Sunday, March 30, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March, sorry for the delay, camping intervened, more on that subject soon)

First in Line

“Goin’ to the chapel, and we’re gonna get married,” sang Chris and Terri in unison, complete with finger snapping and swaying hips, as television cameramen smiled and filmed it all. They followed that up with a rousing rendition of “I’m Getting Married in the Morning,” the song nearly complete when their children ran screaming down the sidewalk and literally leapt on them, after Lisa and Marty released them from their respective vans.

The kids were buzzed, almost as thrilled as the moms at this sudden turn of events, and with much more energy. Anna clung like a monkey to Katie, and Duncan and Jacob quickly got down to the business of discussing Dungeons and Dragons, their latest enthusiasm, and one that I met with anxiety, having dated two practitioners of the game: one within the normal range of gaming geekdom, and one who would disappear for days at a time to play and consume copious amounts of drugs and alcohol.

Jacob, like Duncan, is intense, though his comes in the volcanic format and Duncan’s in the hidden riptide, and his large, green eyes shaded by thick lashes are a reminder of his likeness to a Renaissance Jesus in infancy. Katie was, at thirteen, the perfect older girl idol for Anna, a charming combination of Ethel Merman, Hilary Clinton, and Amy March from Little Women, unblushing in her selfhood.

“Do we have to go to school tomorrow?” McKenzie asked, voicing the unspoken question the kids wanted answered.
Marty and Terri looked at her like she was crazy, “No way, you’ve got a wedding to go to!” creating a spontaneous cheer among the kids at the thought that not only were their parents going to get married, they got to miss a day of school as well.

Eminently practical, Lisa pointed out that even if they didn’t have to go to school, they did have to go to bed, so the kids were hustled back into the vans, waving one last time at the cameramen and reporters, before being driven first to our house, so they could see themselves on the eleven o’clock news and fill me in on all the details.

“There’s something going on outside the Multnomah County Building,” the news anchorwoman said as the local news started, and the kids piled themselves onto our family room floor, Marty and Lisa collapsing on the couch. Graeme was still awake, determined not to miss anything, yet remarkably cheerful considering his routine was upset, his people scattered, and his breast milk mysteriously denied him. The news cameras showed that the line had extended beyond the other two couples who had joined our crew, ready to camp all night, and that others were arriving steadily. Already, the strange contrast between reality and spin was evident, as the news anchor described the “ongoing drama,” and the cameras clearly indicated that what was happening couldn’t have been less dramatic.

The night brought little sleep for Chris, Terri, and Jannine. Jannine came home for a couple of hours around midnight to work, finishing tasks due, and sending out an e-mail to her boss and co-workers to say she wouldn’t be in the next day because she hoped to be getting married. Chris tried to sleep in our van, stretching out to ease the pain from her recently broken leg. Terri didn’t even try to rest. She sat on her lawn chair next to our friend Jeanna, who had joined “the grooms” in line. They chatted with the next women behind them, and whoever came up to them during the night.

From midnight on, supporters brought coffee, donuts, and flowers. Members of Love Makes a Family, a gay and lesbian family advocacy group, made regular visits to make sure the couples had everything they needed, and felt safe.

The reporters were there for the duration, asking questions of anyone who was willing to be quoted, and not necessarily getting it that the first three women in line had spouses awaiting them at home, resulting in continuous errors as to who was marrying whom. In various reports, Chris was marrying Jannine, Jannine was marrying Terri, and Terri was marrying Chris, unnatural combinations that would never work. It got too tiring, and time consuming, for the three of them to correct all the misimpressions, and every couple later received at least one congratulatory card addressed to the wrong set of spouses.

There was also the “are you the first in line?” question. All three tried to explain that they all were first in line, and each had that spot at some point during the night. But the reporters wanted sound bites and the explanation was lost. Chris offered Bonnie Tinker, the head of Love Makes a Family, and her partner of twenty-seven years, Sara Graham, “first in line” status, in honor of their long commitment. It made a simpler sound bite, too.

I’d finally scraped the kids off the ceiling around midnight, settling them on the floor in our room. The expected tussle with Graeme was nonexistent. He was so exhausted he simply collapsed in my arms. I couldn’t sleep, my mind racing, but I didn’t dare get up and, I don’t know—clean the house, do my nails, wax my upper lip? For fear that Graeme would wake up and scream the house down. I finally fell asleep after four, and was wakened at 5:10 when Jannine called, a catch of excitement in her voice:
“This is your wake-up call! You need to get down here. You and the kids need to be a part of this.”
Luckily, Graeme was hard asleep, his irrepressible instinct to wake and follow me squashed by sheer fatigue. I hustled around in the half-light, brushed my hair, slapped on my face (lipstick, rouge, mascara, and three coats of under-eye concealer, including a touch of Preparation H to reduce the baggies), equivocated about clothing for thirty seconds, and woke the kids. They sprang up with a vengeance, jumped into their clothes without prompting, brushed teeth, combed hair, and were ready to go, a miracle of efficiency that paid tribute to their enthusiasm for this venture. We called Marty across the street (who was already up, moving, and making coffee), stuffed Graeme into his car seat still asleep, and managed to join our spouses by 6:15.
The line of couples was to the corner of the Multnomah County Building and beyond, a sea of spouses with one mission. Jannine was right by the double glass doors at the entrance when we reached her, with an Oregonian photographer standing beside her, waiting for developments.

“I need you to fill out your portion,” Jannine handed me a marriage license application she’d been given in the night by Love Makes a Family, who’d stored up copies for just such an occasion. “Don’t change anything or they’ll make you start all over,” she turned away to check on the older two kids, tickled Graeme who was now awake, then turned back, “Oh, and good morning,” she said, kissing me.

A box of donuts was handed to us for the kids, and a man came by with trays of steaming Venti coffees from Starbucks. I declined, fearing an aneurysm if I got any more excited than I already was, though that didn’t keep me from the Diet Coke I’d stuck in my bag.

“My partner and I got married in San Francisco, and someone brought us coffee, so I wanted to do the same for you,” the man told us. After he moved down the line with the coffee, fresh glazed Krispy Kreme donuts made the circuit on a trolley pushed by a jubilant gay man, hocking donuts like a peanut vendor at a ball game, but without remuneration.

A multi-color haired, twenty-something was jumping up and down in place with excitement as she watched the line forming, squealing, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, this is so exciting!”
A middle-aged straight man came up to Terri with a bottle of champagne. “I saw you on the news,” he told Terri, “And I had this bottle in the fridge, and when I saw you, I knew what the right thing was to do with it.” He handed it to her with a bouquet of flowers he’d picked up on the way.
Anna’s pal, Jordyn, came up with her mom, Ellen. Ellen’s partner, Jeanna, was still there from the night before, and Ellen came as soon as she’d made sure their older girl, Tori, was ready for school.
Tori and Jordyn are the same ages as our oldest two, and fast outdistancing their mothers in height. Jeanna and Ellen had been together eighteen years: Jeanna, a tiny and youthful woman who competes in triathlons for the almost fifty, Ellen, a red-haired, soothing-voiced woman from a large Mormon family.

The reporters and photographers were clearly fascinated by all these kids. Perhaps this wasn’t what they’d expected when they got the tip that a line was forming, and marriage licenses were going to be granted that morning for lesbians and gays. Were they thinking drag queens and leather dykes, chanting members of ACT UP, college sweethearts, or gay septuagenarians who never thought they’d live to see the day? Graeme was photographed endlessly as he bobbed up and down, first in the backpack, and later in my arms. Reporters talked to each of the kids, always polite, never pushing, careful not to make the kids nervous, or hound them in any way.
It felt like the reporters on the spot were thrilled by this event. There was an unspoken sense that they were cheerleaders, not just impartial observers of this social change happening with a bang, an interesting contrast to the television news anchors who looked serious, somber, and a little disapproving as they spoke to reporters on the scene from the safety of the newsroom, using words like “chaos,” and “radical,” and “revolutionary,” as if they couldn’t see that it was just couples queuing up quietly and civilly to get married. The kids handled themselves well, talking to the reporters without fear, and with varying enthusiasm based on their shyer or more outgoing natures. All these children are growing up knowing their parents love one another, and they are well-practiced at being out about their families. None of us would have it any other way.

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