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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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My Wedding Vows

Yesterday, I married my partner of almost 17 years, Doug Powers, in a brief, wonderful ceremony at the Hillcrest Manor in Corning, New York. I have plenty to say about the experience, of course, but for now, I just want to share the vows I made to Doug with all of our friends and family who wanted to be there. We are now the Powers-Black family.

As you know, Doug, I kind of resent this whole exercise of seeking societal approval of our relationship. For nearly seventeen years, we’ve persevered with no government support and little support from civilization’s other structures.

I didn’t need society’s permission to fall in love with you within seconds of meeting you, nor did I need society’s permission to tell you how I felt only two weeks later. When you warned me not to make you choose between your love of theatre and your love of me, I got a life and worked hard to become less smothering. By being with you, I have discovered a more independent and fulfilled version of myself.

So I’m tempted to vow that I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing. Society may assume I’ve spent all this time as your very long-term fiancee, just waiting to get started, but you and I know better. However, experience as your husband-all-but-in-name tells me it’s not that easy. We must constantly work at this thing called Us. And, knocking the chip off my shoulder, how can I not acknowledge the support we have received from family and friends? This moment provides us with an opportunity to go public even more than we have, to brag about what we have together, and to risk making our mistakes with others watching.

Despite all we’ve done to push past obstacles, we’ve obeyed societal expectation to avoid “flaunting” our love. As closeted gay kids, we learned to be careful when others were watching. We’ve carried that caution through our first relationships and into the home we’ve made together. Too often, we stop short of saying we love each other or even asking about each other’s day. Although we’ve assumed we can take each other for granted, there’s a gap between us that, however slight it may be, has been an insurmountable emptiness. I promise to dive in and pull you into the emptiness, too, so we come to see it for what it is: openness whose possibilities we determine for ourselves.

I can’t imagine what it would be like not to adore you. I still thrill at the sight of you when I run into you at work, and I’m so relieved when you come home at the end of the day. I’m strong and could make it on my own, but the point of this commitment is that I choose to be with you.

Reading my vows to Doug.

No, I didn't memorize them.

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More Than Our Share

Doug made it sound as if we were going window shopping. “Let’s just see what dogs they have,” he said. I fell for it, and of course when he locked eyes with a little red-brown dog shivering on a dirty blue blanket, there was no way we would leave without her. The attendant clipped a leash on the little dog’s collar so we could take her for a “test drive.” The shivering, pitiful creature transformed, suddenly energetic, full of hope, barking loudly what in English would have been “Get me the fuck out of here!” Neither of us had cash or our checkbooks, so I drove to the nearest ATM to get the $40 adoption fee.

As we paid the fee and finished the paperwork, a woman left crying. The attendant explained that the woman’s dog was very ill and had to be euthanized. The woman sat in her car, next to ours, sobbing and inconsolable. I felt guilty as we left with our new, loud bundle of joy, but I wanted to get away from her and the warning she was giving us.

Me & Sophie enjoying babytime.

Taken shortly after we adopted Sophie in 2000.

So we can’t claim we didn’t know from the beginning that our time with Sophie would end, sooner or later. It’s easy to get lost in imagining that a loved one is immortal, and we did, but we also took her to the vet at the slightest indication of trouble. We’ve been dreading her death for the past eleven years. On Tuesday, the day came. Sophie had been limping for a month and had been tested and treated for various ailments, but her problems didn’t go away, and her pain increased.

As it turned out, I wasn’t with her. Two weeks ago, my father died after months of suffering from lung cancer. Doug and I both attended the funeral, but Doug sensed he needed to get back even though our dogsitter reported no problems while we were gone, and we hoped Sophie was on the mend. Doug had to go it alone, taking her back to the vet (she’d been so many times in the past month) and then to a specialist who identified a perplexing spot on her x-ray as bone cancer. There was no miracle cure, just painkillers that probably wouldn’t make things even temporarily better for her.

For the past few days, I’ve been sobbing off and on like that woman I saw on Sophie’s adoption day. I haven’t cried like this in years, since the summer of 1994, when two of my friends died within two weeks of each other (but that’s a story for another time). Even after Dad died, I had a hard cry once or twice, but it just didn’t hurt like this hurts. He loved his cats like Doug and I love Sophie, so I know he would understand. There was so much happiness in our eleven years with her. More than our share. We were lucky, and now we’re greedy for more. Continue reading

Today in Personal History: A Sparkle, A Glow

On October 28, 1994, I met Doug. There was a cast party at the house where he was staying. I didn’t know him, but somehow we started talking.

He kept asking me to tell him jokes, but I’ve never been good at remembering the set-ups to any punchlines I know. As I kept drawing blanks, he was the one who came up with the jokes. And he did impressions of people he knew, most of whom I still haven’t met 16 years later.

I can’t say that I’ve never laughed harder, because as funny as he was (and is), and as much fun as I had, I was seriously smitten in a giddy, heart-a-flutter, weak-in-the-knees kind of way. I kept worrying that our time together would end and I’d never see him again.

I felt a kind of happiness that I can’t describe except by telling you he’s the only person who has inspired me to feel exactly that way. The intensity of that feeling seems to have faded, but just when I think it will never be as strong as it was on that first night, there it is again, as keen as ever.

Over the course of that first very long-yet-short conversation, we shared any tedious bit of information that might prevent the night from ending too soon. We wanted to keep talking, but as the morning sun filled the living room, we couldn’t deny that we were exhausted and needed sleep. We lay next to each other on the futon, fully clothed, and the only potentially scandalous thing I’d done with him was fall in love too quickly.

Regardless of the label others might put on our relationship now or in the future–commitment, civil union, marriage–we’re partners. I like what that word connotes about what we give to each other and what we get from being together. I’ve become more myself by being with him. And, of course, he is my sweetheart, and I am his. We hold these truths to be self-evident.

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