I crawl into bed, pull the covers up over my head, scrunch my knees up to my chin, stick my arm out at an odd angle over my leg, hold up the blankets on that side. My husband Dave finishes brushing his teeth, comes into the bedroom. I lay very still, try not to breathe. His soft snicker is the reward I’ve been hoping for.
Dave’s gentle laughter means several things: “Up to your old tricks again, hey?” and “You better not be waiting to reach out from under the bed and grab my ankle” and “So you’re not in bed. But where exactly are you? And how long before I find out? And what is going to happen to me if I do? If I don’t?”
I hold very still. Again the snicker, for me an expression of exquisite joy, of being in the moment, suspending blankets and time, waiting, watching, aware of my breath, aware of his unseen presence. Aware of the love that cords between us, a shared bond 10 years strong, seven times that in dog years, twice that again in gay male couple years.
“It'd be some sweet life,” Jack tells Ennis in the movie Brokeback Mountain, proposing the two men make a life together. Ennis refuses point blank. "Told you, ain't goin' to be that way." Jack's heart fails, hopes fall. He knows a life is built in part on choices made. “Some sweet life” has become a catch phrase betwixt Dave and me, a reminder of what we have, of the hard choices we’ve made to get here, the pain we’ve walked through, this very present blessing of our shared life.
Nights like this, when I actually am under the covers, I try to make it look as if I am not. Other nights I artfully arrange pillows and extra quilts in the shape of my recumbent frame. After 10 years, Dave’s getting harder and harder to fool.
I successfully employed a new stratagem the other night. I arranged the buffalo robe under the sheets, crouched on the floor beside the bed, slipped my arm up under the bedclothes, let my hand stick out beside the pillow. When Dave turned in, turned out the bedside lamp, I withdrew my hand. He snuggled up against me only to find it wasn’t me at all. He burst out laughing, as did I. After so many years together, new tricks are both hard to come by and doubly appreciated.
There are several old stand-bys. Dousing the lights before he comes in, so he has to walk through the dark to reach the bedside lamp. (Prime the imagination and those few steps can be harrowing.) Hiding in the closet, under the bed, beside it, in it or in another room altogether. Calling out to him, “I’m going to bed now. I’ll be waiting for you.” Even when I am. Slipping out the far side of the bed as he slips in the near side. Laying in bed—and staying there—upside down.
These antics are by now a ritual between us. A way of showing affection. Of sharing laughter. Being playful with life. Of reminding ourselves that all is not what it seems.
In coming out as gay men whole worlds opened to us. Life. Vitality. Living in integrity, true to our deeper selves. In coming out as gay men, whole worlds closed to us. Society’s easy acceptance and approval. Relationships with spouses, children, family, friends. Our religious communities. Employers.
We chose to face our pain, feel our feelings. Discovered that deep pain hollows out a place inside that may later be filled with deep joy. Learned that what lurks in fearful darkness may after all be love. Learned not to trust the initial form of things but to ask: Does this warm to my touch? Does it hold life for me?
Tonight my breathing gives me away. Dave sees the rise and fall of the covers. I am found out. This my consolation prize: “I didn’t think you were in bed,” he says as we snuggle in together, share each other’s warmth, our sweet life.
A version of this essay appeared in the anthology Charmed Lives, edited by Toby Johnson and Steve Berman, White Crane Books, New York, NY, 2006