Hoarders but not second class

When I finally sat down to write for the first time in forever, I intended to write some witty prose about the madness of this last week before the move, the whole new levels of exhaustion we have discovered, the little pathways that are currently the only means of  travel through our house.  We look like we belong on Hoarders, only it’s cardboard boxes aligning our walking paths rather than mountains of trash. Of course, if someone as anal as Jo finally cracked and developed a personality disorder like the rest of us, no doubt it would have some orderly characteristic to it.

Instead of wit, though, it’s entirely possible I’m about to get political.  I’m not, really (and no, for the love of all that is holy, it isn’t about health care).  What I am about to do is get personal.  Sometimes those lines blur a little.  One of my favorite quotes comes, not surprisingly, from a script written by Aaron Sorkin: “I like you guys who want to reduce the size of government … make it just small enough to fit in our bedrooms.”  The fact that this sentence has been reverberating in my head for a few days now is evidence that this personal reflection crosses into politics.

The legal community in this City is small, relatively speaking. Relativity is monumentally important when it comes to one’s personal life. The fight for equal treatment for gays and lesbians is obviously in the national news frequently.  The back and forth between those fighting for rights and those opposing is exhausting, and scary.

But me?  I don’t like confrontation and underneath my caustic sense of humor, I’m extremely sensitive.  I prefer to just take care of things quietly and I don’t like being the center of attention. While we’ve lived in Oklahoma, Jo and I never came out in our professional lives because we wanted to stay employed.  We played it safe. We were still taking a terrible risk, though, as this community is too small for personal and professional not to overlap. Within this backdrop, I would often hear that gays and lesbians were made to feel like second class citizens.  I didn’t think I could relate to that sentiment.  It seemed like abstract touchy-feely stuff, and all I wanted was the concrete rights and legal protections that heterosexuals have – ability to cover each other on health insurance, death benefits, medical decisions, protected and recognized parental rights, employment protection, etc.  I certainly thought our limited rights were second class but I didn’t feel second class.

On Thursday, I went to lunch with seven women from my office – all lawyers of various ages.  The youngest announced that she and her boyfriend were looking at engagement rings.  Everyone there was damn near jubilant.  As they should have been, this woman has gone through some pretty traumatic events and deserves some happiness.  However, there was another dynamic developing as this conversation continued.  We looked at pictures, learned she likes non-traditional rings, another woman talked about where her own wedding ring had been made (somewhere specific that clearly had meaning) and another described how her husband proposed 30 years ago.  There was a lot of ooohing and aaahing.  And I sat there. Quietly.

I currently have an engagement ring on my finger.  Jo had it handmade by a woman in Tennessee.  It’s sterling silver but with recycled materials and free trade gems. It is non-traditional and very dainty, a green sapphire, a vine pattern etched all the way around the band and the word “forever” etched on the inside.  There is an antique, almost rustic look to it.  I would never have been able to describe the kind of ring I wanted, but Jo clearly knows me well because I can’t imagine any ring more perfect for me and my tastes.  And I’ve never seen another ring like it. On the night she proposed, she gave me a photo album that had a different theme for every page with pictures of our years together and the last page said, “Will you marry me?”  I had no idea she was about to propose.  Obviously, I said yes.

On Thursday, I sat quietly at a table while women chatted excitedly about an upcoming engagement and others waxed poetic about their own memories.  We didn’t talk about how unique my ring was.  No-one even realizes it’s on my finger.  No-one directed questions to me about whether we’d picked a date or how Jo had proposed. One woman there knows and did make eye contact with me a few times, trying to communicate she thought it unfair.  I look at that ring a dozen times a day, at least, and it never fails to remind me of how absurdly lucky I am.  Jo is a rare, rare find – someone with actual substance, intelligence, she’s beautiful, funny and even more rare, has no real personality imbalance, except for the whole tidy, neat and organized thing.  I would love to have talked about her and us and how she proposed and how she was nervous in a way she rarely shows and how I stared at the last page with my hand over my mouth and tears in my eyes and she finally had to ask me if that meant yes.

But instead, I was quiet. I was surprised to find that I felt genuinely sad.  And I’m not looking for sympathy on this issue, my life is way too blessed for that.  What struck me, and surprised me, was how it made me feel a little inferior, as if our relationship was somehow “lesser than” the others.  I finally understood one of the phrases I hear a lot by those fighting for equality.  I felt, on a very personal level, that we were second class.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to about starting over in Boulder is the ability to just be.  Just be us.  Just be a family, and be able to introduce ourselves as such.  I’ll point out my engagement ring, discuss the night she proposed and plans for whatever kind of ceremony we decide on.  I’ll hold her hand when we walk down the street and sit in a theatre (assuming we’re not too poor for the movies). I don’t like confrontation.  I prefer to stay under the radar and I don’t like to draw a great deal of attention to myself, but I won’t just sit quietly in the future.  Because we’re not second class anything, we’re just a family.

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