Friday, April 29, 2011

Start Counting

Jerry and I have been together 29 years.

MAY 1982.  NINE MONTHS ALONG.

Well, 29 years, 8 months, 12 days, 22 hours, and some additional minutes.

We'll celebrate our 30th anniversary in Spain.

When did we start counting? For lack of a better idea, we started counting the moment we met, since we were hardly ever apart from that first day. It was the moment after Jerry squeezed my elbow as he walked by me during Sunday afternoon tea dance at Chaps in Copley Square, just across the alley from the Boston Public Library.

The moment after I turned to find myself lost in eyes the color of clouds and sky.

CHAPS.  MORE CIVILIZED DURING SUNDAY AFTERNOON TEA DANCE.

The moment after I decided I didn't care if I had only minutes before seen him talking to my very recently ex (and only real) "boyfriend" — I was still going to go home with him.

SAN JUAN.  OUR FIRST ROMANTIC (AND VERY AWKWARD), GETAWAY.

We could have started counting three months later when we flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for what was supposed to be a romantic week-long escape from Boston's cold, damp November winds. The week when we were asked at the guest house, Arcos Blancos, if we were lovers and answered in dissonant harmony, "No. Well, yes. But ... Well ..." and then smiled and, red-faced, shrugged our shoulders. 

We could have stopped counting during that same trip to Puerto Rico.  When Jerry got cold feet — because it appeared we had fallen completely in love — and told me he thought it would be good for us to see other people.  Or when I very grudgingly agreed before he, back in Boston a few days later, changed his mind.  (And, for a few minutes at least, I wasn't so sure anymore.)

An appropriate time to start counting might have been six months in, three months after we survived San Juan.  When I sat in Jerry's tiny kitchen and told him he needed to either say good-bye to his checklist (the one that documented all his requirements for a perfect mate) or say good-bye to me.  And, without hesitation, he said good-bye to his checklist.  (I had met the height/weight requirement... and a few others.)

THE HOUSE ON THE LEFT.  "HOLY CRAP. WHAT HAVE I DONE?"

I suppose we could have started counting one month later — seven months after we first met. The day I gave up my urban-chic, completely renovated top floor in a South End brownstone, and watched the movers squeeze my solid-birch platform bed, Haitian-cotton love seat (purchased half price at Macy's warehouse in NY), miscellaneous antique pieces, along with the boxes of audio cassettes, books, photo albums, dishes, clothing, furniture, and stuff amassed over a 27-year lifetime, into the last bit of remaining space in Jerry's one-bedroom, smaller but urban-chic'er Beacon Hill row-house flat.

That first night spent in what had been my, but was now our, bed. A night Jerry spent snoring peacefully while I lay beside him. Sleepless. On my back. Eyes wide and staring dry and unblinking at the ceiling 12 feet above. Thinking, "I've given up my apartment. I have nowhere to go. What if this doesn't work out? What have I done? What have I done? Holy crap. What have I done?"

1985.  I SHAVED AFTER OUR HOUSEKEEPER, AGNES,
SAID WE LOOKED LIKE THE SMITH BROS.

But, we didn't start counting then or in another eight months when we decided we couldn't bear the thought of spending one more winter in raw, damp, windy Boston.  So quit our jobs, packed our things, and flew west to L.A. to discover that we had become — in addition to lovers — best friends. And that L.A. was definitely not where we belonged, so moved again seven months later, this time to Washington, D.C.

SOMEONE ELSE'S WEDDING, '91
If, early on, we had been able to legally marry, we would have started counting on our wedding day. But, we weren't. So, we didn't.

If we had not each separately, years earlier, lost our religion, we might have considered having a commitment ceremony. If only to finally have a rite from which to count. But, by the time we began to seriously consider an "official" commitment, we had already been together more than 15 years. And we wondered what it would imply about our first 15 years together to suddenly say, "OK, now we're committed."

I didn't consider beginning to count when, after we had spent only a year together, Jerry's oldest friend, Joan, asked me why I loved him and — finally stopping to think about it — I realized it was because he was exceptional. And gifted.  And flawed.  And funny.  And abundantly human.  And that, when he let "his South Dakota" come out, he was the kindest person I had ever met.  And I would love him unconditionally for as long as I could imagine.

So, we did not start counting on the day we first referred to each other as "lover" because "boyfriend" sounded silly and "partner" was at the time considered politically cowardly. Nor the day we stopped referring to each other as "lover" and began saying "partner" — because "lover" didn't say enough (we had both had at least a few lovers, after all) and "partner" had become acceptable.

I still find myself searching for the appropriate word for us. Partner confuses people, which was made especially apparent when we went to Norway in 1998 and met some cousins for the first time.  They thought Jerry was traveling with his business partner. After they were temporarily befuddled by the fact that I knew the names of every family member in their photo album, they finally realized we were "husbands."  But I sadly cannot get comfortable referring to Jerry as my husband.

LA JOLLA, CALIFORNIA, '93.  NOT EVEN DOMESTIC PARTNERS.

I'm still searching for that word that would define who we are as opposed to who we are not. Sometimes, I call Jerry my "spouse." Some have called us "significant others." Until we were legally married in Iowa in 2010, I would sometimes, half-jokingly refer to Jerry as my "domestic partner," since, in California in 2003 we legally became at least that. Sometimes I say "life partner" or "the love of my life." Too many imperfect choices for something the straight marrieds in our midst can say so simply. 

But, after all, why do we even have to be defined?

So, what I find myself saying is, "Jerry and I have been together 29 years." And although I usually don't stop to count the months, days, hours — and additional minutes — I am grateful for every single one.




26 comments:

  1. What a lovely post. Many congratulations to you both. We just celebrated 34 years... jeez makes you feel old huh?!

    ReplyDelete
  2. That was just beautiful.
    A few posts back, when I first joined your site, you mentioned a gift that was given to you two in 1983. I actually thought that it was a typo and you meant 1993. So, you must have read my mind and decided to do a post about it. Sneaky you!
    Congratulations on your "being together" for 29 years. I still say being together too. Old habits are hard to break.
    You two look wonderful.
    Your Friend, m.

    ReplyDelete
  3. The comments from you, Craig, and you, Mark, make this blog so worth writing. Thanks! @Craig: 34 years, huh? Makes ME feel young! @Mark: Just the thought of raising four kids makes me feel really old! (But your posts and pix are a joy!) Thanks to you both for sharing your stories.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Congratulations guys! We're right behind you: 28 years on June 1.

    A question: I know you lived in Glen Park (SF) while we did. Now I'm curious as to when you were in DC. Ken and I lived in DC from 1982 until we moved to California in 1986. Were you guys there then, too?

    ReplyDelete
  5. @wcs: This is amazing. We lived in DC from June of '83 until we moved to New Haven, CT in April '86. Jerry was with Library of Congress. I was with US News. We lived in Georgetown at 27th and Q. Were we neighbors?!?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Truly amazing. We lived on Capitol Hill from June 1, 1983, until we moved to California in August of 86. I worked in the Cannon HOB, right across the street from the Library of Congress.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @wcs: Walt, I'm wondering if maybe Jerry and I are supposed to be moving to France next. We appear to have gotten off cycle with you. This is wild.

    ReplyDelete
  8. We might and must have passed each other on Pennsylvania Avenue or somewhere in Washington during those early '80s years. I love that last picture of you two in the post -- and all the others. Walt and I met in 1981, so we're calling it 28 years because we got our first apartment together in DC in '83, but really, it will be 30 years in September. Really enjoyed your post, Mitch.

    ReplyDelete
  9. PS: that first picture is a great one too.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Ken: Thanks so much for writing. Can't believe I've missed your blogs (not anymore). Also, thanks for the kind comments about the photos (recent and ancient). I wondered how depressing it would be to display us "through the ages." Surprisingly, it wasn't. It's funny how our lives have converged so many times. We probably should have checked with you before making our latest plans!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Mitch I loved reading this and I LOVED the pictures! Thank you for sharing this story and miss you guys :)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Loved this post, Mitch. 29 years together is inspiring!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Congrats to you both. Reminds me of a song "We're Just We" by Ten Percent Review (c. 1985) which is a bit obscure so I can't find it on the web, but here are a few lines: "It all began with a whole lot of loving' but no one gave us a toaster oven... We mark our anniversary from the night we first did it...We had no wedding, no ceremony, no matrimony, we're just we... no sit down dinner, no party hosting, no champagne toasting, we're just we...no long stem roses, no family poses, we're just we, just him and me". Leon and I met 23 years ago this coming August and we count from the day we met also.

    Oh, and as for a term for partner - borrowed from Joy Behar - "Spousal Equivalent" - as good as any I've heard.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @FDeF: Thank you so much for these lyrics. Spousal Equivalent. S.E. Essy? Maybe not.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Y'all need to bring back the 'stache. Thanks for sharing. I love the photos throughout the years. I'm going to miss you guys when you move away. Really.

    ReplyDelete
  16. that someone else's wedding was MINE cuz!

    ReplyDelete
  17. What a sweet and wonderful post.
    "And we wondered what it would imply about our first 15 years together to suddenly say, "OK, now we're committed."
    THAT is love. This is the kind of love story that dreams [and movies] are made of.
    Happy Anniversary!

    ReplyDelete
  18. Linda: Thanks so much. One month from this past Saturday will be 30 years. Hard to believe.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Lovely story Mitch...so happy for you and Jerry. I completely understand the "what will we call ourselves today quandry"...my husband and I have been together 38 years this passed July 14th and reading your story makes us feel "not alone". Thanks for this and keep on "keeping on".
    Sophie's Dad Ron

    ReplyDelete
  20. Ron: Thanks so much for visiting and, especially, for sharing the experience. Congratulations on your 38 years!

    ReplyDelete
  21. WOW, I love this blog post. Sitting here with tears. You are both so blessed to have each other. Mazel Tov!

    ReplyDelete
  22. What an amazing achievement. Thanks for sharing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Sunshine:
    Thanks so much for finding me and enabling me to find you. Your writing is stellar! As for this achievement, I don't know how amazing it actually is, but it's nice and makes me happy!

    ReplyDelete
  24. Soulmates!
    You newest UK follower, have some catching up to do on your story.
    Di
    x

    ReplyDelete
  25. Fabulous! My eyes are teary with happiness for you! The photo progression was great.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Grouchy:
    Thank you so much! And for visiting.

    My eyes get teary with gratitude some days (like now when Jerry is tolerating a week-long visit to Brooklyn)!

    By the way, I love that profile photo!

    ReplyDelete

It's always great to hear from you...