Our friends are upset at us because L’Ailee and I declined all their New Year’s Eve invitations. The thing is, next year we probably will go out, especially since New Year’s is a big deal for L’Ailee. (That’s why we chose that date!) But really, we just wanted to spend our first anniversary alone together. We “played tourist” that afternoon, then got home in time to avoid the real tourists! We had the TiVo recording Animal Planet’s “Black and White Gala” (pandas and penguins and zebras, oh my!), the alarm clock set for midnight, and an ice bucket with cheap sweet champagne at the ready. (I’m not cool or tasteful; cheap sweet champagne is my favorite!) Really, that was all we needed this year.
There is a question that I have been asked via e-mail and private messages, to say nothing of what L’Ailee and I got in person and by phone, and it was: Will she, dare she, shave it all off again? On the one hand, she’d been taking prenatal vitamins and buying hairstyling magazines; on the other, she *kept* those scarves on her head, complained about looking like Little Orphan Annie, and talked about how she wouldn’t be able to recognize herself. Technically, she didn’t shave herself bald again. I did it, because just like last year (it made us laugh to think of it!), she woke me up by slapping my ass and told me to come help her.
I very much wanted to see what she’d look like with her hair longer—I asked her to consider just letting it grow while the weather’s cold, even made a blatantly empty threat to cut off all *my* hair, too—but ultimately, she’s the one who’s gotta wear it and it’s the inside of her head I really like anyway. I took my time about it, kissing and stroking in a way that would get me fired from Supercuts, and she looked in the mirror and felt right again. Later in the day, her little bald head was bent over one of her many books with titles like 101 Truly Fiendish Logic Puzzles for the Bat-Shit Freakin’ Insane, and she looked so intent and adorable in her reading glasses, and I spontaneously kissed that smooth scalp. She looked up. “I had forgotten how much I missed that,” she said. So had I. Amazing what a month can do.
And speaking of the difference a month can make…well, this is more serious stuff. I kind of haven’t wanted to talk about it, because I barely knew my great-uncle. I only really got to know my great-aunt two years ago, after my grandfather died. Her husband was taciturn—he clearly adored her, but said little to anyone else. At our family reunion in July, L’Ailee sort of wanted to hide from everybody, and encountered him, and they ended up playing chess. Two smart, shy Russians who felt just “peopled out,” being introspective together. Then they spoke at Thanksgiving while I was cooking. So my wife knew him better than I did! I’m sure y’all guessed it, but he died on the 20th. I found out at Christmas. And I’ve been talking to her a little bit every day since.
The first couple of days, she was still terribly broken up. Of course. Sixty-four years, they spent together. She’s 87, and people were telling her to move on! “What an absolute load of bullshit!” I blurted out when she told me that. My great-aunt laughed! How wonderful—I was afraid I’d never hear that again. I guess what I was really mourning was the sparkly, bubbly personality and the great sense of humor I’d just now gotten to know and love.
She will be mourning for a very long time. Small things make her cry, like having all my mom’s Christmas fudge to herself instead of having to hide some from him in order to get any. She can’t remember anything he did wrong. (He didn’t do much wrong—he was very supportive and loving—but he did annoy her sometimes, especially after they both retired.) But she still laughs. She likes to hear about our lives—she says it makes her feel more like “part of the living world.”
On New Year’s Day, I realized that the calls helped me as much as my great-aunt, if not more. I told her so, and she just went, “Oh, pshaw.” But she inadvertently answered a question that had been on my and my girl-cousin “Eowyn’s” and my mom’s minds—namely, how can you stand to love when you know you’ll lose, either in terms of trust or to death? At age seven, when my Daddy died, I learned that people you love get taken away from you for no good reason. He left Mom with debts she didn’t know about, a betrayal as well as a loss. And Eowyn’s parents are experiencing the ugliest divorce I’ve ever personally witnessed because they spent the past almost thirty years treating each other very shabbily.
My great-aunt told me she found our fear frustrating. She said she was proud of me for actually getting married, “even if it is same-sex.” But, she continued, “you girls act like you’re the first ones to have a heartache, or a daddy who died on you, or a daddy who was a hound. You know, we had all of those things back in the Stone Age, too! We still let ourselves love. We still got married. Why does your generation and your mother’s generation make it harder than it has to be?”
I put on my sociology major hat. “Well, I reckon part of it is, these days it’s so much easier to get divorced. Also, a woman doesn’t have to depend on a man financially. So maybe we feel like we should really hold out for quality.” She made “um-hmm” noises. “Except, I guess it’s like I tell myself when I can’t write, what I told my mom when she got so frustrating at Christmas: The perfect is the enemy of the good.”
“What does that mean?”
“If you try too hard to make things perfect or look for what’s perfect, you’ll miss out on the good things and the good people.”
She considered. “Amen, honey! Amen!” Then she asked, “What made you get over it?”
“What I had to get over wasn’t so much a search for perfection as a fear of getting burned. Of…” I searched for the words, and went to a phrase I’d used last week. “Of not only having the rug pulled out from under me, but being taken to the top of the cliff beforehand! You know what I’m saying?” She did. “I guess what happened was, I got much more afraid of living without her. In fact, I said that in my vows.”
“I wish I’d seen that,” she mused. “I’ve seen many lesbian couples in my time, but never a lesbian wedding.”
I have told people about my fears before, and gotten thoroughly sick of that Shakespeare quote about loving and losing. But my great-aunt brought it home. “Honey, the thing you’re so afraid of just happened to me. I loved him for…for a lifetime. He’s gone. I lost him. But you know what? I hate the sight of that empty chair, but I can remember him in it. I cry after I tell you stories, but I *have* stories, lots of stories. You know something? If I had to be 87 years old and alone, I’d so much rather have it this way, with a lot love in my past. It’s like a country song on the radio said, ‘Sometimes I feel like I’m so lucky to have had a chance to love this much.’” (I know, isn’t she cool?! She listens to country radio, at her age, and quotes song lyrics like I do!) She said, “I’m so very glad that I wasn’t afraid to love him in the first place.”
“What you said about how someday you’ll be a strength to someone else,” I began timidly, after we’d both finished crying. “You are one now. You are one now.”
A few months ago, Jaded caught me in a homesick mood, and reminded me that me and L’Ailee are making tomorrow’s good memories today. And so we are. Years from now, one or both of us will laugh as we remember:
December 31, 2005. The answer to another question some of y’all have. The fear of falling on my big ass ruled my life as I strapped ice skates onto my Floridian feet for the first time, and I felt nerdy in my purple Polartec pants. I didn’t fall, though! L’Ailee didn’t let me. “Stay vertical, go forward. That’s all you need today,” she whispered more than once. I did it, albeit slowly. I’m sure I looked like a penguin, only not as cute. I longed for roller skates. I gripped L’Ailee’s hand hard. And then I sat.
L’Ailee needed some time on the ice for herself, unencumbered by a beginner. She didn’t say that, but I knew it. I helped her pick the right music on her iPod, “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)” by US3. She figure-skated for a bit, doing the kind of shit that, to my uneducated eye, looked like it belonged in Torino. How graceful she was in her flippy skirt. The she tried a triple-axel, and…guess who fell on *her* fine ass? I waddled out to help her up, alternately doling out the “poor babies” and laughing. She was all kinds of embarrassed.
I told her not to be, whispering urgently. “The important thing is you tried, babycita. You were doing something really cool. And right up until the end, it worked great.”
“I suppose,” she replied. We left, arms around each other’s waists, in search of some coffee mixed with hot chocolate.