Exit Two

2 10 2010

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.



16 08 2010

Six weeks from today I’ll be a married woman. Again. For the most part my path to the altar with Kelly hasn’t been all that much different than any other bride and groom…or bride and bride…or groom and groom. We’ve debated the merits of marinated asparagus spears versus warm spinach puffs, we’ve alternated between hard and fast “That’s. It. No. More. People.” discussions about the guest list and spontaneously inviting people we just met at a party. We’ve ordered and returned at least two or three wedding ensembles between us and grappled with the realization that, as lesbians, we somehow missed the straight girl shoe-shopping gene and have no idea what to wear on our feet on the big day. We made a half-hearted attempt to register at Crate and Barrel but abandoned it when we conceded that two middle-aged women who already live together really don’t need a new set of salad bowls. We’ve curiously fielded some petulance at not being invited and a few out right requests (and an occasional demand) to be invited, and threats of “oh I’ll just crash.” We realized it’s flattering so many people want to be there with us but I admit to feeling more than a little befuddled at the forwardness. (After all my mother quoted Emily Post like the Bible – it would no more occur to me to demand to attend someone’s nuptials than it would to ride my bike naked through the town. I’ll give you a minute to get THAT image out of your head…) And through it all, like most couples on the threshold of matrimony we’ve had moments of looking at each other and thinking “Are we SURE about this?”

Of course we’re sure. I’m sure as can be that Kelly is my lobster, my mate for life. I can’t imagine a life without her humor, her ability to finish my sentences, her reassuring presence at night, her penchant for spending eons in the produce section, the way she always lets me have the big chipped Tiki Lounge coffee mug that used to be hers, and her random “how’s my lady?” text messages. (I could however, do without her continuing insistence that taking photos of me from behind is a good idea). I’ve even made the big name decision and am eager to start referring to myself as Katie Collins. (The minute a co-worker told me it sounded like a talk show host I was sold). I’m sure about the marriage part. It’s the wedding part I’m starting to get scared about. What if I look like Moby Dick in my white suit? What if I spill Shiraz on my white suit? What if all the things we’ve planned that we think are funny…aren’t? What if we’re not taking this seriously enough? What if we’re too flippant? What if my penchant for making fun of myself makes others think it’s open season to do the same? (Hey it’s the fat girls first line of defense, mock yourself before others have the chance to. But sometimes it backfires).

You see, this weekend we attended the wedding of two of our best friends in the world. It was a picture perfect day full of color and flowers, the brides looked drop dead gorgeous and the ceremony was thoughtful and earnest (and hopefully not ruined by the insecure fat girl in the corner who couldn’t stop giggling). It seemed full of meaning. It seemed important. Ours? Is kind of shaping up like a Saturday Night Live skit. Oh sure eventually vows will be exchanged and I’ll finally get to wear my amazing new wedding ring, but for the most part? It’s one big joke-fest. Now it’s true we are those kinds of people. For us humor at our wedding is as important as making sure everyone has plenty to eat and drink. But it’s more than that. Humor for both of us is a defense mechanism when we’re feeling uncomfortable or as a means to deflect attention away from actual deep feelings. And no day is inspiring deeper feelings that my approaching wedding day. I’m to-the-bone afraid of how I’m going to look on my wedding day. I’m not pretty, never have been. I hate myself in photos and am slightly nauseous at the prospect of so many of them. I’m easily 60 pounds overweight with a strangely put together set of features. So I’m hoping if I cover up that particular terror of being on display with a few good one liners no one will notice that I had to have my outfit made because I’m basically too big for retail. (Kelly and Liza of course will be gorgeous, THAT goes without saying!). I know this seems at odds with my work as an actress but that’s different. It’s not me up there then it’s the character. This time it’s allllllll me baby…and that terrifies me.

So I grapple with my doubts and lie awake wondering what I’ve gotten myself into when we just as easily could have waltzed down to city hall, gotten hitched and taken Liza to TGIFriday’s to celebrate. (Hey c’mon, their deep fried green beans are pretty awesome). Why did we think this was necessary? Think of what I could have spared myself — all the angst over the outfit search, the worry over having enough money to pay for a great party, the gnawing cold hole in my heart where my mom and my sister should be during all this planning (oh please my dad would be on the deck with a manhattan). I haven’t been to a wedding in years, now suddenly this summer I’ve been to one with another looming in a few weeks, each one making me wonder if I’m somehow doing this the wrong way, if I really have it in me to pull off a wedding. If that hard edge I have so carefully cultivated can withstand that much well-wishing.

But then in the midst of an ordinary Sunday night dinner of Shake ‘n Bake and asparagus, with the iPod on in the background, Kelly calmly comments that she put the song “Hot Stuff” on her iPod wedding mix and that she’s thought of several new additions to our program, each one more hilarious than the next, and she’s already worked on her vows and wants to go first so she can ‘take all the good jokes”. And I realize that if she’s all in then I’m all in. Jitters or no jitters, fat girl complex or no fat girl complex, insecurities or no insecurities, meaningful ceremony schmeaningful ceremony, this is the right step. I want to marry this woman just the way we planned, with a lot of laughter and in front of a large crowd of our favorite people. Because nothing in this world makes me happier than watching my Kelly make people laugh. And I never ever want to miss a laugh. Here’s to marriage and here’s to laughter and here’s to the lady who has brought both of those things into my life. Cheers.

Dear People of Maine

8 11 2009

maine-lighthouse Dear People of Maine:

This summer I wrote about taking my family to Maine for a    vacation.  I wrote of the deep love I feel for that stretch of Southern Maine from Oqunquit to Falmouth that holds the memories of my childhood and teenage years in every mile.  I wrote about long days on the beach chasing waves, searching for sand dollars, and grappling with the ghosts of family who haunted me at every turn. I wrote about the satisfaction of sharing stories of skee-ball prowess at Old Orchard with my brother and illicit bar crawls through Portland with my sister.  I wrote of the quiet emptiness that came of gathering at my parent’s gravesite and the need to connect with my home state and its people in places as pedestrian as the local Hannaford or cultured as the Portland Museum of Art.  During our days and nights on Higgins Beach we blended seamlessly with every other family there.  Why shouldn’t we?  We, after all, were just another family trying to keep the beach umbrella from blowing away and wondering if 10am was too early to open the big bag of sour cream and onion potato chips.  The fact that my family had two moms instead of a mom and a dad never turned anyone’s head. And really, why should it have?  In fact the house we rented for that glorious week belonged to an old friend from high school and her wife.  Clearly this was a welcoming community in a welcoming state.

As we drove down Route One that August Saturday on our way home, crammed into my jeep Liberty, tanned, with our stash of Len Libby Chocolate jammed near the air conditioning vents so it wouldn’t melt, I felt a tug at my heart as I realized that as much as I’ve come to feel at home in the rocky individualistic landscape of New Hampshire, Maine would always be the home that welcomed me back again and again.

Until last Tuesday.

Last spring when Maine Governor John Baldacci gave his stamp of approval to legislation allowing gays and lesbians to marry I rejoiced.  The momentum of that act carried forward to June when New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed marriage equality into law as well.   Kelly and I talked about how great it was to have the option to either get married here in the state we both call home or perhaps to entertain ideas of a seaside wedding in Ogunquit, our favorite quick jaunt destination.   During those days it never occurred to me that the people of Maine would vote to approve a referendum grounded in  hatred, discrimination, and injustice and take away the right that had been granted.   When I woke Wednesday morning to the news of the previous days voting on Referendum One I felt as though I had been punched in the stomach.  To quote the character I’m playing in a show right now “how selfish and how cruel.”  Selfish to feel that one has the audacious right to vote on whether another human being can marry the person she loves and cruel to exercise that vote with such callous disregard for the people and families it will affect.

This week had been hard on many fronts.  Liza was sick and out of school for two days which necessitated the tried and true “working mom of a sick kid” juggling act.  Two shows at the theater I work at had me driving back to work as soon as Kelly got home from her job as a nurse to relieve me at home.  A long frustrating search for a costume for my show had left me as usual hating the oversized and oddly-shaped body I inhabit and envying the young slender women who had a world of costumes to choose from.  By Saturday tempers were flaring at home as the stir-craziness of the sick house set in.  My peri-menopausal hormones in full swing I snapped at Liza for her attitude and petulance and burst into tears when Kelly made a joke about my costume hunt.  When I returned from the theater that evening, I was greeted by a scene that made me cry for completely different reasons.  Kelly informed me she and Liza had shared many long talks, folded laundry together, made and ate dinner together (Liza set and cleared the table), researched astrology and family trees on the internet, and that during that time Kelly had gently asked Liza to “give mommy a break now and then.”  The house of turmoil I had left was clean and calm.  I apologized for my tears and outburst and they shared the knowing look of two people who had decided the third was lovably crazy and told me it was ok.  As we turned in for the night I reflected on how blessed I was to have my girls.

This family scene could have been replayed thousands of times over in homes all across the country.  The fact that the players were two women and a child rather than a man, woman, and child bears no consequence.  This is my family, yes but at the end of the day it is just a family like any other — one full of hugs and hurts and tears and misunderstandings and game nights and grocery store runs and school chorus concerts and holiday traditions and vacation trips to the beaches of Maine.

So to the people of Maine I ask what is so threatening about this family picture?  The ugly prospect of joint newspaper subscriptions and arguments over which way to hang the toilet paper?  The repulsive thought of Kelly and I discussing who took the garbage out last? The terrifying concept of us being able to make medical decisions for each other without carrying around a lawyers briefcase full of legal documents?  The horrifying idea that there would be two moms from one family volunteering at the pizza table at the school fundraiser?  The disgusting image of our holiday Christmas cards?   We are your neighbors, your brothers, your sisters, your mothers and fathers and your friends.  We are next to you in church and in front of you at the movies.  We cheer our kids on the soccer field and dance recital stages.  We complain about our tax burden with you and gather in the morning to relive the best moments of the Super Bowl or the American Idol finale.  We care for our elderly parents and struggle to make ends meet in difficult times.   And in these difficult times we want what you want – to build a life and a legacy with the person we love.

And finally, dear People of Maine, let me reassure you that if a vote comes my way asking me if I feel it is ‘right’ for heterosexuals to marry each other or if I feel it is a threat to my way of life, I will remember this week and the way I felt and I will not turn my back on you as you have on me.  I will stand up for equality for everyone.  Because it’s the right thing to do.

Is a Katie By Any Other Name Still a Katie?

25 10 2009

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with my last name.   Growing up, my last name of Youngs put me at the end of every class list.  I spent twelve years looking at the back of Michael Wilson’s head in various homerooms and in high school of course the fates assigned me a locker next to James Young who was about a foot shorter than me and therefore always had to duck out of the way when I opened my top locker door.   In college it mean t I spent graduation sitting next to Patricia Yurkinas and Pete Yauch, two people I had managed to go four years without ever having met.   I spent 23 years explaining to  people that  my last name was indeed “Young’ with an ‘s’ on the end and my unfortunate handwriting caused more than one form letter to be addressed to Katie Yangs.

BNP last namesIn 1989 I married Liza’s dad David and happily took his last name of Goodman.  “Finally,” I thought…”a nice last name in the early part of the Alphabet, but not so early that I will end up in the front of the line for anything. ”  And so for the next 15 years I went merrily along without giving much of a thought to my name, which now seemed perfect.  My career progressed, my network of contacts and friends grew, I was appearing in many local theater productions, and slowly I built a career and some semblance of a professional and artistic reputation under the name Katie Goodman.

When Liza was five years old her dad and I made the difficult decision to end our marriage.  I’ll always be proud of the way we moved forward amicably, keeping Liza in the forefront of all decisions, and of the two loving homes we have created for her.    When our divorce was fresh I decided to keep my married name reasoning that I wanted the same name as my daughter and I wanted to keep my professional identity, which seemed to rest on this name.   Then David got remarried and suddenly there were two “Mrs. Goodmans.”  I wanted to honor his new wife’s place in his family, and gently told Liza I was thinking about retaking my maiden name.   Her howls of protest were deafening.   “People won’t know you’re my mommmmmmmm!” She wailed.   “We won’t be a fammmmmiiillllly!”   (Why is it that only 8 year olds know how to draw out otherwise lovely and benign words like ‘mom’ and ‘family’ to the point where they be come unbearable?) . I succumbed to her pleas and, let’s be honest, gave in to my inherent laziness and loathing for red tape, and  never  took the next step to change my name.

The subject lay dormant until early June when New Hampshire passed its’ landmark marriage equality bill.   Kelly and I had gone out to dinner to celebrate this historic occasion and the more pedestrian installation of our new carpet.   As we sat in our car bathed by the lights of Elm Street we spontaneously proposed to each other and symbolically moved our rings from our right to our left hands.   Later as we toasted our engagement with a fine shiraz at the Firefly Bistro I proclaimed “I can’t wait to marry you Kelly Ann Collins.”  “And I can’t wait to marry you Mary Katherine…uh….Youngs…uh Goodman,” she replied.    Huh.   What WAS my name anyway?  Understandably Kelly wasn’t too keen about marrying me with a last name that belonged to my ex husband,.  I realized the time had come to really get serious about changing my name back to Youngs.

But I was about to be thrown another curveball.

This week, when I told Kelly that I promised to move forward with finally going back to my maiden name she said “well since you’re going to change it why not just change it to Collins?”   In a million years I never thought that this marriage would be one that asked yet another name change of me.   “Hmmm,” I joked “don’t you think Katie and Kelly Collins sounds just a wee bit precious?”  “I think it sounds great!” she said.  “Well why don’t you take MY name?” I proposed.  “Because I’ve had this name for 42 years and I like it “ she said…you’ve already gone ‘round willy-nilly changing your name so I figure you can do it again right?”

“But,” I protested, “so much of my famly is gone now I feel strongly I want to preserve my family name and go back to Youngs.”   Of course  the 10-year old peanut gallery had to chime in from the dining room table where it was finishing up its math homework.   “Mommmmmm” (there it is again)  “your brother has the last name Youngs and he has three boys and they’ll get married and have kids and there will be lots more Youngs, so you can keep your name the way it is…Goodman.”   “But…”  said Kelly.  “But… “ said Liza.

“ENOUGH!”  I bellowed.  “This is my name and my name only and at the end of the day none of you get to decide what my name is…not you Liza, not you Kelly , not my ex husband, and not the guy at the coffee shop.”   They grudgingly and a bit sullenly went back to their homework and dinner clean up while I pondered how my name could produce such a strong reaction in them.   While, I had tried to reassure Liza that of course we’d still be a family no matter what my last name was.  I battled with the niggling worry that without the same last name as my daughter I would somehow lose that public recognition that I was her mother especially now that her dad and step-mom had another baby who shared her last name and were the very picture of a traditional family.  Would there be confusion at school? Would they still call me in emergencies or immediately call her dad and step mom?  Would I be relegated to the sidelines? Would it be weird?   I also struggled with Kelly’s desire that I take her name and the resentment I felt at her assumption that I would be the one who did so.  Was I still the ‘former straight person” in this relationship who would be asked to assume the more traditional role of wife?  I. Don’t. Think. So.   But then I haven’t been Katie Youngs in nearly 20 years.  The name sounds foreign and strange on my tongue and I’d have to give up my carefully perfected Katie Goodman scrawl on the bottom of documents and checks.   Even this blog bears my married name in its URL, even THAT would have to change.  Why is this issue of my name so loaded for so many?   Who am I anyway? Who have I been these past five years that I clung to my married name. Who should I be next year at this time?

What do you think?