Stowing my bike in the garden shed I notice how quiet it is at the back of my house. The goldfish in the pond circle in the dark water. Overlooking them is the the statue of Kwan Yin I gave Bette for her birthday two years ago. In the distance, a jet plane gains altitude before veering south, leaving a long vapor trail behind it.
Where is everyone?
I peer around the corner of bamboo and see Bette’s arm dangling loose over the side of the hammock. On her chest, Angelica makes baby blubbering sounds, soft enough not to stir Bette from her sleep. There’s a conversation I want to have with her, but immediately after waking up is never a good time to ask Bette life-changing questions.
I consider my approach.
Her objection to marrying in another state, saying it just didn’t feel right somehow, since we’d always live in California and we’d felt sure it would be legal soon, had been fine with me at time. Now, it’s not. I feel differently with a baby. If I were to die tomorrow would she have any legal rights to our child whatsoever? That thought stuns me and I wonder why I’d never thought of it before.
Perhaps, because getting pregnant, especially on the west coast, where LA’s very sexy culture had led me to believe – if I’d ever wanted sperm it would rain down from everywhere and I’d call a number and get pregnant.
That turned out not to be case when you have a very picky partner and I hadn’t help matters much either. There’d been a very definite ‘ick-factor’ about it, and I’m not just talking about the sperm, which, thank God, I’d never seen.
Bette, on the other hand, had developed an obsession with the millions of ‘thems’ she’d affectionately named, while writing out her check, her surrogate swimmers.
Swimmers for short.
“Swimmers is a good name for them,” she’d said one night during her preparations for our candlelit encounter. One of several she’d designed for my fertility process. Adjusting her magnifying glass, she’d marveled, “Tina, I think these guys are going to do the trick.”
“Bette, please don’t ask me to look at them again.” I’d shielded my eyes, knowing I needed to get into the mood for their ‘insertion’ if this were going to be at all pleasurable and not just plain weird.
“I won’t.” She’d laid the sperm-loaded vial on the bedside table. “You look beautiful. Come here. I like your nightgown. It’s new?”
“I don’t know why I bought it. If this works…”
“Tee, I’m telling you, what’s in that vial is ready.” She’d pointed proudly back to the much heralded sperm. “Are you?”
“…I’ll get too big for this. That was my point.”
“Point taken, as they say in bridge or wherever.” Then she’d gotten up from the bed, poured us both a glass of wine and while sipping hers, she’d stared deep in thought out the window at the pool.
Around the room she’d already lit large candles and as she’d walked by me I’d noticed the scent of her favorite perfume. A fragrance that had married tones of violet, iris, and Bulgarian rose. It had been designed for Grace Kelly by the Prince of Monaco.
“I’m catching myself wanting everything to be perfect.”
“Babe, I know you have a whole thing about the swi…”
She’d spun around. “Swimmers! Still! You just don’t get it! I don’t want to carry the baby, but I want to be a part of making it and….” She’d grown more exasperated, finally begging me to understand, “I know I can’t make sperm, Tina, so, work with me here.”
“And do what?”
“Fuck!” She’d thrown up her hands. “This shouldn’t be about me!”
“Funny how that happens…sometimes.” I’d sat on the bed and drummed my fingers on the quilt. “Bette, what’s wrong?”
“I have to talk to the sperm again, because we’re partners in this.”
“Okay…they’re swimming around right over there, but I’m going to the kitchen while you do that. Need anything?”
She’d hopped very fast across the room and had caught me. “No! We need you with us.”
“Oh please, no.”
“Tina,” she’d said, kissing my lips softly, “they have the most amazing tails. I’m very impressed with this group.”
“You talk to them, then.”
Turning off the bedside light she’d sat me down on the bed. The room had flickered with candles and blue-toned reflections from the pool. She’d lifted my nightgown in a whoosh over my head. “Come under the covers,” she’d said, while kicking off her pants but leaving on her tank top.
“Why are you half dressed?”
“I just am. I’m concentrating on down here.” She’d stared at herself. “It’s a mindfuck, I know. I’m very aware that I don’t have a penis, but inside you tonight…you need to think so.”
I’d nodded very seriously. Whenever Bette gets very abstract like this it’s the worse time for me to laugh.
She’d continued, with slow waves of her hands conjuring up invisible power from her loins. “My mojo tonight is about mating,” she’d said very passionately, “…with you.”
“Hmm, so that’s what we’re doing?”
“God yes! What do you think we’re doing?”
“Alright. This is quickly becoming more about your mood than mine. If we’re going with mating you need to wear something else.”
“Oh?” She’d looked surprised. “Like what?”
A few minutes later, I’d dressed her in a sexy black brassiere with her buttons opened halfway down the front of a long-sleeved and collared white shirt. I’d rubbed the soft cotton on her back, and under it I’d felt her sculpted muscles.
“Have you seen what I’m feeling?”
“The mirror’s always foggy when I get out of the shower.”
“I don’t think you’re telling me the truth.”
“You like them?”
“Mmmmm….” I’d kissed her again, as she’d opened my legs and her mouth had consumed me.
Later that night, I’d rolled over and seen her staring out the window again. Not her usual contemplative spot, looking up at the ceiling, or as she dismissively likes to call it, ‘doing nothing at all’.
I’d felt the power in what we’d just done. It’d been passionate and intimate and I’d been so ready, when she’d drawn me into her lap, had brought me one more time to orgasm and filled me full of sperm.
On many more nights, after we’d known for sure that our evening together had made a baby, I’d seen her at the window holding a piece of amber up to moon.
As gently as I can, so as not to wake Bette, I lift Angelica off her chest and tiptoe inside.
In the nursery I rock and feed Angelica while calling Helena.
Instead of saying hello, she answers my call with, “Are you nearby?”
“Helena, we’re talking on the phone. I have no idea where you are.”
“Right. Good point. You’ve been entombed with Bette and your new baby.”
“None, you rang me, remember?”
“From my tomb, according to you. So listen, I need to know something and I can’t use Bette’s computer.”
“Do you know anyone who’s gotten married in Massachusetts?”
She sniffs officiously at my question. “I’ve been a guest at many of the Kennedy’s and Shriver’s weddings.”
“Fuck! I mean recently! Since they made it legal for gay people.”
“Oh that!” Helena says. “Hang on a minute, Tina, I’ve got two shopping bags, my purse and Alice is handing me a coffee.”
“No. No. No. Don’t say anything.”
“Hi Tina!” Alice’s voice comes on the line at the moment I catch my reflection in the nursery mirror with a huge ‘Oh Fuck!’ look on my face.
“We’re at the Bev Center a few minutes away. We could come over and see the baby. Have you seen the baby yet, Helena?” Alice asks, dripping with innuendo.
“Don’t come here. I’ll meet you.”
Thirty minutes later –
Threading my way through the crowds of shoppers at the Beverly Center I search for Helena and Alice on the second tier. I know Alice can’t keep a secret and soon this marrying in Massachusetts idea of mine will get out. I do want to talk to Bette about it. First, I need background and intel.
Once they’re in my sights we wave and head straight into the Apple Store.
Side by side we line up in front of the latest wizardry from Apple and begin to type in the search words “gay marriage Massachusetts” to see what we find. The website for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pops up and the first link I click is, Apply for Marriage Licenses. When the page loads with their state flag waving next to a rainbow one I sigh with tremendous relief.
Alice says, “I’m ahead of you searching for wedding reception venues, just promise me not the Boston aquarium. Lots of slimy fish, zero sex appeal.”
Helena adds, while tapping her screen, “You could marry on the Cape and honeymoon in P’town for a few days.”
Alice warms to the idea of ruining my honeymoon. “Helena, look at renting one of those big summer houses on the Cape.”
“Not so fast.” I point to my screen. ” This is not looking good.”
They abandon their searches for “vacation rentals in Provincetown” and crowd around me. I shake my head as I read aloud, “Says here you have to be either a resident of Massachusetts or from a state that hasn’t explicitly written into its laws that same sex marriage is illegal.”
“Fucking Prop 8,” Alice cries, “just did that!”
“Oh! Goddammit! We can’t do it there.”
Helena says, “Tina search for when the next balloting is.”
Alice, seeing me near tears, comforts me, “Bad news, I know. What she’s saying is, when’s the next time we vote on it?”
I brush my tears away. “Let’s see. Okay, here’s Lambda Legal’s site. They’re all over it.” I scroll through the articles with flashing rainbow donation buttons on every page.
Holding my head in both hands, I groan at more bad news. “Not until next year!” I say, sinking down on both elbows.
Helena counts off on her fingers, while Alice rescues Angelica from crawling off the edge of the computer table. “Well, technically two thousand and ten begins in four months.”
“She’s right,” Alice agrees bouncing with the baby. “I’ve seen GLAAD headquarters and the Lambda Center both, right on Main Street in Santa Monica.”
“There’s one on Sunset, too, nearer to us.”
“Okay, I’m feeling better.” I say, reading through the site. “Look at the size of their rallies.”
“And the size of those…” Helena turns my screen to get a better look at a beach volley ball line up of women in bikinis.
“Forget the Cape, Tina!” Alice says, as her eyes widen and we look at more and more pictures of parties. “These look like the die hard Happy Hour organizing types.”
Helena looks at her Cartier tank watch. “Well, it is almost five.”
One hour later –
At six o’clock I send Bette, what probably comes across as a drunk text, my photo and “Join us!” with the address.
Around me, Angelica is having the time of her life, being passed around the GLAAD headquarters, as the cutest mascot – ever – for the same sex marriage cause.
At six thirty, wearing a long-tailed denim shirt smeared with watercolor paint over jeans, Bette appears in the doorway of the bar I’d migrated to, along with twenty of my newest friends.
She settles across the table from Helena. They eye each other warily. The waiter appears with more Rolling Rocks and Bette takes a swallow, before turning her attention to me. “So, it’s Tuesday night and now, it’s a party. What’d I miss while I closed my eyes for ten minutes?”
A man in a bright orange shirt with a matching mohawk delivers Angelica back to our table.
“Thank you!” Bette says, examining her for rainbow markings and unauthorized tattoos.
“Bette,” Helena begins tentatively, “your baby is lovely and I’m truly happy for you.”
“We’re a little behind on Thank You notes, especially for the gift you and Peggy sent.”
“You can’t go wrong at Tiffany’s.”
“No, you can’t.” Bette turns her attention to Alice and asks, “Are you doing a story about…” she looks around the crowded bar, “whatever this is?”
Alice sweeps her arms to encompass the boisterous room. “Welcome to the front lines of California’s next fight for gay marriage.”
“It is?” Bette says suddenly taking an interest.
I lead her out of the bar and down the street. Standing outside the GLAAD headquarters we peer inside at the chaos. “I could organize the hell out of this campaign. I wonder who’s in charge?”
A harried thirty-something man, his arms overburdened with paper, walks outside, nearly spilling a stack of leaflets on the sidewalk.
“Whoa! Let me help with that,” Bette says, stopping the leaflets from falling.
Pushing his glasses back up his nose he recognizes her, shouting, “Fay Buckley!”
“I’m…I’m so sorry,” he stammers, “I meant we all watched you skewer her on TV.”
“Oh, that.” Bette’s shoulders sag a little and she turns to walk away.
He calls to her, “She’s on us, now, Fay Buckley is. I’m sure you’ve seen her all over the news, campaigning hard against us.”
Bette peers back through the windows of GLAAD’s headquarters. “Do you guys have any money? I don’t come cheap, but I’ll fucking destroy Fay Buckley for you. I’ve given it quite a bit of thought.”