Twenty-one years ago today I met a man at a party. His name was Jack. He was tall, masculine, intelligent, sensitive, athletic and funny. Best of all, we agreed about almost everything, except religion.
Seventeen years ago today I married him. An Episcopal priest officiated; we held the service in our apartment. About 40 people came, including my mother. We didn’t have a dime, so I made all the food; it was a pretty good time.
As a gag, someone brought a big black ball-and-chain and attached it to Jack’s ankle—or where his ankle used to be before the amputations; the ankle of his prosthesis. Jack sat for most of the evening, but he stood up with me for the service. Then afterward someone hauled out that famed symbol for marriage, aka “holy wedlock.”
The problem for most Gay lovers is that there isn’t any lock; coming and going is easy. Even in the one state where marriage is legal, if you want a divorce and work out a property settlement, the courts will hand you a key. In reality there is no ball and chain anymore to bind couples together. Relationships are voluntary associations, and marriages are legal contracts that can be undone.
Three years later Jack walked away. But it turned out I was the one with the ball and chain; I made a promise to God in front of the priest and all our friends. Since Jack and I weren’t married legally, I don’t know how to get divorced from the vows I made. If they’d only been promises to Jack, I wouldn’t have had as much problem, given that he broke his vows to me. But they weren’t; they were promises to God.
Mind you I’m not pining away anymore; it’s been a long time, I’m reconciled to being alone and I don’t feel guilty about what wasn’t my fault. I forgive Jack for the decisions he made, and I recognize that in many ways I’m better off.
I’m very proud of how I handled the challenge of his illness; he was very sick for a long, long time, and I took care of him as faithfully as a human being can.
No doubt independence has benefitted him, and I respect his doing what he had to do. It’s remarkably easy for a person whose health goes bad to get comfy in a wheelchair, especially if there are other people around to take care of things. Striking out on his own may have been the best thing he could have done for himself. (I don’t really believe that, but it’s possible. Somehow he wasn’t capable of the third alternative, which was keeping the relationship and doing as much for himself as he possibly could have.) So, okay. That’s life. He’s good, I’m good, okay.
But I know what day this is. I wonder if he does.
Last night I talked to our friend Peg, who lives in the same city Jack does. She and I visited on the phone for 45 minutes, and towards the end she brought his name up; she knows I still have feelings for him. He always goes to her house for Thanksgiving, but he didn’t this year. She hasn’t seen him in a long time. She’s kinda ticked about it, but it’s his problem.
I didn’t tell her what day this is. There didn’t seem any point. She was there for the wedding and so was her mother. Both our mothers are gone now. If I’d mentioned the anniversary, what would Peg have said? What is there to say?
I say this: I made a commitment, and by God I kept it.
I’ve screwed up a lot of things in my life, but I didn’t screw up that. So here is a prayer For Those Living Under Vows:
O Lord, we never really know what we’re getting into; we can’t predict the future, and often we don’t understand what’s happening today. We have intentions that never quite match our results; we make promises but often fall short. Sometimes the person we most let down is ourselves; at other times we hurt everyone around us. God, help us as we struggle to carry out our promises; give us eyes to see the goal we set ahead of us, with the mind to focus on it and the heart to forgive every failure along the way. Bless all those in committed relationships to keep their vows while staying true to themselves in accordance with your will. For you are the One always urging us toward the light; you made the light and are the Light. Draw us ever closer, Lord, to you and to each other; through Jesus Christ, the Committed Lover of us all. Amen.++