Monday, April 26, 2010

Adam's Rib

For years we had this conversation:

"Should we?"



And then one day it was:

"Let's do it."

"Okay, let's do it."

And so we got married.

At least that's the Reader's Digest version of the story. I've been trying to come up with one ever since the day two weeks ago when we stood barefoot on a beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts, just us and the justice of the peace and seagulls for witnesses, and said, "I will."

Reactions from family and friends had a theme: "You're kidding!" "You did WHAT?" "No way!" "
You?" And various stories of falling off pieces of furniture when they heard the news.

My friend Lauren said, “I thought it was illegal for heterosexual couples to get married in Provincetown.”

And from my friend Gary: “I like that you call him 'My Beloved.' Now that you're married, will he be demoted to ‘Husband’?”

And everyone's inevitable question: “Had you planned this, or did you decide on the spur of the moment?”

We've been together for almost 10 years, so obviously the subject has come up. We didn't shudder at the idea, but we didn't feel incomplete without it. There were no when-will-you-make-an-honest-woman-of-my-daughter discussions, although seriously, that would have been darn cute.

Occasionally since leaving L.A. and moving to New York full time, my Beloved and I talked about logistics—like how much easier it is to own property together if you're married. But also about finances—like how there could be negative tax implications if we got married. We'd shrug and drop the topic.

Then there we were one Saturday watching The Bourne Ultimatum when I went over and gave my Beloved a hug. He looked at me and said, "Screw the finances. Let's do it," and I said, "Okay, let's do it."

And there you have it. Two lives changed in the span of a commercial break.

Four weeks later, we drove to the Provincetown Town Hall—rather, its temporary headquarters in a trailer up next to the cemetery—and applied for our marriage license. It was a pretty straightforward process; I think they asked for our first and last names. And we skirted the three-day waiting period by driving down to the Barnstable Family and Probate Court to apply for a waiver.

That process involved filling out a “Marriage Without Delay” form, forking over $65, and spending the 10-minute wait watching divorce proceedings in the courtroom. Clever ploy, Massachusetts! But ha ha—we were not deterred! The judge signed our waiver and the jovial Irish bailiff handed it over to us…after extracting a pledge that we weren't Yankees fans.

On the night before the big day, I sat on the bed in our rented Provincetown condo and called The Child at college to let her in on the secret—the only person to know ahead of time. She offered us her good wishes, said she was happy we were doing this, and gave us her blessing: "Finally, you're respectable!"

All that night, I listened to the rain and the wind rattle the windows. I wondered if I was brave enough to get married on the beach in a downpour. And we woke up to the sun blazing in an intensely blue sky. Thank you, universe.

At noon, we stood on the beach in that magic Cape light, looking across the bay at the lighthouse and Pilgrim Monument and MacMillan Wharf, I in my thrift shop dress and Stan in his Old Navy shirt. Before us stood the kind, warm, funny, compassionate justice of the peace, Susan Marcus, whom fate and Google had brought our way.

A wild wind swirled around us, so strong that we could barely hear our own words as Stan and I read aloud the poetry we'd chosen for the occasion—Stan from Walt Whitman:
...Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

...and me from Shakespeare:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds...

We read our vows to each other, comic yet sincere. We picked up fistfuls of sand and symbolically poured them together into one glass container—an olive oil cruet we bought at the Brewster General Store. We shared a glass of red wine, sweet and bitter. Tears streamed from my eyes, whether from emotion or wind.

And then it was done. We were married. He was my "husband." I was his "wife." Such odd words. We played with them like Play-Dough, rolling them around to see what we made of them. We wondered if we felt different. We don't, and we do.

"How's married life?" everyone asks now.

"It's superb," I say. "It's sweet."

And I believe my husband—still My Beloved—feels the same.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Keeper of the Flame

Shortly after she left Bryn Mawr college, Katharine Hepburn moved to New York City to pursue her acting career. She got a job as understudy for the lead in a play called, appropriately, The Big Pond.

"I learned the part and sat on the sidelines quite convinced that I would be far superior to the leading lady I was watching, Lucile Nikolas," she wrote in her autobiography, Me. "She was a very competent actress who did not have the advantage of being very young and absolutely outrageous and full of a sort of wild confidence based on nothing but energy and ego. Of course I thought I was scared to death, but all I can say now, looking back, is that I was not scared enough. Open a door, I'd go through. Even if the room I was entering was on fire."

This is who I should have been. At least, this is who I thought for years I should have been, back before I stopped second-guessing my 21-year-old self. Before I realized that all my choices—as safe and un-outrageous as they may have been—brought me here, to a place I'm happy to be.

But for many, many years, I berated myself for my Hepburn Deficit Disorder. Why couldn't I have had that energy and ego? Why didn't I assume that I was better, more talented and capable than the next woman—instead of what I did assume, which was that pretty much anyone else on the planet was more deserving than I. Why couldn't I charge through an open door, instead of peering tentatively around the doorframe?

Well, as Hillary Clinton once said, "Coulda, woulda, shoulda—didn't."

I'm over it now. Pretty much. But the other day I met the alternate-universe version of myself, and I have to admit, it gave me a pang.

He doesn't look much like me—he's about two feet taller, almost 30 years younger, African-American and gay. He's a senior at Stanford, my alma mater, and he found me through the alumni association. He wants to move to New York and hoped to get my advice about neighborhoods and jobs and...whatever. Mostly he talked and I listened—with admiration and a rueful shaking of my head.

"New York is the ultimate city!" he said as he perused the diner menu, before telling the waiter he'd please like the "freshly brewed coffee."

"It's so easy to be gay here, it's so easy to be African-American here. This is where it all happens. It's the greatest city in America!" No, he said, he definitely did not want to go home to Los Angeles. "Noooo, no, no. Maybe when I'm older and I'm ready to retire."

He had just auditioned for a summer theater program with Steppenwolf in Chicago, and was casting about for a job he could get in the fall in New York. "I'll do anything—I'll start in the mailroom, I'll get people's coffee. I'll walk dogs. Although I hear that's really competitive."

His plan was to work for a year while studying with his acting coach, go to drama school for three years, and then, ideally, move to London or Paris—where he'd spent his junior year abroad and attended every theatrical production he could grab hold of. "I saw 60 plays last year," he said. "I was broke, but I loved it."

When we met for freshly brewed coffee, he'd been in New York less than a week and had already seen four plays on student-rush tickets. His favorite was Red, the two-man play about artist Mark Rothko, starring Alfred Molina.

"It's about the nature of art, what is art—that whole difficult conversation and dialectic that people have," he said. "I saw it in London and I think it's even improved since then. The staging is so cinematic."

I walked him to his subway, and he thanked me profusely for my time and all the (non-existent) help I'd given him. As I turned and began to walk away, a middle-aged man leaned in to me and said, "Way too pleasant for New York."

I laughed. "Oh no," I said. "He'll do fine."