The Ties that Bind
My sister was fifty-three years old—and fifteen years a widow—when she called to announce her upcoming wedding. At fifty-one, living happily paired in Austin, I was a vocal proponent of the coupled life. Scott and I weren’t officially married; gay men living in Texas had no such option. But we were in our fourth year, with private vows to bind us. We owned a house together. We had wills and powers of attorney to do for each other at least some of what a marriage certificate would have accomplished. When Judi called to say that she and Raymond were going to marry, I was delighted. But since the day Scott and I had signed our Austin mortgage papers, we’d been a snag in the planning of every important Meischen family occasion. Thanks to my father.
At some point, Judi had talked him into halfway measures. On rare occasion, he and our step-mother would drive to a neutral locale, most often Jacala’s, a restaurant in San Antonio. Daddy understood that Scott would be there with me. Awkward as these gatherings were, they were not official family occasions—not hosted by my father as head of the family. Or by one of his offspring with Daddy presiding. There was no carefully crafted list of invitees, with engraved invitations to follow, RSVP cards enclosed. But Judi was planning a wedding, an event woven into the very meaning of family.
Before my sister called, before she began to address invitations, she had consulted our father. I pictured him two hundred miles south, at the kitchen table on the family farm. I could see the set of his jaw, resisting. I pictured Judi pacing. I heard the calm in her voice.
“David won’t come without Scott.”
If memory serves, Judi left the choice with Daddy. But she knew our father, knew how much he would want all three of his sons to be at his daughter’s wedding. And Daddy would have known—she knew this too—how much Judi wanted me to be there.
Our father conceded. A traditional wedding invitation, addressed to David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman, arrived at our home in Austin. We marked our calendars—February 17, 2001—for a wedding in Corpus Christi.
* * *
When I ponder family weddings from those years, I am struck by the split they illuminated—between our family of two in Austin and the family that shaped me. I am struck, too, by the painful contrast we experienced—between the Meischens of South Texas and the Wiggermans of elsewhere. Only months before Judi and Raymond’s invitation arrived, Scott and I had flown to the West Coast for a Wiggerman family wedding. The bride was Scott’s only sister Dawn. Though a decade younger, she and Scott have been close since Dawn reached adulthood. Thanks to gatherings hosted by Scott’s parents, all in the family were well acquainted with Bob Lindeman, Dawn’s groom. Ron and Marilyn Wiggerman had no checklist for admission to the Wiggerman fold. Scott fell in love with me; he bought a house with me. Immediately, we were welcome in his parents’ home. The same happened when Dawn fell in love with Bob. Marilyn—I liked calling her Mom Wiggs—was passionate about family.
In November 1997, when Scott and I flew to Chicago for my first Thanksgiving with his family, there was no hint of reserve in the welcome extended me. Without question or hesitation, we were assigned a bedroom together. Scott’s grandmother, eighty that year, was effusive in her pleasure that Scott had a special someone in his life. I admit that beforehand I was apprehensive about the men, afraid I’d notice subtle signs of disapproval—the way a nose or mouth can shift, as from a morally offensive odor—signaling that, once again, I had flunked the manhood test. No such intimation occurred in the Wiggerman household.
Scott’s father was friendly and direct, as were his brothers. Once during the weekend, when I raved at length about Marilyn’s lasagna, one of Scott’s brothers implied that I was being a kiss-up. Nothing hostile or passive-aggressive about the comment—he just thought I was overdoing it. “But understand,” I said, “this is really good lasagna.” Since then, the Wiggermans, male and female, have made a place for my flamboyant responses to the things I enjoy, especially good food.
More than once in the months that followed, Scott’s grandmother had a talk with him. Granny Rene’s subject was my sons. She wanted her grandson to understand that when you have children, they will always have a special place in your heart. “Don’t be jealous,” she advised Scott. “Make room for Karl and Jack.” Each year in June, a Father’s Day card arrived for me. From Granny Rene. At some point, I suppose Scott passed a test with her, making room for my sons, because eventually the Father’s Day card was addressed to both of us.
* * *
Dawn and Bob married in Monterey—September 24, 2000—in an outdoor courtyard with Pacific waves lapping along the balustrade. Beforehand, the wedding photographer tracked us down. Scott and I were on his list. He pulled us aside from whatever we were doing and took several casual shots. The other guests were mingling; no attention was focused on us.
Still, I was worried. Growing up in a small town, I had attended dozens of weddings, acquiring extensive knowledge of the many rituals—invitations, selection of attendants and their attire, gift registries, vows (traditional or personalized), photographs, reception, dance (with or without a Grand March). Dawn and Bob’s was a formal occasion. Surely, it would include posed photographs: the couple re-enacting the ring exchange, the couple leaning in for a kiss, the couple posed with their attendants, the couple posed with her parents, then his, the couple posed with her family, then his.
In my anxiety, I suffered a failure of trust. The Wiggermans had included me in family gatherings, where all recognized me as a member. But what about a public gathering? What about wedding photographs posed in front of everyone? What would happen when it was time for the extended Wiggerman family to step up and smile with Dawn and Bob? Would I be included? I kept this worry to myself, didn’t even tell Scott.
The reception featured an open bar. I got myself a double shot of bourbon, stood sipping while Dawn and Bob were photographed with their attendants. Then suddenly Mom Wiggs appeared beside me. She linked her arm with mine. “Come on,” she said. “It’s time for the family pictures.”
I tear up every time I reach this point in the story. The bride and her mother had thought of me ahead of time, had planned for Mom Wiggs to reach my side before the family photo was announced, thereby saving me even a moment’s discomfort.
The photo session over, bride and groom, attendants and guests erupted into a celebration rife with excess. The liquor flowed; the Prosecco bubbled. I have a distinct memory of dirty dancing.
Rarely have I been so happy. We—Scott and David—were included in the family history, two men together side by side among other couples. Like the bride and groom, espoused. Like the bride and groom, family.
Looking back, it occurs to me that Scott and I are everywhere in the Wiggerman family’s photographic record. We stood with Dawn and Bob and the assembled family. We stood with the family when Mom Wiggs turned seventy. When Ron and Marilyn came to Austin one year for Thanksgiving, I set up my tripod and used my camera’s time-delay feature to capture the four of us standing in our front yard. Smiling. An elderly couple clearly happy to be with their son and his partner, who are clearly happy in the embrace of family.
* * *
The Wiggermans are not a perfect family. What family is? But belonging has never been an issue. Being paired with Scott, being one of the family has been as simple, as necessary, as words.
Unlike Scott’s name on Judi and Raymond’s wedding invitation.
I’m certain Daddy was in a pout about it. I picture him in his recliner, arms crossed, mouth in a tense line, feeling thwarted. We’d been raised not to oppose his will. We’d had a lifetime of training in how badly Elwood Meischen hated not getting his way. Perhaps he said something to one or both of my brothers. Perhaps not. They knew Daddy didn’t want to hear or speak words that referenced me as a gay man in a gay relationship. They knew he would absolutely not want our gay relationship present at his daughter’s church wedding.
Shortly after our invitation arrived, I answered the phone one afternoon to hear my brother Larell on the line. His voice put me on guard. Aside from family gatherings, for most of our adult lives, my brothers and I have had minimal contact. I remember exactly two phone conversations with Larell in the years since we entered our thirties. One was the day in January 1994 when he called me in a rage, having just learned that, despite his advice on the subject, I had outed myself to our parents. The other came in the aftermath of my sister’s wedding invitation. The first minutes of the conversation were inconsequential, but Larell has never been given to chitchat, at least not with me. Soon enough, he got around to the purpose of his call.
“I’m not telling you what to do,” he said, hemming and hawing, with several variations on I’m not telling you what to do. “Have you thought about Daddy?” he asked. How would our father feel if I showed up at Judi’s wedding with Scott on my arm? What would it be like for him to have us there in front of the gathered family, two men together, clearly coupled? In front of the entire community, for that matter, since Judi and Raymond had rented the dance hall in our hometown for the reception and meal and dance that would follow the wedding ceremony.
Before Larell’s call, I don’t think I had actually pictured us at Judi’s wedding, certainly not among the crowd of couples—man and woman, woman and man—gathered afterward at the Rifle Club Hall. Being there with Scott, feeling welcome, would have taken something of a miracle—my father’s change of heart. Hearing from Larell had made it clear that no such eleventh-hour transformation was going to save the day.
After Larell’s call, I spoke to Scott—as I had along the way, starting with Judi’s call. I think perhaps at first he wanted to be hopeful, wanted to believe Judi would be able to make us welcome at her wedding. He wasn’t surprised by Larell’s call, just further disillusioned with Meischen males. But then I hatched a plan.
“I’ll recruit allies,” I told Scott. “I’ll call Aunt Sue. I’ll call Vance.” Aunt Sue was my father’s widowed sister-in-law; she lived right there in Austin. I would offer her a ride to the wedding. The three of us would enter the church together. We would sit together. In the meantime, I’d call my brother Vance in Houston. He and his wife had been supportive when I came out to them. They’d been city dwellers for decades. They would meet us at the church in Corpus Christi. Scott and I would be framed by family members that clearly wanted us there—Aunt Sue on one side, Vance and Mary on the other.
Before I had time even to call Aunt Sue, the phone rang. Vance was on the line. Where Larell had been tentative, asking me to think about bringing Scott, leaving the decision to us, Vance was emphatic. “It’s out of the question,” he told me. “We’re not talking Austin. We’re not talking Houston. We’re talking Orange Grove. You cannot bring Scott to Orange Grove.” He spoke like the German patriarch who’d raised him.
My brothers were doing what the four of us had been raised to do. Our version of the fourth commandment: Don’t upset your father. Our version of the last three, all but universal among rural communities: What will the neighbors think? Both strictures played a role in the calls from Larell and Vance, reminding me that Scott’s presence at our sister’s wedding would upset our father’s equilibrium, not least because a coupled gay son would make Daddy conspicuous among neighbors and kin, might lead them to reflect poorly on his efficacy as a father.
Scott, meanwhile, was having second thoughts. He didn’t know my father, except as someone who would not enter our home, would not allow him on the farm. He had no reason to like Daddy, no reason to spend time in his company. “Why would I want to go?” he said. “Judi asked your father before she put my name on the invitation. If he’d said no, I wouldn’t have been invited. And now your brothers have disinvited me.”
My relationship with Scott was not without friction. But we handled the important issues with care. Scott didn’t walk around slamming doors when I let myself be swayed by my father, by my own family habits. He was blunt when he spoke of Daddy, but he never said anything I felt was unwarranted.
During the weeks of Judi’s invitation and my brothers’ phone calls, Scott discussed each development with friends on the high school campus where he served as librarian. These friends loved Scott; there wasn’t a hint of homophobia among them. But there were Texans among them, Texans with a small-town background. They advised Scott to stay home.
“The guests will take their cue from David’s family,” they said. “You won’t be safe.”
* * *
About that statement: You won’t be safe. Had we followed through and attended Judi’s wedding, how exactly might our safety have been threatened? By hostile looks? Insulting comments? Physical assault? I can’t say. But from age fourteen on, I knew that my sexual transgressions, if discovered, would put me in danger. It was in the air I breathed. It was in the way men talked—their casual assumptions about manhood.
I was twenty when Easy Rider arrived at one of the theaters along the university’s main drag in Austin. I will never forget the closing scene, when two Louisiana rednecks shoot Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper off their motorcycles. I walked out of the theater and collapsed at the curb, wrecked. Later, I got into a furious argument with my best friend when he suggested that the violence was not realistic.
“I know those men!” I said. “They sat in the drugstore on Main Street, telling each other how the world should be. Don’t tell me they wouldn’t yank a rifle from the gun rack and shoot you if your hair and clothes and middle finger pissed them off!”
Several days later, with Judi and a friend of hers visiting from Corpus Christi, a group of us went to the Plantation for a late-night meal. No other Austin eatery was open late, hence the mix of patrons—longhairs, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, construction workers, anyone with an appetite. I was wearing my billow-sleeved Romeo shirt—and feeling the kind of energy that spilled out of me in words and gestures. I heard the guys in the next booth—barbered, buttoned-down—lobbing wisecracks about hair length and hippie attire in the booth on the other side of them. Then they lobbed a few in my direction. Only words, you might say. But the words were drenched in threat. What if some impulse had moved them to follow us when we left? What if darkness and resentment and entitlement had tipped them over into violence? Where is the dividing line between resenting a gay man and threatening him, between the threat itself and following through?
* * *
What might have happened turned out to be beside the point. Scott decided not to attend Judi’s wedding. I said I’d stay home, too. Several days into the travesty, a close friend, who loved Scott and who knew how important my sister was to me, suggested I drive to Corpus Christi, attend the service itself, then drive back to Austin, leaving the celebration in Orange Grove to those who felt welcome without complication. It was a solution that satisfied no one.
My son Karl flew in from San Francisco and rode to the wedding with his tense father. We hadn’t even reached the river dividing Austin before our hackles were up, angry words roiling the air between us. Thank God for sudden insight. I don’t remember which of us realized we had no reason to bristle, which of us said to the other that the source of the friction lay two hundred miles south. We took a deep breath and drove on, at peace.
We arrived just minutes before the service was to begin. In the vestibule, Raymond hugged us and thanked us for coming. The church was full of relatives from two large families and friends from two communities, Raymond’s and Judi’s. The ceremony was the standard Catholic wedding.
I had told Judi that if I attended without Scott, I would not participate when it was time for the bride and groom to pose with her family. I don’t know if she heard me. Or had I said this in one of my imagined conversations? I’m a lifelong expert at running dialogue in my head, including what I’ve wanted to say, so vividly that sometimes I mouth my part as the virtual exchange proceeds. Regardless, as soon as Judi and Raymond’s ceremony was over, the guests were asked to remain seated while photographs were taken. I simply didn’t have the nerve to get up and walk out. Then, inevitably, it was time for the bride’s brothers—not singly but coupled. My brothers stood, smiling proudly beside their smiling wives. I stood beside them, alone, my carriage, my facial muscles running the gamut from morose to hostile. Next came an extended family photo, including my son and his cousins. My posture didn’t improve.
It wasn’t just that Scott was preemptively blocked from the Meischen family story. But that in a very real sense I was cut out—like a human paper doll, separated from himself, from his context, and placed where he doesn’t belong. The frowning man captured by the camera is just that. Captured. Coerced. Posing, despite himself, as someone else. Going along with the lie that he has no sacred bond with another. Participating in the banishment of the one person he must never deny—like Peter saying, “I don’t know him.” Yes, I felt coerced, but no one made me do what I was doing. And my tense is wrong, admitting I did a terrible thing. Because a photograph breaks free of the past. Like dialogue on the pages of a play, it is always here and now, always in present tense. Every minute of every day, inside the existing record, I am saying yes to the damage this group pose inflicts on me and the man I love.
My mother is missing from these photos, her absence throbbing like an amputation in the record of family events since May 13, 1995, when she breathed her last. We cannot alter the past, cannot undo a single death. Still, if Mother had survived cancer, if she were in the family photographs taken at Judi and Raymond’s wedding, Scott would be standing beside me and we’d be smiling, as in the photographs from Dawn’s wedding. It was hard for my mother to hear that I’m gay, but her bearing toward me did not change. She didn’t write an angry letter, though my father did. She didn’t forbid further mention of the subject, didn’t preemptively banish a love her son might one day find. In our last conversation, two weeks before her death, Mother spoke calmly of her knowledge about me. Though Daddy had said no to sharing my news, she felt that perhaps she might confide in her sisters. When she was gone, there was no one left in my father’s life who might temper his stubborn refusals.
* * *
When the photographer was done, the bride and groom recessed from the church. Attendees followed. Outside, Karl and I jostled our way out of the crowd and approached Judi and Raymond. I hugged them both and said that we were driving back to Austin.
“Scott didn’t come,” Karl said. “Dad doesn’t feel comfortable celebrating without him.”
Judi’s mouth was compressed into a line. “You should have brought him with you.”
This was not the moment for discussion or argument. I deflected Judi’s question. Karl and I said goodbye and walked to my car.
You should have brought him with you.
The response I imagined later: Scott is not a piece of luggage. He is his own person. And perhaps this: What if I’d persuaded Scott to be with me that day? What if my father or one of my brothers had challenged him for being there? What if one of the guests, sensing permission in my father’s, my brothers’ hostile silence toward us, had done worse?
Once during the months when Daddy first refused to have Scott on the farm, a close friend suggested this: “Don’t take no for an answer. Just drive to the farm with Scott.” In my friend’s imagination, Elwood Meischen would have done the polite thing. He’d have let us in—and kept a civil tongue while we were there. In my imagination, Daddy would have done anything but. I could see him striding across the yard toward us, his face a mask of contempt. “Get the hell out of here,” he’d say. “You,” he’d say jabbing a finger at Scott’s chest. “Your twisted ways. You ruined my son.” Two things, I said to my friend, would come of such a confrontation. First, I would never forgive my father if he spoke humiliation to Scott. Second, I would never forgive myself for exposing Scott to that kind of insult.
* * *
I don’t know anyone who has been a more loving daughter, a more loving family member, than my sister, nor anyone who has so faithfully observed the exacting standards familial love has expected of her. In this regard, she is much like the mother who raised her—doing what has to be done because it is there to be done. Judi’s first husband died on Christmas Eve 1985, after a brutal, protracted struggle with lymphoma. Two and a half years later, when Mother agreed to a routine hysterectomy, Judi drove to the hospital and sat in the waiting room with Daddy. When the surgical team announced they’d found a tumor on one of Mother’s ovaries, that they had not been able to remove all of the cancerous tissue, it was my sister who stepped into the recovery room and delivered the news to our mother. Judi stood by our parents during seven years of intermittent treatment. She held us all together during Mother’s last day, several times leading us through a decade of the rosary as Valerie Meischen slipped into a coma and slipped away from us.
My sister is much like our mother in another important way. She observes the tenet that we don’t talk about certain things, that we observe certain boundaries when we do break silence. Judi was not happy when I came out to our parents. She said as much and then stepped in to comfort them. When I fell in love with Scott, Judi told me the new relationship fell outside what our father could be told. When that proved untenable, she spent the next two decades trying to make peace where no such goal was feasible.
My sister is not a homophobe. She is a lifelong adherent of family rules. Judi accepts that I’m gay. She accepts Scott and my relationship with him. She and her husband have traveled with us, have been in our home. But Judi internalized the Meischen family practice of not saying. She made herself a proponent of the rules limiting us. Don’t tell your parents what they might not want to hear. Don’t talk about private family stuff outside the circle of family. Never upset your father. My decision to be openly gay set me outside these constraints.
* * *
Three days after Judi and Raymond’s wedding, I sat down at my keyboard and composed a letter to my father. I’ve never subscribed to the notion that first thoughts are best thoughts, especially difficult thoughts expressed to a difficult father. I didn’t want to mail an impulsive letter, an irate letter. I wanted to stake out a position and defend it. Afterward, when I printed my letter for mailing, I saved a copy in my computer files. Twenty years later, it’s still there—1131 words on two single-spaced pages.
On the first page, I get to the core of things. “Quite simply,” I say, “Scott is the most important person in my family. He is family to me. We are not boyfriends. We are life partners; we are soulmates. Marriage between men does not yet exist in this country—as a legal contract. Nonetheless, many men have entered into such arrangements—without benefit or protection of the law. Scott and I have pledged ourselves to one another. We have pledged ourselves to a permanent monogamous relationship. And we have taken the available legal steps to protect our relationship.”
Coming out was on my mind as I wrote. In the aftermath of saying to my parents that I am gay, I had honored Daddy’s blustery insistence that the subject not be broached again. Now I needed to explain why I could no longer abide that kind of silence: “As difficult as it was for all three of us, I have never regretted coming out to you and Mother. For two reasons. One was the need to acknowledge years of lying. The other is more complicated. I knew as I spoke to you in January of 1994 that I had spent the first forty-five years of my life trying to be the son Elwood Meischen wanted. And failing miserably. I think in a way that day, I was saying, Dad, the first forty-five years of my life were yours; the rest are mine.” Then, the heart of the letter: “I cannot honor your wishes if in doing so I dishonor Scott and my relationship with him. I cannot show up alone at family events, pretending that Scott does not exist—without doing irreparable damage to my relationship with him, without perpetrating a lie about myself. I’m not willing to do that, even if the lie is more comfortable than the truth.”
I mailed the letter. Then, as if the matter were finished, I put the letter out of mind. A mistake. Because I knew my father. I knew Daddy had to have the last word. I knew his insistence on being right, his lifelong habit of letting the rest of us know about it. Late one afternoon three months later, the phone rang and I picked up.
Daddy was on the line.
He’d spent the intervening weeks stewing. He’d been rehearsing—savoring the words he’d use to cut me down to size. I was caught with my mouth wide open, my reasoning faculties absolutely unprepared for the match at hand.
We were on the phone for well over an hour. For well over an hour, I lost my grip on the fifty-two-year-old man who answered the phone. I was sitting in my own living room, with a view of our two live oak trees out the big front window, but Daddy’s voice yanked me south—across the Nueces River, into the kitchen on the farm, his fist pounding the air to drive the words home.
For well over an hour, I shed four decades of my life. For well over an hour, I was twelve and trapped in a room with Daddy and Daddy was not pleased and it was my duty to weasel my way out of the mess I’d got myself into. Because, of course—Daddy’s rule—it was all my fault. I lost my adult voice, lost the tone of self-confidence I’d learned from decades in a classroom with high school students. Instead of defending what I’d written to Daddy, instead of explaining my demeanor at Judi’s wedding, I fell back on sheer childishness—a chorus of I didn’t mean this, I didn’t mean that. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” How many cringe-worthy times did I say that? As if the one duty of a son at midlife is not to step out of line, not to ruffle his father.
During these years, I was subject to a recurring dream. Always, I was twelve—old enough to yearn, to see freedom on the horizon. Young enough to be trapped. Which is what I was. Always. Trapped. I might be in the feed room behind the barn, dipping into a sack of meal for the hogs, with Daddy at the door, blocking my way. Daddy with words of dismissal. Daddy with looks of contempt. And I, standing silent, knowing deep in my bones, that I would never get out of the feed room, never get off the farm, never get away from my father.
For an hour and a half, I was in Daddy’s grip—trapped inside the family that raised me, inside Elwood Meischen’s rigid boundaries. This is family at its worst: rote adherence to unexamined roles, to rigidly policed allegiances, to principles that no longer make sense.
* * *
More than once, my frustrations led me back to my therapist. I credit him with important moments of insight. During one session, for example, I pondered the appealing notion of a clean break with Daddy. When I reached a pause, Dr. Patterson asked me to imagine doing just that. And then he took the long view. “In fifteen years, maybe twenty, your father will be gone. If you cut yourself off now, how are you going to feel when he dies?”
I did not want even a year of enforced silence, enforced distance between Daddy and me. I did not want to arrive at the end of his life and look back on a desert mapped by my own failure to love him.
My son Karl, too, was a godsend during these years. One day when I called him I would characterize myself as hurt, speaking out of hurt, issuing judgments out of hurt. I was so deep into myself I expected Karl would feel my pain, would validate what I was feeling. When I finally ran out of words, there was a long silence from my son. And then this:
“Oh, Dad, you poor middle-aged, middle-class white man.”
I laughed out loud. And thanked Karl. I needed the reminder, needed the perspective his wisecrack had given me.
I loved my father. By working at it, I was able to sustain our relationship during his remaining years. But Daddy’s refusal to acknowledge Scott stunted my relationship with both sides of the family that raised me, I suspect permanently. It doesn’t have to be this way, as I kept learning from the Wiggermans.
* * *
In the summer of 2013, one at a time, several New Mexico counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On August 27, when Taos County said yes to same-sex unions, Scott started planning our wedding. We’d been visiting Taos for a decade. We had friends there; we’d spent time there with Mom and Dad Wiggs. When Scott reached out to them, they agreed enthusiastically to stand up with us.
Wanting a legal marriage on the books before the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on the matter, we set a date—October 23—and rushed the preparations. Given the cost of plane fare with such a narrow window, I encouraged my sons—Karl on the West Coast and Jack in Wisconsin—to cheer us on from afar. I called my father, too, though not to invite him. I didn’t want Daddy present at an event he wouldn’t bless. I knew he’d say no anyway, aside from which he was eighty-nine now—and frail. As for Larell and Vance, I had no intention of inviting them. My brothers had come down solidly on Daddy’s side of the divide. I wanted no such drag on the celebration as Scott and I said our vows.
Was I—am I—being petty? Perhaps so. And if so, my one regret is my sister. Judi has spent a lifetime keeping the family peace. Her role reminds me of the cynical aphorism that no good deed goes unpunished. For years my sister stood bravely in no man’s land, waving a flag for peace, while her father and her brother fortified entrenched positions from opposite sides. I wanted her to drag Daddy across the divide and make him shake hands with me. She wanted us to meet in a middle ground marked forbidden to both parties.
I didn’t invite Judi to my wedding.
Scott and I settled on a small group of friends in the Taos area. In addition, he invited Cathy Hill, who’d been with him the day we met, and her good friend Margaret Ward Barrett. Cathy and Margaret had been enthusiastic fans of our relationship from the outset. The four of us were close. Scott reached out to David and Carolyn Hinske, who offered to host the ceremony in the courtyard of their home—a Pueblo style dwelling nestled along a curving, unpaved desert road northwest of Taos near the Rio Grande Gorge. The view went on forever, with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains jutting skyward at the horizon. Scott arranged for a minister to conduct the ceremony—a slight, gray-haired woman who was delighted she’d be among the first to officiate at a gay wedding in Taos County. I tracked down a specialist in cakes and arranged with a Taos restaurant to prepare enchiladas for the guests. Thanks to the Hinskes, there would be a generous supply of Prosecco.
Mom and Dad Wiggs met us in Taos and shared a condo with us for three days—tiled floors, vigas in the ceilings. On the evening of the 23rd, they drove to the Hinskes with us, stood by us with sunlight spilling gold onto the Sangre de Cristo as we prepared to say our vows. Before we began, the minister turned to David Hinske and asked if it was time for the music. I had no idea what she was talking about, but he said yes and stepped inside. As he manipulated knobs on his stereo system, Cathy and Margaret rose and walked over to stand behind Scott. The three of them turned to face me, and the music began, a Bruno Mars song.
It’s a beautiful night, we’re looking for something dumb to do.
Hey baby, I think I wanta marry you.
Scott lip-synced with Mars. Cathy and Margaret did back-up dance moves they’d practiced ahead of time. I stood there, laughing with our assembled guests.
A couple of weeks before, David had sent us a playlist for the reception, with a request that we add songs that were special to us. I knew Scott really liked “Think I Wanta Marry You.” It’s a silly tune—but with irresistible good energy. When I asked if he wanted to add it to David’s list, Scott said no. And now I knew why.
When the song was over and I had time to catch my breath from laughing, the minister led us through a brief ceremony. She’d asked ahead of time about the vows. She could recite them in chunks, and at each pause, one of us would say simply, “I do.” Or she could recite one phrase at a time, and the groom whose turn it was would repeat the entire phrase. Scott would likely have opted for, “I do.” But I was adamant. I wanted to say every single word of the vows. And so we did.
Afterward—two husbands, two witnesses, our guests—we plunged into the celebration. There was food and bubbly and music and conversation and cake—a delicious two-tiered chocolate concoction swathed in mocha butter crème, each tier encircled with a rainbow ribbon at the base. The woman who created our cake was so enthusiastic about our same-sex union that she’d googled us, then perched personalized gray-haired groomsmen on top, with two miniature cats beside them.
When it was time to depart, Mom and Dad Wiggs walked out with us and took the back seat of our rental car. I drove, taking the rough desert road at idle speed. Around us, high plains desert endlessly unfolding. Just miles behind, the Rio Grande, carving itself ever deeper. Overhead, New Mexico’s fathomless sky, starlit.
From the backseat, Dad Wiggs spoke, his voice softened by darkness and reverence.
“This was a glorious day,” he said. Glorious. His word holds everything.
* * *
Back in Taos, the four of us dawdled for another day, talking, lunching on leftover enchiladas, delighting in the richness of mocha butter crème.
It has ever been thus with Marilyn and Ron. I’ve spent twenty-four years with their son, and, still, I am regularly overwhelmed by their embrace. Once, several years into my relationship with the Wiggermans, I found myself exclaiming over them to Cindy and Debbie, our coupled friends who lived just across a creek branch from us.
“They treat me like family!” I said.
Cindy and Debbie had been a couple as long as Scott and I. They’d heard these words before. They treat me like family.
“But, David,” Cindy said. “You are family.” Her tone seemed to suggest that some kind of gay baggage was weighing me down, that I was making myself an instrument of my own exclusion.
If so, Cindy missed my drift.
“I know I’m family,” I said. “What I’m telling you is they include me like family.”
What I want to say here is that if family defines us, we can return the favor. We can say I do to the kinship of any among us who say yes. And then yes. And then yes again.
* * *
On the last morning in Taos, after Mom and Dad Wiggerman departed for their home in Arizona, Scott and I drove out to the Gorge. I handed my camera to a congenial tourist, who got a nice shot of us—jeans, T-shirts, jackets, a cap for me, sunglasses for Scott—husband and husband, a family of two, smiling.
There’d been rain in the night, the desert lit wetly beneath blue-gray rain clouds—the river below, the mountains beyond shining like polished lapis.
A Pushcart honoree, with a personal essay in Pushcart Prize XLII, David Meischen is the author of Anyone’s Son, winner of the John A. Robertson Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL). David has twice received the Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from TIL, most recently for “Crossing at the Light,” lead story in The Distance Between Here and Elsewhere: Three Stories (Storylandia, Summer 2020). Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, he lives in Albuquerque, NM with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.