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.