the best shower I ever took.)
On the way down the coast, we hiked along a grassy bluff over bright blue waters one sunny day, and during the hike, Ann asked me, “Why aren’t you talking to me?”
I was shocked. The voices of rebuke and arguments in my own defense were such a loud jumble in my mind that I hadn’t realized that I wasn’t talking. We committed on that trip to talk to one another about whatever was on our minds, and for years we had “Saturday morning talks,” where we lazed in bed on Saturday mornings, reviewed the week, and talked about what was going on in our hearts.
The ritual established the habit of talking with one another, a habit that has undergirded our relationship through these decades. I had been so quiet for so long, locked in a closet that I had willingly, though unconsciously, climbed into, that this learning to know what was in my heart and to speak it aloud has been fundamental not only to our relationship but also to my mental health. How strange that some people think we need to be cured from the essence of who we are. As Shug said to Celie in The Color Purple, “God don’t make no junk.” With Ann, I have over the years come to trust that I am God’s child, made perfectly as I am.
Sometimes people say to us, “I know that a lasting relationship takes a lot of work.” We have talked about this, and agree that there’s been surprising ease all along. Though the relationship hasn’t been a struggle, we’ve certainly had our struggles, two of which were my brain tumors and all that accompanied them: neurosurgery, hallucinations, learning to walk again, a second tumor, radiation, the swine flu, food allergies, pneumonia, double vision, a car accident, a pendulum swing of plus and minus forty pounds… a new sense of vulnerability.
Our lives have changed over these decades. In many ways, life seems so much simpler now that it was in the beginning. We therefore celebrated the day simply, seeing the movie Selma and having pizza and local beer for dinner.
(Celebrating the decades was more elaborate, with a two-week trip to Cuba.)
Many cultural attitudes towards us and laws concerning our relationship have also changed. (If you have been part of this movement, either publicly or in your own heart, I thank you.) We now celebrate three anniversaries: this, our first; the anniversary of our commitment ceremony in church six years ago; and our state sanctioned marriage two years ago.
Though my tumors have brought gifts—slowing down, an awareness of mortality and an appreciation for the grace that is life—neither of us sees the tumors as lucky. We both agree, however, that it’s lucky that I got the tumors and the disabilities instead of Ann. Ann’s better at taking care of me and of business than I would have been: she does all of the cooking and shopping, all of the gardening, and oversees our finances. We agree that I am more patient with my limitations than she would have been. Of course, I miss hiking and biking and teaching, but slowing down and not working have given me time to pursue my own writing, something I didn’t have much time or energy for when I was teaching and grading all those papers. Besides, napping is in my genes. Looking out for the food pyramid is Ann’s genetic heritage.
We live now with a daily awareness that we are lucky, that all of life is grace. And we respond in gratitude for the abundance of our lives.
Yep. I’m lucky.