NOTHING TO SAY by Elizabeth Titus
“I AM CONFUSED,” Victor says. “Excuse me, my English is not perfect, but I do not understand how you are together here. Please explain this.” We are a group of six, at dinner aboard a Rus- sia river cruise – the ones advertised on PBS’s Downton Abbey – docked in St. Petersburg for a few days at the start of the trip: Victor and his wife, Grace; Charlie and his husband, Tom; and Lili and I. Victor is a prosperous businessman from Mexico City, in his late 50s, well-dressed in a starched, blue-striped shirt and navy blazer, and Grace has short hair, smooth skin, and a beautiful smile. Charlie is in his late 60s, tall and handsome, with short-cropped white hair, wire-framed glasses, and an easy laugh. Tom is in his mid 60s, much shorter than Charlie, with a neatly- trimmed white beard, horn-rimmed glasses, and the air of a scholar. They are retired architects living in Santa Fe. Charlie has been hobbled by severe arthritis and walks with a cane as he awaits spinal fusion surgery soon after the cruise. Lili, my adopted Chinese daughter, is 20 and in college in Boston. She is the reason we are on this cruise with Charlie and Tom. When they mentioned it a year ago, she told them she’d love to go. A bit surprised that this would ap- peal to her, given the demographic of this type of trip, I quickly signed on and then gave it little thought until the time came to pay the bill just when Russia and the U.S. seemed perilously on the brink of a new Cold War. As a widow in her early 60s, it’s not easy for me to find traveling companions. I didn’t consider myself quite ready for a cruise, preferring independent travel, but I had long wanted to see Russia, and Charlie and Tom would be excellent traveling companions. How to answer Victor’s question about how we got here? I decide to take the lead. “Charlie and Tom got married in Connecti- cut in 2010, after the state made same-sex mar- riage legal,” I begin. “My daughter Lili was 16, and she made a sign for our guest room, The Honeymoon Suite . We had the wedding recep- tion at our house in Weston.” “Mom, tell them how that justice of the peace wanted them to get married on the beach,” Lili urges me.
At this, Charlie and Tom laugh. The woman who had performed the wedding ceremony, Mary Pugh, had developed a large following, with many gay and lesbian couples travelling from states that are less enlightened than her own. She urged Charlie and Tom to go for a sunset wedding on Compo Beach in Westport, complete with poetry and music and white
* He is impressed; it’s unlikely that he knows many women in Mexico City with MBAs from Wharton. It is still hard for me to talk about Gregory, who died in 2007 of melanoma at the age of 56. I usually try to be direct, as in, “I lost my husband of 30 years in 2007 to cancer.” There is nothing more to say, and people usually get this. The one missing piece for Victor is Lili. He had mentioned that she looked Mexican, which she took in stride; she has heard this a lot, as her Chinese features sometimes strike people as Hispanic rather than Asian. “In 1994,” I tell them, “Gregory and I went to China and adopted Lili. She was a year old, living in what was called a welfare institute. It was the best thing we ever did.” Suddenly, the conversation seems stalled. Has all of this been too much for Victor to take in? He and Grace are most likely con- servative politically – and Catholic, based on the cross Grace wears around her neck. I would not imagine that the circles they travel in have very many gay, married couples, or adopted Chinese daughters of American wid- ows in their 60s. “I have to tell you this,” Victor finally says. He appears more serious than he had been earlier. “It is the greatest honor to be with you here tonight, on this ship.” He seems on the verge of tears. There is nothing to say. We are silent, all six of us. We understand what Victor means. So we just sit there, each of us interpreting what has just happened in his or her own way. And for the remainder of our time aboard the ship, Victor always calls out to us, or stops by our table to embrace each of us and slap Charlie on the back. “My friends,” he tells people. “My good friends I have met here on this cruise in Russia.” Perhaps, I tell myself with a certain feeling of satisfaction, Victor and Grace were not in favor of same-sex marriage, until they met four friends on a cruise in Russia in August of 2014, at a time when Russia was invading its neigh- bors and jailing Pussy Riot and making homo- sexuality a crime. Elizabeth Titus is a freelance writer living in Weston, Connecticut, as well as on the UpperWest Side of Manhattan.
LILI, CHARLIE, TOM AT KREMLIN
linen suits and bare feet and many friends on hand. Charlie, who had taken the lead in plan- ning the wedding, wanted none of this. So the event took place on the lawn of the Westport Town Hall in April, with me as witness. Charlie and Tom have been together for 38 years, and in some ways they are the “straightest” couple I know: completely devoted to each other, intel- lectual, serious, and civic-minded. They dress in old khakis and frayed Brooks Brothers shirts. “But then how do you know Elizabeth and Lili?” Victor asks Charlie. “Elizabeth’s late husband, Gregory, was in my class in architecture school at the Univer- sity of Pennsylvania,” Charlie explains. “And then Elizabeth and I went to Wharton together a few years later.” “Elizabeth, you went to Wharton?” Victor asks. “That is a very famous business school.”
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