Short film. Based on award winning story by LGBT fiction pioneer Richard Hall.

Our Marriage Is Transactional, Our Love Is Not

2
The author with his husband.

I got married to Ric, my partner of thirteen years, in the summer of 2019 and moved to a tiny town in Pennsylvania. We had lived together before in Atlanta for over a decade, but he’d gotten tired of the city, while I had not. A job he wanted took him north and I stayed down south. We lived apart for three years and spent copious amounts of money flying back and forth for weekend visits.

By the spring of 2019, I felt that mid-life crisis itch.  I wasn’t into silly convertibles, pools, or young lovers. Not me. I wanted to quit work and go back to college and try to become a writer. I applied to a graduate writing program near his town and was accepted with a full ride and tiny teaching stipend. There was one complication: it came with no health insurance.

We had never thought about marriage before. We’d been denied it so that when it became legal, it felt like an unnecessary afterthought. If we weren’t allowed to participate in it back then when we were younger, then we didn’t want any part of it when we were older. We had no need for a registry and gifts, but health insurance was vital to our lives. Very nonchalantly over the phone, he said to me, “well we can get married, and you can be on my insurance.” Our marriage was transactional, but my love for him was anything but. Like he has always done in my mess of a life, Ric had a solution that came with a sense of ease. He always has a sense of ease.

*

During the early stages of the pandemic of 2020, while the world was afraid of Covid-19, I was exposed to a far deadlier virus. No one told me that rabies was so deadly, and that getting bit by a rabid animal was so dangerous and costly.  It wasn’t my first scare with a virus, nonetheless one of epidemic levels. I was in my early twenties during the 1990s, and like most sexually active gay men, had a very near encounter with HIV.

Just prior to the pandemic, when I thought my teaching and course load would keep me away from home for long periods of time, we decided to adopt a cat to keep our elderly dog company. We’d always had a menagerie of animals. At our height, we housed three dogs, two cats, two turtles, and a bunny. But after years of adoptions and deaths, we were down to one. Our dear sweet Alex was a yellow lab with a heart as big as could be. He was a social animal and missing his buddy cat that I’d named Brenda Walsh, who had passed that fall. Fearing that he would feel isolated, we decided to go to the local shelter and get a cat. This tiny beast rubbed up to Ric, climbed his back, and wrapped himself around his neck. I panicked and looked for any cat to choose me, but it was already over. Pets always love my husband a bit more than me. They sense my desperate need for attention. Next thing I knew, we filled out paperwork at the local shelter and adopted Jupiter (changed to Glen later that night).

During the pandemic winter months, a domesticity settled inside of me. I had moved only eight months prior. I knew no one, had no friends. I was a 47-year-old gay man starting grad school and living in a town surrounded by MAGA signs. Domestic life wore me into submission. I had to find the acceptance of this life, or it would rot me from the inside out thinking of the life I had back in Atlanta. I had signed up for a new life at a university, not an online life, one in an office attic where I pondered what to make for dinner.

Neither Ric nor I envisioned our first year of married life would be this way. While his life went virtually uninterrupted at work, mine was flipped on its head. He was sympathetic that I was no Betty Draper, but circumstances in the form of a virus was forcing the Betty Draper life on me. It was not the first time a virus had impacted our behavior. We’d lived through the onset of the AIDS crisis. That experience with an epidemic gave us a much-needed perspective to cope with this pandemic where people lost their minds over toilet paper and masks.

*

Right before the pandemic shut down the world, we’d started a remodel on the kitchen and removed the flowered wallpaper, terrible speckled vinyl flooring, and gutted the porous drop ceiling tiles. Deep in my sleep one night I felt a nibble, and weight, on my bare chest. I yelled at Glen and swatted what I thought was his squeaky bird toy off my naked chest. I heard white noise that I thought was from the TV.  It wasn’t.

I didn’t see it at first. Glen was at the door sitting proudly upright. He trotted slowly to the middle of the room and nodded. I swear he nodded. I looked in the corner and there it was. A bat. Flapping with one wounded wing. Comically flapping as if it could escape.  Then it dawned on me and I examined my chest. I woke Ric up and forced him to examine my chest.

That is what I love about him: he takes care of things. And while he took care of things, I turned all the lights on in the bathroom and examined my chest hair in the mirror. I had started to gray and didn’t even notice. I grabbed some tweezers and started plucking. When that proved laborious, I got the clippers and shaved my chest hairs. Then I proceeded to shave everywhere. Meanwhile, Ric got one of the many empty Amazon boxes and captured the injured bat and threw it out the back door.

Two days later I was in the same bathroom, a room that also was in a stalled Covid-19 renovation. I was examining body hair to see if other places had begun to gray. That bathroom had tube fluorescent lights that ran parallel to the mirror. They time traveled to my new life from 1976. They don’t turn on immediately. Instead, they warm up. While warming up they have a white noise sound. But this day, the noise stayed after they warmed up. I tapped the light. I turned it off. I still heard the white noise.

Glen was sitting on the bed. He nodded. I swear he nodded. I looked down and stepped on it with my bare foot. Another wing wounded bat. I was alone in the house and I could man up and deal with it or close the door and wait for my husband to get home to take care of it. Instead, I got my tennis racquet and another empty Amazon box, caught it, and threw that invader out the back door. I have great pride I did this removal naked.

The game commission agent showed up two days later responding to our call.

He advised me to get treatment before any symptoms present. He felt the bat most likely was rabid but would let us know. I called Ric and wondered if I should get the treatment. He wondered why I was even wondering. He was advised to get the treatment too since he’d been in contact with the bat saliva.

The word treatment is used lightly here. First they weigh you, and then determine how much rabies immune globulin to shoot in your ass. I needed two rounds. Ric needed three. I teased him about his weight. The globulin provides anti-bodies until the vaccine kicks in and you produce your own to fight the virus.

After the immunoglobulin treatment, I had to go back every seven days for three more shots of vaccine. The vaccine that is the same active ingredient that animals get. The same one that cost our cat, Glen, about fifty bucks. I began to panic about the money once I Googled “human rabies vaccine costs.” When it was all totaled, it amounted to almost forty thousand dollars for both of us to get the vaccine. While marriage seemed an afterthought in our lives, I am thankful for it once those bills started rolling in and were covered by the insurance I had through our legal marriage.

It’s funny that in my entire twenties and early thirties my mind thought a lot about a virus. If you were a sexually active gay man in the 1990s, HIV was a deep concern. Perhaps getting through those negative years gave me the coping mechanism to get through the Covid pandemic. While I watched people lose their minds over masks and bars closing, I settled in and hunkered down. I had a dog and a cat and bats flying about to keep me occupied. While the bill for the rabies vaccine awestruck me, I can only imagine the cost of other viruses over a lifetime.

 

Edward Jackson attended Western Michigan University (BA), Aquinas College (M.Ed.), University of Georgia (Ed.S.), and Emory University (Post Grad Certificate). Edward spent most of his career as a teacher and librarian for twenty years with the Atlanta Public Schools. Currently, he is enrolled in the Northeast Ohio MFA program at Youngstown State University. He lives in Greenville, PA with his husband Ric, their cat Glen and dog Roger. They also share their home with a family of squatter bats (summer) and squirrels (winter) who won’t leave the walls of his attic office during their seasonal stays. 

 

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