I was midway through a report on Brexit when Kerry called. But first a bit of an explanation. I haven’t written since I became engaged to Kerry back in early November.
I never went back to law school. I was happy as a vice president at Trallis Corp. After first year, I started as a paralegal at Sullivan & Wilson. I was there for over nine months when on a Tuesday afternoon in early March, Carol Wright, a partner, asked me to come to her office. The firm, of course, knew my law-school situation, but I had arranged a loan package and was set to enroll when the Fall term began.
When I got to her office, she and Tom Sullivan told me that a major client, Trallis, for which I had done work on a major litigation in which it was a defendant, “wants to talk to you.”
“Trallis,” Carol said, “isn’t sure what exactly it wants you for but Bob Elroy said Trallis definitely wants you.”
Tom continued: “Suzanne. Bob would like you to go over there this Friday—we’re happy to have you take the day off—and meet with him and a few other folks and especially Marc Diamond, the CEO, to see if they can come up with something that’ll make you and them happy. He said he doesn’t want to pressure you but that Trallis wants the chance to make its pitch.”
And on Friday Trallis made its pitch and after talking about with Mary and Betty and especially Kerry, I took a job there. My title is vice president of development. It amounts to people coming to me from all divisions of the Company to run things past me. It is almost crazy that I get paid for doing it, and the pay is good and my stock options are accumulating.
All of which explains why I never went back to school and why I was in my Trallis office when Kerry called.
After my usual, “Hey, babe,” she dropped the bomb that she was sitting with my mother at the house. Before I could react, she said that she just found out, that Mom—Kerry and I both called her Mom “Mom”—did something to bring this about, that she would explain it all later, and that while whatever happened next was entirely up to me, she and Mom thought it a good idea for me to meet her.
“If that’s what you think I should—”
“Suze, yeah, we both think that but whatever you do is okay by us. We just think you should, not that you have to. I met with her. I sat with her. I yelled at her. I thanked her for driving you out of California into my arms.”
“No, I did not put it like that. Then I told her if she wanted to see you again, and I hope you are okay with me acting like a gatekeeper on this, that if she wanted to see you, she had to tell me why.
“She hugged me for like five minutes. She was crying and then said Mom forced her to look into herself and decide whether her faith was such as to make her sacrifice her daughter, like Abraham…Yes, Old Testament stuff. She sat in a church near NYU for like an hour and just thought. I don’t think it’s a put-up job.”
I knew I had to do it. I grabbed the report I was reading and shoved it into my backpack and went into Marc Diamond’s office and said I needed to leave for a family emergency. He waved me away with “Go.” I grabbed a cab for Grand Central and when I got to my train I texted Kerry with my arrival time, I’d be in the last car.
As the train emerged from the tunnel I looked out the window. Kerry did not say how my mother came to be at the house. I am sure she was as discombobulated as I was. Kerry was not as generous as my Aunt Mary was about forgiveness. She would forgive me anything, and had forgiven my stubbornness, but I did not know if she could ever forgive someone who hurt me. My mother hurt me.
She hurt me because of what she, and my father, did to my Aunt Mary and if that were not bad enough, her treatment of my Aunt Mary meant she would treat me in the same way if she knew I too was a lesbian.
What could Mom have said to draw my mother here two days before Mary’s wedding? And what about Mary? Was she involved? Had she spoken to my mother? What was Mary’s take? And most important, had my mother changed? What made her so horrible to Aunt Mary and thus to me was a part of who she was. In some perverse way, it was not fair to criticize her because her beliefs were embedded in her very soul. In her view, literally in her soul.
I did not even know if she knew that I was gay let alone that I was engaged to a woman. Had I been outed? She was sitting with Kerry, and Kerry made it clear that she controlled access to me, which pleased me. Of course, that Eileen had done something to get this whirlwind started meant that my mother at least knew I was in a close relationship with her daughter. But did she know more than that? If she did, would she sacrifice me on an altar to her God? I mean, in the end, that is what we are talking about here. My grandparents sacrificed their daughter Mary on that altar. My father did the same, after growing into the reality of Aunt Mary’s exile.
Because of what was done to Aunt Mary, they exiled me. It was like some chapter of the Old Testament.
My mother and I were never close. My father worked long hours and spent his downtime out playing golf and zipping around to conferences and seminars. My mother did her charitable work. She grew up in Oakland and had a degree from Berkeley, working at a San Francisco financial firm after graduation. She met my father at a Catholic church function held in a San Francisco parish, and they got close doing projects there.
She quit work shortly after she got pregnant with me, at which point she started volunteering at the parish in Mill Valley. While she did try, her heart, a caring heart, was devoted to the people that she worked to help, and she did good work and performed a lot of good deeds for them. But she and my father were not close to either me or to Eric, who was born six years after me. I think there were several miscarriages in the gap, and they never had another child, but my mother never told me any of this. When I asked, Aunt Mary said she knew nothing about it.
Kind as she was, my mother was also dogmatic. Abortion. Gay rights. My parents were against them. Her views on gays were part of who my mother was, and being gay was part of who I was. When I started law school, I called home each Sunday.
Over time the calls became briefer and briefer. This was on me. I was losing any interest I once had in what my mother was involved with and was getting less comfortable telling her about the mundane events of my days as they centered more and more around Kerry and I felt guilty that by not mentioning Kerry, I was not being honest with my mother. By Christmas my first year, which I shared with Kerry and her Mom, whatever connection I had with my mother was gone.
After wishing she and my father and Eric a Merry Christmas, I did not call again. I was about to enter that horrible stretch of trying to deal with my feelings for Kerry, and going through the motions with my parents was the last thing on my mind. It was unfair, I know, and knew, but it was not something I could then deal with. I ghosted them, ignoring the voicemail messages and the emails and the texts. My only communication with my parents was to tell them that I was not going to be enrolled in the law school for the Fall term and that I would no longer be living in the 87th Street apartment effective September 1.
Indeed, the first I heard from any of them in 2017 was on Thanksgiving when Eric called me out of the blue while I was helping get dinner ready at Kerry’s house.
Now my mother was waiting for me with Kerry at the Tuckahoe Station. I was in the last car and I was two stops away. I still had not formulated what I would say. Whether I would say anything. Whether I would get off the damn train.
I did much the same the prior August. Also in the last car. A Sunday morning, and I was preparing for what I would say to Kerry. Things today were different. I was not sorry, as I had been with Kerry. That my parents were gone to me, yes. But not insofar as I felt any responsibility for that. This was on them and always would be.
I knew I loved Kerry. I was not sure about my mother.
I was neither sorry for what I did nor did I feel love for who she was. As I rode the train, I could think of nothing to say when I got off. It was entirely on her. She had to show me not that she was sorry. She had to show me that she was a different person. Again and again, I came back to doubting whether that was possible or, I had to admit, proper given the importance of faith in her life.
The train rolled to a stop, and I stood at the door, waiting for it to open, taking one last, deep breath.
Another train platform for another life-altering conversation.
I steeled myself as the door opened. I looked to the left and saw her about ten feet away, Kerry to her right, far enough from my mother so that a gap appeared between them.
I did not want to, but I had to. “Why are you here?”
She recoiled at that and to me, having warmed, or perhaps cooled, to the task, I wondered why she was surprised. My anger was getting the best of me and I did not want to stop it. I would not cry and I would not blink.
Kerry saw this once, in my apartment over a year before. This time, she would not allow me to shut myself down as I had with her. She moved between my mother and me.
Looking into my hard eyes: “Suzanne, I know it’s hard. Your mother can just walk across to the other platform and take the next train back to the city and out of your life forever. For-e-ver. I told you that this is for you and only you to decide. From what I have heard that is exactly what I’d hope you tell her to do were this twenty-four hours ago.
“But my Mom thought that enough has changed for me to speak to her, and I think that enough has changed that she is entitled to have you at least hear what she has to say. We all know this is not some Hallmark Kumbaya moment. Let’s walk up to the house. I know all that’s gone on and I think both of you deserve to talk. She’ll leave if you tell her to.”
I nodded, and we climbed the stairs from the platform and headed up the hill to the house.
As we walked, and I don’t know when or how, I found my mother gripping my hand and I did not pull away. She’d never touched me like that. Ever. Kerry was behind us and other than a description she gave of where we were and where we are going to fill the air, the three of us were silent.
We sat in the living room, and I asked Kerry to stay, not ready for a one-on-one yet. My mother sat in the middle of the sofa and Kerry and I sat across from her, not quite close enough to touch yet close enough to feel one another.
For the next half-hour, I opened up as I had never opened up to her before. About Aunt Mary and that I knew I was a lesbian before I met Aunt Mary. How hurt I was when I heard her and my father speak so horribly of my Aunt and how I met with and regularly communicated with her and how she tried desperately for me not to hate my parents for what had happened to her. That she was happy since she came to New York those years ago. And on and on through the development of my relationship with and love for Kerry and the horrible seven months when because of my stubbornness I kept her away.
I revealed, in sum, who I was. I could see she had no idea who I was. We were both exhausted. After she said “I am so sorry. I was so wrong.” I stopped her.
“Mother, we can’t resolve this now. I do not want you to go home yet. That may happen. Right now, though, I really would like you to stay. I need to think about a lot of things and to sleep on it. Can we meet tomorrow?” We agreed that we could and that we would. Then we drove her to the station in the Camry.
When we got back, we reported to Mary and Mom.
After dinner, Kerry gave me space to digest what was happening. Everything was in a whirl and when we got into bed, I was restless. Without a word and knowing that she was still awake, I took off my T-shirt, and she rolled onto her back. I straddled her head and I lowered myself to her mouth. With my left hand holding the headboard and my right lifting her head slightly, I let her, perhaps “made her” is more accurate, lick my folds. I was not horny when this started so I was not wet.
We are pretty much 80-10-10 when it comes to sex. Usually, it is making love and we savor every moment. The rest of the time it is one or the other of us, in about equal shares, who initiate pure, lustful sex. Now it was my turn. She slowly licked me, and I was soon drenched, very damp within minutes.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.” Kerry is much quieter and less vocal in bed, more of a moaner/grunter. But I was being very vocal as she picked up the pace, now concentrating on my emerged clit, now penetrating my opening, a hand wrapped around each of my thighs, securing her as I increased my rocking, both hands now gripping the headboard, until I came. It was intense, a release of some of the tension that built up over the last hours. I stepped over her and gave her a peck on the forehead and with a “thank you” went to pee.
On my return, I went to her side of the bed so that I could spoon her with us both on our left sides, leaving my T-shirt wherever it had been thrown. After shared “I love you”s, I put my right arm around her, she still in her T-shirt, and I ran my fingers under the shirt and to her.
“You don’t need to do that.”
“I know that,” I told her, “I want to do it,” and I rubbed up and down slowly and easily, slipping one and then two fingers inside of her as her breathing shallowed as I kissed her glorious, so-long-admired neck until she shook. After a breath and a contented sigh, she got up to pee and now she threw off her T-shirt as she got back into the bed on her side, and we fell asleep, both naked, within moments of one another.
Thanks to my ability to compartmentalize, I focused on my work when I reached the office on Friday. As usual now that Kerry and I both came into Grand Central, I kissed her in the Terminal’s Concourse and then walked the mile or to my office. I had plans to have lunch with my mother.
At about eleven-thirty, I lightly knocked on the doorframe to my boss Marc’s office. Marc had okayed yesterday’s early departure but I hadn’t had the time to explain. I had taken to dropping into his office now and then to talk about things; I think he liked that I saw him in a mentor’s role, and so I wanted to let him know what was going on. After I did, he told me to go see her and take as long a lunch as I wanted. “Look, it’s Friday, throw some work into your bag and take it with you. If you can work on it Sunday”—he knew of the next day’s wedding—“I’ll be happy. Now, get out of here till Monday.”
As I put a few reports into my bag, I dialed my mother.
“Mother, do you have comfortable shoes?” After being assured that she did, I told her, “wear them and something comfortable. We’re going walking. Can you be in the hotel lobby in 15 minutes?” Getting a “yes,” I headed out and gave have-a-good-weekend waves to those I passed as I went.
It took a moment to recognize her when she crossed the lobby but it was my mother, wearing shorts, one of my faded Stanford T-shirts, and running shoes. One of those Aussie broad-brimmed hats, and a pair of sunglasses in her left hand and a smart bag over her right shoulder. “You look like a tourist, mother. All you need is a selfie-stick, a map, and a disoriented look and you’d look straight out of central casting. And I like the shirt.”
I got a smile and a hug.
Off we were to the subway station and riding uptown. We were both quiet, feeling the car vibrate as we headed north and still quiet when we climbed the two flights to Lexington Avenue. Once there, I told her that we were going to the Park. We got a couple of to-go sandwiches and water at a deli and headed west. She and I exchanged small talk as we walked and then as we entered the Park next to the Metropolitan Museum. We briefly sat on a low wall between the Museum and the Park Drive and ate the sandwiches.
There was a particular place I wanted us to go and after we finished eating, we turned south along the path. Strolling next to one another holding hands—somewhere along the way I reached for her left hand—the path opened to the Boat Pond, long an oasis for me, where I sat during long walks I took while in law school. Families were wandering about and children clamoring on the Alice in Wonderland statue to the left as we reached the pond, where model sailboats meandered about. But my special place was the life-sized Hans Christian Andersen sculpture west of the pond.
No one else was there and, without thinking, I asked my mother to stand next to the seated Andersen and I took a photo of her. She came to me a little weepy and reached for my phone, and I handed it to her, and she swiped to see the photo and asked if she could take one of me and I sat next to Hans, and she took my photo. Taking her phone out, she took one for herself. She then looked around at a pair of approaching tourists and quickly turned back to me and asked, “Is it okay?” and when I nodded she stopped the tourists and asked if they could take a photo of the two of us and when one of them said “of course” she came to me where I sat, put her left arm around me, and the photo that I knew would soon be her wallpaper was snapped.
And one of the tourists said, “You look like sisters” as they left, and both my mother and I smiled. That was the easy part. Now we had to talk.
We sat at one of the benches behind the statue, away from the pond, and I turned to look at her.
I told her of the struggles I had with myself and with Kerry. How I treated Kerry horribly because of my doubts and stubbornness. That ultimately I needed Kerry to be in my life, even if only as a best friend and not as a lover. My mother cringed a bit at that last word, which I made sure to use to get her to understand all that Kerry and I are. “And I would have been happy if she was just my best friend and I am so much happier than I could imagine when she and I became lovers.” No cringe now.
“But here’s the thing, mother, I might have been happy if Kerry were not fully committed to me and to who I was. Am. Not fully committed.” I had rehearsed this dozens of times over the last twenty-or-so hours. “I cannot, though, be your daughter unless you are fully committed to me. I’m sorry, I’m sure what Eileen told you of my relationship with her hurt you and I don’t want to replace you but Eileen has filled a huge hole in my life.
“Now it is only you and me. I know it’s hard for you to move on from the beliefs you’ve long held. I did not say to ‘throw them away.’ I can’t ask you to simply discard them.”
Before she could respond and after I said she needed to think about it, I got up and she followed. We wound our way, quietly, toward the Sheep Meadow, the large green field filled with people on blankets and throwing Frisbees, the sheep long gone. We entered through the fence and found an open space and I suggested we just sit on the grass and we did.
“Suzanne Marie”—it been years since she used my middle name—“of course I was hurt when I first spoke to Kerry’s mom and at first I thought she was intending to hurt me, to gloat over having won you and taken you from me.” She brushed away my attempt to respond.
“I thought that. And I thought that after I met the woman a few days ago. But, Suzanne, I then did something I too rarely have done in recent years. I talked to God and understood. That’s when I reached out again to Kerry’s mother, Eileen, and told her what happened to me and only then would she let me meet Kerry and only when I convinced Kerry that I could be…that I am fully committed to you did she let me see you.
“The funny thing is that it has not been that hard to do, this whole loving-you-for-who-you-are thing. It is not loving-you-despite-who-you-are. I now see that that’s not love at all.”
She paused as we both began to feel the warmth of the sun’s rays, oblivious to the noises around us, and then looked out over the scene, at the people lazing and playing, talking and laughing and then, remarkably, just let herself lie down too, staring up at the brilliant blue sky. I lay down next to her.
“I am your mother. I have always been your mother, and I always will be. If you’ll let me. Please let me be your mother again. Or perhaps for the first time. Can we do that Suzanne? Can you do it?”
And I believed her so I said, “I’d like that.” I knew her well enough to know that she would not have told me what she had without believing it, to her soul. I believed her.
I looked at my watch. It was a bit after three. Without getting up, I speed-dialed Kerry.
“I am lying on my back in the Sheep Meadow next to my Mother. When can you get here?”
I told her we were on the northwestern side, and that we wouldn’t be hard to find “since my Mother is wearing one of my scarlet Stanford shirts. Really. I couldn’t believe it. It’s a little tight on her”—my Mother is not as light on top as I am—“but it looks good…Yeah, shorts too. Who knew she had great legs?”
For the next twenty minutes or so, we lay next to one another, not caring about the sun frying our faces, although she did have her Aussie hat and sunglasses on. There was gossip I had to tell her, the drive east with Annie and the drives Annie and I took on weekends, my adventures at school and then at my jobs, all manner of little things I had done that I had not been able to share with her that now bubbled from me.
“Get a room!” It was Kerry. She jumped on me. She literally threw herself down on top of me and gave me a (chaste) kiss before rolling off to the side where my Mother was not. Far from being repulsed by Kerry’s PDA, my Mother was smiling. Which was very unusual.
I got up and left them alone to make two phone calls. Aunt Mary answered on the fourth ring, sounding more panicked than I had ever heard her. Of course, she was getting married in less than twenty-four hours so panicking should not have been a surprise. I summarized what happened between me and my Mother. I told her that time would tell, but I felt good, really good about my Mother, and she said she was happy for me and looked forward to seeing us tomorrow, and when she said “you” she said she meant my Mother as well. And I had much the same conversation with Mom, who said she felt the weight of the world leaving her shoulders on the news, and I could almost feel the reduced tension over the phone.
Rejoining the others, they got up, we dusted ourselves off, and the three of us walked south, towards Grand Central where Kerry and I would be getting our train home. The crowds made walking difficult on Fifth Avenue. But we were in no hurry and did some window shopping along the way. As we reached 51st Street, my Mother asked if we would go into St. Pat’s with her, and we followed her. I’d been there once or twice and am still amazed at how bright and welcoming it is. Even to an agnostic like me.
My Mother, who I could see was a bit uncomfortable given the informality of what she wore, stopped us in an aisle. “You girls go on home. I have some things to do here. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I had told her that I spoke to Aunt Mary and that she was looking forward—really—to seeing her. Kerry and I each gave my Mother a hug and a kiss and left her as she genuflected before sitting quietly in a pew not far from the altar.
As we continued to Grand Central, Kerry and I were both quiet, talking a bit about whether everyone was going to be ready for Mary’s and Betty’s Wedding.
I heard Tom’s car enter his driveway as I helped Mary prepare for her wedding. I was her Maid-of-Honor. I looked out and saw my Mother get out of the car with Tom and walk towards the house. I dashed away from Mary, saying my Mother had arrived and that I’d be right back and rushed down the stairs to greet her. Kerry, though, who had been helping Betty get ready, beat me to it. And when Tom opened the door and waited for my Mother in a dress she must have bought after we left her, to enter the house first, I saw Kerry rush to her and hug her and I followed.
My Mother was treated as an honored guest at the wedding, although there was an undeniable tension in the air. But we made it through and enjoyed the wedding of Mary Elizabeth Nelson to Betty Anne Elliot.
It was a month later. The hug nearly crushed me. I had taken the subway up to 72nd and was in Carol’s apartment just off Broadway and Carol was hugging the breath out of me.
Carol is Kerry’s boss and was my boss when I was a paralegal at Sullivan & Wilson. I came for a cocktail party the firm was holding in Carol’s apartment for the firm’s three Summer associates. Kerry was one of the three.
“I’m so happy for both of you,” Carol, slightly taller than me, was whispering in my ear. I had not seen her since I left the firm for Trallis. I liked the firm, and especially its people, and was instrumental in getting Kerry her Summer associate gig, and their liking her was mutual. Kerry planned on working at the firm after she graduated and took the bar exam. She was a Summer associate at a Big Law firm after the first year and that was enough to convince her she wanted a future with a medium-sized firm with partners like Carol and Tom Sullivan, who were instrumental in my getting my job at Trallis.
We were interrupted by Carol’s wife, Rachel, who said she too was thrilled to see me. I updated them on what I was doing at Trallis, a major Sullivan & Wilson client, and about my Aunt’s wedding. I lowered my voice a smidge when they asked about our wedding and I said, “between us, we keep hemming and hawing.” I noticed Rachel rolling her eyes as she pointed her head toward her wife, with a “tell me about it” which garnered a slap from said wife.
Just then, I looked over Carol’s shoulder and I caught my first glimpse of Kerry. She’d not noticed my coming in and seemed deep in conversation with Jordan Miller, an associate for whom I had done some work as a paralegal. He must be a third- or fourth-year associate by now. And as I recalled he tried to hit on me when I worked at the firm.
The two were a bit outside the main circle of people, maybe twenty-five in total, at the party and the two were a bit inside what was an appropriate circle for two professionals. My attention to what Carol was saying flagged and Rachel noticed, turning to see what my eyes were burning a hole in and then Carol turned to see what we were looking at. The conversation stopped, and they both turned back to me.
Rachel asked, “can I show you the apartment?” and I half-heartedly followed. It was a nice place, a four-bedroom in a pre-War building—someone was doing well for herself—and a large living room that looked down across the small park and subway kiosk created where Broadway crosses Amsterdam and then to the south towards Columbus Circle.
Nice modernized kitchen, abuzz with a caterer’s activity for the party, a den in which a computer station was set up and with a love seat along one wall, and three bedrooms, one shared by the couple’s two kids—twins at an uncle’s for the evening—one for guests, and the third for Carol and Rachel. It was into this room that Rachel ended the tour.
Rachel was not a lawyer, and she and I were two of the few non-lawyers at the event. She sat me down on the bed and sat next to me.
“If you can get out of your engagement to Kerry, do it. Never marry a lawyer. You end up having to go to parties like this.”
“A little late for that. You do know I did finish one year in law school.”
“I heard. You leaving just confirms my opinion that you are the smart half of the pair-of-you.”
Rachel diverted my attention from my seeing Kerry and Jordan until Kerry came in and Rachel quickly excused herself. Kerry leaned over to kiss me but I turned my head in time so that she only got my cheek.
“It was nothing,” she said. “Really.” Carol, she said, had gone up to her and Jordan and asked to have a word with her. She went with Carol into the kitchen where amid the chaos Carol was blunt: “What are you doing?” To Kerry’s asking what Carol was talking about: “I’m talking about how close, how inappropriately close you and Jordan were to one another. That’s what I’m talking about. You freaked Suzanne out.”
According to Kerry, she had no idea what Carol was going on about. She and Jordan were discussing and disagreeing about a brief they were both working on. “That’s it.”
When Carol told Kerry that Jordan had tried to hit on me when I was at the firm, Kerry said she did not know that and, after the penny dropped, said, “Fuck.” Learning from Carol that I was probably in the master bedroom, she rushed to me, now saying, “You think I have doubts about you? About us? About who I am?”
“I know what I saw.”
My all-consuming thought: We are over. I had been wrong to push myself on Kerry, desperately wanting her to be what I now realized she wasn’t.
“I’m sorry Kerry. It’s not your fault. I never should have done what I did to you… I just wanted you so much, I loved you so much, that I tried to make you into something you weren’t. Aren’t. Please don’t hate me for taking advantage of you… Please say you’ll at least be a friend. Please. I shouldn’t have tried to ‘convert’ you. I understand now.”
“Suze, you really are deaf, dumb, and blind sometimes.” She gave her love a shake. “First, you didn’t ‘convert’ me. I found you. I’ve not had a moment of doubt since I visited you in your apartment about who I am and who I want to be with. Second, tonight you didn’t see anything. Until Carol mentioned it, I didn’t realize how touchy-feely he is. I don’t think it’s intentional, that he’s harassing or anything, I just think that he’s one of those people who when they get excited about something naturally lean into the person they’re talking to. I mean that. He is oblivious to it.”
“So why did it matter that Carol told you about his moves on me—I don’t know how she found out about that by the way—that you came running?”
“Because I was afraid you’d get the wrong idea. You’re the best, baby. I don’t care about the rest.”
“Did you just say that?” I had to grin.
“Well, you have told me I have a silver tongue.”
“Eww” and I grabbed a pillow and hit her with it. “Promise me that you don’t have doubts about ‘us,’ about you being with another woman.”
“Suze, baby, no doubts about any of this. No doubts about you leaving school and getting a job, moving in together, getting engaged. No doubts. And no doubts about setting a date.”
“I thought we were waiting until Mom and Tom got married.”
“You know how clueless the two of them can be.”
“Mary and Betty got married on the first Saturday of Summer. What do you say we do it on the first Saturday of Fall,” and pulling out my calendar I announced, “September 22, which happens to be the first day of Fall.”
Having my head spin, like, 900 degrees in the last three minutes, I was a bit of a wreck, until Kerry poked me and I saw that we had disturbed the bed, and we were trying to smooth it out when we heard a light tapping on the door. “Come in,” and Carol entered and surveying her no-longer-made bed said, “Sorry we don’t have a lock on the door, but I can call AAA Locksmith for an emergency visit if you want.”
When Kerry and I stopped blushing, and I’d brushed the tears from my face, Carol closed the door and told us both to sit. We sat. She stood.
“Kids. You are such babes in the woods. I trust you talked about the ‘mini-crisis’ you believe you just had. Listen. You’ve probably heard this a million times but relationships are all about your hearts. I spoke to Jordan, and he’s apoplectic. You should both know that he can get enthusiastic about things and he does stuff he probably shouldn’t. I nearly had to talk him off the ledge when he realized how you, Suzanne, might have viewed what was happening between him and Kerry. I didn’t ask him to, but I’m sure he’s out there waiting to apologize to both of you.
“I’ve asked him to be more aware of how other people might view things that he does, and I think he gets it now. A learning experience for him.
“And let’s hope one for the two of you as well. Now can we please get you out mingling again?”
And I looked at Kerry and she at me and to her “should we?” I said, “go ahead,” and that’s how Carol became the first person to know the date.
And with that our first crisis passed. Jordan rushed to us when we got back into the living room, tripping over his apologies. He is a sweet guy and he is a bit clueless about some things even though as a lawyer he was smart as a whip. And I realized that when he tried to “hit on” me it was nothing but an awkward attempt to see if I might-at-some-time-in-the-future-be-interested-in-going-to-lunch-or-maybe-just-coffee-with-him.
I could now enjoy myself at the party. There were several spouses and significant others who were not lawyers and some of the lawyers in the room were not boring when they spoke about other aspects of their lives.
I took more than my fair share of finger-food and after another hour or so Kerry and I were on the subway heading up to the train station, and we sat quietly once on board.
“Sweetie,” Kerry said with my head on her shoulder, “I’ve suffered from loving you for nearly two years and that’s not going to change. You know that don’t you?”
“I do but sometimes—”
“And you know how happy you make me and how lucky I am that you love me, don’t you.”
“I’m the lucky one.”
“No sweetie. You’re the hot one. I’m the lucky one.”
“Well, you are pretty smart so you must be right.”
“It’s good to know you’re at least smart enough to understand that,” she said, which drew a light slap on her leg from my free hand.
A bit later, I asked Kerry about a photo in Carol and Rachel’s bedroom. It was of a striking Asian woman in a Hopkins shirt, taken in what I recognized as Sausalito. I recalled a more-formal picture of her on a bookshelf in Carol’s office.
“That is Carol’s first wife.”
I did not know Carol had been married before Rachel.
“It is really sad. She got very sick and Carol took a leave of absence to care for her but in the end, she didn’t make it.”
“Wow. No one mentioned it when I was there.”
“I think it’s still sensitive and people leave it to Carol to talk about. She only told me a few weeks ago when I asked about that picture in her office.”
“So Rachel is the kids’ stepmom.”
“Oh my god, don’t get Carol going. She told me that Rachel fell in love with the twins—they’ve visited a couple of times and, let me tell you, she takes no guff from those kids who are pretty polite to begin with—ages before she fell in love with her and that she only agreed to marry so she could get custody. It took a while for Carol to be so easy about saying things like that.”
What Kerry said sent a chill through me. About a minute after she stopped speaking and as we were just leaving the Bronx, I lowered my voice and whispered, “I can’t lose you again Kerry, I can’t have you taken away from me” and the prospect of such a thing rifled through me and Kerry said, “that won’t happen if I have anything to do with it, my love.”
It took me a little longer to fall asleep and I held my love a little tighter than usual that night, with the horrible, unthinkable thought haunting me. It was days before the concerns, which I knew were unreasonable as a practical matter, dissipated sufficiently for me to put them out of my daily consciousness.
When we got to the house I called my Aunt and told her the news and the date and Kerry called Mom and told her the news and the date.
Kerry was staying late at school for a project so I figured it was a good chance to do a speed workout with the AC. We were doing hill repeats at the northern end of the Park. We gab-gab-gabbed until the repeat began, during which the only noise that any of us made was heavy breathing, which was followed by gab-gab-gab as we jogged down the hill before doing the whole thing again. Eight times.
When done, we headed over to a nearby bar where we could get a large table and eat, with no one caring how stinky we all were. When we arrived, I went to the bathroom to exchange some of my sweatier stuff for a clean T-shirt and shorts that I had in my backpack. A bit of a towel bath and I headed to where I heard the girls, in the back. And there, sitting amid the gang, was Kerry.
They all loved her. She came to most of my races and joined us for our warm-downs. When we had weekend long runs on trails to the north, she’d go for a walk and meet us afterward. And there she was for our very own hen party, wearing a stupid tiara with a veil and I saw, too late, Patsy moving next to me and putting an identical one on my head. After a half-hour, though, we had to dash the subway so we could get the train home.
After speaking to my Mother and Kerry, I sent a wedding invitation to my father. I did not think that he would be disruptive and wanted to give him a chance, however unlikely to be taken, to attend his daughter’s wedding.
On September 7, a Friday morning just over two weeks before the wedding, I got a call from Greg at Trallis’s front desk that there was someone to see me. I suspected who it was. I said I would be right there. My Mother and I and Kerry and I had discussed what I would do if he tried to contact me, even if he just showed up, and we agreed that the same line drawn for my Mother’s involvement with me would be drawn for him.
He stood at the front in one of his nice blue suits, white shirt (with French cuffs and gold cuff-links), red tie, and shiny black Oxford shoes. He stood like he just addressed the U.N. General Assembly and I would say that he had done so to impress me but this was the way he always dressed when in business- or Church-mode.
“Hello, Suzanne. I was in New York for a meeting and I thought I would drop by.”
“We can go down to the park to talk,” I said, as I turned to Greg to say I was taking an early lunch and had my phone. We walked silently to Madison Square Park and found an empty bench.
“I’ve come to take you home,” he began. He had illusions. I squashed them.
“Father, I am home. This has been my home for over two years now.”
“Suzanne, please listen—”
“No, father, there is only one thing I need to hear from you. This is binary. It’s the same choice I made Mother make. You need to tell me that you accept me fully and whole-heartedly for who I am, not who you think I am or who you would like me to be. For who I am. I am gay. I love a woman. And I am going to marry that woman.
“It’s a simple as that. You do not have to answer me now. I’ll leave the door open. But you will not walk through until you tell me that, with all your heart and with all your faith, you accept me and you love me for who I am. Not despite who I am. For what I am.”
With that, I stood and headed past the dog run, across Fifth Avenue, across Broadway, and back to my life. I did not look back.
I have not heard from my father since then. But his unexpected and uninvited visit to my office could not put a damper on my wedding.
The wedding itself was a small and simple affair. We were married at the Chappaqua Spread, as had my Aunt and Betty. While for the most part we limited the guest list to our “family,” that turned out to be a lot of people. I hope I am not forgetting anyone but we had Mary, Betty, Peter and his girlfriend, Michael and his girlfriend, Eileen and Tom (who had set November 10 as their date, finally), Andi and Jack Olson, M.D. (a Columbia Presbyterian bone doctor who we of course called “Captain Jack” which annoyed Andi to no end but with whom she seemed to have fallen hopelessly in love), James and Jennie, Eric (who, as expected, blew everyone away with his piano playing and was accompanied, as a guest and as a singer, by one Lynn Billings, a fellow Yalie who had a voice like a young Ella), my Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Phil Windsor (my Mother’s sister and brother-in-law and the only ones on her side of the California family (and their children) who stood by her), and, happily, my Mother.
Non-family? Patsy and Abby Alford represented the AC, Carol and Rachel (with their twins, both drafted into duty as ring bearers) represented Sullivan & Wilson, Marc and Bob were there for Trallis, and all three of our other first-term study-group members (and close alphabetical-mates), Mike Norton, Bill Monroe, and Marie Newman, represented the law school. A recently-appointed federal judge who Kerry and I had for contracts presided.
Annie Baxter? Not forgotten. She finished super well at the B-School and after toying with and rejecting job offers from Goldman and Google, among many others, she chose a growing New York-based boutique investment bank that had an outpost in London and was looking to set up a beachhead in Hong Kong. Annie, who had never been to New York when she and I started our drive a bit over two years before, was now chomping at the bit to spend time in those other world cities. She tried to get me to promise I would drive with her on those adventures to those cities, but I told her Kerry would not allow it. I still loved her very much.
Annie was still in the apartment although she had swapped the woman who had taken my spot—it was amicable and they got along quite well—for a gentleman called Martin Foster. She met him—I am checking my scorecard on this—at a Columbia event. He is a Brit working on his Ph.D. in History and teaching joint Barnard/Columbia courses in modern European history and helped me (so far as one can get any help on the subject) on some Brexit issues I have at work. I think Annie fell for him because he was a rower, but that’s just my theory. I am pretty confident on this one though; he was a rower who was in the fourth seat for Cambridge in the Boat Race. (Look it up.) QED.
So add Martin to the guest list.
And Annie? It was unconventional, but Kerry and I agreed that Annie would give me away. She represented my link between California and New York, literally the person who accompanied me every mile of the way. She was the one who tried to ease the pain of the dark months I had without Kerry. She was the best friend, the best of friends, who happily permitted me to transfer that role to Kerry and she, I think, loved me for longer than anyone else had.
It took some convincing from me, from Kerry, from Mary, to get her to take the giving-away gig. More than anything, it took convincing from my Mother, who sat down alone with Annie, sitting, as it happens, on the very sofa in my (former) apartment where I sat when Kerry visited me that cold January day eighteen months before, and said, Annie later told me, that she had not yet earned the right to undertake such a task.
My Mother—who came to New York on an open ticket, had recently found her own apartment and job in Manhattan, and was often seen running in Riverside Park in one of my Stanford or one of Kerry’s Fordham shirts—had, though, earned the right to stand next to me, as Eileen stood next to Kerry, when we exchanged our vows and after I had my first kiss as Ms. Neally, with Ms. Neally, my second kiss was with Mother and Ms. Neally’s was with Mom. September 22, 2018. It is engraved on our wedding bands. It did not take much discussion, among Kerry, Mom, Mother, and me, to decide that this was how we were to be known from that day forth.
There is one person who could not be there, my father. He could not be there because he declined to come, like a modern-day Lady Catherine de Bourgh, growling in California while the ceremony proceeded in New York. It remained, everything about it, an abomination to him and he would not accept the condition that I, and Mother, set for his attendance. I send him a monthly check for what I owe him financially—now up to $1,500—which he does not deposit and that is the extent of my contact with him.
Because Kerry had school, we put off our honeymoon. But the Family insisted that we do something on our wedding night. Tom put us in the back seat of his Audi and Mom followed in our—that would be the newly-wedded couple—Camry to White Plains where the two of us were deposited and our car parked by their parents who, after yet more hugs beneath the overhang at the hotel’s entrance disappeared into the night.
We were welcomed at the Ritz-Carlton’s front desk with “good evening Ms. Neally, good evening Ms. Neally, your suite is ready” and I was thrilled for the zillionth time that day. After checking into the suite, Kerry insisted that we go up to the restaurant on the top floor. We were still in our wedding dresses—we decided to go with dresses and not gowns—and we were again welcomed with “good evening Ms. Neally, good evening Ms. Neally,” now being shown to a small table to the south which offered a view to Manhattan and its skyline and being given two flutes of champagne. More than a few staff members and guests smiled at us while we sat, several offering us congratulations and genuine good-wishes.
After savoring the view and finishing our glasses and being told that it had all been taken care of, and us leaving a nice tip, the newlyweds—I cannot resist writing it like this, as it remains such a fairytale to me—headed down to their suite on the 38th floor and once the door was closed and locked, the brides kissed one another. The suite was high enough so that there could be no prying eyes and they left the curtains open and could again see out to Manhattan.
I—a fairytale can only describe so much and go so far—reached behind Kerry’s back and slowly unzipped her dress. She stepped out of it, now just in her silk bra and panties, stockings, a garter belt, and heels. She kicked the last of those away, and I unsnapped her stockings and then, after she sat on the bed, slowly removed them as well, dabbing each inch as I went along. The garter belt was next and then she was topless and I leaned over to reach for the globes that I sometimes wished that I had and, well, now actually and legally did have.
She stood, but I put my hand up, again, to stop her. My dress’s zipper was to the side, and I slowly pulled it down and allowed my dress to fall to the floor, holding her blue eyes as I did. I stepped over it and kicked it, gently, to the side. Kerry’s eyes bulged. I was wearing stockings, a garter belt, and heels.
“Holy shit. You went around—”
“Yes, I’ve been commando since we left the room to go upstairs.”
“Good thing I didn’t know ‘cause I would have—”
And as she said this I was again leaning into her and whispered, “you would have what?”
“This” and her hands came up to touch my boobs, nipples well extended, and she said, “have I ever told you how much I love these babies, these perfect babies” and she touched them and licked them in turn until I had flattened myself against her and said, “I’m half off the bed. Let’s get more comfortable,” which I punctuated by grabbing her panties and, after she lifted her butt, pulling them off and tossing them who-knows-where.
This was my wife, my naked wife—I still wore the stockings and garter belt—and I was above her as I lowered myself across her left thigh and as I rubbed her and she rubbed me and she scissored me and she wrapped her right hand to rub my clit and we stared into one another’s eyes and slowly and gradually peaked. This was not the wildness we often engaged in, but it was what we wanted this night and after we both used the bathroom to get ready, we got into the bed, both of us now naked, and my wife wrapped her right arm around me, kissed my neck, and said that she was the happiest woman in the world.
“Second,” said her wife.
And with that, the events of the day, and night, caught up to us and we dozed off.
The suite was booked for two nights so we would have a day to explore White Plains. It does not take a day to explore White Plains. I got up a bit before Kerry, at about eight, and told her while she was still in bed that I was going for an hour or so run, to which she sleepily said, “Go. We’ll eat when you get back,” and I think I caught a glimmer in her eyes. Then, as I was going through the door she called, “After we shower of course” and I threw her a kiss and was gone.
After heading out for half-an-hour along the course I had mapped out on the path along the Bronx River, I turned around, waving at the runners and cyclists also enjoying the nice early Fall weather as we passed each other—some waving back, others not and all oblivious to the band newly adorning my left ring-finger—and then I was in the elevator and when I knocked the door was opened by my wife after some seconds and she was in a robe. Just a robe. After she sniffed a couple of times and said, “You stink, you need a shower,” she pulled me into the bathroom, turned on said shower, stripped me, unrobed herself, and it was not long before we were somewhat futilely attempting to make love with the water cascading over us. We had only tried this a couple of times at the house and it showed, and this was a larger shower with a larger showerhead.
“Babe,” she finally said, “I’ll get out, you soap and rinse, and I’ll meet you in the other room.”
When I rushed out, after speedily doing what she had ordered me to do, I was surprised and disappointed that she was dressed! She looked good, but she would look better if she wasn’t dressed.
“Let’s go down for brunch in the lobby restaurant and then we can both get some air. The Family’s paying for it after all.”
After eating and exploring downtown White Plains, which amounted to walking up one side of Mamaroneck Avenue and down the other, we grabbed the Camry and just went for a drive, oohing and aahing at the huge spreads in Greenwich before turning back to spend the afternoon naked at the Ritz-Carlton.
We did not leave that suite for the balance of the first day of our marriage. We made love, I don’t know how many times, and then sat in the living room part of the suite pretty much as we usually did on Sundays in Tuckahoe, on either end of the sofa with our legs always and our hands occasionally touching and our eyes reading, Kerry with a book, me with a tablet. Although that we were each wearing a robe was a little different.
After a nice dinner in the top-floor restaurant, yet more great sex, and wonderfully deep sleeps, we rousted ourselves on the late side on Monday morning, both of us playing hooky for the morning—our honeymoon would have to wait—and after checking out of the hotel and driving home we took a late train into the city, Kerry for school, me for work, where I was awash in congratulations and more than a few hugs, including a long one from Marc.
On Tuesday, September 25, Kerry and I entered the first door of the third car of the eight-thirteen in Tuckahoe, turned left, and sat in the third row on the right side of the car. The woman who sat on the aisle, Jane Elliot, wished us both “good morning” and we did the same to her.
As the train slowed into 125th Street, we said “excuse me” to Jane Elliot, who rose. Kerry said “thank you” and so did I. And as we passed, Jane Elliot whispered, “Congratulations again. I am so happy for you both.”
And Kerry got off to go to school and I continued to Grand Central to work.