Thirty years ago today Kelley and I met in East Lansing, Michigan, on the campus of MSU. We were there for Clarion, a six-week writing workshop. Neither of us had a clue what we were in for. (Read an excerpt of my multi-media memoir, And Now We are Going to Have a Party, for more on that meeting.)
What we were in for turned out to be the beginning of the rest of my life, the fulcrum around which everything turns. But first we had to be apart for over a year, me in Hull, England, and Kelley in Atlanta, Georgia.
Today, to amuse myself, I put together a little photo story.
That autumn we were apart, in 1988, was very, very hard. Kelley was working at GE Computer Services, going to parties, and making friends in the Atlanta queer community. In Hull, I was grief-stricken (my little sister died), stressed out of my mind (in love with two women on opposite sides of the Atlantic), and frantically earning money to get back to the US. As well as my actual job as a caseworker at a street drugs agency, I was teaching women’s self defence as many evenings and weekends as I could. I hadn’t really started to get sick yet…
Then I did get sick. And I lost weight. But then, finally, I managed to get back to Kelley. I’m not sure we let go of each other for more than 5 minutes at a time the whole seven weeks I was in the US. This Polaroid was taken in Tampa, where Kelley introduced me to her mother and stepfather.
This time when I left her it was to sell my house, leave my partner of 10 years, and say goodbye to my family. It took three months. It was hard.
We lived in a brand new apartment way outside Atlanta: Duluth, Georgia. Then moved closer into the city with a rented house in Decatur. Finally, with the advance I got from Ammonite, we had just enough to put down a scarily skimpy deposit and risk an adjustable rate mortgage on a little house in Atlanta itself. At some point I would either sort immigration and we’d move somewhere not so damned hot, or the immigration thing would completely implode and we’d have to leave the country. Either way, we’d be selling before the interest rate jumped too much. It was worth the risk. But money was tight, immigration was daunting, and my mysterious fatigue was not getting better.
In the photo on the left, taken in 1992, the strain is showing. We were seeing lawyer after lawyer and not getting the immigration answers we needed. I was having medical test after medical test, ditto. We knew it was serious when I began to limp. Six months later, I had my diagnosis: MS. Six months after that, we got married. I wore long sleeves because of all the IV bruises on my arms.
Although the marriage had zero legal force it had a profound effect on me. Weirdly, that manifested in me beginning to grow my hair. (Something about being settled? Being a wife? It’s a mystery.) Anyway, by the next spring it was long enough to spray and pin into an updo for a big ol’ Southern party at my editor’s father’s house: everyone who was anyone in Atlanta society was there. It was like playing dress-up. It was playing dress up.
Then I sold another book. I got my Green Card. And we moved to Seattle.
1997. Seattle. We are much more at home. Kelley has a fab job and I’ve published two novels and sold a third. We have a lovely little house in Wallingford (that’s a friend’s house in the background). We’re bursting with happiness. One fly in the ointment: my hair. It’s long enough to plait, very heavy and very annoying. Here it’s scragged out of the way; I am sick of it.
1999. Vermont. I’ve started to shorten my hair. One year later, in 2000, I’ve chopped it all off and bleached it white. This is us in the Queen’s Grill onboard QE2: a transatlantic crossing that was our 40th birthday present to ourselves. We’re both wearing long dresses because they take First Class seriously on that boat. (Next time: a tux!)
2005. One last shot of Kelley taken in the kitchen of our old house-with-steps in Wallingford. One of me in the kitchen of our new single-level house a month later. Kelley has published Solitaire and just started the longest-ever rights negotiation for the movie rights. I’m working on Always.
May 2008 in Los Angeles: winning my sixth Lambda Literary Award. Then the day after in the bar feeling a leetle rough. Then June in Seattle: a dinner party at home to celebrate our 20th anniversary. I am about to start writing Hild. Kelley is writing the screenplay for OtherLife.
These are all taken between 2009 and 2012. The black and white one is me being delirious with delight at getting an offer from FSG for Hild.
2013. General happiness, and then, a few months later, a fully legal wedding on the 20th anniversary of our first nothing-legal wedding.
And that’s it, because, strangely, I just couldn’t find any photos taken in the last five years of us together without other people in them, apart from a set taken last year that we plain don’t like. We’ll have to fix that. Stay tuned.
Meanwhile, we’ll be spending the rest of the week in a state of general benevolence. I hope your plans are as delicious as ours…