I asked Gabbie to marry me.
Her answer? "No. You don't mean it."
I was stunned. "How many times do I have to ask before you'll believe that I'm serious? Gabbie---will you marry me?"
My begging must have been what she was waiting for, because she quickly changed her answer. "Ok, yes. Yes I will!"
Gabbie's family was shocked when we told them the news. Her mother asked, "When did this happen?"
"Just a minute ago, at the bocce court."
To which her father quipped, "I didn't realize bocce was so romantic."
My parents were speechless when I told them a few days later. The best thing they said came from my mother, "Oh........well, that's great," in her fake-happy voice.
What was great, was that my plan worked. The proposal bought me more time to evaluate my relationship with Gabbie. Originally she wanted to get married after we graduated the following June. But her mother said that was too soon, we needed to get jobs first. So I had more than a year to decide what I wanted to do.
The engagement was the summer before senior year. In October Gabbie called me at school to tell me some news, "I've arranged to spend Jan Term at St. Stephens."
St. Stephens is a pseudonym for a college that is located in the same small town as mine. "Jan Term" is the middle part of a 4-1-4 academic calendar. It's a semester system where you take four classes in the Fall, four in the Spring, and one during January. Jan Term.
I liked the idea of having her at St. Stephens for the month of January. Now that I was a senior and graduation loomed, I realized that I did not want to leave school. My college had a few one year internships that were available only to members of the most recent graduating class and I was thinking of applying for one. Getting Gabbie to support the extra year away from California was important because I knew that she expected me to come back immediately after graduation.
San Francisco never gets snow and in January a typical day's temperature starts in the high 30s and warms to the 50s. The weather at my school was very different. Although the sun was usually out, there was always a lot of snow on the ground and a typical January low was 5 degrees---far colder than San Francisco.
Gabbie received an unpleasant winter welcome when we arrived on the first Sunday in January.
To get to the town from the airport we had to take a bus. The bus dropped us off in the center of the small town and we had to walk six long blocks to her dormitory at St. Stephens. It was less than a mile distant, but half of the walk was uphill. I had begged Gabbie to pack lightly for this trip and she did much better than she had in England. Still, the walk took about 40 minutes. When we made it to her room the first thing she said was, "My shins are really burning."
I looked closely at her legs. On each of them was a bright red splotch of burned skin. "That's frostbite. You have frostbite. Why are you walking around with your legs exposed?"
"I have my pants rolled up because they look better that way. Besides, it wasn't MY idea to go off the sidewalk and march through a field."
The frostbite wasn't severe but she complained about it for the entire month. That first hour turned out to be very indicative of Gabbie's Jan Term. Not only did she hate the weather but she struggled to tolerate my friends. "They're all a bunch of weirdos. I mean, the women don't even shave their armpits. It's disgusting." Clearly Gabbie was much more comfortable in the Izod-clad halls of a catholic school.
On the positive side, Gabbie did a good job of keeping her opinions to herself. None of my friends ever said anything negative about her and she was always friendly to them, 'the weirdos.'
One perk of having her with me for a month was that she got to know my two best friends, Todd and Donny. Todd is an only child raised by his mother near Hoboken, New Jersey. He is the Ryan Seacrest of political reporting and a skilled social climber. Everyone who meets him loves him.
Donny grew up on the South Side of Chicago. He liked to say he was a polish jew but many people thought he was an obnoxious loudmouth. Gabbie liked to call him Fred Flintstone. That's an apt description of his personality, but his looks are more like Barney Rubble.
Both Todd and Donny have been quite successful. Todd writes for a major newspaper and has been a panelist for at least one presidental debate. Donny is a political consultant and community organizer. He has played a key role in several successful grass-roots senatorial races.
More about those two later.
Gabbie's Jan Term at St. Stephens killed any chance I had of working for my college after graduation. She hated the weather, never really clicked with the people and missed her family and friends too much. And there was no way she would agree to let me stay alone for another year.
With that job out the running I flew home for Spring Break to job hunt. During the week I was home, the best job I could find was in a retailer's management training program. Kill me now, that job sucked.
After we graduated we lived with our parents for a few weeks. This was pure torture for me so when Gabbie suggested moving in together I was all for it. There was some tension about where we should live because I didn't want to do an hour's commute from Gabbie's home town. We compromised on a location near her college because apartments were easy to find. Gabbie rented a two bedroom for $2000 a month.
Within four months we had to give up the apartment because it was too expensive for us. Money had become a contentious issue because my income was crap and hers was worse. She worked as a photographer's assistant.
In our last week at that apartment we got into our biggest fight yet. Our lack of money was the immediate cause but it quickly expanded to other areas. One of those was my apparent lack of motivation to set a wedding date. "Why won't you agree to a date?"
"I just think we need to be in a better place financially. And I don't see what the hurry is."
"Ya, right! My parents are paying for the wedding so what difference does it make what we have? The truth is, you don't WANT to get married."
"That is not true."
"Then pick a date."
"I just told you that I think we should wait a while."
"There's something else going on with you. I just know there is."
"What? What could it be? We couldn't even afford this two bedroom. How can you say that money isn't the issue?"
Gabbie gave me a hostile stare, then snarled, "Are you gay?"
A wave of terror flowed through me, then thoughts flashed in my head in rapid succession: Truth? Freedom! Her anger. My exposure! Life upside down. Sacrifices for naught. What next? A future alone?
Stop! What should I answer?
But before I could think any further, my mouth opened and a defiant, sneering "No" came out.
Satisfied by that answer, at least for the moment, Gabbie folded her arms across her chest and said, "Fine! But I'm not waiting forever to set a date!"
Later, I berated myself. why did I say no?!!!! For more than two years I had waited for the chance to answer that question again. Why, why, why did I say no? It was one thing to lie to a girl I had known for a few days but it was something else entirely to lie to my fiance' of more than a year. If I had done the right thing, I would have told her the truth.
The reason I held back, I decided, was because I was angry. In my pre-puberty days I did an astoundingly poor job of controlling my anger. I was far worse than every other kid and I endured plenty of teasing because of it. But at puberty, somehow a switch was flipped and I was able to deal with anger very passively. As long as I didn't speak, or said as little as possible, I could stifle a savage fury long enough to allow it to crest and then subside. To an observer, I appeared modestly irritated, not angry.
If Gabbie had asked me in any other context, I think, I would have told her the truth. But with the anger from the fight boiling in me I had to muzzle it and say as little as possible. So I just said, "No."
That was what I told myself for many months after that fight.
Our new apartment only somewhat reduced Gabbie's irritability. In an effort to be as thrifty as possible, I picked a $450 studio. It was about 500 square feet and she had so much shit that it was as if we lived in a tiny warehouse; there were stuffed boxes everywhere. Her father help us move in and when he saw the place he said, quite incredulously, "You're going to live here?" Gabbie hated the place. I didn't like it much either, but I loved the low rent.
A few months later, in mid-February of 1989, I got a new, somewhat less shitty job working in a bank. And in June of that year I was able to get Gabbie hired for the same job with the same company in a different branch. With "real" jobs at last, Gabbie got me to set the date for the wedding: April 21, 1990.
With the wedding date chosen, one of my only responsibilities was to choose the groomsmen. I picked Todd as my best man, plus Donny, Qais, Gabbie's brother, and two cousins of mine. Both Todd and Donny were in the class behind me at school so they were in the final months of their senior year. Part of the reason I wanted to work at the college for a year was so that I could hang with them that whole time.
When I called Todd to ask him to be my best man, after he said yes, he said, "Cam, I have to tell you something."
"Are you serious???"
"It's true, I'm gay."
"Sorry, but I'm a little shocked! Why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"I just started telling my closest friends in the last few weeks."
I knew Todd very well but I had never wondered if he might be gay. He was hardly macho but I still had never thought about it. I suppose the best clue was that he was the only kid at my college who actually ironed his clothes. He even ironed his jeans. Every day. Once during his freshman year a bunch of us on the floor "polyester raped" him---we forcibly dressed him in polyester-only clothing. It was such fun to torture him with synthetic fiber.
Another reason that I had never wondered if Todd might be gay was because I had never thought of him in a sexual way. He gave off an asexual vibe that made everyone want to kiss him on the forehead, not the lips. He collected friends by the dozen and he's no different now---he has 2,840 friends on Facebook and he's wearing a tuxedo in his picture.
Todd went on to tell me more about his coming out process. I listened, somewhat jealously, as he told me that everyone had accepted him very positively. Coming out, he said, was turning out to be easier than he thought.
"Damn, Todd. I really wish you had told me sooner."
"I'm telling you now, isn't that good enough?"
"Actually, no. I would have liked to have known sooner...we could have, you know, talked a lot more about it. Because...I...well...I'm gay too."
"Are YOU serious?!"
"If that's true then WHY are you getting married?"
"Um...I...she...Ok, the thing is, I want the story-book life. I want the wife, the 2.3 kids, the white picket fence. I know it's all a big cliche' but it's what I want more than anything else."
"But is that a real marriage?"
"Real enough. I mean, the thing is, I just can't let my sexuality rule my life. I know I'm weird, I'm a freak. I know lots of people would be morally outraged that I'm gay and I am willingly marrying a woman, and, believe me, I think about it all the time, but this is what I want to do."
With skepticism in his voice, "Have you told her?"
"No." I searched for the right words to satisfy him. "She wouldn't take it well. She's had two old boyfriends that dumped her for guys already so she's a little freaky about that topic. She's not homophobic or anything, one of her best friends is gay. It's just that if I thought it would be good for our relationship to tell her, I would. I just think it would make her feel very insecure so it's better that I not tell her."
"I see." It was an emotionless reply.
"Todd. Please don't give me any shit. I want you to be my best man. Will you please say you'll do it?"
"I already did!"
"Cool. Thank you. You're my hero."
For weeks after that conversation with Todd, I tortured myself with what-if questions. What if Todd had come out to me a year earlier? What if I was still able to hang out with him on a daily basis, would he try to convince me not to get married? Would Todd have been interested in me? If things had happened differently, could he and I be a couple now? What if I had stayed the extra year? And on and on. Eventually I wore myself out with my questions---until the next time I talked with him---then I'd go through the same series again. If I had known a year ago, would my whole life be entirely different now?
Financially Gabbie and I were doing better. In October we bought a one bedroom condo for $62,500. The condo was about forty minutes from both of our jobs so the location sucked, however Gabbie's family was big into real estate so they encouraged us to buy it. It was our first "real" place. We had furnished the first apartment with hand-me-down furniture---it looked exactly like a college student's apartment. The studio was basically a storage room that we slept in. So, the relative spaciousness of the condo gave us the first opportunity to play house. That is, for me to make improvements, for her to decorate and for us to shop to furnish it.
By early February Gabbie's attention had shifted to the wedding. It had turned into a somewhat monstrous affair, 230 people with full mass at a cathedral in San Francisco followed by a sit-down dinner, open bar and live band for the reception at a private club. I had no say in any of the arrangements. Gabbie, actually, had very little say either. It was her mother's party and she barely disguised that fact: "I'm paying for it so of course I get to make the choices."
The wedding was very much on my mind too. Unlike many 23 year old guys I was not afraid of commitment; I felt like I had already surrendered my testicles three and a half years before. Being married wouldn't make much of a difference that way. Instead, my fear was that I KNEW I absolutely preferred sex with men and yet I was marrying a woman. Could I be happy? Would I be tempted to cheat? Would I later be filled with regret? Was the marriage doomed, and if so, why get married in the first place?
The frenzy of the last-minute wedding preparations mirrored the frenzied fears in my head. The closer the day was, the more uncertain I felt. Then came Sunday, Easter Sunday, six days before the wedding.
Leo was Gabbie's maternal grandfather. He was born in the Piedmonte region of Italy and emigrated to San Francisco with his parents when he was four.
Leo's first and only career was as a banker in North Beach, the Italian neighborhood of San Francisco. For decades he was known as the "Mayor of North Beach" because many of the neighborhood's merchants relied upon him to help their businesses.
Leo was a very personable, chatty guy who loved to laugh and tell stories. He also liked to sing Italian folk songs and would do so at every family dinner. He was the undisputed patriarch of his family. I had my own grandparents, who I had known and loved my whole life, and I had known quite a few older people through my work at the bank, but none of them inspired me the way Leo did.
Once I had accepted myself as gay and welcomed the fantasies of boys that flowed so naturally thereafter, I realized that the essence of my attraction was not precisely sexual. It was more complicated than that. When I saw a good looking boy my heart raced and I lusted for him, but more than anything I wanted to BE that boy. I wanted his beautiful golden hair or his slight, dimpled smile or his full, rounded pecs or his athletic calves or whatever good looking or sexy quality he had.
While talking, laughing and listening to Leo at Easter dinner I realized that, for the first time in my life, I wanted to be another man, but not in a sexual way.
I knew I could never be the Italian grandfather who could sing and tell stories, so I didn't covet that quality. Instead what I wanted was to feel the extreme love that Leo felt from his children and grandchildren. When I looked at Leo at age 82, nearing the end of his life, I KNEW that in my final days I wanted a life like his. I wanted to be the beloved patriarch, surrounded by a plethora of children and grandchildren who adored me with a passion they could barely contain.
I didn't grow up in a bad family. There was no divorce, no fighting, no arguing. But I didn't grow up in a good family either. We merely existed. Four individuals who shared a house for a few years, a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. Experiencing Leo and the rest of Gabbie's family made me realize how much I desired something I had never had. I had known since I was a young kid that I wanted to be a father, so that idea was not new. What was new, after having experienced a great family, was that I KNEW I had to spend the rest of my life working to replicate what Leo had built.
For the first time in my three and a half years with Gabbie I realized that I could love her as a partner. My love would not be particularly sexual, but it would be love nonetheless, and in the long run that love could prove to be far more important and far more enduring than lust. So, six days before the wedding, at Easter Dinner, I found peace with my decision to marry a woman.
Five days later it was Gabbie who was having second thoughts.