A Windswept Deconstructionist Romance
Once the relationship began, it progressed rapidly. In spring of 1996, Deb moved in with Gail and her daughters, and they enjoyed the luxury of being in each other’s presence nearly all of the time. They began attending movies up to three or four times a week for the “cheap seats”, as Gail calls them, and every night as they lay in their bed, Deb would read her off to sleep. At the time, Deb worked at a bookstore and had flexible hours. They started a tradition of Deb picking up Gail from work during her lunch break at the Oncology/HIV unit at Ravenswood Hospital.
“I keep going back to nursing gay men over and over,” says Gail. When the AIDS crisis began, she was one of the few in the medical community whose commitment to caring for those in need was unwavering. “There were men that would lay there all through the day shift, all through the PM shift until I would come in at 11 o’clock, because they were HIV positive and they needed their IVs started and nobody else would change their IVs. So I would go through and test IVs at 5:30 every morning before I was going to be getting off shift and restart questionable ones, just so they would get their meds all that time”
Working at Ravenswood Hospital was a difficult time for Gail due to the sheer number of patients she lost. “I was sitting in the bed with a man, and I was behind him, you know, so his back was against me. And he was dying. And his partner was in another hospital dying, and couldn’t be there, and I was rocking him and holding him. He died right there in my arms, and I took care of him.”
For Deb, the more time she spent with Gail, the more she began to treasure the connection they had forged. “It felt like a rare and wonderful thing, so I decided that maybe we ought to get a little serious about this,” Deb recalls. Gail was so skilled at reading Deb’s moods that it seemed she could almost pick the thoughts out of her head, so when she began to contemplate proposing marriage, Deb was sure that she knew it was coming. On the decided day, she picked Gail up for lunch, and for nearly the entire hour Gail expounded on the monumentally dreadful, stress-ridden day she was having. Five minutes before she had to head back into work, she was pausing for breath in mid-rant when Deb asked, “Do you think you’d marry me?”
Flustered out of her tirade, Gail stopped short, and, for a moment it seemed as if the emotional wall she thought had been cleared was about to pop back into place. She began asking where this was coming from, to which Deb replied that she assumed that Gail knew. Assuring her that she actually didn’t have even a single clue this was coming, Gail looked at Deb. As has happened many times since in Deb’s presence, all of her anxiety melted away, and she said yes. When she went back upstairs, Gail told her co-workers of her engagement in stunned disbelief, and Deb drove home awash in the knowledge that she would soon marry her mate.
It would be two and a half years before their first marriage ceremony, but the intervening time was a period of remarkable growth for each of them. Gail began work at the Pride Unit at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital, a place for LGBT individuals with a dual diagnosis of a mental disorder and drug addiction. To this day, former patients will greet her on the street with a loud cry of “Mama Gail!” with hugs ensuing shortly after.
Deb continued with her writing, and, with lots of encouragement from Gail that bordered on harassment, started Grad school at Columbia College Chicago and began submitting her work as much as she could. “She’s always afraid of the word no,” Gail explains, “and I said, ‘How many times have you heard no in your life, and you’re still walking? Make them tell you no. Make them tell you it sucks. Make them tell you, you know, that they’re not going to take the book or that you can’t do this or you can’t do that. Otherwise, do what the hell you want to do. Get out there.” Gail went so far as to rehearse with Deb how to work a room and network. She attended every reading and literary event Deb had and was the first reader for every story. But, in return, any time Gail came home taxed beyond recognition from the stresses of her job, Deb found ways to renew her spirit, and of course she continued reading to her every night before bed.
Driving became a much-loved passtime for the couple. Often they would drive to Wisconsin for cheese on a whim, or just get in the car to idle around the city enjoying each other’s conversation. This tradition turned into an excellent cure for writer’s block. “Driving and talking about it gets her unstuck faster than anything we can afford,” Gail says.