A few weeks ago Kelly and I took Liza for her final fitting on her dress for our wedding. The bridal store was just off Exit Two in Nashua and as I drove down the long exit ramp I suddenly flashed back almost seven years to the time I got off Exit 2 to go to the movies for the first time with Kelly.
At that time in my life just getting out of bed was a challenge. I was in the process of divorcing and I was terrified about what the future would hold and how I could even begin to think about surviving as a single mom. I felt as though I was standing on the edge of a steep, tall cliff and I was either going to crash in pieces at the bottom or figure out how to leap hard enough to make it to the other side. I had lost my sister and one of my best friends within a year of each other, and I was unsure how or even if I could tell my mother that I was finally going to come out as a gay woman. A terrific network of friends surrounded me for whom I will always be grateful, but I was fearful of becoming “that” friend. You know the one. The one you see coming and think ‘Oh great, here comes Katie moaning about her divorce and her dead sister again.” I had no idea which direction to turn in, what road to take or how to parent my child. I was wracked with guilt about hurting my ex-husband and breaking up our family. I was lost. Sitting up one night I searched the computer for any kind of support group that might help a woman in my unique position. While I didn’t exactly find that I did find a notice for a local gay women’s group advertising a Friday night “Food Night”at a restaurant about 25 minutes away. I thought, “Well, I can talk to anyone over dinner. Maybe I’ll meet some new friends.” Let’s be clear here. I was not looking for romance. I was not looking for anything other than maybe finding a few women who might have been through similar situations and who might help me find some good resources to figure out where I was going. Taking a deep breath I emailed the event organizer, got directions and put my name on the list. It was time to start leaping.
I found my way to the tiny strip mall that housed the inauspicious Thai restaurant and entered to find a group of women chatting while the hostess arranged for their large table. A woman in a plaid shirt, baseball hat and I started talking about the latest season of “Survivor” (Pearl Islands in case anyone is keeping track) and instantly bonded over who we were rooting for (Rupert). “I know. Rupert right?” the woman said and then stuck out her hand to shake on it as if our shared backing of a bearded reality show contestant was a deal we were closing. “I’m Kelly.” She said. And so it was.
That night I laughed harder than I had in years. Laughed in a way I thought I’d forgotten how to laugh. Kelly mocked my choice of wine. “Ooh Shiraz…FAN CY!” (I loved this, for, like most people who use humor as crutch, I only mock people I really like). We chatted about seventies television, Oscar winners and tried to out-trivia each other. After dinner she invited me to join her and the group for ice cream down the road and we headed out with her best friend Jackie and Jackie’s then girlfriend in a convertible that nearly took our heads off when Jackie accidentally started raising the top back up. I didn’t recognize myself it was such a leap for me. But all I knew was I was laughing and happy in a way I’d forgotten how to be. When I got home that night I had an email waiting for me from Kelly. (This was pre-Facebook, otherwise I’m sure she would have ‘friend-ed’ me).
A few weeks later Kelly invited me to join her for a movie at a cinema near her home. “I live just off Exit Two” she said giving me directions. I accepted with a combination of excitement and trepidation and as I drove down the exit ramp I wasn’t sure what to expect. But then there she was opening the door of her condo and somewhere deep down I suspected life as I knew it was about to change. I didn’t start dating Kelly that night or for many months to come. I was skittish and nervous and busy trying to make some kind of order out of my new life. But little by little Kelly’s presence in that new life became a constant. She was there shoveling my driveway (which by the way she’s not so enthusiastic about anymore), taking me and Liza on outings and adventures, cooking me risotto, and leaving funny songs and trivia questions on my voice mail each morning. And little by little I found myself letting go of that breath I’d been holding. Little by little I found my smile again, my laugh again, and let down my guard and opened my heart and my life to this woman who lived off of Exit Two.
Today is our wedding day. After nearly seven years of movies, road trips, horrible tennis games, helping Liza with her school projects, and white wine and brie on the deck on Friday nights; after nearly seven years of growing together, leaning on each other, loving each other and most of all laughing with and yes at each other, we are getting legally married. And I’m so glad that the scared woman I was nearly seven years ago took that chance and made that drive down to Exit Two. Happy Wedding Day Kelly. I love you.