6 min

My married man

Huddling together for warmth

Nicholas told me he was married after unveiling the nipple ring but before we had sex.

There’s this dilapidated mattress in my bedroom that you can easily trip onto if you’re backing up-he did, for he was, and he fell onto the sheets with a nervous laugh.

I thought of the 1950s and sat on a pillow. “What do you mean you’re married? To a woman?”

“Yeah.” Was it a confession? Or was the softness in his voice a way of egging me on?

My generation lost something elemental when we gained all our sex-positive freedoms-we lost the taste of forbidden fruit. But there was a moment that night when I stole a glimpse of depravity’s erotic face. The married man.

I found the notion incredibly hot. I told him so. In the half-light, his smile was more resigned to my interest than encouraged by it. Now, over a year later, the Marriage Issue has become a kind of code, an understood silence. But that night, the first night, we had no such understanding. We were two very different men-meeting and fucking for entirely different reasons. I was rushing toward the taboo of infidelity and Nicholas was attempting to discover a society.

Despite our separate missions, the sex was great. Maybe there was even an erotic element to our mutual incomprehension.

In the morning there was a phone number in the kitchen and mud tracks on the carpet. They were both gone by lunch and my thoughts turned to Christmas and all things traditional. For a week I visited my parents and, virgin-like, read Jane Austen by the fire.

My feigned holiness was perhaps a reaction against the preceding month of debauched sluttery-a month that had Nicholas as its tail end. In a last minute bid for Santa’s “good” list, I turned my mind to all things chaste. This became increasingly difficult, though, when my loins began to burn. Not with the fires of lust-no, nothing so romantic-they burned with a terrible itch. Family members glowed with holiday well-being under a soundscape of Kenny G Christmas albums, and my crotch glowed a holiday red, speckled over with scabies.

That January, as the Great Parasite War waged on in my apartment, Nicholas reappeared (unused to the conceit of a one-night stand, he saved my number in his wallet). We went to smoke flavoured tobacco at a Persian tea room and I told him he probably had scabies, in between puffs at the hookah. “Oh,” he smiled nervously. “What’s that?”

We would lather each other in Kwellada and, naked, vacuum the apartment for the hundredth time, desperate to be rid of my infestation. The pathetic battle of attrition that ensued was met with a closed-mouth acceptance by Nick. For me, it seemed difficult if not impossible to divorce the punishment from my sexcapades-was this not some divine retribution for my month or two of utter freedom? It was a period in my life when such riotous abandon ruled my libido that sex began to feel more and more like perfunctory masturbation.

But if Nick ever thought these un-PC thoughts, he never voiced them. While friends and family kept their horrified distance, Nicholas slept beside me on my tiny, bleach-scrubbed mattress.

I couldn’t understand why the scabies didn’t send him running and he couldn’t understand why his being married didn’t bother me. In my mind, he was the pure one-in his mind, it was I.

The third time Nicholas covered himself in Kwellada lotion, I knew it must be love. I told him so on the rooftop as we watched taillights drift over the Burrard Bridge.

A few months slipped by and it became clear that neither of us was about to flee the scene. When tricks refuse to leave-and, worse still, when you don’t want them to-a social contract begins to float up from the post-coital mist.

Mysteriously, their problems are your problems, and the other way around. I began to take the Marriage Issue more seriously.

How well did I know this guy anyway? He could be using me as an experiment until things cooled down at home. What assurance did I have that I was anything to him other than a passionate fling? Sure, he promised they were getting a divorce. Isn’t that what they always say in the movies? I wanted a carbon-copy proof of his commitment to me. Something I could hold onto and say, “Here! See? You’re mine!” In short, I wanted what she had-papers.

But proof, if that’s what proof is, never came. Instead it was our daily life that convinced us of each other’s affection. There is an odd patience involved-you watch this man as he makes dinner for you; you watch him get dressed, or undressed, a few hundred times. And then, when you least expect it, you realize that you’ve memorized how many sugars he takes in his coffee.

As many Canadians grew excited over the prospect of gays and lesbians having their marriages recognized, as a large group of us rallied at the courthouse to be sure of our rights, Nick and I waited impatiently for another kind of marriage to be dissolved. How strange, it seemed to us, that a simple ceremony could cause so much grief. That the state’s blessing of one union could interfere with our own.

Great things were afoot. Laws were changing. People shook with anger or revelation. But it’s in the dailyness of our lives, in the joy of the ordinary, that people place most of their hopes. We seek ourselves, we seek out some kind of recognition for our work and our love, in the smallest of human interactions. So Nick and I did not find our proof in the grandiose gesture of a wedding. It was in the far less glamorous process of divorce that we proved our resolve.

It can take a long time to undo a wedding. Years. Periodically, I would check on the status of the paperwork, always afraid of intruding on this, his world before me.

I’ve never met the mystery woman-the wife. Instead, she appears to me as legal documents on the kitchen counter (or a particular look on Nick’s face). I find that, in absentia, she still challenges my relationship with Nick though; a worry crops up where before there was nothing. Marriage is metaphor, after all. It seems to change, like a magic trick, the value of love. There is something very convincing in that certificate. And she had it; I did not.

There were photos of the wedding around his apartment. I came across them once in a while-not framed on the wall, but under some books, or tucked in an unused drawer. More evidence. More proof. The whole wedding, imaginary to me, with its witnesses and priestly sanction, seemed to be forever hovering on the perimeter of our lives.

It was only the other day that we ran into the priest who had married him. We were holding hands at the time and I felt Nick’s body turn tense. “That was him,” he told me after. “The priest.” An abashed timbre coloured his voice as he said it, a tone that belies the courage of his actions. I’ve become an expert at spotting that voice. Once he used it to tell me “God, I didn’t even make it to the first anniversary.” It’s amazing how guilt just sits there, underneath your better understanding.

My parents had their 30th wedding anniversary last year, on December 15. Which is also, creepily enough, the day that Nick and I first met. It is our anniversary, too. Regardless of certificates or lavish parties, we have that day-December 15-marked on the calendar. We first had sex the very night we met-within five hours of knowing each other. I think that’s worth a celebration.

We wondered what to do, to mark this day of days. In the end, because Nick had never gone, we got tipsy on martinis and rode the Stanley Park Christmas train. We ate roasted chestnuts.

I wrote a piece for my column long ago, where the protagonist rides on the Christmas train with his boyfriend. The episode was, unlike so much of that column, a fiction. Only a fantasy I’d romantically concocted. “Jamie’s mitten on the back of my neck,” I wrote. “His lips moving in my ear.”

We write down scenarios like that, in diaries or wherever, not because they are true but because they will be true some day-we demand a change. Nick didn’t wait around for his crappy world to change; he left it for another.

In the end, the stamped and certified marriage vows didn’t mean anything because Nick, when no one was looking, had written his own vows-and he didn’t ask anyone’s permission.

So my married man and I, one year into an unrecognized, unofficial, and unanticipated marriage of our own, along with a hundred cheering children, boarded the toy train and huddled together for warmth.