Friday, March 06, 2009

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

Fall into Stress

In late August, I joined the medicated masses, and gave myself up to a higher power—Paxil.

Sure, I was a little stressed-out about our country being on the brink of possibly re-electing the worst president during my lifetime, and that same president embroiling us in a war that can’t seem to be won, with money our country can’t afford, resulting in a loss of respect internationally that our children will have to reckon with.

True, it was a major bummer that our home state was fifty-fifty in the polls on whether Jannine and I would still be married on January one, and on whether we were worthy of that institution in the first place.

Surprisingly, I didn’t let the Godzilla of common colds Anna brought home one week into September (which wiped out her next two weeks of school, Duncan’s attendance record, and sank Graeme into a mucous-fueled manic phase that had him running at the nose and into the walls), knock me for a loop—though it did knock out my hearing, smell, and sense of taste for two weeks.

Nope, it was driving anxiety that had me running to the doctor, saying, “Give me drugs,” so I could keep on trucking.

I’m sure it was an amalgamation of a lot of things, including all of the above, a wakeful toddler, no alone time, too much Diet Coke, and the large blind spots to the rear left and right of our minivan compared to the 360 degree view from the wheel of our former Jeep Wagoneer. I could drive small streets during daylight, I could even do them at night with a white knuckle grip on the wheel, but the freeway had become a break-out-in-a-cold-sweat nightmare.

I’d never been what you would call a confident driver. Jannine taught me when I was twenty-five; I’d decided not to get a license after passing Traffic Ed in high school since I was taking recreational drugs, and didn’t think I was responsible enough to be behind the wheel of a lethal weapon. By the time I’d ended my flirtation with illegal substances six months later, I was in college, with no money, so driving was low on the priority list, and remained there until Jannine gave me lessons, having tired of the role of chauffeur in the relationship.

I’m normally a decent—if anxious—driver. I’ve never had a ticket, and the one time I was in an accident, I was the third car in a four-car pile-up on the freeway, when unaccountably, traffic came to a dead stop. I stopped in plenty of time, as did the car before me. It was the fourth car who plowed the rest of us into one another. The three other cars drove away, ours was totaled.

But August took me over the edge. It was Duncan’s weeklong computer camp that did it. The hours were such that both drop-off and pick-up were during rush hour traffic. The first day had me gripping the steering wheel like a vise. The second day had me dreaming of on-coming traffic. By the third day, every time I closed my eyes I saw speeding vehicles and head on collisions, not a good thing for a sleep deprived parent of three.

We survived the rest of the week by devising long alternative routes. I never wanted to drive on the freeway again, though time and medication have worked wonders, and I’d consider myself 95% cured.

I suspect that my inability to just relax and go with the flow of traffic also had something to do with reading the editorial pages daily, the pain of keeping up on the legal status of our marriage, and what felt like a continual public assault on our dignity.

Jannine dealt with it by refusing to read the paper, look at letters to the editor, or listen to me tell her the latest insulting commentary or even any positive polls. She’d practically put her hands over her ears and sing, “La, la, la,” if I tried to read her a quote.

Every day, the Oregonian published letters objecting to calling same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, since, the writers charged, we had exactly the same rights to marry as anyone else: we could marry someone of the opposite sex. We just couldn’t marry the one we loved.

To me, the parallels with anti-miscegenation laws were undeniable: blacks could marry, whites could marry; they just couldn’t marry each other.

The newspaper was bad enough, but being a neighborhood poster couple for same-sex marriage was getting tough, too; congratulations were a thing of the past, now we were walking, talking symbols of social debate. We couldn’t go anywhere without the subject of legal same-sex marriage coming up; it was in the news, it was on the collective brain, but sometimes I felt like shouting, “This is not an intellectual exercise, people!”

They meant well. My mother, telling me we’d see legalized same-sex marriage in her lifetime, even if the constitutional amendment in Oregon passed in November, was trying to be supportive, even if “in her lifetime” might mean another forty years. My friend Cathy, stopping me in the hall at Alameda School, assured me she felt like Multnomah County did the right thing issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but she wasn’t so sure about the process, about County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts being left out of the decision, about not holding public debate prior to issuing licenses, and maybe about whether the decision was premature. I breathed slowly, I smiled, I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to remind her (OK, scream at her) that this wasn’t Sociology 200 or Political Science 101; this was my life, the lives of thousands locally, and millions across the country, being roasted on the barbeque pit of public debate.

In sarcastic moods, after reading another editorial suggesting same-sex marriage be put on hold “for the good of society,” I would mumble to myself, fine, let those people imagine themselves in love with someone they were denied the right to marry. Let them imagine living for decades knowing their union is considered less than worthy of recognition, flouting society—if they dared—to love lawlessly for a lifetime, only to be denied access when their loved one is dying, denied the right to make medical decisions, to bury that loved one, or even to take bereavement leave, because legally speaking, the relationship was non-existent. See how they like it.

I mean seriously, we, the three thousand same-sex couples who married in Multnomah County, would have needed incredibly low self-esteem to not leap at the opportunity to legally recognize our commitments for what they are: marriages. We would have had to believe, like opponents of gay marriage, that we are not people capable or worthy of commitment.

When the window of opportunity opened, Jannine and I stepped over the sill. We knew that we might land in a legal quagmire, that our marriage license might be so full of legal loopholes, it could serve as a sieve, or that we could wake up the next day with the governor declaring the three thousand marriages illegal under state law.

Stress, editorials, and hallway debates aside, we were glad we did it. Not only because getting married is meaningful, even after seventeen years, three kids, and a mortgage, but because we were so glad not to wait another day for our marriage to be equal in the eyes of the law.

Paxil is a small price to pay.

No comments: