Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thanks for the lift

Today's guest post comes from frequent commenter and dear friend Mike, who is also the writer of my favorite literal thank-you note ever.

I’m grateful for a ride. A specific one, in the spring of 1996. My friend Alison was getting married, in New Jersey, and I was a twentysomething activist in Maryland in that independent consultant/do-gooder mode described by pragmatists as “unemployed.” I couldn’t afford a train ticket. I even knew the trick where you take a bus to Philadelphia and then a series of local commuter trains to New Brunswick and it costs less than two large pizzas, but I couldn’t even do that.

My friend Paul, who had introduced me to Alison in college, said he was planning to ride to the wedding with his friend Jose, a former colleague in the field of pizza delivery, and Jose’s girlfriend Gina. I could come along. I don’t remember whether Paul actually warned me that he was afraid Jose and I wouldn’t get along and might actually strangle each other; if you skip to the end, though, it turns out Jose was the best man at my wedding 11 years later.

So I got in a car with Paul and two strangers for a long evening’s road trip. That was a Friday night. The wedding was Saturday afternoon. Sometime after breakfast on Saturday, Gina told Jose (and his passengers) that she’s gay. Rather unwelcome news to a guy who had recently concluded that he wanted to marry her. But something similar had happened to me once and we bonded over it.

The wedding was nice. That is to say, the wedding pleased the bride’s Christian elders and pagan friends, equally, and her ex-girlfriend was the maid of honor, and she gave each of her bridesmaids these cool silver pendants that tell time like a sundial if you line the perforated edges up a certain way in the sunlight. Alison and I had been close friends in college, but I’d never met any of her family except her new husband. It was therefore nice – not momentous, but nice – to meet her sisters, brother and oldest niece, Grace, at the reception. I even got to dance with 4-year-old Grace.

In 2007, Grace became my stepdaughter, along with her sister Ruth, who was a crawling baby at Alison’s wedding. I remember shaking hands with Heather in the receiving line, but that’s all; I didn’t get to know her until she moved to D.C. in 2000. And even then, it took me much too long to realize that [mushy stuff] and also [NSFW].

Much sooner after that weekend in New Jersey, I started hanging out with Jose and some friends of his, eventually including Gina once Jose made peace with the fact that he had somehow caused her to break up with our entire gender. (I know, I know, that’s not really what happened, but I didn’t blame the guy for feeling like it.) Gina and I became very close and she briefly reconsidered whether she’s entirely gay, but yes, she is.

And in 2003, she brought her fiancée along on a camping trip. Jose, Paul, Heather and I all got to meet Melissa, who had just returned from deployment in the Persian Gulf to her regular post at Bethesda Naval Hospital. (Don’t ask, don’t tell.) They wanted to have kids. There were jokes around the campfire about enlisting one of us as a sperm donor. Predictable juvenile banter about the relative merits of turkey basters vs. the old-fashioned way. They were planning to move to Massachusetts after Melissa’s enlistment was up, get married, and have children – not necessarily in that order. We all told our old friend Gina we approved of her fiancée. That was that.

Three weeks later, e-mail from Gina: she hadn’t been kidding. Would I be the father of their children? They specifically wanted someone who would be known to the children and involved in their lives while respecting Gina and Melissa’s parenthood. They trusted me, which was a ponderous leap of faith (and the most amazing compliment I’ve ever received). Our daughter S was born in the late summer of 2004; our daughter E was born 51 weeks later. I held baby E and wrangled toddler S when their moms got married by a small-town justice of the peace in Massachusetts. Now they ride horses (not ponies – fricken huge horses) and sell me Girl Scout cookies. They have two stepmoms, too: Gina and Melissa eventually parted and Gina remarried (Sally also rocks), and they count Heather as their stepmom ’cuz she’s married to their dad, right?

So that was a good weekend, that one road trip to New Jersey back in ’96. Thanks, Jose, for the ride; thanks, Paul, for setting it up; thanks, Alison, for inviting me. Heather, Grace, Ruth, Gina, Melissa, Sally, S, E: thank you for everything.


bzzzzgrrrl said...

Jose's toast at Mike's wedding was a real highlight for me, sure, of the wedding, but also of our whole friendship.
I don't actually really know Jose, but it was reassuring to hear that the best man's take on the Heather story was so similar to mine. Because "great friends and roommates" felt like a long period, and then "we can't get along" to "we're dating" to "we're engaged" to "we're married" felt very. very. sudden.
It was good to know that I hadn't missed anything, that apparently everyone — including Jose — felt as in the dark as I did.

Mike said...

Reading this again now that it's in your top 5 list (g'aww!), it occurs to me that my accelerated courtship of Heather makes perfect sense when you consider that we had been living together for several years before we started dating and I had been the girls' designated alternate pick-up-at-school person and vaguely defined second caregiver for a long time too. We got a lot of the hard parts of mating out of the way early and could concentrate on the fun parts.