Friday, February 15, 2008

The Brides of March
March 2nd, 2004
The phone rang just after six o’clock. It was Tuesday night, and Jannine had just edged her way through the front door with a guitar case on either side of her, coming home from lessons with our nine year-old daughter, Anna, a compact-model blonde who looked too young to be playing electric guitar, as well as acoustic. They were taking lessons together, our daughter learning an interesting juxtaposition of “Zip-a-dee-doo-da” and “I Don’t Give a Damn ‘Bout my Bad Reputation”, while Jannine was still working on “This Land is Your Land”, strumming away in her office after the rest of us had gone to bed, the tune reverberating through the floor, through my brain, and musically scoring my dreams.
I’d just come home from a swimming lesson with our two sons. At twelve, Duncan definitely fell on the smaller end of the height/weight scale, his brain far outdistancing his body. He was the swimmer, lessons just building on the skills he’d already earned with two summers on swim team. His brother, Graeme, had just turned one (a virtual carbon copy of his siblings, though on a grander scale), but while his enthusiasm for water raised my alert level to orange, he was a little young for actual swim lessons.
We were all exhausted, burned out from a marathon season of back-to-school, first head cold, Halloween, second head cold, Duncan’s birthday, relatives to stay, third head cold, travel to Seattle for Thanksgiving, influenza for four, pneumonia for two, Jannine’s parents visiting pre-Christmas, my relatives visiting for Christmas, our anniversary (during which we learned that Jannine’s dad was in the hospital after a blood clot passed through his heart), Jannine rushing to Seattle to see her dad, fourth head cold, New Year’s Eve, a record breaking snowfall closing school for a week, fifth head cold, Anna’s birthday, relatives to stay, sixth head cold, Graeme’s birthday, Valentine’s Day, and then the inevitable parental breakdown we suffer every late February, when we lie on the floor, our bodies twitching, and shake our heads while repeating, “No more… no more… no more…” September through February that year was a pharmaceutically enhanced blur.
We were numbly looking forward to an evening of take-home pizza and the movie, School of Rock. Then, the phone rang. Our friend and across the street neighbor, Terri, had news. Her partner Marty’s eighty-one year-old mother had just called to say that Multnomah County, our county, was going to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at ten o’clock the following morning.
The movie forgotten, my spouse became a woman possessed, and the always lingering birth certificate issue raised its ugly head. I didn’t have one—long story involving an irresponsible youth, family-of-origin trauma-drama, a long delayed legal name change, and snail mail gone astray. Not having any compelling reason to possess a birth certificate (international travel seemed unlikely with three kids and a modest budget), I had passive-aggressively avoided doing anything about it. But now, it was a problem. Always preferring to search the World Wide Web in lieu of speaking to a message machine or an actual human being, Jannine started surfing. Did we need birth certificates to get a marriage license? Did we need to prove residency? Was there a waiting period or could we get married immediately after getting a license? How many pieces of picture ID would suffice? Not finding what she wanted, she started calling people.
Jannine is a jeans and T-shirt, step out of the shower and go, straight shooter kind of gal. She was once asked to describe herself in ten words or less at a job interview, gave it a moment’s thought, counted on her fingers and responded, “What you see is what you get.” She wasn’t afraid to roust people from the dinner table. Our straight married friends were no help; they’d filled out their licenses on auto-pilot. Jannine called Terri back.
“I’m going down to the County Building to see if they have any applications available in the lobby, do you want to go?”
Terri was slipping on her winter coat and out the door in a heartbeat; she and Marty, co-moms of their daughter, McKenzie, had been together sixteen years. Before I could even explain to Duncan and Anna our change of plans for the evening, Jannine and Terri were in our white minivan and gone.
Before they’d gone three blocks, Jannine said, “Let’s go get Chris.”
Chris and her spouse, Lisa, are close friends whose two children are like siblings to ours. Chris, like Jannine, is “the boy-mom,” adept at power tool use and able to window shop for hours at Home Depot (or rationalize large purchases) when she’s not
working eighty hours a week as a professor of nursing. Lisa, while toting the emotional baggage and hairstyle of a “girl mom,” is just as capable of wielding a drill or a router; she just knows Chris wants to more. Lisa (a.k.a. “She Who Must Be Obeyed”) is also the nurse midwife who both talked me off the ceiling, and caught Graeme on his way into the world; she made his worrying birth a time punctuated by frequent laughter, as well as guttural growls of agony.
When Lisa opened the door to Terri and Jannine, she was giddy. All pretense of detached rationality was gone. Their phone had been ringing off the hook as friends called them to tell them the news and ask, “Are you going to get married?” Thrilled as they were, they were still planning on watching a movie with their kids (was Tuesday night movie night in every house in the neighborhood?), and Chris was at her desk, working as usual. Jannine and Terri put a stop to that, telling Lisa they would literally drag Chris from her third floor office, out the door, and all the way to the County Building should she put up any resistance.
Chris didn’t put up much of a fight.

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