My husband and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary on June 9, 2002. I write this essay as a tribute to our love and to the few social workers and single psychiatrist and nurse-practitioner who somehow understood that despite our emotional and mental disarray and the number of problems that stemmed from the marriage itself, nevertheless, we were worth working with as a couple, and eventually as a family. As I begin, I’m acutely aware of the fact that though I tell our story, I am really only telling my story. Were my husband to tell our tale, conceivably because we have different last names, readers might see no connection whatsoever between his ac count and mine. How I experience him and our relationship often has absolutely no correlation with how he perceives himself or the relationship, and vice versa. Perhaps the only thing we might agree on is that we have both loved deeply, and that while at times that love has been costly, ultimately, the rewards have surpassed the costs. My own mental health story starts in July 1987 at the age of twenty-eight. My six-year marriage to my high school sweetheart had recently ended
after slowly disintegrating during the five years we had both pursued graduate studies, he in physics and I in English literature. I had met Oscar, my current husband, at Interboro Institute, a junior college where I was teaching while finishing my dissertation and at which Oscar was completing an associate’s degree in security management. As Oscar explained it to me, he had gone back to school in order to try “normal” life after having spent the previous fifteen years in show biz, touring the world as a successful and generally well-paid pop singer rubbing shoulders with celebrities like Mick Jagger, Ike Turner, and Donna Summer. If it’s true that men are from Mars and women from Venus, then Oscar and I were probably from different galaxies. I’d been raised in a middle-class, Midwestern Dutch Christian Reformed community by two educators; he’d been raised in poverty in Brooklyn and on Long Island by his mother (and later an uncle and an upstate children’s home) with his alcoholic father generally absent. I’d pursued a formal education for twenty-three of my twenty-eight years, but I lived in a bubble; he’d dropped out of high school and the army, but had acquired a wealth of worldly wisdom. I was white; he was black. But none of these differences mattered to me. Oscar had a sensitivity, depth, and sweetness I’d not found in others. He could keep up with me intellectually, and he made me laugh. In our forty days of formal courtship, we’d spent three full days together, I’d written Oscar over forty letters, and we’d talked endlessly on the phone. As we strolled through Central Park, we dreamed dreams of building bridges between our worlds by bringing together the best of both. I also welcomed the idea of having a child with Oscar, a prospect I’d dreaded in my first marriage. We were as crazily in love as we could be, and that crazy love has sustained us through the years.