Today is May 1st, 2020. Beltane, later called May Day was King Henry VIII’s favorite holiday. It is associated not only with the coming of summer but with love.
It is also the fourth anniversary of my first meeting with Alan. We had been chatting for a couple of weeks via email. He was coming to London. So, we decided to meet up for coffee. Although I fell instantly for his kind eyes and adored his intelligence and insight, I did not expect much.
As the single mother of an autistic child, I had resigned myself to my Fate. Maybe once PanKwake was grown, I might find a companion for my golden years. But from my first foray into ‘dating’ after my separation, I had learned. My life was so tough that it sent the US Marines running for cover.
No, I am not a whiny ‘autism mom.’ Single parenthood is never easy. And I would not trade my brilliant autistic child for a ‘normal’ one any day. Frankly, the challenges in our lives have rarely come from autism itself but from a society that judges those who are different. That lack of understanding and acceptance is what makes life hell for the #ActuallyAutistic and their families.
It turns out that I was not the only one who felt that way. I did not learn until we had already moved to Swansea with Alan that I was the third and final first date he had arranged for that weekend trip. And the one he did not expect to work out.
That date did not get off to a good start either. @PanKwake’s carer was ill. But my older daughter, Mere-Mere, agreed to look after her sister for me. Of course, she was late, making me late. But she said that was how it should be – a woman was supposed to be late. It kept a man guessing.
I finally was off. I had picked the Costa Coffee at the end of London Bridge. Little did I know that it was not called that. The Costa – London Bridge was over a mile away. I had never been there and did not know where it was. It was Sunday and busses were spotty so I decided to walk.
Alan and I were messaging one another. But the whole time, I am cussing, swearing up and down that if this guy had not come all the way from Swansea I would turn around and go home. If I had known about those other two dates, I probably would have, too. I also swore that this was the last date I went on with this guy. Obviously, we were cursed, just not meant to be.
I got lost a half a dozen more times on the way there. I still have no idea how to use Google maps. Finally, over an hour late, I find the right coffee shop.
Instead of a handshake, Alan greets me with a ‘cwtch.’ It is the first Welsh word I learned and still the most important one. He even explained to me what it meant. Technically, it is hug or cuddle, but the Welsh put their own spin on it. A cwtch really is so much more than a simple hug.
I noticed two things. First, I fit perfectly under his chin. If he has one under that beard. And second, that cwtch lowered my stress. I relaxed a bit.
We chatted a bit. Then together we walked to the alt market. We walked the stalls chatting and met up with a couple of my old friends.
We had agreed that if we hit things off Alan would come back to my flat to meet @PanKwake. This was a marked departure from every ‘relationship’ I had since the separation. None of them had more than met her in passing. But the way I saw it, there was no point in coming to like another man only to discover that he could not hang with our life.
Alan too was not looking for some weekend while the kids are with their dad sort of half commitment. He had been married for a quarter of a century until his wife died of cancer. He wanted, needed, and was looking for commitment.
So, I threw the poor man in the deep end. We got back to my flat and walked into screaming and yelling as @PanKwake chased Mere-Mere around with a can of fake pooh. Yes, I said FAKE POOH! I remember thinking – I really liked this guy. I wonder how long he’ll stay? Ten minutes? Fifteen, he’s polite.
He stayed the night. Something else that I had never allowed @PanKwake to see. It was obviously May Day and a Sunday. So Alan missed the last train from London to Swansea. He got on his phone and was trying to find a hotel for the night. I thought, ‘Poor man, he’s been staying in hotels for three nights. That is expensive.’ So, I told him to wait and I asked @PanKwake, who was used to her father and his women, if it was okay.
Of course, I told him that we were not having sex. Not on the first date. I had had enough of that casual shit for several lifetimes. And besides, our flat was tiny and @PanKwake was across the hallway. Now, whether I kept my word depends on whether you agree with Bill Clinton’s definition of ‘sex’ or not.
Alan spent much of the next day with us as well. I don’t remember much of what we did, but I am certain we must have gone to the park. When he left in the late afternoon, I was pretty certain that no matter what he said that was the last I would see of him.
I was wrong. He came back on Friday. He pretty much moved in with us, only going back to Swansea a couple of times for a few days. We began talking right away @PanKwake and I moving in with him in Swansea. So, we arranged for the two of us to visit him for a few weeks to see if it would work.
Did I mention that I did not know who he was for a couple of weeks? Oh, don’t get me wrong. I knew the important shit. Like how intelligent, caring, and patient he was with @PanKwake. But I had no idea he was Alan Cox. Heck, I only knew what Linux was because I had once dated a guy who preferred it. Those c-prompts scared me – and still do.
I discovered the truth one morning as he was getting ready to go into the London office. Minecraft was not working on @PanKwake’s laptop. I was hinting that he fix it. He told me, ‘Sweetheart, you probably know as much about Windows as I do.’ (Trust me, that is not true.) I naively replied, ‘Oh, so you’re one of those techies that think Linux is better than Windows?’ He laughed, kissed my forehead, and said, ‘You really didn’t Google me, did you?’
You see he had told me from the beginning that if I Googled him, I would find that in his tiny bit of the universe, he was well known. But as I told him, I don’t Google people – that’s just wrong.
I still get a kick out it when I am telling someone who my partner is and they get that glossy look in their eyes and whisper, ‘THE Alan Cox.’ But I never realized how bad it was until one Saturday a year or so ago, we were doing our ‘normal’ date thing, i.e. charity shops in town. We went into one and were standing out the till to pay and this guy comes out of the back with THAT look and says those words, ‘Are you Alan Cox?’
I am sad to say that if I had known who he was or the number of zeros on his bank accounts, I would not have gone on that first date. We all have our prejudices…and mine are stereotypes of arrogant, rich men. I am glad that I did not. To think of all that not only I, but @PanKwake, would have missed is humbling.
It has been four years since I got lost on my way to coffee with the guy with those kind eyes. Today would have, should have been our wedding day.
It was not going to be a big, fancy wedding. We are not fancy, or posh people. But two of my sons were coming from America, his parents, and a couple dozen of our friends. I had been stressing since the first of the year about it all. I wanted it to be sustainable and homemade. I made the invites myself. I crocheted the bride’s maids’ bouquet. I bought the most expensive piece of fabric ever and sewed my veil (£69.99/meter, thankfully only one meter). I had it all planned out.
I spent so much time worrying about whether this one would get along with that one. Whether this one would ever come to accept me. I had been married twice before, but this was my first wedding. I was fast approaching Bridezilla level, too.
Then word of this new virus began to filter into our lives.
Alan had been watching the news carefully. He especially became concerned when Italy began to descend into chaos. Then cases started to appear in London. He figured we were tracking two weeks behind Italy.
There was a spanner in the works for our special day. I called the Registrar’s Office. I was assured that they had no plans to cancel weddings. They would keep us posted, of course. But it was getting closer. We had our first case in Wales, Swansea, in fact. Alan had me call to see if it were possible to bring the wedding forward. It was, for a small fee.
We waited a few more days. Each day, he tracked the spread in the news. On Friday, March 6th, we decided to call first thing on Monday and see when they could work us in. When I called you could hear in the woman’s voice that she thought we were being reactionary, silly even. Some of our friends said as much.
Nonetheless, we took the first available appointment – Wednesday, March 11th at 3 p.m. Only two of our friends could make it, the others had appointments or children to pick up from school. Besides, we were being silly. The ‘official’ wedding would still happen on Friday, May the 1st as planned. We even scheduled that as a ‘renewal.’
Again the people at the Registrar’s Office were dismissive. At worst, weddings would be limited to the couple and witnesses. Less than two weeks later, the whole country entered lockdown. One of the first things to be closed was weddings.
We had slipped in just under the rug. We had even managed to write our own wills and have them witnessed since our solicitor was on holiday. I had ‘panic bought’ (NOT!!!) food, not toilet paper. I had topped up our regular prepper pantry of four to six weeks to almost double that twelve weeks. We had even celebrated our marriage with a handful of friends that Sunday.
The builder was working to finish Alan’s bathroom on the top floor. We were scheduling time for @PanKwake with her companions and friends. A chance for her to say ‘farewell.’ Then on Wednesday, March 18th, one week to the day since our ’emergency’ wedding, we entered self-isolation. Just the three of us.
And so too shall we celebrate today. Our fourth anniversary. Our ‘wedding day.’
I have already snuck out to the back garden and washed my face in the dew from the grass and flowers. I don’t pick them because that causes them to die, but I am appreciative of their beauty from the window. And we shall have Joe’s Ice Cream chocolate heaven cake to celebrate. Thanks to our lovely friend Jude and her super-hero partner Nick who went all the way to Llansamlet for @PanKwake’s ice cream.
Otherwise, yes, today feels like a huge let-down. All that time, money, and worry that went into a wedding that in the end was twenty minutes with @PanKwake and two friends as witnesses.
As I fight BA and the banks for refunds on canceled flights, along with tens of thousands of others. Having lost the deposit we paid the wedding photographer just days before the actual event. Packing away a box of bouquets, my veil, and yards of uncut, unsewn fabric underneath our bed became symbolic of those dreams.
Do I feel ‘married’?
I am still more likely to refer to Alan as my partner than my husband. But that aside, I have contended since the demise of my first marriage that it is all nothing more than a piece of paper. That many people with that paper have long since ‘divorced’ in all the most meaningful ways. And that many others without it are more loving, trusting, and committed.
I married @PanKwake’s father for the simple reason of immigration. Marriage is still the only reasonable way that couples from different countries can be together.
Frankly, Alan and I ‘married’ for almost as practical a reason. Governments continue to penalize unmarried couples, no matter the length or depth of their commitments to one another. Tax and inheritance laws in the US and the UK have not kept pace with the changing nature of commitment.
Alan and I choose to marry because he was retiring. From the moment, that I gave the insecurity of my independence and moved to Swansea to be with him, Alan had named me as the beneficiary on his company life insurance policy. But when he retired that security would disappear. He could have simply written his will leaving things to me, but the taxes on that would have been ridiculous. Only as his legal wife did that make financial sense.
So, why then all the hype? We asked ourselves that question over lunch the other day. For me, it was foolish. But somewhere in my warped logic, I thought that if we had a ‘real’ wedding then this marriage would turn out better than my other two.
Yes, that was completely foolish. The difference is in the man I choose and the woman I have become. Not in a ceremony before a few dozen people, many of whom don’t know one another, some of whom don’t even like me.
Would that ceremony have made me feel more married? I doubt that. The other truth is that at least from the moment we moved into @HomeCrazzyHome I have felt married.
That may seem strange. We had been living together for months already. Why would a house make such a difference? Because it was ours. Yes, he bought it with his money. Yes, only his name is on the mortgage and deed. But it was me that turned that posh house into a HOME. A @HomeCrazzyHome.
Alan bought this house for us, so we could be together. The place that we first moved into was nice, in fact, it needed no work. It was posh. And I never felt at home there. But I never would have asked him to move.
So, how did we come to buy @HomeCrazzyHome?
The neighbor at the old house complained about @PanKwake’s noise. ‘Complained’ is NOT a strong enough word. She pitched a screaming fit that had @PanKwake in tears in the garden, apologizing over the fence. Over breakfast the next morning, Alan and I talked.
I thought it was the end for sure. He was a nice guy. He knew I could not go back to London. I thought maybe he would buy a small house somewhere nearby where @PanKwake and I would live and he would ‘visit’ after she went to sleep. Yes, a booty call. I fought back tears and pulled up my big girl panties for this conversation.
Instead, he looked me in those teary eyes and said, ‘I knew that a few sleepless nights was the price of loving you. She did not have that choice. We’ll move.’
We only ever really looked at @HomeCrazzyHome. The road here was not smooth. Damp surveys. Finding insurance. Solicitors dragging their heels. Electricians who never showed up.
But from the moment we moved into this place – our @HomeCrazzyHome, we became a family. @PanKwake began to settle, to grow into herself. Alan had a ‘project’ to tinker with. And I had a home to make. This house brought us together.
@HomeCrazzyHome was a show of Alan’s commitment to us much deeper than a piece of paper and twenty minutes at the Registrar’s Office. As were those sleepless nights that prompted this move.
Am I disappointed that I will never have a ‘wedding’?
I would be lying if I said I was not a bit. But 26,771 people, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, human beings have died due to this virus. Most of those are nameless and faceless. Many died alone. Separated from family and friends. Most of them were buried the same way – without a ‘proper’ funeral. Hundreds of thousands more have died worldwide. Millions are struggling for their next breath.
The three of us are safe and as secure as anyone can be inside our @HomeCrazzyHome. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. My plants are splotching. We have food in the pantry and freezers. More food to come from our garden. Despite Alan being high-risk, we have by luck, planning, and/or Grace/Fate avoided the worst (touch wood).
What does that piece of paper mean anyway?
Understanding, acceptance, unconditional love, respect, and yes, commitment are what matters.
In whatever form that takes. Even a @HomeCrazzyHome. And hopefully, one day this world and the governments in it will recognize and celebrate that more than a piece of paper. No, in the grand scheme of things, life and love are what we should all be celebrating. Today and always.
Happy Beltane/May Day,
From our @HomeCrazzyHome to yours