“My sweetie Fox wants to go see the eclipse,” I said to my wife. “Do you want to come?”
“Where would we go?”
I got out a map of the Zone of Totality, where the sun would be completely obscured – a thick line running in a curve across the United States. “Total eclipse is mostly in the south. There’s Nashville, Columbia, Paducah – ”
“PADUCAH?!?” Gini had bolted out of her chair and was making fluttering motions.
“…yeah. Paducah, Kentucky.”
She began dancing. “THAT’S THE NATIONAL QUILTING MUSEUM! I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO GO! PADUCAH!”
And so it was that a convergence of interests led to my first vacation as a poly unit.
Gini and I have gone places with my sweeties before, of course, and I with hers. We go out to dinner, as we have a pretty firm rule that we can’t date anyone the other person can’t sit down for a nice dinner conversation with. (That’s pretty much a gimme, though, as we’re both attracted to interesting conversationalists.) We’ve taken various visiting lovers on tours around Cleveland, where my wife adores playing tour guide and telling all of Cleveland’s cool secrets.
(If you don’t think Cleveland has cool secrets, I assure you: ride with my wife.)
But we’d never actually planned a several-day journey to go out with someone I loved. My wife isn’t dating Fox; they’re merely fond of each other’s company.
Would this implode at some point?
We got in the car, taking starter selfies, and talked for great portions of the trip because we love talking, and I kept thinking, It can’t be this easy. Sometimes I’d drop out of the conversation as Gini and Fox found something to talk about, and I’d reach back to squeeze Fox’s leg, and then Gini would take my hand.
It wasn’t sexy. It felt like a happy family.
And we got to the hotel and crashed in a single King-sized bed, which turned out to be about as uncomfortable as you’d think, especially since there wasn’t any hanky-panky. We awoke grumpy and sore from a thin sleep, setting out to Day One of our adventure – taking distillery tours deep in Bourbon Country.
And Gini and I snapped at each other a bit, and I thought Oh, no, it’s fraying. But we shrugged it off and had a magical adventure where in the middle of a tour we heard a stray feral kitten mewling and rescued it at the Four Roses Distillery (which was surprisingly open about its history of how Seagram turned it from a proud independent brand into rotgut, and they’ve been trying to restore their reputation ever since), and then we got a special backstage tour of the distillery as we took care of the kitten and the employees battled to see who got to take the newly-christened Gator Smallbatch home.
It was a magical day until our car broke.
The starter motor gave out in a small town called Dawson Springs, and AAA was of no use because Dawson Springs usually had 2,500 inhabitants but with the eclipse they had about 30,000 people passing through and everything was overwhelmed. We only survived thanks to the immense Southern hospitality shown by a string of strangers who went to great lengths to get assistance for us.
This, too, was magical, in a different way. We were introduced to a cast of characters in the town – Turtle, the man who was legendary at rebuilding starter motors, but also legendarily slow to arrive, and true to fashion we were there for seven hours and he never showed. Our U-haul mechanic Dave ran into his friend Chase at the local diner and asked him to come over, and when I asked Chase whether he accepted credit cards, he did exactly what I thought and shuffled his feet and informed me this was a cash-only operation because, well, yeah.
We were eventually hauled home by a man called “Buttermilk,” who had a cab with a backseat full of broken glass. His Boomhauer-style accent was near-impenetrable. He broke his back in a fall and went to jail because he refused to stop running a junk yard out of his back yard, and by God was this an interesting trip, we said.
But Fox has some chronic illnesses, and they were severely triggered by standing around for seven hours. When we finally got back to the hotel Fox crashed, shivering and unable to function, and had a mild panic attack because they were too much trouble, who would want to deal with this…
And Gini came over and hugged them and reassured them.
Let me rephrase this: my lover got wound around the axle because of sickness, and my wife – who is not dating them at all – came over and took care of them and reassured them that they were no trouble at all.
I thought, again, It can’t be this easy.
And in truth, it wasn’t. It’s like my laptop.
As I type this, several million problems have been solved for me. Someone’s gone to the trouble of figuring out how to map the impact of my fingers on the keys into an electronic pulse that the system can understand, and someone else has figured out how to store those pulses in a system that translates to Unicode characters, and someone else has figured out how to display light on a screen in a way that can provide words, and someone else has figured out how to send those words out through a complex network of electronic pulses so they can be shared with anyone else on the Internet.
We don’t even think about those complexities these days. They’re solved problems. But at some point, for each of those and a thousand more, teams of engineers ground their teeth and fretted about how to do that.
It’s easy these days, at least until a bug strikes. But it’s not actually easy.
We just put effort into it until the solution became common.
Likewise, this was not an easy trip, even though it was. Fifteen years ago, my wife snapping at me in the car would have led to me sulking and an injurious argument, but we’ve learned to make room for each other’s upsets. Ten years ago I would have been attracted to unstable partners with jealousy issues that would have blown this trip apart. Five years ago I would have tried to turn every poly relationship into a sad variant on monogamy, constantly escalating intimacies because that’s how monogamy worked, not realizing that a poly relationship doesn’t have to go anywhere, it can just work.
My wife was able to reassure Fox because I was able to reassure my wife that my relationship with Fox was healthy for us. She was able because Fox had been a constant in my life for over two years now and had gotten to know Fox, unlike my previous strings of fiery implosive relationships. She was able to because Fox brought their own lessons to the table and had shown kindness and generosity to Gini that had been returned.
It looked easy. But strewn behind us were all the lessons we’d learned collectively and individually, sometimes at the expense of precious relationships we hadn’t been able to keep.
We’d just put those sorrows to good use.
And when the eclipse came we still didn’t have our car, but somehow the three of us had determined to have a good time regardless. And we sat down in front of our hotel in blistering heat to a small crowd out on the green, and saw the sky open up and oh my God the total eclipse was magic.
It was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen, a special effect made real, and all my words cannot sum how great it was.
And when it was done, Chase texted to tell us our car was ready and we prepared to venture home.
It wasn’t easy. And yet it was. All that muscle memory built up served us well, and what we had was a beautiful trip full of quilting museums and occluded suns and kitten-induced bourbon, and a tiny family caring for each other as best we could.
We drove back, weary and fulfilled. We’re smart enough to know nothing is permanent; we try not to make grand promises of future love these days. That too is wisdom learned. And there will be strains after this; my wife will need snuggles alone with me, as she always does after a visit, and my sweetie Fox and I will endure the fresh amputated loneliness that comes from that endless aching of the long-distance relationship.
But we will cope because of what we have learned.
That’s enough. That’s good. And that’s what we have, at least for now.
It’s easy, at least by some definition thereof, and thank God.
(EDIT: For those of you asking, “What about the quilts?” let me highlight my own work: “and what we had was a beautiful trip full of quilting museums…”
(Trust me: We went to a lot of effort to arrange carless transportation in a tiny town swamped on eclipse weekend, because I will destroy anything that stands between my wife and her lifelong desires.)
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.