The Piece of Paper
"We're all married, right? All of us. You, Papa, me, and Lily, right? Because we are a family." 3 1/2 year old Virginie
Four years ago today, my Honeypot and I ventured out in the pouring rain to City Hall in downtown Manhattan to make it official before the State of New York. We'd left our two and 1/2 year old with a sitter and met a small handful of friends and family who would be there to support us and bear witness. We'd applied for the marriage license with an eclectic mix of New Yorkers just a week earlier. Though we'd been warned and were well-prepared for crazy, DMV-style lines, the program at the Justice of the Peace was efficient if curt, and we were there for less than an hour and a 1/2. By the time we were finished, I was ravenous and had to pee. That was pretty much par for the course in those days. I was five and a 1/2 months pregnant.
I don't want to say that we were pressured to marry. Anyone who knew us back then could have told you that no fire burned hotter or brighter than we. I just didn't see the point. I'd seen successful, unsuccessful, sham, true love, high school sweetheart, known-each-other-three-month marriages and thought, "good for them." I just didn't think that the piece of paper was necessary to define who we were and what we were to each other. He'd been married previously and had had a pretty contentious divorce, one that I had suffered through with him, and frankly, we already had a child together that for us was the true symbol of our connection. We were committed, were in it to win it, and wanted to build our family, our union, our team without being told how it was meant to be done. No matter the piece of paper, I knew that my partner, the one I had chosen for life would never abandon me or my children. I had faith in the person that he showed himself to be and he had the same faith in me. I considered us a modern, honest, intellectual, artistic couple who could take it or leave it. The paper, I mean.
My parents had come for a visit in the early weeks of my pregnancy with Virginie and I was violently ill. Didier and I were proceeding with caution as I'd already suffered two miscarriages. I knew the sickness was a good sign, as they say, but we were not quite sure we were ready to disclose our condition. The problem was I couldn't hide it either. When you are one who almost never turns down a glass of wine, the refusal of one definitely raises a flag. If you find yourself suddenly running for the bathroom every few minutes and cannot chew anything without getting that dizzy, nauseous feeling, you begin to look suspect. I was nervous and jittery withholding a secret that made us giddy so in an ill-considered act of sharing, I told them the news. There was silence and then there was head shaking. There were averted eyes and sighs. Didier and I looked at each other across the room and wondered if perhaps they had not heard me correctly. So I said it again. "We are pregnant. It's just the early stages but we are coming to the end of the first trimester so I am nearly sure." Nothing.
A handful of miserably depressing phone calls later and the "you're an unmarried hussy-not a celebrity-what would the neighbors think-you will never be forgiven-find a faith" dialogue convinced me that my perspective was surely not the most popular out there. Our relationship had outlasted a sibling's marriage. We'd been together for years and had a child already. We were in love. It seemed a bit ridiculous to us to spend our money on a ceremony to appease my family when we were actually preparing for a new arrival. Sharing our plan was really a courtesy. We'd made no decision on when or where or how or why we should "make it official."
And then came the offer for a position in Barbados. Upon review of the culture of this tiny Caribbean island, we started to see the writing on the wall. We could live together, common-law, in New York, forever. Our kids could have a different last name from their father, and we could hang with our diverse group of friends, our community and feel safe, fit in, avoid definitions from outside. But in Barbados we didn't want to make waves. We didn't know anyone and didn't want to draw attention to ourselves by rolling in there to live, a French chef and his African-American girlfriend and their children. We choked and felt that the easiest way to make this transition smoothly was to get married. We'd go there as an easily recognizable family, without demanding an understanding of our own definition of ourselves. Witnessing a couple we spent a good amount of time with, a Canadian couple together longer than we, having to explain again and again that they were a couple, a family but common law partners, proved to us that we'd dodged one.
I love being married to Didier, love what we have become, love the evolution of us from lovers to parents to the team. Each night, as I put the girls to bed, the littlest one asks, "Papa is married to all of us, right? We are all married together, right?" And I tell her, every night, that we are. That without her and her big sister there would be no "married," that we saved being married for them. For them, making the commitment, putting it down on paper, rather than in a song, in a painting, in a poem, in a dance, in the way we live was worth it.
Being married, signing the love on that paper has meant that everyone understands that we have rights and privileges that were we just "together" we'd have to fight for. We'd have red tape to cut through. Folks to have to argue with so that we could see each other in the hospital, have access to accounts and funds and private information. In Barbados, being married served us well, especially during exhausting visits to the Immigration Department where having and showing our marriage license seemed to at least begin the process, was a key to the door with 1000 locks. My unmarried friends suffered endlessly the questions, the downright concern that they did not have that paper and did not share a common name. With all else I was dealing with there, that just might have put me over the edge.
I am married. And to a wonderful man. When it so moved us, we went downtown and just did it. But what of our friends and family who don't have the option to do this? Who might embrace it in a way that we didn't? Who love each other as we do? Who have every right to cut through the red tape, see their names on important documents, embrace and love their children as we do? Perhaps they want to wing it and commit in a ceremony less formal and maybe they just want the option to have that piece of paper, to be legitimized, to be included, counted, considered. Some of my gay and lesbian friends won the geographical lottery living in States where their marriage is legal, so they too could run downtown as we did and just do it. Let's see us all catch up. If I need the piece of paper to make people happy, then I wish that everyone can be so happy. Just sayin'.
Happy Anniversary to my love. I remember the first date with the same jelly-legged swoon. The first kiss as the seal to our connection. The first fight as proof of our freedom to be ourselves and continue to love one another. The years in Barbados as a big freakin' test. And the piece of paper as a dare to do it all forever.
(c) Copyright 2012. Repatriated Mama: Back to the Suburban Grind.
Life is what you make it.