What I want for Christmas is the dumbest ever.

Here is a conversation I had with my husband, recently. And you know what? I feel for the guy. I really do. He works so hard. And it can’t be easy. I’m not….well, I’m not the easiest person to be married to. I fully accept this. And I get it that he wants to give me thing, and holy smokes do I appreciate it. But honestly? I feel like I’m past the point in my life when holiday gifts make much sense. I have too much stuff. And the things that would actually make my life easier? Well, they’re a little out of reach, at present. Because all of our available funds are tied up in the kids and the house. But mostly the kids. So I told him that I really didn’t want anything in lieu of holiday gifts.

He did not accept this. At all.

HIM: We have to figure out what you’re getting.

ME: I don’t want anything. Seriously.

HIM: Seriously, nothing. What do you want for Christmas? Like wanting things.

ME: I’m not even going to tell you because it’s too expensive.

HIM: I don’t care. I just want to know what it is.

ME: Just get me socks or a subscription to One Story or something.

HIM: OH MY GOD YOU ARE THE WORST.

ME: It’s dumb. What I want is the dumbest ever. But I still want it. But I want not to want it so I’m not telling you.

HIM: COME ON!

ME: FINE. What I really want, more than anything else, is a Roomba.

HIM: No way.

ME: It’s true.

HIM: ….
…..
…..
ME: I know.

HIM: You mean the thing that scoots around and pretends to clean.

ME: It doesn’t pretend. It cleans. Not very well, I’ll grant you, but probably better than I’m doing right now. So. Yeah. That’s what I want.

HIM: You’re kidding, right?

ME: Alas, no.

HIM: You’ve got all of Western Civilization before you, with its centuries of perfecting the machine of the marketplace. We’ve got the art of making and marketing and buying and selling to a science so exquisite it deserves its own University system …. and on this, the season in which we slaughter yearling calves on our altars erected in temples dedicated to the gods of consumerism ….. and you want a vacuum cleaner?

(Author’s note: I might be elaborating here. I can’t quite remember)

ME: Yes.

HIM: And you don’t mind that it’s, like, housewifey and stuff.

ME: I don’t care. I want it. I want something to clean instead of me cleaning. I want ONE THING IN THIS HOUSE that does whatever I ask it to, because god knows the kids are hopeless with their books and their independent thinkings. I want something to devour the dog hair and attack the piles of sand that inexplicably appear on the living room floor. I want something to suck the dust away while I’m writing. I also want self-cleaning laundry and a macrobiotic chef and electric slippers. But mostly I want a robot. A best friend robot. A cheerful, always wants to help robot. A hard-working robot servant/family member/mostly a servant to clean my floors and look silly carrying unlikely objects across the floor like martinis and doughnuts and do what I ask and I shall name him Algernon. But I shall call him Ernest.

HIM: That’s a compelling argument.

ME: I know, right?

HIM: Hmmm. Well. How much are they?

ME: Like four hundred bucks.

HIM: Ah.

ME: Yeah.

HIM: So. Socks, then?

Which is fine. I made sure to send him a picture of these:

The strange Valentines of the long-married.

WHEN you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
– William Butler Yeats

When I was twenty years old, I was directionless and lost: a raving lunatic; a blistering idiot. I was just recently back in the country, just coming out of a very damaging relationship, and just trying to put myself back together. I was a scattering of ash and dust, the glint of stars, the press of clouds.

And then I met my husband. And then my life was very different.

We are both thirty-nine now, so we’ve been together for a long time. I know the grooves of his hand better than I know my own. I could hear his voice in the middle of a crowd and find him in a shot. I know each gray hair, each worry-line, each muscular heft. When we marry, we love not only the young person standing next to us, the person right now, but we love the very old person that they will be. Creaky joints. Sagging skin. Hair as pale as thistledown. And the deepening shadows of the eyes. These things usually don’t land on Valentines, but they stir me to the core. The long-married find themselves, very often, unstuck in time. We kiss the lips of our beloved and we don’t know where we will find ourselves – are these the twenty-year-old lips? Or the forty-year-old? Or the eighty-year-old. The entirety of a life built together can hinge on a single kiss.

I have told this to my husband. He thinks I’m nuts.

Anyway, a while back, I published this piece in the Interfictions Annex. It’s four linked vignettes, all exploring the magical-realistic quality of love. But the thing is? It started as a Valentine. To my husband. This is what I wrote to him:

It’s cold and we need fire. I wrap myself in a blanket while you clomp to the porch and clomp back in, your arms wrapped around a pile of logs raining debris in a trail from the door to the fireplace.
You open the door and lean in, gather ash and dead coals with your hand, deposit it into a bag, let it fall in a soft gray cloud. Slowly, you pile the knots of paper just so and lay down the small logs and light.
As I watch you, I see what you will look like when you are very old. Your nose enlarges and bulbs forward: a tender beak. Your smooth brow folds upon itself like a topographical map. Your hands, your long fingers, gnarl at the knuckle, sprout spots like mushrooms, grow yellow at the nails. Your hair, shining now in the growing light, thins, pales, floats over your shining scalp like feathers.
Outside, the snow arranges itself into mountains, canyons and plains, retelling the story of a land built from the cruelties of water and wind. Outside, the black sky cracks into infinite shards of light, while the air etches love poems on the windowpanes. Outside, the wind hurls itself against the house, while the trees lean and flail as though about to fall.

Happy Valentines Day, to you and yours. And I love you.

Everything I know about the work and joy of marriage I learned from my gay married friends.

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Well, maybe not everything. But a lot, anyway.

For those of you who may be reading this from far-away places – particularly those of you who may have the good fortune to live in states and countries who acknowledge and support and love all couples, regardless of their various genders, let me get you up to speed. In my beloved state of Minnesota, the Legislature decided to offer up an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage.

Never mind that gay marriage is already illegal here.

Never mind that 53% of the state is opposed to the ban.

Never mind that most of the authors and sponsors of this legislation are divorced. (Defending the sanctity of marriage, MY EYE!)

Never mind that gay people are a part of the fabric of our culture – they own businesses and work in every sector of our economy and send their kids to school and show up at park board potlucks and church picnics and pay their taxes and fix up their houses and go for long walks at sunset and do every single thing that heterosexual married people do.

Never mind all of that. The Legislature decided to send a State-sponsored “You Stink” letter to the gay community – a “Get Off My Lawn” letter and a “Stay Out Of My Sandbox” letter and a “You Are Not As Awesome As Me SO THERE” letter. And for the next eighteen (I think? I’m not really one for counting) months, my poor state is going to be awash with misinformation, with hateful rhetoric, with outright lies, and with ad after ad after ad.

Why?

Simple answer: Money.

The National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.

Photo courtesy of Fibonacci BlueThe National Organization for Marriage held a rally last July at the state Capitol against same-sex marriage.

Because in the end, it doesn’t matter what the polls say, and it certainly doesn’t matter what the majority of the population thinks about a certain issue. It’s about who has enough money to control the message enough to make sure that their voters show up at the voting booths, and that the opposition does not. Democracy, in this day and age, has nothing to do with the will of the people and everything to do with who shows up.

Our voters, or their voters? I guess we’ll find out in 2012.

Which is why, on the evening of that fateful vote to put this ugly amendment on the ballot, Republican strategist after strategist said the same thing: “If this was a secret vote, it wouldn’t pass.” In other words, legislators weren’t voting with their hearts or their souls or their minds; they were voting with their re-election budgets. And that is a shameful thing.

Minnesota will flow with money. And it will be dirty money. God help us.

So, over the next few months, I’ll be fundraising and going to demonstrations, and my kids will be waving hand made signs, and we’ll probably go out doorknocking as a family, but in the meantime, I wanted to talk a little bit about marriage, and why it matters, and how my observations of my gay-married friends has deepened and strengthened my own marriage, and how grateful I am.

Here’s the thing: marriage is hard. It’s work. I’ve said it for years: getting married is one of the single bravest things a human being can do. Hell, it’s hard enough for us to live with ourselves, much less trying to live with another person. Now we all know the benefits and satisfaction of hard labor and a job well done; we all know what it’s like to look at the dirt under our fingernails and the grime on our knees and feel the ache of overworked muscles and know in our hearts that it’s bringing us one step closer gorgeous harvests come autumn. So is it true with a marriage: the work is good.  We also know that marriage, if it is done right, is predicated on the guarantee of tragedy. We will spend our entire lives knowing our spouses, and loving our spouses more than we love the breath in our lungs or the food on our lips or the sun on our skin. And then, one day, one of us will have to live without our partner – our best friend and dearest treasure. Love requires tragedy. There’s really no getting around that one – unless both partners die in a fiery wreck, which just sounds terribly unpleasant, so let’s remove that as a possibility.

So we hang on to each day because we know it is limited. And we make mistakes and we sometimes argue and we are sometimes blind, but in the end, we know that despite the work, what we have is precious.

Marriage is precious.

And it is because of that preciousness, and because of that temporal nature that we look to the married people around us as role models and as touchstones and as guides. The marriages of my friends and neighbors and parents and relatives and friends of relatives and everyone else in my broad and diverse community are all part of my marriage. I watch, I listen, I learn and I keep building towards the future. That’s how it works.

Gay marriage would not, and does not, hurt my marriage. Now, if any of my friends ever got divorced, it would – I know for sure – hurt my husband and I. Indeed, it already has. Divorce hurts marriages, not gay people saying “I do”. Gay marriage would not change how I think about marriage nor would it change how I teach my children about the importance of fidelity and honor and love. It wouldn’t change how I teach my children about the sacredness of sex. Indeed, if the state recognized gay marriage, it would provide me with an extra teaching tool – that it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, because marriage matters and monogamy matters and you still have to do right by your partner. (I’m pretty conservative when it comes to that, actually.)

Gay marriage may actually strengthen marriage in this state. I believe that gay marriage as it stands now, despite it’s underground status, has already strengthened my marriage. Indeed, my gay married friends have – quite unintentionally – given me lesson after beautiful lesson on the building of a mutual life outside of the the assistance and blessing of the government. This is what they’ve taught me so far:

1. I learned that it’s not enough to rely upon the language of relationship to define a relationship. What does wife mean? Or husband? By removing the terms of the relationship, I was allowed to strip pretense away and observe the thing as it is: Something fragile, hungry and alive; something separate from me, separate from Ted; a life force with a path of its own, and it is my job – and his job – to protect it, love it, and follow it.

2. The celebration, the wedding, the community honor of a relationship that existed before the day of the ceremony and would exist after – well, it matters. Just like punctuation matters and pausing while speaking matters. Sometimes we need to take a breath, process what came before and prepare ourselves for what is next.

3. Divorce sucks. Doesn’t matter if your gay or straight, it hurts just the same – not only the couple in question, but the community surrounding the couple. Divorce hurts every marriage it touches. I’m not saying it should be outlawed or anything (I’m a SUPERPROGRESSIVE BLEEDING HEART LIBERAL, after all) but I do think we all need to acknowledge it. Divorce really really really sucks. So do broken hearts and broken homes and broken futures. And it makes me cry just thinking about it.

4. Don’t rely on the government to tell you what you already know. Whether you are gay or straight, it isn’t the piece of paper that makes you married. We marry in our hearts and in our minds and in our bodies. The piece of paper just makes it less of a hassle. And speaking of hassles:

5. Plan for everything. Two of my very good friends, who had a beautiful – though not government recognized – wedding, and raised two beautiful sons together, knew that they couldn’t take a single day for granted. The world is complicated and unpredictable, they told me, and life as we know it could be irreparably altered in a moment. But, because the state does not recognize their union, they had to bring their own recognition with them wherever they went: written power of attorney; adoption records; living wills; notorized documents stating that, in the event that one should be incapacitated, the other – and not their families – would have all rights and responsibilities of a spouse. Now, we all know that these documents are not always honored. But they did their best. They planned. They hoped for a better tomorrow.

6. Love the community you’re in; build the community you want. My friends know all about the pain of having one’s family or neighborhood or place of employment or church deny the tranformative power of their love for one another. They love their communities anyway. They volunteer and work for justice and teach classes and vote and give to charity. They also are very good at building new communities that are predicated on acceptance and tolerance and care.

Every marriage is a gift – to the couple, to their community, to the whole world. Every marriage requires bravery, tenacity, tolerance, insight and love. Every marriage deserves recognition and support, because the work is difficult and the benefits are tremendous.

Thank you, my married friends, both gay and straight. Thank you for your support and your instruction and your guidance in my own marriage. May your love thrive, expand and multiply. May it bless your lives, bless your city, bless your state and bless the world.

Love,

Kelly

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