Anniversary

Bee's picture
Fri, 01/07/2011 - 21:00 -- Bee

Today we decided to go to Malibu and live out our Rockford Files fantasies. Except, you know, the car.

In theory this was our anniversary, but of what exactly? It has been fifteen years since we rocked up at the 24 Hour Church of Elvis, got hit with a magic wand, signed some papers, accidentally ended up on the evening news. Though in my view that was simply the day we scammed a discriminatory system, the day I became officially eligible for health insurance.

The only vows we took, the only promise I could have made given the distrait circumstances? To remain friends.

In my life marriage is an institution without relevance or meaning except insofar as it provides a good cover story. Marriage is an economic contract, and I've always been married to someone or other. Why? Simple: our society offers no other shelter to a freaky kid with cancer. Everything else - love, devotion, desire - has always happened elsewhere.

A possible anniversary is our first meeting, one autumn day on Red Square in Olympia, when I was still married to someone else. James and I were sitting on a bench amidst the falling leaves, with crows hopping around at our feet as we discussed Barthes or similar shit. I was wearing one of my shiny junior bureaucrat outfits, Byron showed up in a rugby shirt: both of our uniforms misleading the other about everything of importance.

We didn't hook up then, neither of us were interested. Though I do remember idly thinking Why precisely did I sacrifice my youth?

That, my friends, is Byron's real function in the world - underneath and between formal and scientific achievements he is a trickster. He can't help it.

But that isn't any kind of anniversary, because it wasn't any kind of event. I still had a lot to endure, including a tediously dramatic and violent break-up, a new and perilously fragile love affair, a custody fight, and of course, critically, a career.

When people ask how we met I tell the story of living in the Dundee House, how Byron was always sleeping with the wrong person, and eventually I was elected to evict him. We laugh uproariously about how he lived in a van in the front yard with an extension cord running through the window until I unplugged it once too often.

There are telling little details about sitting around in the back yards of punk houses drinking cheap beer and reading celebrity magazines. Piquant anecdotes about ransacked computers, major appliances held for ransom, rides to airports and hospitals, studying at the Smithfield. We were young, and fairly stupid, though it didn't feel that way at the time.

If I had to pick a specific moment for our anniversary as acknowledgment of romantic entanglement it would probably be the day I stood in a dusty living room next to the typewriter shop on 4th Avenue and heard Sugar Kane for the first time.

In the early 90's I was fed up with courtesy, responsibility, rules. I'd been alive twenty-one years and never experienced liberty, because my existence was defined by disease and the abstractions of honour. When I hooked up with Byron it was explicitly and irrevocably a one night stand.

I didn't want him to be my boyfriend, I already had one. Not to mention the misplaced husband: I was overbooked and ambivalent. But if I put that record on the turntable right now it brings back waves of terror, because whether I wanted to or not I had fallen in love.

What was the date? Nobody remembers. The ensuing mess of trouble was appalling, and it took several years before I would even admit we were dating.

I'm not nice, he isn't stable. We hooked up when he was still an undergrad, and I was just finishing graduate school. We were poor, and then we were parents. We have been confronted with all manner of catastrophe both material and emotional. Pick a trauma, any trauma: been there, done that.

Which day is our anniversary - which event do we memorialise, which achievement do we promote? We've survived a lot, but where is the value in that? I am voracious. I am a perfectionist. I always want more.

Marriage is an economic contract, and as such it can be cancelled. Friendship is a vastly more challenging proposition. Romantic love is impossible.

But I'm ok with impossible. I'm alive, right?

So today is our anniversary, because fifteen years ago we undertook a legal agreement conjoining our finances. Seventeen years ago we hooked up for a one night stand that never ended. Eighteen or nineteen years ago we fell improbably and quite inappropriately in love.

And no matter how you reckon the numbers, this has been a grand adventure.