As a gay teenager growing up, I came of age believing that marriage was an institution that was forever closed to me. However, I am now fifty-two, and as things have turned out, I have been no stranger to marriage, even though it was not always recognized by the State.
I met my first husband in January 1984. His name was Dennis Cafiero. I was three months shy of my twenty-first birthday; he was twenty-six and we met in a popular cruising spot and went back to his apartment and headed directly to bed.
I enjoyed the experience, and I liked him, but I didn’t think too much of the encounter until I ran into him again about two weeks later and the same sequence of events happened. This time we both knew something was happening, though we said little.
By the time we’d been seeing each other a month, we’d fallen in love. But it wasn’t all hearts and flowers: he and I were very different personalities and instead of complementing each other, we tended to clash. I had a nasty temper and a very short fuse, and I soon discovered that he became verbally abusive when he was provoked. Our fights were frequent and often loud, and I am ashamed to say that on occasion they became physical. But there must have been love there: we spent several years in an on-and-off relationship before we finally moved in together.
Our total time together lasted fifteen years almost to the day. Then in January 1999, though I did not realize it, Dennis had been seeing someone behind my back, and he decided to provoke fights with me with the purpose of pushing me to the point where I would get violent. He succeeded; he said some horrible things about my family, who had never been anything but good to him, and I lost it. I threw everything within reach at him and I slapped him a couple of times across the face. He took his coat and left.
Not knowing what to do, I think I went up the block and got an oil change done on my car. He was still gone when I got home, and I was stressed out and exhausted, so I climbed into bed and fell asleep.
The next thing I knew a police officer was waking me up; Dennis had managed to get a restraining order against me and he threw me out into the street after fifteen years; when I went to court a week later the TRO was made permanent so I was forever banned from the place that had been my home for eight years.
I was forced to stay with friends and family while I amassed enough money for first and last on a new apartment; it was awkward and embarrassing and I could tell I was overstaying my welcome but it took me two months to save enough money. Moving day was a relief until my belongings arrived from my former home. Dennis had simply thrown everything I owned into garbage bags, everything, from clothing to some of my grandmother’s china to a collection of Peanuts™ figurines that he knew meant a lot to me.
I discovered much later that I could probably have charged him with willful destruction of property but at the time it didn’t occur to me and I was so relieved that the ordeal was over that I made the best of things.
Then six months to the day after he threw me out, he called me AT WORK, hysterically crying, because the twink he had moved into my bed (he was eighteen and Dennis was forty-one and he was literally in my bed the same night I left) had dumped him and here was my ex pouring into my ear his tale of anguish and his “I love him so much…”
It’s a good thing we were on the phone and not face to face because I might have killed him. I contented myself with telling him he had one hell of a nerve calling ME to cry on MY shoulder about some PIECE OF ASS he threw me out for after FIFTEEN YEARS and I slammed down the phone. I was shaking. He called back. I told him I could not keep talking to him wile I was at work and I hung up the phone. He called back AGAIN. Out of options, and despite the restraining order I knew was still in effect, I gave him my home number because my boss had already had a word with me about personal calls and I couldn’t blame her.
For the next few weeks he called me regularly. He used me as a shoulder to cry on and a sort of Ann Landers to use for relationship advice. Then he finally got around to what I suspect was his motive for contacting me all along: we owned a time share together in Key West and he wanted me to sign it over to him. I told him if he wanted that he had to pay me for half and he refused. I told him to go jump in the ocean and drown. I was done.
But he wasn’t. He called the cops and said I had called him (which I had but I was only returning a call on my answering machine when I got home from work), which was a violation of the restraining order, and the next thing I knew I was in the county jail. I had to post $500.00 bail and ended up with a year’s probation and a $200.00 fine.
By the time I went to court, I had been struck with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Fibromyalgia and after eighteen days of absence had lost my job; by the end of that year I would be one step away from the street. The year 2000 was not exactly the best year of my life.
I finally found a Ryan White Clinic near where I lived (I have been HIV+ since 1989) and got back on the medications that I badly needed and my health improved to the point where I could function in a limited way in my world. I even dated a guy from one of the HIV support groups but that did not turn out well because he fell in love with me and I did not return the feelings and he really got angry and tried to spread rumors about me.
I decided I should know better and that relationships were over for me. Getting laid occasionally was fine when I could manage it, but I pretty much gave up on love.
Then I became friends with a fellow patient at the Clinic who, like me, is a musician. Bill was organist at a church in a neighboring town and he asked me to come and play the piano with him. He and his husband Devon soon became very close friends to me. And then he started talking about a friend he had known for many years who he thought I would like, and would I like to meet him?
I figured, what the hell, at the very least I can make another friend. As things turned out, Bill’s handbell choir, of which I was a member, was ringing at a festival at Ryder University in Lawrenceville NJ and one of the ringers was going on vacation so Bill called his friend John and asked him to fill in.
And so I met my second husband at a handbell festival. I had never believed in love at first sight, but I shook John’s hand and took one look into his baby blue eyes, and I thought I was going to melt.
During the first rehearsal, it became clear that the director had no sense of timing, and he was blaming it on the bell choirs. When the first break was called, John and I went outside and he exploded, saying exactly what was in my head: “Could this director PICK A TEMPO??” We spent every free moment together after that and Bill tells me that all I talked about on the drive home was John.
It took me about three weeks to work up the nerve to ask him out (he couldn’t reach me because I had no phone and had to go to the Library to use the computer), but when I did he immediately called Bill, excited that I had asked him for a date.
Long story short, we went from “Nice to meet you” to “How about a date?” to “I love you” “to “Will you marry me?” (I said it but he was getting ready to) in just over one month.
That was thirteen years ago. We were married at a Unitarian Church in Summit NJ on 21 December 2002. It was not legal but that made no difference. Though when it became legal here in New York (we moved in 2005), we were at City Hall four days after the law went into effect and were the first male couple to be married in Oneonta on 28 June 2011. And our entire church family came to City Hall to celebrate the moment with us.
Now our marriage is recognized in all fifty states despite the best efforts of the bigots on the so-called Christian Right (which is neither). And in all the years we have been married, we have never had what you could really call a fight. Occasionally we will snarl at each other for a couple of minutes, followed by silence and then a resumption of normal conversation. An apology usually follows but sometimes there’s no need for one.
I thought I had given up on love, but I never even knew what love was until I was almost forty and John came into my life. So while our marriage has only been legal for four years (and nationwide just a few months), as far as John and I are concerned we will celebrate our thirteenth anniversary on 21 December.
I think about the ex from time to time, and John doesn’t even mind if I talk about him (usually because it is about the contrast between my first and second marriages). And despite what he did to me, I hope he has at least found peace. In the years when I knew him he was the sort of person who, if someone disagreed with him, that person was not only wrong, but the enemy. He was angry over nothing a lot of the time. I hope for his sake that his life has changed. Though somehow I doubt it because he would have to face certain things about himself that he was never able to face when we were together.
But that’s water under the bridge. Sometimes second marriages turn out to be the chance to get it right.