On May 26, 1989, Katherine and I went to a party hosted by an old, old friend from the French school whom I'd run into at San Francisco State where I was a graduate student in Russian Language and Literature. Nicholas lived on Fulton, directly across from the Jefferson Airplane house, in a flat shared with other students. I picked Katherine up after dropping off Laurent, then 1 ½, at my parents' in the Castro. I had on a favorite black vintage dress with lace trim at the collar and hips and black Sacha London cowboy booties (still have them).
I was 26.
Katherine and I hung around at this party for a couple of hours. I remember feeling distinctly wrong in that place, listening to complaints by some guests that their parents were late sending their rent checks. I was keeping track of time in my head, knowing that I'd soon have to go and pick up Laurent, feeling old as hell, a mother already in a house full of spoiled, entitled kids.
We were dejectedly getting our coats when the front door opened and a group of guys came in. From where we stood at the end of the corridor, it was as if they were travelling toward us in slow motion.
There was no longer any question of leaving.
We produced cigarettes. They produced lighters. We told stories, drank, laughed. All at once in a rush, we were all standing outside on the sidewalk together in coats and hats. I was shy and unpracticed and did nothing. Katherine left with a phone number.
She saw Mike a couple of times following that party. I kept thinking of the one named Joe. Finally I did what I knew how to do: I wrote a note which I gave to Katherine which she gave to Mike which he gave to Joe. I wish I could remember what I said.
Our first date was on June 12th.
I had never been on a date before, actually. The boyfriends I’d had to that point were all people I knew at least a little, that I’d gotten to know in a group setting first. I was super nervous. I had gone clothes shopping that afternoon, uncomfortably aware that everything I owned was shabby and old. I had on brand-new underwear.
Joe was early to pick me up.
We had coffee in North Beach. We walked along the Marina Green. We window-shopped on Union Street. We had dinner at Pasand. We made small talk. We kept moving. We had a beer at a place on Haight Street that no longer exists. Joe knocked over a bottle leaning in for the first kiss. We laughed.
The next morning we went to Ocean Beach and I remember looking at Joe, in that remarkable light, and asking myself how such an amazing, beautiful person could be interested in me, me with a baby, me with nothing. It was as if Joe was from an entirely different world. I devoured all of the details: his eyes, his clothes, his hair, his ease.
He was 22.
I knew already at that moment that this was it, that this was huge, that my life was unrolling before me in a way I never could have imagined.
I was completely struck by love, it was le coup de foudre as we say in French. I lived on cantaloupe and popcorn for two weeks, unable to eat, really, truly, blissfully out of my mind.
And now it’s been 21 years. I love Joe more now than I ever have, every day the love increasing. Absurdly we both still get a little tongue-tied and goofy when we see each other out of context, when we rendez-vous somewhere for lunch or an errand. I am still dazzled.
People have asked me today what is the secret to this love longevity, this love-gevity. I have theories about what worked for us, but I don't really know. All I know for sure is that this great big lightning bolt love happened to us, and that we've managed to feed and sustain its blaze for a good long time. I am still grateful every day for the places this love has taken us both, for the life we've made in it.
Here's to twenty-one more and beyond!