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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Strange Truths

by Aimee Henkel
We shared a ward together, he and I; the kind of place you find homeless junkies, schizophrenics, shell-shocked wanderers, drug abusers. They called it a dual-diagnosis unit. The hospital complex was in the center of Westchester, NY, across the street from Macy’s and the Galleria. I could see it from the windows. It was beautifully kept: emerald lawns, pearly white buildings with bright red roofs, lots of flowers and shrubbery. Inside, our ward was septic, strange. There was a padded cell in detox. The night I arrived, they brought in a pregnant heroin addict who screamed for eight hours straight. No one slept. We stood at the edge of our doorways in the dimmed halogen lights and watched the door, listening to her scream. Every hour or so an orderly or a nurse would go in and through the brief opening we’d see the poor thing on the floor, curved around her belly, her legs kicking.
It was a locked mental ward. Orderlies watched our every move.  Doors locked automatically from the outside. There were call buttons on the walls and “take down” lights on the ceilings. There were doctor’s rounds each morning: three white coated men asked questions, nodded with the answers, and wrote them down. There were meds, lots and lots of meds. And then there were the people. My roommate was a prostitute from Yonkers who had three kids, all of whom she lost to Child Protective Services. She had no idea where they were. She was on a lot of Thorazine, and she was touchy. The food made us all gassy, and she was particularly offended by the smell of her co-patients on the ward.  Other people came and went, some to other parts of the hospital, others just refused treatment.
James wasn’t the kind of person who belonged in that kind of rehab, although it was clear he was an alcoholic. He was the kind of guy I liked: jolly, open, friendly. Short and squat, he was Italian and Irish, his face pocked with little scars I assumed were acne or early chicken pox. He wore a moustache and I wondered what his face looked like without it. He was rotund, which I figured was from all the liquor, but then, I didn’t know much about his life before he got there.
We connected right away. He smiled and joked with everyone, but we shared a strange sense of humor. Being the only alcoholics on the ward, it was easy to latch on to each other, somewhat like drowning cats to a stick of wood. Outside during smoke breaks, we talked, but he was reserved. He listened to me, wanted to know what my life had been like before rehab, was I with someone—all that. It was easy to tell him my girlfriend was in the eating disorder ward across the quad and that we had been nude strippers together until she tried to kill me.  That I had graduated from NYU summa cum laude, and worked as a corporate writer until the booze got me. My best idea had been to take my clothes off for money so I could drink full time. It was like letting my breath go. The strange part about telling him all of that was he understood. He got that I wanted to drink all the time and that I wanted nothing more to do with men. I told him I wasn’t going to drink again ever. Just for that day.
He agreed with me. We had a lot to agree upon. When the Narcotics Anonymous speaker came and admitted he woke up one morning with another man, who said to him: “Good morning, papi,” we laughed so hard we cried. And when we had to pretend we were animals in therapy, we egged each other on because someone willing to stay clean and sober “would do anything.”  And when we were finally allowed out to roam the grounds, he told me about his English bulldog that had to be delivered by Cesarean section because their heads were so big, they couldn’t be delivered naturally anymore. I wondered if eventually that would be true of people; would our heads be so big that no one would have vaginal births? He didn’t answer.
He and I liked to play trivial pursuit, although he was much better than I. We sat around the day room at night, the summer Olympics blaring, while he beat me over and over. The only questions I got right were entertainment. I was terrible at history, sports, geography. We were inspired that summer, watching the athletes struggle and win. Working as hard as we were during the day, trying to get it right: the steps, the therapy, the family entanglements, the reasons, reasons, reasons; these nights were part of a routine I needed more than anything else. We joked and teased, and nothing got too serious.  Until the therapists got serious about us.
I was called into the head counselor’s office on a Thursday. I remember because it was AA day, and we always liked their speakers.
“You and James are too close.” She said, opening my file. She wrote something in it and I thought for sure I was going to be thrown out. I wondered if it was anything like getting suspended from high school. Would I have to do this all over again if I was? “You two need to separate. His treatment isn’t going to work if he can get out of himself with you.”
I looked at her as if she had two heads. I thought his treatment was going just fine.
“No. He needs to address what happened.”
“What happened?” I asked. This was a new element in our relationship. What hadn’t he told me?
“James was married up until a year ago. Then his daughter died.”
“You’re kidding?”  I couldn’t believe he wouldn’t tell me about this. “How did she die?”
“He and his wife had been out at a party, drinking, and they forgot to close the baby gate all the way.  She fell down the stairs and broke her neck. Died instantly.”
“He had a daughter?”
The therapist nodded and closed my file. “You two need to separate.”
“But I need to talk to him about this. It’s not fair he didn’t tell me.” I think I cried then. “I told him everything.”
“Good distraction for him, I guess. Being a stripper and all.” She raised an eyebrow at me, kind of smirked. I didn’t like that little observation one bit.
I left her office with strict instructions not to talk to him. It seemed strange, to know so much about a person, who they were, what made them laugh, what sports they liked, what they did for a living, and not know about the hole in their lives. It was as if he had danced around it in every conversation. There had always been something but I never knew what it was; words on the edge of his tongue, a thought never expressed. Perhaps he had wanted to tell me, but I hadn’t let him get a word in edgewise. I beat myself up for not knowing, not giving him the room to say the words.
That afternoon, he must have gotten his talking to as well. He didn’t avoid me at dinner, just sat two seats away instead of next to me. I leaned over and asked to talk to him on the walk back.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked.
“Tell you what?” He smiled and handed me a necklace he’d bought me from the gift shop that morning.
“About your daughter.”
He looked crushed. The person I knew disappeared in an instant; his expression collapsed. “She fell.”
“She went down the stairs. She was two. Our townhouse had steep stairs. She got up in the middle of the night, fell and broke her neck. I don’t know who forgot to close the gate. I think it was me.”
“Oh my God.”  I cried then. At the time, I was sad for him, because of the broken expression, the empty eyes. The jolly man I had known was gone.  But later, I realized I had known something else. He would never stop drinking.  We knew it then, but neither one of us had the courage to say it.
All of a sudden an orderly was between us. “Let’s get going.”
He was discharged a week later. We tried to laugh, make jokes, but they fell flat. Nothing was funny, now that we had to face the real world. I never saw him again, although fifteen years later I can still see him saying: “I don’t know who forgot to close the gate. I think it was me.”  I want to believe he got sober, that it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but I’ll never know. And that’s how it is sometimes when you stay clean this long; you learn to live without knowing.

Aimee Henkel studied fiction and poetry at New York University, Manhattanville's MFA program, and the Sleepy Hollow Writer's project. In a previous life she was a corporate communications professional, published anonymously in national and local newspapers and trade journals. In her current incarnation as a writer of fiction and poetry, she has been published in Poetry Motel, Beginnings, and most recently,

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finding Henry Miller

by Cathy Roy

“Honey, Clark’s here,” my mother yelled from the kitchen. The white curtains blew gently over the avocado countertop. 
“You didn’t tell me he had a van,” she said with a concerned voice. My father had just shuffled into the living room. “You know what boys do in vans,” my mother said to my father. I wanted to pop up and tell them that Clark and I had sex everyplace in the world but the back of van, but I didn’t think they’d appreciate this coming from their 17-year-old daughter.  It was disgusting in the back of that van.  Too many parties combined with a leaky sunroof left it dank and moldy.  At one point, there were so many pot seeds on the floor, some actually started to sprout. The plants never got too big, though, because someone always picked them and tried to smoke them.  I never tried it. They gave everyone a headache. 
My mother opened the door.  Clark, how’s Stanford going?” she said and winked at me.  I think the wink meant he was a keeper.  Clark was tall with long blond hair.  He looked like a surfer, but he played lacrosse. “The only true American Sport,” he would constantly tell everyone, since it originated with the American Indians.  I wondered what the American Indians would think of the Stanford team.  He definitely had muscles and a tendency to make girls swoon.  I couldn’t believe he was having this effect on my mother.  I was ready to go away to college next year.  “Hey, Mom Roy,” Clark smiled with his perfectly white teeth. He really belonged with some model in Vogue, not with me.  I was cute, but completely insecure.  My school was full of beautiful California blondes. I was brunette and curvy. 
“There’s coffee in the kitchen – you kids be careful driving over to the coast.”  She and my dad, who mumbled hello to Clark, went out the door. 
Clark promptly sat down and pulled open a magazine.  He dumped a large amount of green stuff onto the magazine and started rolling joints.
“Can’t you use an album cover from my room?” I asked. “My parents read that magazine.”
            “It’s a long trip.  We need a few for the road.  What did you tell your parents by the way?” He widened his beautiful green eyes. 
“I told them we were watching some of your friends surf.”  I wasn’t about to tell my parents we were driving a few hours down the coast to see some author named Henry Miller. Clark was an English/Drama Major at Stanford and had read about the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur. Rumor had it, if you just showed up you could hang out with Henry.  I was too embarrassed to admit I hadn’t read anything by Henry Miller. At the time, I was struggling with Shakespeare and Homer. But Clark was crazy about meeting Henry Miller, so I just nodded and pretended I knew what he was talking about.  I didn’t want him to think I was some stupid high-school girl, even though that’s what I was.  I was completely out of my league dating a Stanford student. What was I thinking?
“You might want to grab a jacket,” he told me as we started to leave. “There’s a bunch of fog on the coast and the heater is broken again.” 
“Big surprise,” I mumbled under my breath.  Maybe I was more like my father than I thought.
Clark had a loud stereo system, so I just sat back and listened to Steve Miller play “Keep on Rockin’ Me.” 
It was only a few months earlier that I had met Clark at the Stanford radio station. I was still in high-school but was a deejay there. We had a station meeting in the new Business School. The room sat 100 people and looked pretty plush compared to any classroom I had ever been in. It smelled new and was filled with loud college students and a few adults in their twenties. A gorgeous blond youth dressed in a three-piece suit with a fedora hat was at the end of one row.   
   “Who’s that?” I asked Barbara in a casual, I’m-not-really-interested way. Barbara was a teacher’s aide and one of the few women, besides me, at the radio station. 
“That’s Clark,” Barbara said.  “I’ll introduce you to him. You guys would get along.”  Barbara was always trying to fix me up with someone.  Her nickname was “the Burnout,” so I wasn’t really sure I trusted her decision-making skills.  Apparently she was a leftover Stanford student who had taken a lot of acid during the Summer of Love.  
After the meeting, everyone piled out into the quad for a beer party. Roses were in bloom.  Barbara waved me over to where she was standing with Clark.  For a fall night, it felt like summer. We perched on a stone bench talking about school, religion, music and travel. The smell of roses combined with beer wafted through the air. It was obvious he was flirting with me. After a couple of hours I confessed I was still in high-school, but he didn’t seem to mind.  I was supposed to be home at midnight, but I got home at 2:00 a.m.  Trouble. The next day he showed up at the end of my radio show with a few roses and asked me out to coffee. I was hooked.  No one had ever brought me flowers or asked me out for coffee. (Years later a friend would tell me he always stole roses for me in the middle of the night from the Stanford Rose Garden). Before I knew it, we were spending all of our time together.  Every day he waited in the high-school parking lot for me to get out of class.  My friends thought this was cool. 
The first time I got a love letter from Clark, he wrote, I think we’re still young, you know? It’s exciting to be young and in love too.  It’s a feeling I want to explore with you – and I want to bathe in it with you and play with it and stretch it and then one day look at it and the next let it go like a wound up rubber band and then sing it – and dance too and laugh, of course laugh and smile , smile a sweet smile and it’s just love – the name of a feeling we all want to feel. What?  I couldn’t imagine anything lasting for a long time – except maybe my youth. I was going to college soon and would probably leave the Bay Area. Clark was too good-looking and too smart.  It was just a fluke that I got him as a boyfriend.
Now here I was in his van, going only Clark-knows-where down the coast.
Clark had an uncanny sense of knowing when my mind was wandering. He snapped his fingers in front of me “Where are you at?” he asked.
“Nowhere,” I replied. “I’m with you.”  I widened my eyes at him, which I knew had an effect on him.
Usually when I was this stoned, I was paranoid, but something about this day seemed right.
About an hour later, we were deep in the redwoods. We appeared to be the only car on the road for miles. I had no idea what time it was or even where we were.  I stopped smoking and rolled down the window. We continued to drive out of the redwoods when I noticed the ocean view on one side of the car and pointed it out to Clark.
We pulled over and stared at the big expanse of blue. Clark pulled me slowly to him and kissed me with his tongue. I braced myself. Clark kissed liked my neighbor’s Saint Bernard. It wasn’t like I was expecting Robert Redford, but it seemed like he was a human tongue.  Was this is how it was supposed to be? I’d ask my girlfriends, but they were all so envious over Clark, I couldn’t tell them he wasn’t nearly as perfect as they thought he was. The first time he had kissed me, a few months earlier, I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I looked for the sponge he had just used on me. Then, when we had sex, I discovered that sex with him was less messy than kissing.  He was great at sex. The problem was how to have sex without the kissing part?  I hadn’t figured it out yet, so I had learned to let my imagination go wild during the kissing part or try to pretend slobber didn’t bother me.
I pulled away, demurely wiped my mouth and chin, and told Clark if we started anything we’d miss Henry Miller. He started up the car and focused his high-IQ lacrosse-playing mind back on finding the library. 
Clark had aspirations to be a writer.  “Maybe one day I’ll write a story about this,” he said. “I’ll call it Finding Henry Miller.”  Back in the redwoods I spotted a shack and as we drove past I read the sign in front of it: “Henry Miller Library.”  Clark hit the brakes and pulled in. There were no other cars in the lot.  Some books had gone flying from the back to the front seat, so I picked up a copy of The Tropic of Cancer that Clark had brought with us so that Henry Miller could sign it.  I looked at the black-and-white book-jacket photo and a young bald man with glasses stared back at me.  “He looks studious,” I told Clark.
We got out of the van.  Redwoods towered over us as sunlight poured through the openings.  It reminded me of church.  All we could hear were chimes and birds.  It felt peaceful.  We reeked of smoke. What was Henry Miller going to think?  I tried to smooth out my hair and halter dress so that I looked somewhat presentable.  I’d smoked way too much and could barely walk.  As we came up the stairs, an older gentleman came out the door. 
“Hello,” he said, and seemed to look me up and down.
“Mr. Miller, such a hon-hon-honor to meet you,” Clark said.  I must have been really out of it and paranoid, because it appeared that Henry Miller was staring at my breasts. I stuck out my hand for a shake, but instead he gave me a hug. I could have sworn his hand touched my butt.  From everything Clark told me, he was a distinguished writer, but I was beginning to think he was a dirty old man.  He wore old jeans and a very crumpled shirt.  It looked like he wore the same glasses that were in the picture.  He had been years ahead of the John Lennon look, I guess. 
I looked at Clark to see if he had noticed anything, but Clark just looked happy. Okay, I must have been imagining things.
“I’m just about to close,” Henry said, “but I have a few minutes for you two.” Then he winked at me. Why was everyone winking at me today? The face that stared back at me was nothing like the picture on the book.  I wondered what had happened to that young fellow. Was I too going to get all old and wrinkled-looking – just a ghost of my youthful self?  Realistically, how could I avoid it? Unless I died young.
I decided I was pretty out of it by then, so I let Clark take the lead as they talked about authors I didn’t know. I let my mind wander out the window and thought about an essay I had due on Shakespeare. I don’t remember any of the conversation between Henry and Clark, but Clark did get his book signed.
            Fifteen minutes later we were back in the van, and Clark was bouncing up and down, pounding his fists on the van roof. “Cool.  We met Henry Miller. Everyone in class is going to be SO jealous.  And you know what? He said I could come back anytime and bring you too!” He was smiling ear to ear. 
This time we drove up the coast listening to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. The sun was setting in hues of orange and pink. 
“We should have brought a camera,” I blurted out, thinking we should have somehow captured this day, this moment, this time. Clark smiled at me and told me to remember to bring one next time. I just looked out the window at the deep blue ocean.
There would never be a next time. Clark would take a semester in England in another month and then run off to join a religious cult. He wrote me a few letters about his life in Europe, but we lost touch. I fell in love with another Stanford student and never got around to writing back. In college when I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, it confirmed my impression of him– he was a dirty old man. 
Over the years I became everything I thought was uncool when I was seventeen. I have a house, a large mortgage and a job in the corporate world. I’ve travelled to the places Henry Miller wrote about – New York, Los Angeles and Europe. My world, which seemed so limited over thirty years ago, expanded like the opening of an old book. Now I leaf through The Colossus of Maroussi, as if trying to divine the spirit of Henry Miller into my writing. The feel of the book works like a time machine. I write obsessively about California, Stanford boys and rock and roll. With all the sex and drugs going on back then, maybe Clark and I were more like Henry Miller’s characters than we imagined.
Cathy Roy grew up in Northern California and now resides in Colorado.  Her first novel Tasty Girl, about the mythical San Francisco radio station KTST (a.k.a. - Tasty), came out in the summer of 2010.  She writes humor, paranormal, and food reviews.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


by Cherri Randall
            In 1966, my mother works in a wallet factory and my father and I drive around in his Chevy Apache truck.  He always has a plan to make some money for us.  We go to Lake Murray and have bonfires.  He will burn motors to extract the copper wires to sell at a salvage yard.  He will always have some kind of junk to take there, and I love prowling through the maze of hulls and remnants and castoffs.  I am never afraid of being lost, because I can hear my father’s voice carried on the air as he tells stories at the junkyard gate. 
            I have a Snoopy rod and reel for the lake and we fish from the banks sometimes.  Some of his stories are bragging to his friends about how he can’t fish because I’m reeling perch in faster than he can keep my hook baited.  I like eating fish with ketchup.  He has other stories about me, how once while we were home and the phone rang, I told some woman my daddy couldn’t talk because he was pottying, and once I decided the pot of soup on the stove didn’t look full enough for me and him and Momma, so I added a sliced banana to make it fuller.  That night we got to have hamburgers and my favorite food in the world, Dilly Bars. 
He has a trotline at the lake, and while it is an ocean to me, it is not so far nor so deep that he cannot walk from one side to the other and check his lines.  Because he has had back surgery, he does not like a waistband digging into his scars, so he wears overalls.  For checking trotlines, he has an old pair with cut-off legs, and that is how we do it, check the trotlines, him wearing cut-off overalls and me wearing my swimsuit and life vest, clinging to the straps over his shoulders.
We take in the catch going across and bait the lines coming back.  A stringer is tied onto his overall’s hammer loop.  He gives the carp away to old black people who are around the banks fishing and he does this so often that anytime his Apache is parked at the lake, someone black is fishing close by.  I love the way they all fuss over my coppery hair in the sunlight, prettier than the wires in old motors they say.
Daddy has six big carp one day and two people wanting them, so they get three each.
            “Mr. Owens,” (nobody said Owen ever) “I am sho glad you don’t like carp,” the man says.
            “I never could eat ‘em,” he answers. 
            “Well you just don’t know how to cook ‘em,” the woman says.  “You ever try my carp made in the pressure cooker, you wouldn’t be out here giving none of them away no more.”
            The man laughs.  He has a gold tooth and the sun hits it and I wish I had one it is so pretty.  “Don’t be telling him or he’s liable to start keeping them,” he warns the woman.
            “Nah,” my daddy says.  “I just like getting them out of the lake.  They make the water turbid and uproot the vegetation.  Makes it harder on all the fish.”
            I am listening to this like I listen to all my daddy’s conversations and stories, but something is pinching me on the back of my neck and I have to start jerking and crying and I am a little embarrassed because I am peeing myself, but it is only in my swimsuit.
            I fling my head around and the woman starts screaming too, because what flings off is a little bitty snake and it hits the rocky bank and starts slithering.  My father is right there beside it instantly.  I have never seen him move so fast in my life, but he is there stomping the head of the snake and part of its body and still it wriggles senselessly in the sun for a few moments.
            The man is over there looking at it.
            “Mr. Owens, that’s a copperhead.  You better check that girl for a bite after it done been tangled up in her hair since you left the water.”
            “How would I see a bite on her head?” he asks, and the woman comes over, going the long way around the smashed snake on the ground, maybe nine inches long.  
            “You okay, little darlin’?” she asks me, and I can’t help it.  My stomach lurches and I vomit but she sidesteps and misses it.  When I’m done she cradles my head, smoothing out my hair.
            “She got two little fang marks on the back of her neck,” the woman says. 
            “Lord have mercy,” the man says.  “You better get her home.”
            My dad tells them to take all the fish, and they throw my life vest and the rest of our stuff in the back of the truck and we take off.  When we get home, I get to use all the Mr. Bubble I want in my bath and he stays right there with me to make sure I don’t fall asleep and drown in the tub which is kind of funny because it’s the middle of the day but I do feel tired and I love the taste of baby aspirin and he lets me chew up about five of them with a Nehi Strawberry soda and then I have a long nap.  He tells me over and over not to tell my mother there was a snake in my hair or she will be mean to us and tell us we can’t go to the lake anymore.

Cherri Randall is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown.  She has a PhD in English Literature from the University of Arkansas where she also holds an MFA in Creative Writing.  Her work has appeared in Mid-America Poetry Review, Lake Effect, So to Speak, Paper Street Press, Permafrost Review, Paddlefish, The Potomac Review, storySouth, Blue Earth Review,  and Sojourn.  An essay will be published in the anthology Impact, (Telling Our Stories Press) and a novel, The Memory of Orchids, (Cyber Wit) in winter 2011.  She has green eyes, fiery red hair, and arms spattered with freckles.  She lives with two daughters, a Chihuahua named Zora (for Zora Neale Hurston), and high hopes for the future.

Friday, October 7, 2011

When a Wife Just Isn't a Wife

by Julie Whitlow
I will happily celebrate my seventh wedding anniversary next summer.  My problem as a married lesbian is the lack of a good all-occasion word to refer to my beloved. 
I struggle with the best term to call the person-for-whom-I-live-and-breathe-and-share-my-life-love-joys-sorrows-triumphs-mistakes-hopes-dreams-health care proxy-and-retirement savings.   Is she my wife?  That term works with an ironic twist among close friends.  My wife will pour me that glass of Pinot Noir.  Otherwise, the word wife just does not naturally flow from brain to tongue.   
Of course, my familiarity with the dictionary tells me that a wife is a married woman.  But the historical baggage of my foremothers who were forced into marriage for reasons of political alliance, inheritance, servitude, and depth of dowry also permeates my psyche. 
My own mother gave up a successful career in 1958 to become….a wife.  She was a darn good one, too.  She was lovely and loyal, determined, and divine.  Dinner was always on the table at 6, cookies were hot out of the oven, and her devotion to home and hearth is eternal.  
And my gal?    She can pick up a snake in the woods, use power tools like a pro, raise a bumper crop of arugula, embroider a placemat, and whip up a soufflĂ© in a jiffy.  She’s just not a wife. 
Partner?  That’s a fine choice.   It worked before we were married but ambiguities abound.  Man or woman?  Business partner?  Law partner?  Tennis partner?  Clarity depends on context and there is plenty of room for confusion.  
Spouse?  That works for an equity line or a blood transfusion, but just seems too legalistic for daily use.   Lover?   Not in front of mom.  Friend?  Cop out.  Significant other?  Spare me.
My love and I were together 11 years before we could legally wed, and our relationship progressed from a crackling attraction to a few blissful years of adventurous travel and eating at trendy restaurants.  We went to graduate school, established careers, and made the decision to adopt two beautiful children and sign on for a hefty mortgage.  Marriage protected us legally and financially.    
By marrying, we could also demonstrate to society’s skeptics that my love and I were equally capable as straight couples of changing diapers, mowing the grass, and dashing from the schoolyard to the commuter rail.     
             So, why can’t she just be my wife?  The reality is that feminism has influenced my generation, too young to have really been pioneers, too old to not to have benefitted from the dismantling of the notion that a wife is there to obey her husband.
But, another reality is that, despite progress, gays and lesbians routinely face rejection from family members, discrimination in the workplace, and denunciation from the pulpit.  We trust others based on specific situations.  Using the terms wife and husband forces us to always be out, vulnerable.
There are occasions such as a fundraiser for a favorite liberal candidate where my wedding ring has an aura of clout.  Introductions are seamless, easy.   There are other times, though, where I have to make a snap decision about the mindset of a stranger and I don’t ask or tell about my marital status.     
  A few weeks ago, I bought a car form a dealer on the Lynnway.  Ronnie, the salesman, and I had to wait around for the usual approvals and reams of paperwork.  During that time, Ronnie showed me pictures of his own lovely wife and daughter.  I learned a lot about their trip to Aruba, and how tough it was to pay the college tuition bills. 
At noon Ronnie broke his sandwich in half, a fresh mozzarella and prosciutto sub from Bianchi’s in Revere.   I told Ronnie about my girls, how they love spaghetti Bolognese.   He said, “That’s my favorite, too.  Your husband’s a lucky guy.”  I produced a fake chuckle.  Ronnie was kind, funny.  Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that it was my wife that was the lucky one.  I just can’t use that word.  Any gender-neutral alternate would have been all wrong.  So, I changed the subject.  My language had failed me.
Or was it me that had failed Ronnie? 
Would the easy banter between Ronnie and me have evaporated had I mentioned my wife?   Would he have been supportive?  Did he prescribe to mean spirited talk radio?   Given the chance, would he vote to take away my right to marry?   I’ll never know.   I hedged.   
After almost seven years of marriage and 18 years together, my commitment to the love of my life is strong.   Maybe someday, I will be able to make her my wife.

Julie Whitlow is a professor in the English Department at Salem State University.  She was raised in New Orleans and now lives in Salem, MA with her partner, Olga, and their two daughters.  Her academic specialty is ESL/Applied Linguistics and she has been working on research about how gays and lesbians refer to and introduce themselves in a variety of social situations.