I always feel quiet and thoughtful this time of year. Right now it’s so cold here that even my snow-tunneling puppy doesn’t want to go outside. I just want as much time as possible sharing hot chocolate with my wife and hiding under the covers. It’s been a hard year, but also one I’m proud of. This is a poem I wrote for New Year’s five years ago, when my wife and I were in a long-distance relationship and I was just realizing that my migraines weren’t going to go away.
I am a superstitious woman.
It’s what happens to some of us
when all we can say is,
I hope nothing crashes today
what happens when we are tired
and I am so tired.
(You back out through doors
you build up every cairn you pass
when you wake up at night you whisper prayers
you know you’re not making the rules
you try to show good intent.)
Living is like any other hobby:
you get out of it as much as you put in,
enrollment fees are killer,
even if you do everything just right,
you break your back and can’t walk
for six months
if you’re lucky.
(I don’t look too long at things I want,
I don’t draw attention to beauty.
I have standards and they are all
keep your mouth shut.
I don’t say this girl is precious to me
like fresh eggs in the dead of winter,
that seeing her I might not starve.)
There are rules to these games,
not because anyone cares if you’re kind
smart lovely intoxicating. It’s just that
like a collision, like collusion
fate’s looking to happen to someone
and if you play along sometimes
maybe it won’t be you.
(But I still hope this year will be better
if I just greet it with strength and deference.
I believe that, though I heard no promises,
she will be there when I reach out.
When I am scared I still say look,
there is this girl who is precious to me
and my love for her is true as a dozen eggs.)
We picked our wedding photographer, the unsinkable Danielle Norris-Gardner of Salty Raven Photography, almost entirely for her flexibility. We met her at a friend’s wedding, a sweet, intimate affair to be held in a beautiful rock garden in a beautiful Massachusetts state park.
Then, our friends’ scheduled photographer had to drop out days before the wedding. It rained, the nasty cold drizzle kind of rain that isn’t ever going away. And the park announced, I am sure very apologetically, that they had accidentally double-booked our friends’ rain location, and would a partially enclosed porch suffice?
Fortunately, it was a lovely partially enclosed porch, and a lovely wedding. And we were very impressed by the way that Danielle stepped up to the role of pinch hit photographer with multiple location changes in the rain. She was one of the most low-pressure people we’d ever met; I imagined that probably my wedding dress could catch fire and she would find a way to convince us all that it was romantic serendipity.
We knew that photography was important to us before we got engaged. My dad has always been into photography, and we’ve known enough newlyweds with photographer horror stories to put us off the idea of skimping there. “Decent pictures” would probably have been somewhere between “not getting jilted at the altar” and “not giving all of the guests food poisoning” in our list of priorities, even if we’d been a straight couple.
But, of course, we’re not. And somehow, by the time we got engaged, we’d been together six years, almost all of it out to almost everyone in our lives, with almost no photographic evidence. There were a few blurry pictures from Second Chance Prom, made uncomfortable by the memory of very quickly changing our facebook privacy settings because we weren’t out yet, and hadn’t noticed the pictures being taken. A few bad selfies, but neither of us are selfie people. Plenty of group photos. And a framed portrait on our kitchen counter from a cruise my grandparents took us on a few years back – I’m in a flowing repurposed bridesmaid dress, and B’s in a vest that doesn’t quite fit, and we look a little bit like we’re at Prom and my parents are watching where she puts her hands.
So taking engagement photos meant a lot, perhaps especially because it seemed so frivolous. People like to accuse weddings of being the ultimate extravagances, but a lot of the expenses really can’t be avoided. If you believe in elaborate ceremonies committing you to the person you love for the rest of your life in front of your families, God, and community – which, being lesbians from Irish Catholic families, maybe it’s no surprise we do – well, you need a place to have it. And you’d shame yourself if anyone went hungry. And once everyone’s had dinner and three or four drinks, they’re gonna want to either dance or fight, so you have to set up a dance floor to guide them into the right choice.
Engagement photos were something that we did for us, because we wanted to.
I had assumed that we were long past any sort of insecurities about the validity of our relationship (after all, I had named her the beneficiary of my death benefits) but being engayged made everything we did feel political in a way that we hadn’t experienced in a long time. Most people had known what I meant when I talked about my girlfriend, but as the straight-passing one, I realized that I could spend a really long time talking about my engagement and wedding planning before people realized my fiancée was a woman. And life had been hard, in that stark romantic way where you’re blissfully in love and spend your days eating cheese and looking dreamily into each other’s eyes in between navigating illness, unemployment, and all of the relationship travails that take place when you somehow convince your beautiful fiancée to move halfway across the country to live with your entire family in a village the size of a thumb tack.
We wanted to set some time aside to have fun, to be excited about wedding planning instead of overwhelmed. And I believe in the power of a narrative. I wanted to be able to look at our photos and say: look, we love each other so much, and everything else will come with time.
And it worked. (My favorite moment was when I took out my purse to pay for our ice cream, and Danielle was like, oh, no, it’s on me. If your photographer doesn’t love you enough to buy you lavender-blueberry ice cream, maybe you should hire mine.) We goofed off and had fun in Scenic New England, and we couldn’t stop smiling even later that night when we were… changing a flat tire in the dark outside a cemetery in Scenic New England. Getting pulled over because B was driving so carefully down the dark windy unfamiliar Scenic New England roads with a spare tire at one A.M. that the police officer thought she might be drunk (no) or lost (no comment) was only a slight buzzkill. One that inspired me to buy a GPS.
And when I look at the pictures, I don’t worry about whether my nose is (objectively) huge. I think: wow, we’re so happy.
Danielle didn’t ask me to write this post, but I did get permission to use her pictures, and I have to recommend her without reservations. I don’t know if it’s possible for her to love you as much as she loves us, but she’s unbelievably sweet and professional, so I’m sure she’ll fake it. You can find her blog post about this engagement session here. (It has more pictures!)
I’d also like to thank B, my fiancée, who selected and arranged the images in this post. I asked her to choose four or five; she picked me up for lunch and said, “Well, I was able to whittle them down to twenty-nine.”
The Monday after the Orlando Pulse shooting, my fiancée and I went to the vigil outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City because we didn’t know what else to do. I left work early, my coworkers confused (“Was someone you know there?”) but sympathetic. We drove four and a half hours to the Lincoln tunnel, had at least two sobbing fights about the horror that is city driving, and wondered if we were being selfish or silly for going to all that trouble.
I don’t think we could have done anything else. Sometimes things happen that are so horrible, you can’t do anything but put on a clean shirt and go to the funeral.
As it started to seem like the whole world had agreed that 2016 was the worst! year on record, it was hard to disagree. I was tired. I remembered walking up the sidewalk to the vigil, arm in arm with my fiancée, looking for the friend we were meeting. Thinking: OK, she’ll be the short white femme looking serious. Her hair’s probably still spiky and bleached. Hopefully she’ll see us first and wave.
We found each other and hugged – what do you say? When your grandmother dies, you tell your cousins, “It’s so good to see you again – if only there were better circumstances.” But ‘circumstances’ felt like one hell of a euphemism. I think I remember saying, “I’m so glad you’re safe” over and over again.
We were an angry crowd that night, hard to impress. We hissed when pedestrians crossed over the chalk memorial in the center of the park. We chanted over everyone who tried to talk. It was the kind of anger that can’t be placated, the way that smoke stays in the walls of a house ages after a fire, and on warm days the smell seems to billow out.
In a lot of ways, the whole year felt like that. There would be news of something else awful, and then the rush – now routine – to reach out and check in with each other. I remember saying “I’m so sorry to tell you this,” and having friends and relatives, people who aren’t out to anyone yet and married couples with children, message me to ask, “How are you doing?”
It sucked. We must have loved each other so much to do it.