Ten years ago, after frantically polling friends to find a delicious, upbeat, somewhat upscale restaurant, Kelly and I enjoyed our first date at Chilpancingo, on Chicago’s Near North Side.
I changed clothes three times that morning, anxious that I should look put-together yet not too studied, breezy for the summer sun yet warm enough for nightfall, just in case. We sat in a corner booth, semi-private, or maybe it just felt semi-private because my whole world was her while we were there. Conversation was easy. My heart thumped and skipped, and at the end of our meal, we shared a lava cake. The waiter cut into it for us, gently, and we sat completely silent together for the very first time while the lava cake did what gently sliced lava cakes do.
Afterwards, she excused herself to visit the Ladies Room and paid the bill for us both. Tip, too. It’s always an open question, I find, on a lesbian date: Who pays the bill? Do you split it? What meaning is attached to each choice? Do straight dating couples grapple with this, too?
My last serious relationship ended when my girlfriend filed bankruptcy and begged me for the money she needed to move in with her new love. And while I realize that paying for one meal does not speak to a person’s overall financial health, I did feel there was real promise here, or real… possibility.
I did know a few things about her, even then.
I knew she loved to read. On our second date, at a trendy northside coffeeshop where I had once or twice listened to a friend play guitar, she gifted me with one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read.
And I knew she had a daughter, who is a poet although none of us knew that yet. Her daughter was eleven years old with a writer’s eye, a nose for injustice, an intolerance for phonies and an abundance of generosity. Over time, I would pass many of her tests but not all of them.
Kelly also had a motorcycle. Have you ever ridden on the back of a motorcycle, over a bridge and around corners, holding tight to the woman you love?
When Kelly’s daughter was thirteen, we sat together in another upscale restaurant, the three of us, much closer to home, in a private room (truly), and recounted for twelve of our closest friends the story of sitting on our back deck in pajamas over coffee that same morning, making promises and declarations and exchanging matching diamond rings. “I promise to make you laugh every day,” Kelly said to me in the post-dawn autumn air, six days before adopting our youngest daughter.
Shotgun Ring Exchange, we called it then. Still do.
Our friends enjoyed the story, snapped pictures, poured champagne, and during the toasts, my new stepdaughter shared that I often helped her with math. She was lively and funny at home but didn’t speak out much in groups so she warmed my heart doubly when she did.
Raising a child can be tricky. Two steps forward, one step back, we sought our co-parenting legs. She had been a single parent for a long time, and I had my own worries about the whole mom thing.
But love pulled us through. Love for our newest daughter, love for our eldest — no longer an only child — love for each other, love for the life of our new family. We managed. We grew closer. And within nine months, we were on a plane to London, where the four of us stayed for a whole year.
The baby now is eight years old, and we are back in Illinois. Our family consists of four humans, two dogs, two cats, a world of aunties, and parents and siblings who live too far away.
Our eldest is spending this summer in her college town. Her cousin moved in with her last week. They’re earning summer paychecks by taking petitions and pitches door-to-door for a worthy cause every weekday afternoon, every weekday evening. It’s rough work, requiring sensible shoes.
Our youngest is spending this week at Camp Grandma. When we spoke to her 36 hours into the trip, she was finishing an ice cream bar and learning to putt. With a golf putter in her grandparents’ backyard.
Kelly and I are enjoying time alone. We’ve enjoyed a French art house film, two delicious dinners out with good friends, chocolate martinis, and good bourbon. We even sat at home happily one night in front of some crap TV.
Ten years ago today, a waiter made the first gentle slice into our shared lava cake and it tasted so good.
Still does, every bit.
Happy Anniversary, Mi Amor!
Photo discovered on Galaxy Desserts