Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fifteen Years

Fifteen years ago this morning, I was thinking about what to wear to a party where I’d see a bunch of friends I had known when I was a teenager. I was 24, in graduate school studying religion. I was young and thin and smart, with long hair and perfect skin, and I chose eggplant satin pants and a see-through shirt with velvet leaves.

On the way to the party, I mentioned to my graduate school friends that Glastonbury is an affluent suburb of Hartford, that all these friends were good friends who I’d done musicals with in high school, and that I had no idea whether we’d fit in. I mentioned that I’d heard Kevin Fanning was coming, and that he was a writer and had a good job, and had just returned from a weekend in London. I mentioned I’d had a crush on him in 8th grade, and that I hoped he would think I was hot and want to date me. I’d recently lost a lot of weight, so in my fantasy, I would flirt but eventually reject him, just for fun. I didn’t need anyone to be happy -- I was young and thin and smart, and life was good.

That’s not how it turned out.

Fifteen years ago this evening, Kevin Fanning swished into that party wearing pleather pants, a pink top, and spiked hair, bleached at the tips. He kissed me on the cheek with the familiarity of a close gay friend, and I thought, “oh, well he may not want to date me, but we can be friends and talk about cute boys.” Then the flirting began. He teased me about divinity school. We went outside for a smoke and he gave me mints. We made each other laugh, we both loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer (him, the show; me, the movie) and thought Mike Myers made the funniest movie ever (him, Austin Powers; me, Wayne’s World). We made out on the host’s bed, next to a pile of coats and a porcelain Christmas village that lit up from the inside. A friend offered us a ride home, and I rode holding Kevin’s hand. When we got to Kevin’s house, I expected him to pull me inside, but he gave me a kiss on the cheek and said he would call me.

I called him. Or emailed, I don’t remember. What I remember is the incredible anticipation of getting to see him again. There were emails and mix tapes, a first date in the North End, evenings in the austerely decorated bedroom of the house he rented with a group of college friends, kissing under Christmas lights, strung above his bookcase. That first year, we decided to move in together. During the next year, we committed to remaining happily unmarried for the rest of our lives.

We moved from our Somerville triple decker to a top-floor apartment with a roof-deck in Jamaica Plain, with exposed brick walls and a mouse problem. We moved to Illinois with our cat and our sanity barely intact from navigating a U-Haul across interstates -- the cat meowing all the way above the sound of a tinny, staticky radio.  We worked in jobs that made us unhappy, decorated our house, bought a Christmas tree, and had a baby. Baby Raimi loved the lamp above our dining room table, but the house was not ours -- so we bought one with a down payment from our parents and moved in. Raimi made me happier than I could have imagined, and I was scared that another child would take away from what we had. 

I was wrong. Baby Kinnell made our family complete. The four of us laughed together, crawled around on the floor together, played together, went for walks in the beautiful parks and playgrounds of Champaign-Urbana. Our kids rode big wheels and drew in chalk on our sidewalks. Raimi went to Kindergarten and Kinnell became everyone’s favorite at his daycare. Raimi and Kinnell are one another’s friend and protectors, and they go through life with a peaceful good humor that I attribute to their father. 

In this fifteen years, Kevin lost his Grandma Helen and his Great Auntie Anne, and the first adult to encourage his writing, his friend's beloved mother, Rosemary Cronin. I lost my father. When my father died, my mother called Kevin first, so he could come to comfort me. I was sitting at my desk, stunned at the news, when he wooshed in and wrapped his arms around me. We gathered up the kids and drove across Illinois to mourn.

In this fifteen years, we moved to Cambridge, the first place I’ve ever lived that felt like home. Our children were each diagnosed with a condition that they can live with, and I spent my spare time educating myself about medical and educational systems that I never imagined needing to know about. Kevin has been the life partner every parent dreams of -- at my side when I needed him, splitting off to care for one child while I cared for the other. Kevin washes the dishes every night and does all the laundry.

In this fifteen years, I have read the funniest, most brilliant works of fiction, startled by the fact that they were written by my husband. The humanity - embarrassing, awful and beautiful - that he captures in his stories - gives me hope. Kevin’s writing makes me feel like whatever I’m worried about will be ok. He makes me feel like it may be awful, but it’s what we have. He makes me feel like maybe it’s actually quite meaningful, this life. 

In this past year, Kevin has finished a novel, that -- I can’t even tell you how good it is. The main character, Katie Raygun, is the girl I imagined myself to be in my childhood fantasies -- tough, hilarious, smart, with kung-fu moves. She is a complete person with mistakes and stupidity and dreams and competence. She kicks ass and thinks for herself. You will read it, I promise. It’s so good.

In this past year, my mother was diagnosed with ALS, and Kevin has been the stabilizing presence that keeps our family together in the most literal sense. Because of Kevin, I will never regret the time I have spent away from my kids, helping my mother or simply being with her. While I am gone, he takes the kids to weird restaurants and shuttles them to their lessons. He takes them shopping and supervises their homework and introduces them to fruitcake. It is a lot to travel cross-country every month, and if Kevin were not my husband, I could not do this. He makes it possible for me to do this. It is a gift I cannot adequately describe.

Oh, and we got married. In the midst of our move to Cambridge. It was just the four of us and Chaplain Gay King Crede, in the small chapel at Cunningham Children’s Home. The kids signed our marriage certificate after joining us in saying aloud, “Love makes a family.” 

I love Kevin Fanning so much. Today is the anniversary that we celebrate, because it was the beginning. I am thankful every day for the gift of our commitment and the joy of our partnership and marriage. 

Happy Anniversary, my love.

Monday, June 18, 2012

She Loves You

The Beatles were the first band that really meant something to me. A nerdy preteen girl with braces and glasses, I was sure I was completely unlovable. When I popped my Rubber Soul cassette into my Sony Walkman, the world around me would fill with lightness and love. I may have had all the wrong clothes, but that's not what mattered -- all you need is love, love is all you need.
I could not, would not be forced to choose a favorite Beatle. The balance of spirit (George), critical thought (John), and love (Paul) seemed to capture it all.  I loved the idea that if he hadn't been a Beatle, Ringo would have been a hairdresser. The dorkiest Beatle was, to me, also the most relatable. 
I knew it would be very uncool to love Paul the best, especially when I'd talk with guys about it. They'd dismiss Paul as a sap, argue that Wings was proof that without John, Paul would be nothing. I remember watching The Compleat Beatles and thinking all those girls screaming about how cute Paul was were ruining the music for the real music fans. But this begs the question: why did the girls love Paul?
My high school friend Beth was an unashamed Paul fan, and I remember thinking that was so cool. Beth was a pianist and knew what she was talking about musically. If John was the guy the boys all wanted to be, then maybe Paul was the guy the girls all wanted to know.
Some of my favorite Paul songs: I've Just Seen a Face, Good Day Sunshine, I'll Follow the Sun, Blackbird.  Each of these songs has some sadness in it, uplifted by joy. How could I not imagine myself in the lines, "And then we lie / beneath a shady tree / I love her / and she loving me."

The best songs of Paul's solo career are incredibly catchy. Underneath every cheesy post-Beatles line is a propulsive melody, sung with a wink. I'm a little obsessed with "Live and Let Die," and will fight to the death to argue that it is better than every other James Bond theme and if I'm really being honest, better than the movies themselves. 
You used to say live and let live 
(You know you did, you know you did you know you did) 
But if this ever changing world in which we live in 
makes you give in and cry:
Say Live and Let Die  
The song is hilarious. It's hilarious to imagine vegetarian animal rights activist and devoted husband to Linda, Paul McCartney growing as jaded and callous as James Bond. It's just not in him. Someone called him up and said, will you write a James Bond theme song, and he said, sure. Then instead of evoking a bunch of sexy naked ladies dancing to a thrusting musical score, he came up with a musical chase scene, a bunch of puns and grammatical contortions, and the jokey old-fashioned promise to "give the other fellow hell."
I happened to catch the radio interview with Paul on NPR's Fresh Air, and was so riveted I had to listen to it uninterrupted and then listen to it again with my husband. You can hear how starstruck Terry Gross is when he discloses he's sitting at a piano and will happily demonstrate a few musical concepts for her. 

What comes through is how much Paul loves his family. He talks at length about what an important musical influence his father was. You hear in Paul a loving son. The interview doesn't mention it, but Wikipedia informs me that he named his first child after his mother. In the interview he speaks of his love for his new wife, and he sings a few lines:
What if it rained?
We didn’t care
She said that someday soon
The sun was gonna shine
And she was right,
This love of mine,
My valentine.

He describes writing these lines at a lounge piano in a hotel where he was vacationing with his wife. It was raining and he was feeling disappointed about the weather, but his wife told him she didn't care because they were together. He realized she was right, and plunked out the melody, while waiters and bus boys set up for the dinner service.The interview is really lovely, ending with him describing the room where he's recording: a light-filled music studio in the English countryside. 
Paul's life hasn't been all sunshine and happiness. He's lost a wife he loved dearly to cancer, seen his best friend murdered during a time when they were barley speaking, and seen another dear friend stabbed and nearly killed -- eventually succumbing to cancer. It's only Paul and Ringo who are left, and they get together to play music sometimes, you hear in interviews. I mean, how could they not.
That guy's been through a lot of sadness and keeps on singing sentimental, light-filled songs about love. He jokes about sex ("why don't we do it in the road?" naming his album Kisses on the Bottom) -- and he means it. He seems to know pretty well that he's the luckiest man alive.
Choosing a favorite Beatle is like choosing your favorite child: there really is enough love to go around. But at this moment in my life, I'm really into Paul. The last several years have brought a lot of pain into my life, and at times I've felt powerless and alone. Although I didn't used to like the song "Let it Be," it speaks to me now. Paul was in his early 20's when he sang, "When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me speaking words of wisdom: let it be." 
He was just a kid who'd lost his mother, and remembered the comfort she gave him during her life. His mother's love stayed with him, and came to him when he needed it. This week I sat by my own son's hospital bedside and told him that same thing: it's going to be ok, I promise. I love you. Paul wasn't the first to suggest that a mother's love is powerful, but not a lot of rock stars would choose that as a theme in their music, or talk about it in interviews.
There's a gender issue in all this of course -- my sense of Paul McCartney as a husband and father, as a son and someone who loves and listens to women, and remembers what they say. Sure, Paul has written a lot of silly love songs, and his attempts at political relevance are sometimes a little clunky. But I appreciate that the love Paul writes about isn't a philosophical idea of love, but a bodily kind of love: two people lying together in the shade, a mother coming to her son's side. It's a love with kisses and arms and shouts of joy. 
I always thought it was clever when, at the end of "All You Need is Love," Paul sings a phrase from "She Loves You" -- reminding everyone of where the Beatles started. But on another level, the reference inserts the idea of relationship into an abstract metaphysical statement. The way it comes out is something like:

Love is All You Need
Oh Yeah! Love is All You Need
She loves you, yeah! yeah! 
Love is All You Need

The love you take is equal to the love you make -- it's an equation and a relationship, and that relationship is all that will matter in the end. Amen.
Happy Birthday, Paul! I love you!