August 20, 2010
“I think I’ve found my soul mate.”
I’ll never forget hearing that over the phone in Ohio in 1993. The voice on the other end belonged to Dennis Perrin. We’d never met in person, and I thought that he was a bit strange (I had only recently figured out he wasn’t gay; living in Ohio and working as a line cook, I tended to think any guy who could carry on a relatively pleasant conversation couldn’t be straight). He was responding to the third column that I’d turned into him for a feature in the paper he was editing at the time; it was called “She Said,” later to be rechristened “Broad Side” by him, in which women writers expressed their opinions on a weekly basis. Quaint!
I had been introduced, via mail (the snail variety; look at the date) by a mutual friend as a “former actress who’s writing now.” Said friend had a history of touting the talents of pretty nonentities to my future esposo. DP reacted appropriately to the Precious Gift of my 1,000 word piece: He threw it in the bottom of a drawer. When, desperate for something, any damn thing, to fill space due to an erratic writer’s non-production, he actually read what I’d written, he called to say he loved it and would be publishing it. I think he paid me…$100? Or maybe 60. Either way, I was thrilled; I was a paid writer!
Even better, he asked for more.
Fabio was signing books at a mall in Columbus, so I wrote my next column on that, mentioning the Eldest (then 2 and of course the Only) for the first time. Rather than being rightfully terrified by the prospect of a single mother – oh, the baggage! – DP seemed even more fascinated. In the next column, the one that earned me the soulmate call, I went for the car, so to speak, and wrote an extended take on how much the marketing aimed at the tot’s demographic sucked.
When I hung up, bashful and smiling, my mother said, “He’s got a real thing for you.”
“Oh, pshaw.” (Never having uttered “oh, pshaw” in my life, I am pretty sure I didn’t say this, but it does approximate the shoulder shrugging, face reddening response I tend to have to this day to positive attention, regardless of its basis. I remain dizzily betwixt a sort of noblesse oblige vanity – all the women in my family are pretty, smart, and talented – and a lingering sense that I am a large awkward creature who looks and acts like a duck and has, yet again, done and/or said something unspeakably stupid.)
In any event, one thing led to another, and before long, I was flying to NYC to meet with Mr. P, who, sight unseen, had fallen hard. He will still recount how he felt on first seeing me, wearing Doc Martens, an Agnes B pleated skirt, and some kind of shirt, probably black, my hair short and the Eldest held tight to my shoulder; she and I were pretty much inseparable at the time. Apparently, palpitations were involved. The good kind.
I, naturally, couldn’t stand him.
Such were our auspicious beginnings. He pursued, while attached to another; I parried, due to the baggage thing. He hired me to work on staff, then promptly left the paper, leaving me somewhat high and dry as a contractor. But my brief employment had gotten me back to the city I continue to love, the place where I’ve felt the most at home throughout my life, and after a couple of rather difficult months, I ended up in what would be a life-changing post working for Criterion.
And we got to know each other a little bit. I liked Dennis mainly because he was so crazy about me, but also because he was a genuine mentor. Up to that point, I had been hired based on the fact that I was smarter than the average pretty woman, but Perrin was the first person to say, “Damn. You can write.” At least, the first who mattered. (I remain deeply grateful for my mother’s fierce and constant belief in me and my talent, but she knows exactly what I’m saying.) He mattered because he was so good. We’ve both gotten better. 10 years from now we’ll be better still. Amidst the various emotional brickbats we’ve thrown at each other, the thousand times we’ve said stupid, regrettable shit to each other, we have never stopped mutually saying, “Damn. You can write.”
Anyway, after several months of non-contact, I threw the unemployed and now unattached Perrin a bone as a proofreader at my new gig. He seemed a little nicer, and he’d always been interesting company, but he was still clearly a bit enamored of moi and at times would get downright pissy that the feeling wasn’t being returned. I half hoped he’d take up with one of the office chippies. My raison d’etre was my daughter, I loved my job, and that was enough.
Amazingly, Perrin hung in there.
He babysat for me one night – the kid loved him and called him “Dentist” – when I went on an ill-fated, half-assed blind date. I came home and realized how easy it was to be around him. I invited him over another night, got extremely drunk on cheap wine, basically threw myself at him, only to have him refuse. The fact that it would have been churlish to take advantage of my macerated advances wouldn’t have stopped most guys.
I remember the exact moment when I finally fell in love with this suitor who had pursued me so relentlessly, so patiently (well, for him). We were sitting at a flea market table in my kitchen, I had thrown together my west village salad (fresh pesto, fresh mozz, tomatoes, black olives, pasta, and arugula, all bought in various shops on Carmine, a couple of blocks from the apartment). I don’t remember what we said. I just sat there, eating this stuff, watching the fire in his eyes as he talked about something – Dennis is almost always talking – and I just didn’t want him to leave that night.
So he didn’t.
We did, of course, start fighting almost immediately. His huge bound copy of The Evergreen Review has a special place in our home as the first book I ever threw at someone’s head (rather handily, too, but Perrin was pretty spry at the time; only emotional damage was sustained). Likely as a function of our deep passion for life and each other, as well as an accumulation of a lifetime of pain and issues, our fights are, frankly, horrible. Anyone who’s ever debated my husband, publicly or privately, has gotten the worst of it. Logic, always a little tricky for me, completely eludes me in the heat of battle; I’m asking to be destroyed. I make up for that by strategic blind flailing, which, given the close quarters, does plenty of damage. Mix in the intimate knowledge of soft spots and armor chinks that are price of marriage entry, and shake, never stir, with a large quantity of alcohol, and you have a cocktail with a very ugly hangover. That the booze left my side of the building some years ago helped increase space between fights, but it didn’t eliminate them. With a little dedicated effort – my work ethic is legendary – we can still get just as hideous stone cold sober.
So where are we? God, I don’t know. We really love each other. I know that.
I think we have something rare. Before publishing the post, DP sent it to me to be sure I was ok with it. Great writers who happen to be married have used their talents to publicly shred their spouses. How grateful I am that he hasn’t done that. But I know him. That was never really on the table.
In some ways, I wonder if we needed this particular crucible – not just the latest iteration, but the whole damn marriage – to become who we are. Frankly, both DP and I are at the top of our artistic games; I’m a lot more private about where I’m headed, but suffice it to say that, while for years my creative passion surrounded getting my novel published (it’s good but….books?), in the last year I’ve finally landed on what I think this half century has been preparing me for. Perrin just gets better and better, and yet has also diverged from expressing himself purely through the page, as the ominously named Project (it sounds so secret and atomic to me) refines itself.
It has been a decade and a half of thrashing, some of it sexy, much of it supported while the other provided a safe haven, but all too often ending up in the relatively innocent bystander getting badly beaten. Both of us have inhabited, battled, and, truth be told, luxuriated in our pain, and we have been generous in including the other one.
We stand, bloody but curiously unbowed – and still tentatively, bravely reaching for the others’ hand. I know we’ll get through this; we always do. Whether we emerge on the path together or headed in different directions at last, we currently don’t know.
Perrin and I have realized grace in others’ eyes and arms. That is rare. That is beautiful.
Life is short.
We are blessed.