Got a wish list? Dreaming of what you want? Not me.
I’m in bed on a Sunday morning wanting nothing more than what I already have. My darling Wifey is asleep beside me. Purring softly under my arm lies dear Pussy (not her real name). Icy rain pelts our windows, beyond the bedroom curtains, heavy gray skies, but we’re cozy here under the down comforter.
Warm bed, adoring wife, good pussy on the side — what more could anyone want?
Wifey’s exhale makes a sweet little puh sound. Inhale, puh. Inhale, puh. It’s mesmerizing.
On mornings like this when I was little, I’d drag my blankie into my parent’s room and stand by their bed. My father’s magnificent snores sawed the air. I could’ve sold tickets.
My mother would get up and steer me into the kitchen where she’d read me the Sunday comics while Dad slept in. His snores rumbled behind the bedroom door. I asked my mom how she slept with all that noise.
“That’s my favorite sound,” she said. “It means Daddy is alive, we’re safe and all is well.”
I get that now. Wifey’s breath is steady and even. She’s alive, we’re safe, and all is well. But what if, God(dess) forbid, Wifey’s breath were to fall silent? What if one day I wake up and she’s exhaled her final puh?
What would I do? How would I handle it? How would I get by?
For one thing, I’d have to dig up all the papers documenting our intentions. Our wills, the lawyer had warned us, even though signed and notarized, could be challenged. Family members could swoop in and take their pick of our belongings.
Anything — furniture, appliances, Hitachi Magic Wands — could be scavenged by next of kin, which by law is any blood-relative as distant as a third cousin. Our marriage, though valid in Canada where we bought our license, had a civil ceremony and signed our names into the National Marriage Registry, doesn’t count here. In the U.S., Wifey and I are legal strangers.
When someone in a heterosexual marriage dies, statutes grant a whole array of protections to the surviving spouse. Not so for lesbian couples like us. No safety net of any Social Security, pension benefits or workers’ compensation that a legally married spouse would be entitled to. Not even the legal authority to carry out her final wishes. (Sorry, “science.”)
I’d have to sell our home, reduce expenses, make do. Not to be petty, I’d also have to learn how to run our DVR, do computer back-up, convert tablespoons to ounces and the million-and-one other things she’s better at than I am.
I recognize I’m privileged that these would be my biggest challenges. We’ve been fortunate — health, work, supportive friends. The pelting on the windows, after all, is just rain and not bullets.
But still, what if I had to go it alone?
Spiritual teachings caution us not to trouble ourselves with the forethought of grief. Worrying about what-if’s only creates unnecessary anxiety and fear.
But I’ll bet you worry a lot less when your marriage is protected under the law.
I want that.
Award-winning writer Sally Sheklow and her as-yet-unlawfully wedded wife celebrated 23 years together last November. They live with their two cats in Eugene.