Shelley and I met 28 years ago today. It was a Sunday, after six months of my friend Lorraine telling me I’d really like this woman and six months of me saying ‘no, enough, I’ve had my heart far too badly broken, no more’, I relented and agreed to meet Shelley at our Spontaneous Combustion gig at the Banana in Balham that night. We were doing, as we had done for a few years then, a first half of impro games, a second half of an improvised play.
I saw Shelley as she walked up the stairs to get tickets, I was checking sales numbers. I thought she was gorgeous. She thought I was funny. I remember that gig being a good one, I remember being glad I was being funny because she was in the audience. With that particular group of people I could always be sure we’d do a good show, not always sure I would personally shine. One of the great things about working regularly with those people is that we came to understand it’s NOT about everyone shining, it’s about telling the story the best we can, all of us working together. Sometimes that means one or more of us actively not shining, making it happen, holding the story for others.
I think that’s one of the most useful things I’ve learned in our 28 year relationship. Holding. Holding the story for each other, holding firm when things are tough, learning to be held. Every life has tough, our tough has included parental and sibling rejection because of our relationship (they came round eventually, but it was really bloody hard for the first decade), infertility, failed IVFs, two lots of cancer and the constant fear that brings, many deaths of immediate family (some of them shockingly sudden, others long and slow and painful) and, through it all, the children we dreamed would be part of our life not happening. Loads of crap things – not least the daily stresses of living in a society predicated on the heterosexual nuclear family (which makes anyone who doesn’t fit this form know we are outsiders as well as feel it) – along with the everyday tiring problems of both being freelance, constant precarity throughout our time together, neither of us have ever had the kind of career that means guaranteed work or income. Like any relationship there have been periods of grumpiness and boredom and irritation and just …not … quite … meeting and fire and rage and misunderstanding and simply being two human beings who do not always agree. When I was young I thought a relationship you had to work at couldn’t be ‘the one’. I was wrong. All relationships, from family to friends to work to acquaintances take some work, the more they matter, the more that work is worthwhile.
AND, with all of that, there is also light and ease and sunshine and swimming and running and yoga and learning from each other and four weddings (because it took so bloody long for the law to catch up with our truth that we made three of our own first) and learning to live with loss, together and alone, there is holding the story for each other. Holding for the other to shine. And so much laughter.
I know this makes me hugely lucky. I know brilliant people who wanted a partner and never found them. I know brilliant people who weren’t fussed about a partner and nevertheless live in a world which is kinder to couples than to singles. I know brilliant people who did find a partner and lost them to any number of unexpected and utterly painful things.
I know that this too will pass. Because I know this will pass (even as I don’t want to know it) I choose to grab these moments of light and life and live them.
Today, this is my joy. 28 years of laughing and playing with this woman. So much joy.