Exactly three days after Birk breaks up with me, I receive the most unexpected email, from someone who has never emailed me before.
Now with the summer ending (and Anna leaving for her new job and such, the nerve of some people!) you have the distinct honor of being one of the few people I actually know in this company, so I was wondering if you are around the exciting metropolis of Craptown if you wanted to grab a coffee or a drink sometime?
Calpurnius who? Oh right, the husband of Slamantha who she left for Bebe’s husband Mike. I’m very surprised to hear from him. I have never talked to him outside of a big party with lots of other people; I would classify him as an acquaintance, not a friend. I vaguely recall seeing him in passing when I got back from Seoul. I had decided when I first met him that I didn’t like him. The unkempt beard and unstyled mass of curly brown hair do him no favors. But then I recall the piles of graphic novels and Simpsons DVDs at his house. Maybe he is someone I would want to know better, and it’s not like I have anything else going on.
Hey Calpurnius, thanks for the email! You've caught me at a good time--although I have a lot of work, my social calendar is wide open right now. I would love to get together sometime. Thursday, Friday, or sometime on the weekend are the best for me. Let me know when you're free.
We decide to go see a movie on the weekend. I tell him about how much I want to see the Simpsons movie but there’s no one here who will see it with me, so we go to that together. It turns out he’s as big a nerd as I am, maybe even more. It’s a fun afternoon, and finding someone at last to share my nerdy pop culture obsessions takes some of the sting out of the end of my relationship with Birk.
A week later, I email Calpurnius the trailer for the new Iron Man movie and soon we’re swapping half-remembered details of B-list Avengers. I mention the Scarlet Witch—didn’t she marry a robot? I can’t recall the name. He writes,
She married the Vision, who was actually a robot clone thing built off of Wonder-man (talk about a B-List hero), with whom the Scarlet Witch had fallen in love, but then Wonder-man died (I am ashamed to say I collected his miniseries). The Vision became part of everyone's favorite book, the West Coast Avengers, complete with a recovering alcoholic Ant Man/Giant-Man/Goliath/Hank Pym as their red jump-suited handy man, but then Wonder-man came back to life, so there was apparently awkward tension between him and his robot copy who incidentally didn't have emotions.
Somehow I do not feel as exalted as one would expect for remembering such things.
I laugh out loud when I read this. It’s by far the best email I’ve received in ages. The nostalgia for comics I haven’t looked at since high school, the surprise at discovering someone who shares my love for superhero comics, it’s amazing. My first impulse is just to write back, marry me! But that might be misinterpreted and maybe a touchy subject at the moment so instead I just ask if he also read Alpha Flight, which is the Canadian Avengers, which yes he has, and the Great Lakes Avengers, too. Now there is a D-list team.
Soon we are spending almost all our time together. His office is only one floor above mine, and he drops by to say hello at least once a day. On the weekends we go out to dinner, or he comes to my place to watch Battlestar Galactica. Surprisingly, for such a dedicated sci fi nerd, he has never watched the new series, so we binge it together on regularly scheduled Battlestar nights.
It’s nice to have a nerd friend here, something that has been sorely lacking since I moved to Craptown. Slowly, I realize that it was not him I disliked, but Slamantha. I tell him that I was also recently dumped (although in very different circumstances, of course). We share bitter, cynical pronouncements about the failure of all romantic relationships and the general shittiness of all people.
“By the way,” I ask over dinner at a mediocre Italian restaurant, “I always felt like Slamantha and Bebe were purposely excluding me, but maybe I was just being paranoid.”
“Oh no, they totally were,” he says with a certainty that astounds me. “Whenever Bebe was planning something, Slamantha would always say, ‘We don’t have to invite her, do we?’”
“Oh my god, that’s hilarious! I can’t believe it was really true! It’s because she was jealous that Mike liked me, right?”
“Yup, that’s it.”
“Ew, gross! I don’t know what she sees in him.”
Calpurnius looks glum. “I don’t know. I just figured maybe bald is the new sexy.”
“Ha!” He’s cracking jokes but I can tell he’s still really hurting. “I assure you it’s not. They deserve each other. The hell with both of them. And Birk too, fuck that guy.”
We clink our glasses together in agreement.
I reflect on how much I like having a close friend here at last, even if it is a guy. Actually it’s a relief that I’m not at all interested in dating him, and we can just be friends. If we were dating, I would probably be much harder on him, getting annoyed over trivial things, having big expectations of his behavior and getting angry when he doesn’t meet my expectations. But since we’re just friends, it’s ok. If he canceled Battlestar night one week, I wouldn’t get all bent out of shape. But he never cancels.
At the same time, I start thinking seriously about how I can have a kid on my own. As much as I like this little rental house, it just feels too small to raise a kid in. I want my life to be more settled and to have a bigger place. Not to be deterred by job insecurity, lingering doubts over whether to stay in Craptown, or the fact that our economy is teetering on the brink of 1930s-style disaster, I decide to plunge headlong into the real estate market, or at least to stick one toe in.
I get preapproved for a mortgage and set up some showings with a real estate agent. It's free to look, right? I decide to take my time looking around at what's available, as I assume the process will take a long time. And it’s a better use of my free time than looking at internet dating sites.
I start by looking at the real estate websites. The houses in Craptown are ridiculously cheap because of widespread poverty and the fact that no one wants to live here. A quick online search turns up at least two dozen houses for under $10,000, and some for even less. There’s even one for $6900. That's less than a car! Less than a crappy used car!
Ok, so those are all former crack houses in the bad part of town. I set my budget significantly higher, in search of a place with less chance of home invasion, where I might reasonably live as a single female. Calpurnius lives right at the edge of the bad side of town, and he’s already had two bicycles stolen from his garage, and once caught a guy trying to steal his leaf blower. The cops could barely be bothered to write up a report.
The nice part of town has a lot of charming older houses, 1920s Arts and Crafts style bungalows, but too often some insane granny has crammed them with fake Victorian bric-a-brac and lots of plastic foliage. I see a photo of a pink living room that I'm sure smells like Febreze and shih tzus.
What I really want is a Victorian mansion with a household full of servants, but since we live in these utilitarian modern times, I must relinquish that dream. There are quite a few turn of the century Victorian houses in town but the ones I can afford are sadly run down and not very nice. I look at several houses built in the 1890s that are beautiful on the outside, but upon entering reveal tacky interiors from the 1970s and 1980s: wood and glass windows replaced with cracked, aging plastic, hideous shag carpet laid over linoleum, utterly spoiling the original hardwood floors; "kountry kitchen" updates with flimsy particle board cabinets and dingy wallpaper featuring geese or teddy bears wearing clothes. It's really shocking how much money these homeowners have squandered on bad taste.
To my surprise, however, within two weeks I find the perfect place and make an offer, which the sellers accept. It's a cute little place built in 1928 in excellent condition, all hardwood floors and no yucky carpet anywhere, very close to my work. And it has a dishwasher !!! and a disposal !!!! and a garage door opener !!!! This will be my first time in my adult life living with such luxuries.
No, it’s not the house with the pink living room, but it does have a pink bathroom, all original tile, which is pretty cool. The only unfortunate decorating error the current owners made was painting the dining room magenta, a color Calpurnius refers to as “uterine.” That will be changed.
It has three small bedrooms and a finished basement. The second bedroom is painted lavender--the daughter's room in every single house I looked at was painted that exact shade. It's like there was a conspiracy among the paint sellers. I think I will make that room the office. The third bedroom is really small, almost like a walk-in closet, but it can serve as a guest room for now. I invite my friends in Raser City to come visit and stay in my guest closet.
The most dismal prospect now is the idea of picking up all my stuff and moving it to a new place. I was just feeling relief after all the stress of moving last year. But moving sucks no matter when it happens, and hopefully moving one mile away will be less stressful than moving across the country.
After signing the papers, I alternate between excitement and stomach-churning anxiety, because I can never make a big decision without rethinking it a million times. My mother says, "You're making yourself crazy!" She is correct.
My subconscious, apparently working overtime, comes up with a succession of nightmare scenarios one restless night, in which I dream that I go to look at the house again and discover first that the kitchen is like a graveyard of dead and dying appliances, with at least four semi-functioning refrigerators, then I notice that the kitchen is actually outside the house. You might think that one would notice something like that but in Seoul years ago I did live in a house where the bathroom was outside, but I didn't realize it until I had moved in.
In reality, there are some things about the house that need to be fixed. At the top of the list is the window coverings. The sellers don't seem to care that all of the windows are completely bare and open to the outside. This is not the way I was raised: in my family, the old Jewish paranoia is very strong--never let the neighbors see into the house and know what you are doing. Shades must be drawn tight at all times. While I am trying live down generational trauma and not act like I’m expecting the ominous knock on the door at any moment, I don’t like the idea of living in a fishbowl. In any case, I need something to protect my lovely new furniture from the sun.
Also high on the list of improvements is replacing the electric stove with a gas stove. On a random free weekend, I go off to price a new gas range, but end up extremely depressed with how boring and ugly all modern appliances are. What is the point of getting the William Morris wallpaper to create the perfect Arts & Crafts dining room if the kitchen motif is "Sears Labor Day Weekend Sale"? I’m also harassed by the sales dude in the store, who leers at me and assumes out loud that I’m a football widow doing some shopping while my husband watches the game with the boys. No! Fuck you, you polyester and toupee wearing asshole.
There is in fact a big college football game that day. I had been given free tickets at work, which I give to my neighbor the divorced dad firefighter. He’s very excited to go to the game with his girlfriend, but it doesn’t do them much good. Judging by the evidence, they get drunk and she dumps him, or maybe admits to cheating on him--I can hear him yelling for hours in the middle of the night. I try to eavesdrop on their shouting match, but all I can hear is "FUCK!" over and over.
Strangely, in the morning her car is still in the driveway, even though I distinctly heard him yell around 2 am "GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE!"
It puts my relationships problems into perspective.
In another attempt to have a social life that doesn’t revolve around dating, I join a local community chorus. I’m assured that they are a secular group but the rehearsals are in a Methodist church they all belong to and they sing a “doxology” before eating lunch. Most of the main concerts in the upcoming year will feature Baroque music: Vivaldi Gloria, Haydn Schopfungmesse, then later Mozart Requiem and maybe even Regina Coeli (I hope). This is all beautiful music that I love.
But at the end of September there is a quick concert of contemporary hymns and psalms, all in
English. It's annoying to learn because the music is so inferior to those Baroque pieces I was promised. Everyone else has been singing these songs for years, so the conductor is expecting perfection while I'm still sight reading. While I don't mind singing a religious music in Latin, singing similar things in English really bugs me. It's hard for me to sing things like "o sacred head now wounded" or "when friends by sin are undefiled" without smirking. All this praising and adoring--is god so insecure that he needs constant reassurance? I've committed to participate this year, but we'll see how it goes; this group might be too churchy for me.
The inspections and preparations for closing on the new house move forward slowly. My real estate agent keeps warning me that things could fall through at any moment for a variety of reasons, but miraculously we keep moving forward, and I even get the sellers to do some renovations for me. Closing and move in is still at least two months away.
I make it through singing in the horrible Jesus concert with my new chorus. Every time I sing "fairest Lord Jesus" and "how I love thee o head o head" I die a little bit inside. And as if that weren't bad enough, there are some spirituals and gospel songs, which everyone else thinks are "fun." Right. The only thing worse than when an all-white, totally square choir tries to sing gospel is when opera singers put out albums of pop music. Have they no shame? It can't be over soon enough, and we can move on to the Latin masses which are so much better. I really don’t get the "Jesus is your buddy" sycophantic adoration. I was raised with the smiting god of the Old Testament. Bring on the solvet saeclum in favilla and the cuncta stricte.
There’s a teenage girl in the chorus who is blind. The soprano section leader, a middle-aged busybody, appoints herself as the girl’s protector and guide, but she does a terrible job of it, often stranding her or being patronizing and overbearing. As we all stand next to each other in the soprano section, I try to help the girl out as much as I can. I don’t have devvy feelings for her, of course, since she’s female and a child, but it frustrates me to see how the section leader and the conductor are being so awkward and unhelpful around her. I want to step in when I can. I try to treat her like a normal person, which no one else in this chorus seems to be able to do. In any case, she seems quite capable and self-assured.
Calpurnius comes to the concert, even though I told him he didn’t have to, what with all the crappy music. He used to play trombone in his high school band and orchestra so he knows music theory, and agrees with me about the bad music in the concert, but he comes anyway. Unfortunately no one involved in running the chorus bothered to publicize the concert, so there are very few people there. It was nice of Cal to come. Afterward he tells me he can’t believe that lady nearly ran the blind girl into a wall at the side of the stage.
Immediately after the concert, we start preparing for the Christmas concert of the predictably awful holiday songs, including (the horror) a four part choral arrangement of "O Hannukah" which the director introduces with much blathering about diversity and inclusiveness, while staring right at me the entire time. Then he says there was no time to hold auditions, so solos have “been assigned.” I get two solo lines singing in Hebrew in “O Hanukkah.” What a surprise.
As we are now learning all new music, I am discovering that the group is not as capable as I first thought. I’m amazed at the other sopranos around me just braying out wrong notes, over and over again, stabbing almost at random for the pitches. Not that I am any good at sight reading myself, but when I hear discord, I at least back off, rather than simply singing louder, which is what these women do.
The section leader informs me that the reason she regularly sings at least a third under the pitch is because she has a "big voice" which makes it harder to hit the note exactly right. I just stare back at her in disbelief. What I want to say is, "Wow, so your enormous talent prevents you from singing the music the way it's written? I have the exact same problem, but you know, even more so."
Calpurnius agrees to accompany me on a trip to Amish country to purchase some new furniture for the new house. I make up my mind about what to buy uncharacteristically quickly, and place an order for delivery in a few weeks. We spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the tourist trap/museum of the Amish, which is actually 10% informational and 90% gift shop, or rather a complex of gift shops in the form of calculatedly quaint wooden buildings.
I’m tempted to purchase a bonnet, but they’re only selling fakey kinds like you might see on the Little House on the Prairie TV show, not the cool little caps the real Amish women wear. I give up on buying any souvenirs. Instead we gorge ourselves at the old-timey soda fountain on vanilla malts and cherry phosphates, and stock up on homemade pickles and cheese.
I close on the new house at last. Woo hoo! It’s been so long since I made the offer it was starting to seem unreal, but now I am officially a homeowner. Now comes the irritating part, of trying to coordinate the actual move and unpacking, before I can get to the fun part of decorating in earnest.
Due to poor planning on my part, I also have to sing in another concert the day after I’m scheduled to move. On the program this time: Vivaldi's Gloria and Mozart's Regina Coeli and Misericordias Domini. Great music, but it would be nice if we could sing it properly. We are to perform with a local high school, and while the kids are ok singers, it's hard to ask my friends to pay $12 to see what is essentially a high school concert. Lame.
Calpurnius buys a ticket anyway, even though I tell him he doesn’t have to. We’ve been spending a lot of time together, going out to the Irish pub on weekends, going to restaurants and movies, and of course still keeping up weekly Battlestar nights. At work we’re constantly dropping by each other’s offices.
Very dimly, it occurs to me that maybe he likes me as more than just a friend. No, that can’t be. We’re just friends. Anything more would ruin our friendship.
He announces that as part of his post-divorce self-improvement regimen, he’s decided to finally get a grown up haircut. He shows up in my office one morning clean shaven, and with his bushy brown curls shorn in a standard men’s short haircut. Suddenly, I realize he’s actually quite handsome. He has big brown eyes with super long eyelashes, much more visible now that his face isn’t hidden by all that hair.
At work one morning, I go up to his office but just as I’m about to knock on the door, I hear a woman’s voice inside, chatting with him. What is this? I creep back down to my office without disturbing them. The same thing happens several times throughout the week. I know the woman he’s talking to, and she’s married. I didn’t think he was interested in her as more than a friend, but who knows? To my surprise, I start to feel the tiniest bit jealous.
Two days before the move, Cal comes over to my place for Battlestar night. The living room is filled with boxes but the couch and the TV are still sitting in place. After the episode ends, I mute the TV so we can talk over every little detail of the show, but suddenly Cal is uncharacteristically nervous.
“Um,” he says, rubbing his hands on his thighs. Oh no, I think, here it comes. “Um,” he continues, “I, um, really like you.”
I edge away from him slightly. “Uuuhhh…I’m not really looking for a relationship right now,” I say honestly. His face falls.
“Are you sure?” he asks.
Reader, I married him.
It’s like that time slip episode of Futurama, where Leela is telling Fry she will never, ever… then smash cut to their wedding. That’s what it feels like but of course it takes a bit longer than that. Since I get asked a lot by sister devs how I made it work with an able-bodied guy, here’s how it all went down.
Sitting there on the couch with him, I’m ready to reject him right away, but then I start to reflect, there’s no one else I want to spend time with as much as him. We have so many things in common, from our careers to our shared nerdy interests. He’s the first guy I have met who is genuinely not competitive with me but still has his own thing going on. He’s kind and considerate, a good Midwestern boy just like Kara always told me to find. And I always feel happy when we’re together. Ok, so why not give it a shot.
But first I lay it on the line with him. “I intend to have a kid within the next year or two. If you don’t want kids, we shouldn’t be dating.”
“I’m ok with kids,” he says carefully. “I mean, not immediately, but in the future.”
“Alright,” I say, “we can try dating. But if you’re going to be my boyfriend, you have to help me move.”
The move itself goes surprisingly easily, thanks in large part to Cal, as well as to Kara and Nam, who selflessly drive down from College Town to spend the first weekend in the new house with me and make dinner and unpack while I go sing in the concert. Also I hire professional movers to carry the furniture, so the main part of the move goes really quickly. I have a brief moment of panic when they get my very expensive new sofa stuck in the door but they manage to free it without tearing the upholstery.
Cal gets along great with Kara and Nam, as we all share the same nerdy obsessions. Cal brings over DVDs of The Venture Bros, and the four of us spend the rest of the weekend sitting on the couch in my new house howling with laughter together.
“He’s a good one,” Kara says to me after Cal goes home for the evening.
“You think so?” I ask. Of all my friends, she has known me the longest and seen the parade of idiots I have dated.
“Yes,” she says emphatically. “Snap him right up. Don’t hesitate.”
“But what about the sex? With everything happening with the move, we haven’t had a chance to do it for the first time yet, and I’m worried that even though I like him, the sex might not be right for me. It’s happened before.”
Nam smirks at me. “Just say the line from Molotov Cocktease,” he says, quoting a character from the episode of Venture Bros we just watched. In a bad Russian accent, he says, “‘Promise me you won’t be gentle.’”
I laugh, but I’m still super nervous the following weekend when Kara and Nam leave, everything from the move settles down, and I’m finally alone with Cal. But I needn’t have worried. The sex is good. It’s actually kind of refreshing to not attempt a big SM scene. Vanilla sex is so easy. It’s hard to say why it is exactly that I enjoy it with some vanilla able-bodied guys but not others. Probably because I really like him and he’s so present. He’s not treating me like a video game he’s trying to level up, or a measure of his manliness. He actually pays attention to how I respond. And there’s no question that he’s super into me. He stares at me like a starving man eyeing a delicious steak. It’s so hot.
As I settle into the new house, Cal is over all the time helping me out. He hangs the roller curtains, a chandelier, and picture frames, re-attaches the storm door, helps me rewire a lamp, and a thousand other small tasks. I never was one for domestic fantasies, or men with power tools. But watching him precariously perched on a chair screwing in the storm door closer attachment at the top corner of the front door, I’m suddenly turned on.
And he’s an amazing cook, much better than I am. We make dinner for each other often, but the first time I suggest we cook together, he demurs.
“I don’t know,” he says, unusually hesitant. “It always just ends in arguing.”
I get a sudden flash of insight into his previous life. Aren’t we all just working out the issues with the last relationship as we start a new one? I sure have, over and over. It’s time to move on.
“Ok,” I say, “we don’t have to, but let’s just try it once and see what happens.”
We don’t argue as we cook together. He smiles happily at me as we eat together in my newly redecorated dining room.
As we start dating, I think carefully about how to let Cal know that I’m a dev. Keeping it a secret forever is not an option. I’m not going to give up posting on Paradevo, or enjoying all my devvy books and movies. I spent my teen years sneaking around, hiding it from my parents, and it was horrible. I don’t want to have that kind of relationship, where I’m always worried about hiding a big secret from him.
After we’ve been dating for about three months, I tell him there’s something important I need to let him know. We’re sitting on my giant bed together on a weekend afternoon.
“Uhhh…” My heart is hammering in my chest. Be brave, I tell myself, just do it. Stay positive. He’ll follow your lead. “So I have some, ah, specialized interests I wanted to let you know about…” He looks at me curiously. I start off at an oblique angle. “It’s kind of embarrassing, but I like to read trashy romance novels with, um, guys with disabilities…”
“Ok.” He’s still looking at me like why are you telling me this.
“But it’s not just a fantasy. I’ve, um, dated a lot of guys with disabilities in the past. The most recent guy who dumped me right before I met you, he was blind. And he wasn’t the first blind guy I dated. There were, ah, a loooot of others.”
“It’s a kink I’ve always had. I don’t know why, it’s just there. I mean, I’ve dated other able-bodied guys too. But mainly it’s been guys with various disabilities.”
“Uh, that’s ok.”
“Are you sure? It doesn’t bother you?”
“Why, do you think it should?”
“Well no, but I just admitted that I have a physical type and it’s not you. Are you really ok with that?”
He gives me a disarming grin. “I prefer to think that you’re so attracted to me that you want to be with me anyway.”
“Yes!” Why didn’t I think of it like that? I tackle him with a grateful kiss.
“But you really have to understand,” I continue, “this is kind of a big part of my life. I’m a moderator on a message board for other people like me. I don’t want to stop doing that. There are disabled guys on the board too, but since we started dating, I haven’t been messaging with any of them, I promise. You can read my inbox if you want.”
“No, that’s ok,” he says gently. “That’s your private thing.”
Oh my god, how did I ever get so lucky? He takes the whole dev thing way better than I had ever imagined. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from my shoulders, knowing that he doesn’t feel threatened by it, and even more so that he’s fine with me having this space in my life.
After that, I don’t feel I need to discuss it in depth again, but I don’t keep it a secret any longer. When I mention the message board, he’s like, whatever, that’s your thing. He teases me about my abiding love of Daredevil. For the first time ever, I feel like I can just let my devness fade into the background of my life, something to enjoy when I want to. It’s no longer a source of anxiety, shame or obsession. It feels good.
I have to wonder, if I had met Cal through an internet dating site instead of through mutual friends, would we have ended up together? When I started internet dating, meeting someone online was a weird shameful secret, something only desperate losers tried. Even after almost every single person my age was internet dating, I still always felt a bit defensive about it, saying it’s no different than meeting through friends. But maybe it is? There’s always so much pressure on the first date to know for sure if you like someone or not. Or rather, you know right away if you’re attracted or not, but so often for me that physical connection was never enough for a relationship. If I had met Cal on an internet date, would I have been patient enough to get to know him?
I really do not believe in soulmates. I think that word is some nonsense people tell each other to justify an otherwise dysfunctional relationship. But when I think of all the random actions that led to me meeting Cal and deciding to date, it does seem slightly miraculous.
Two years after we start dating, Cal asks me to marry him. He proposes at Christmas, which we are celebrating my house, just the two of us.
I have a vague premonition that he might propose, but I still can hardly believe I could really be so lucky. I’ve spent so much time with lukewarm idiots, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he mumbled something about not wanting to put labels on things or needing to find himself or whatever. I’d be upset, but not surprised. It’s happened so many times before.
So even though I have this hunch, I ignore it because I think it can’t possibly be true. For Christmas I get him long underwear and a cookbook because we’re not really into extravagant gifts. We sit down on the couch together to exchange gifts, and he pulls a ring out of his pocket.
Of course I’m overjoyed but then I have to be like, thanks for the beautiful ring, yes of course I want to marry you, now here’s your gift, have some long underwear. It’s like the opposite of a romance novel. But it’s ok, he doesn’t mind. He’s just happy I say yes.
We plan a wedding for the next summer.
I think back to my friend Marty--when I whined to him about wanting to find the right guy to marry, Marty tried to reassure me by telling me about his sister who just got married at thirty-eight years old.
“We thought she’d never get married!” he said with a laugh that to me felt mocking and mean-spirited.
“I don’t want to wait until I’m thirty-eight to get married!” I replied. But now here I am getting married at thirty-eight.
In April 2010, my younger brother also gets married to his long-suffering girlfriend. They’ve been together for fourteen years. I just assumed they would never get married, but apparently her two sisters are also getting hitched so she finally gave him an ultimatum, now or never.
My brother’s wedding is in New York City, two months before my wedding. He organizes a showy affair with more than two hundred guests. I bring Cal as my plus one, although I’m a bit nervous introducing him to my entire family. My parents have already met him and they approve, even though he’s not Jewish. My brother invites every single member of our extended family, not just aunts and uncles and cousins, but multiple generations of second cousins, people I haven’t seen since I was a kid. I’ve been dreading seeing them all, but it goes well.
I’m amazed at how drama-free everyone is, but on reflection, I think that all the most bitchy, mean, judgmental relatives have either died or become so old they couldn't attend, and the ones who come are all really nice. I realize as I introduce Cal as my fiancé that I needn’t have worried. Except for my parents and brother, almost every member of my family is married to a non-Jew. No one thinks it’s a big deal at all.
It’s my parents’ friends who are more religious and more likely to be judgmental. But having Cal there acts as a buffer between me and them--with him standing right there, they can't exactly say, "You're marrying a goy? How could you betray your people that way!" Only the rebbetzin gives me a look that says "It's a shandeh!" but she doesn't say it out loud.
My brother does the whole traditional Jewish wedding thing, with the chuppah and breaking the glass, dancing the hora and bouncing the couple around on chairs. They also do a tish and bedekening, where right before the ceremony the men go into a separate room and get super drunk (they had already broken out the slivovitz by 11 AM), then amid a lot of really boisterous singing and dancing, bring out the groom to put the veil on the bride, supposedly so he doesn't get tricked like Jacob in the Bible. My mother says the main reason for all the drinking and singing is to get the groom down the aisle, ha ha. Considering it took fourteen years to convince my brother to marry the poor girl, it’s probably necessary to keep him from backing out.
The ceremony itself is mercifully quick, and the food afterwards is great but there’s no wedding cake. WTF?! The cake is the best part! I feel very put out when I discover there will be no cake.
For a big Jewish wedding in New York, the whole thing is surprisingly not tacky. No bridesmaids, thank goodness, or I probably would have been enlisted to play dress-up. But being the hipster douchebag that he is, my brother wears sneakers with his tux. And not just regular sneakers, mind you, but shiny black ones with huge platform soles and gold chains (!!!!) instead of laces. When a cousin comments on it, he describes this fashion statement as "keeping it real," delivered in a mumbled undertone with so much detached irony it goes right back around to unconsciously tacky.
Lulu, my opera singing friend from Raser City, lives in New York now as well, so I make time to meet her while we’re in town. She’s just gotten engaged too. The four of us meet for a double date at Katz’s Deli.
Over delicious pastrami on rye and heavenly latkes and knishes, we introduce our fiancés to each other. Lulu’s guy is Jewish but has spent a lot of time in East Asia, living in some of the same places I have.
“She found the male version of you,” Cal quips, and I realize he’s right.
“What about you?” Lulu asks. “Are your parents ok with you marrying a shaygetz?” Lulu is also Jewish and her parents would definitely not be ok with her marrying a non-Jew.
“It’s a shandeh!” Cal cries, laughing.
I smack him on the shoulder. “Stop! They’re fine with it. I think they’re just grateful that I’m marrying a man who has full use of all his limbs and senses.”
Lulu laughs. “Yeah, I’m sure they were like, ‘Thank god it’s not a woman, or a guy in a wheelchair.’”
“I suppose that’s a benefit of taking so long to find someone,” I say. “I have significantly lowered their expectations.”
The conversation turns to our wedding plans, which are the complete opposite of my brother’s wedding. We’re having a very simple, secular ceremony in my parents’ backyard, officiated by a judge.
“Because Cal’s family is Catholic, the rabbi wouldn’t marry us,” I say.
“That’s ok, I didn’t want to marry him anyway,” Cal adds.
“Oh!” says Lulu looking at Cal with new eyes. “He’s funny.”
Cal looks annoyed at the implication that there’s no other reason why I’m with him. I prefer to assume Lulu means that if I’m marrying a non-Jew it should at least be someone who knows how to crack a joke.
In keeping with how I have done everything backwards, buying a house and then getting married, we take our honeymoon trip right before the wedding. With everyone’s schedules, that was the only way it worked out. We spend a week in London visiting my grandmother who is too frail to fly to the US for the wedding, then take the boat train to Dublin for another week.
I love visiting my grandmother. She has the best flat right on Hampstead Heath but going there is always a bit uncanny, like stepping back into my childhood, as everything at her place is unchanged for almost forty years. My parents have moved and updated their house, but walking into my grandmother’s flat is like returning to when I was six years old.
This is actually our second trip to visit her together; Cal and I also visited a year ago. She’s so happy to see us again, and she really likes Cal. We watch TV and eat meals with her but she doesn’t mind when we go out touring, trying to cram in as much sight-seeing as we can without treating her place like a hotel.
After a long day of visiting museums, I lay back on the yellow flowered bedspread on one of the twin beds in her guest bedroom, staring at the bow window facing the Heath, while Cal plays a video game on his laptop. I’m starting to panic slightly about marrying him. He trusts me not to cheat on him, but do I trust myself?
All my life, I’ve felt this longing to be with a blind guy, or possibly a guy with some other disability. At times it’s been overwhelming. Can I really just set it aside now? When I met Cal, I was in a dev low, feeling discouraged and frustrated after being dumped by Birk. But the lows always pass. What happens when a high comes back? Will I regret marring an able-bodied guy?
Even though I always feel like I can discuss everything with Cal, I don’t mention these doubts. I suddenly realize this is what people mean by cold feet, and it’s normal to feel some hesitation before a big commitment. I try to think it over rationally. While I did meet Cal during a dev low, in the two and a half years since then, the highs have come back, but channeling my energy into reading and writing has been fully satisfactory. Actually, it’s been more rewarding to do something creative, to write a novel, rather than to exhaust myself on searching personal sites online or emailing with a dozen people in conversations that go nowhere. So I indulge my dev high on my own, then turn that energy back around and have sex with him. He sure enjoys it when my sex drive is high.
And I can’t say that I haven’t tried to meet a person with a disability. Oh lord, have I tried to find the disabled guy of my dreams. I realize now that he probably doesn’t exist. Or if he does, he hasn’t crossed my path in the right time and place. I have abundant evidence that disability alone, or rather physical attraction alone, isn’t enough to maintain a relationship. I lied to myself so many times, trying to make bad relationships work. Even when the guy said to me, you’re only with me because I’m disabled, I wanted so badly for that not to be true that I tied myself in knots trying to disprove him, but it was true. I said, we don’t have to like all the same things to be together. But now I think it really is more important to have shared values and goals, to like the same things and want to do the same things together.
I don’t regret having those dev experiences, even when so many of them went so badly. I think I needed it. Even when I have a dev high now, I no longer feel that intense longing to make my fantasies reality. I did make them reality, many times over, and sometimes it was fun, sometimes disappointing, but I don’t need to do it anymore. I’d rather be with someone who can be a true partner, who shares my tastes, values, career and life goals.
I always used to think that everyone would be surprised when they saw who I was with, because I would choose someone who is not conventionally attractive. But in the end, I’m the one who is the most surprised about who I ended up with.
So as I lie there in my grandmother’s guest bedroom, I keep my doubts to myself and they fade away. We have an amazing, fun time on our trip.
The wedding is in my parents’ tiny backyard, with a small guest list, just family and a few close friends. Most of my best friends from Raser City fly out to the East Coast too—Sarah, Lulu, Ariel, Frances, with their partners. Rachel comes too, without Ewan. She’s moved out finally, although is still sort of supporting him from a distance.
Kara also shows up, without Nam, to my surprise.
“I’m leaving him,” she announces flatly as she walks in the door. I knew about Rachel and Ewan, but I had no idea about Kara and Nam. I didn’t even know they were having trouble.
In a quiet moment, Kara privately pours her heart out to me. I’m astounded to hear how much they’ve both been suffering for years from mental health problems. I never fully realized the extent of it. I feel guilty for not noticing how bad things were.
“Don’t feel bad,” Kara says dismissively, businesslike as always. “I was intentionally hiding it from you.”
Kara and Nam started dating in college, almost as soon as I met them in our freshman year. I was always so jealous of her finding the right person so young, but now I see what I thought was true love was masking years of misery. It’s a strange sort of parallelism between us that right at the moment I get married, they split up. Kara tells me not to feel sorry for her. She’s happier now than she’s been for years.
In the midst of all the preparations and visiting with guests, one afternoon two days before the wedding, I’m standing in the kitchen of my parents’ house when the phone rings. My parents are both out, so I pick it up.
It’s my mother’s cousin who lives in New York, the eldest daughter of her father’s sister.
“Oh, it’s you,” she says without a trace of surprise, as if I still live here. “Is your mother there?”
“She just stepped out,” I say warily. I don’t want to reveal that my wedding is in two days because we didn’t invite her. “Can I take a message?”
“Yes!” she squawks in her tinny New York accent. “Tell her to call me! I need to ask her a question.”
“A question about her father.” My mother’s father died when my mother was a teenager. What could she possibly want to know now, fifty years later?
“I need to know what he died of,” she continues in the same strident tone.
“Um, cancer, maybe?”
“Was it a brain tumor?” she demands.
“I don’t know.” My mother told me about his death when I was much younger, so she didn’t go into a lot of detail. It’s not something we ever really talk about.
“I was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. I need to know if my uncle had the same thing. Tell her to call me.” She hangs up.
An hour later when my mother returns home, I tell her about the phone call from her cousin. She’s as surprised as I am.
“I haven’t talked to her in twenty years!” she says.
“So did your father have a brain tumor?”
“Yes, he did,” she says thoughtfully. This is news to me. “He had surgery to try to remove it, but it was the 1960s, what did they know about brain surgery back then? The surgery wasn’t a success, obviously.” She starts to get more agitated as she’s talking. “When he came out of the surgery, he was blind! He certainly wasn’t blind before that.”
I don’t say much of anything, but leave my mother to call her cousin back. I’m astounded, truly thunderstruck. I have never heard this piece of information before, but I feel as if I’ve just been handed the key that unlocks the mystery of my lifelong obsession with blind men. Could it really be due to the trauma passed down from my mother?
Mixed in with my attraction there is always a tiny hard core of fear. Most so-called perversions begin in early childhood, and many are a way of coping with anxiety by sexualizing the thing we fear the most. I know for a fact my mother has a phobia of disability, not only from observing the way she reacted to K and Rollerboy, but even people she meets in passing. I had been thinking that perhaps I internalized this as a young child. But I had no idea it was connected to her own father. How strangely fitting to learn this on the eve of my wedding.
It feels momentous to make this connection, but of course it doesn’t change anything. I still have no intention of sharing any of this with my mother. I have no desire to talk to her about my sex life, and learning this thing about me, which I’m sure she has always suspected or noticed in some way, and learning that it was maybe her fault, will just upset her needlessly. My fantasies, my past relationships, my experiences, those are all my own, regardless of where my dev feelings come from. I wouldn’t want to be any different than I am. Even though being a dev has sometimes been hard and lonely, it’s also led me to be more daring, creative and bold than I would have been otherwise.
My guiding principle in planning our wedding is to keep it as simple and low-cost as possible. We’re going to exchange the standard secular vows and rings in the backyard, that’s it. Then we will have a catered lunch outside and wedding cake, because of course there has to be cake. The whole purpose of the wedding is to see friends and family. I don’t need a lot of fancy activities or window dressing around that.
I think I have planned the perfect foolproof wedding, but the night before, Cal falls sick. My parents have arranged a rehearsal dinner at a restaurant the night before the ceremony. Of course there isn’t anything to rehearse, but we want to give the out of town guests a nice dinner. Like the good Midwestern boy he is, Cal doesn’t complain that he’s not feeling well until we are on the way to the restaurant. He spends the dinner throwing up in the bathroom.
Luckily, all my parents’ friends are doctors (of course) and one of them, an ER doctor, takes Cal aside for a quick examination at the restaurant.
“Seems like a stomach bug,” the doctor says. “You should be fine in two or three days, but before that you’re going to feel really terrible.”
Great. He slips Cal some prescription anti-nausea medication, then warns us that if he starts to get dehydrated overnight we should take him to the hospital.
Oh my god. I thought there was no way this wedding could go wrong, but now I’m having visions of us exchanging vows in the back of an ambulance.
He has a rough night but the medication helps and by morning Cal is ok enough to be propped up in a corner in his suit. The wedding is on as planned.
I ask Ariel to put my hair up, since she always styles the wigs for the opera company.
“I just washed my hair so it’s clean,” I say.
“Clean shmean,” she scoffs. “It stays up better a day or two after washing.”
She braids my hair in a crown around my head, and I put on a simple white tea length dress. We all go downstairs just as my brother shows up with his wife. My friends are all like, who’s the hipster douchebag wearing mirror sunglasses inside? That’s my brother.
During the five minute ceremony outside, just as the judge is intoning the vows, Cal’s fever starts to spike and a trickle of sweat runs down the side of his face, like a cartoon groom having second thoughts. Later he tells me he was worried that the judge might think he was backing out, and we have a good laugh over it.
Anyway we make it through the ceremony and that’s it, we’re hitched. Cal sits down and we dose him up with more medication, but he’s already starting to recover. Just before we cut the cake, Ariel, Lulu and Frances sing some madrigals they hastily rehearsed at the hotel the night before. I had no idea they were going to do that. It’s so sweet of them. I’m moved beyond words.
I don’t want to say we live happily ever after, because real life is long and complicated. It’s more like I finally start a new phase in my life. So many more things happen after we get married. We eventually get better jobs and move to a new city that we like much better. So long, Craptown! A few years later, we have two kids. That is whole other story but it doesn’t have anything to do with being a devotee, so I’m not including it here.
So that ends the devo part of this diary. After years and years of thinking I could only be happy with a disabled guy, I instead end up marrying an able-bodied guy, but I don’t regret it for an instant. Of course no relationship is ever perfect, but on the whole I feel like I’ve been incredibly lucky.
Thanks to everyone for reading all the way to the end. I hope my experiences can help you avoid making the same mistakes. Don’t stick around in a bad relationship, and don’t worry that you’ll never meet another guy with a disability again. There is always someone else, always. There’s no reason to feel guilty or ashamed of being a dev. You’re not the only one.