Friday, February 06, 2009

(another chapter from The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

An Errand at Tiffany’s

Jannine got to state her marital status for the first time when she ordered her temporary work visa for India, the gay man on the other end of the phone saying, “Right on,” when she said “Yes, I’m married,” and explained that she’d married me in March.

I wasn’t thrilled with the timing of this trip.

It was to have been earlier, which might have had her out of the country just when same-sex marriage was offered, leaving me stranded at the alter. But, the trip was falling just as we were recovering from getting married, holding a reception, hosting my cousin, Dov, for spring break, and from another bout of seasonal illness. Plus, I was developing a strange new anxiety disorder about driving that left me shaking at the wheel. Three weeks seemed a long time for my wife to be away.

Not that I’m not used to being on duty for weeks at a time. I’m the “mom in charge,” as well as the “mom of choice” most of the time, though Jannine has been the popular mom from time to time, and being the “dog meat mom” takes some getting used to.

I was more worried about her: three weeks in a country with a twelve hour time difference, malaria, dysentery, political upheaval, and a culture that does not appreciate no-nonsense women in pants. I wasn’t sure she would be culturally accepted, no matter her degree of technical skill, as she set about training people in India to take over her job.

But like it or not, she was going.

Jannine generally depends on me to pack for her when she travels (since she tends to be working up to the minute we walk out the door), but in this case, I simply couldn’t. I was up to my eyeballs with a one year-old, a nine year-old, and a budding adolescent set on knocking me off my pedestal; I didn’t have time to facilitate her travel needs.

Jannine made lists, got shots, and ordered meds, just in case. But then there were the clothes: she needed me to help determine what she could get away with, and what would brand her a diesel dyke the moment she landed. While my mind was on other matters, I helped her shop online for something to wear in India.

My mind was on wedding rings.

We’ve had a few rings over the years, concrete symbols of intention that we could have, unlike the right to marry. We bought our first set of rings nine months after we fell in love, simple twisted gold bands we still wore.

Our second pair celebrated the purchase of our ugly condo in Kent, wider gold bands, to indicate our continued resolve to succeed as a couple despite being given two coffee makers at Christmas “just in case.”

For our ninth Valentine’s Day, I had a seriously substantial gold band inscribed for Jannine, and for our tenth anniversary Jannine had a family ring made-over into a ring I’d seen in an advertisement. It looked good when Jannine got it in the mail (though it was the wrong size), but it trapped moisture, causing the skin on my finger to swell, redden, and peel off in layers.
For our fifteenth anniversary, we thought about having a celebration, but balked at the fuss, went out to dinner instead, and bought the matching platinum bands we used during our marriage ceremony.

Even after all that, I still longed for “the ring,” though I didn’t have any clear idea of what “the ring” might look like. I was obviously not a big rock kind of girl, heirloom rings aren’t plentiful in the family (my sister-in-law was wearing the only one), and I didn’t need a diamond just to have one. I searched Web sites shyly at night, switching windows if Jannine came in the room. I glanced in jewelry cases in the mall. I was cool with getting married in a flurry, without the dress, without the barefoot children (though they’d gladly have taken off their shoes if I’d asked), but the princess within wanted “the ring.”

It was while we searched for sandals that it happened. Two days before leaving for India, Jannine hadn’t found footwear she thought would be both practical, and feminine enough to promote peace. She needed to shoe shop, and wanted me to go along. Chris and Lisa watched the kids, and we drove downtown to a specialty shop to find comfortable sandals for the narrow-heeled, yet large of foot.

After finding sandals for a price they didn’t aesthetically deserve, we were leaving the shopping center when Jannine caught me glancing at Tiffany & Company across the street. “Let’s go in,” she said.

I’d been in Tiffany’s once before, to see what a Tiffany’s really looked like. I’d seen the advertisements in Vogue and Vanity Fair, I’d visited their Web site, and I’d bought into the Tiffany’s mystique: the light blue box, the Audrey Hepburn/Truman Capote angle, the idea that a ring from Tiffany’s was the ultimate, classy declaration of love.

I have to say, they train their salespeople well. At no time did I feel that condescending stare that occurs in expensive stores when a customer comes in who looks of meager means, which has been assumed about me before.

I was in a Wendy’s getting a snack for the kids once, while waiting for Jiffy Lube to finish lubricating our car, wearing my favorite thrift-store corduroy coat, and the manager made double our order of fries and a burger appear on our tray, and discreetly (and sweetly) offered me free food because she thought I was destitute.

Got rid of that coat fast.

But the Tiffany’s people smiled, greeted Jannine and me, didn’t come on too strong, or ignore us as insignificant. We strolled around the store, looked in every case, almost stalking our way over to the engagement rings. Jannine urged me to try some on. “You’ll never know if you don’t try them on.”

She was willing to go all out, go into debt, buy a rock, whatever would make it right to me. I tried on square cuts that made me feel pretentious, solitaires that seemed suburban, and modern designs more suited to someone in their sixties, having a gaudy good time, than a sentimental wife in need of a symbol.

At the very end of our loop around Tiffany’s, we came to a design I’d seen on their Web site during my nocturnal browsing. Jannine said, “Try it on.” It was a perfect fit. It was comfortable. It felt right. It wouldn’t make the skin peel off my finger in scaly, dead layers. And it had five small diamonds.

“One for every member of our family,” I said, looking at Jannine.

I wore it out of the store, and into the rainy afternoon, almost weeping that something so silly, so materialistic, so superfluous, could mean so much.

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