it took me thirty-seven years to meet the love of my life. Thirty-seven years that included two bad marriages, a shedload of choices that would be regrets if I kept a tally of things to regret (I used to), one child, one miscarriage (that I know of), reams of making excuses for whichever bad relationship partner I was with that often began with phrases like, ‘He’s not a bad person, really’, a sense of failure, helplessness, and worthlessness, which sadly sometimes manifested itself as ire, anger, and disrespect for people who would have loved me if I’d let them, and the fatalistic surety that my life was hollow and I was worthy of nothing better. I felt unequal to the world.
And then one year (2003), I got almost tricked into going to a party I didn’t think I wanted to go to, hosted by a member of my band with whom I’d had a disagreement (but whom I still loved very much), and I was standing there in this living room with which I was so familiar, surrounded by people who were part of my community, and feeling like a fraud for even being in the room, not to mention hating the clothes I was wearing and the body in side them.
Now, when one of my best friends in all the world enters the room, it always makes me feel better. But this night, this dearest of all dear friends came in with his wife—and his three houseguests, Joe Raftery and his two daughters, Anna and Emily. And something happened. This gentle, beautiful awkward man saw me and found me beautiful. And what’s more, over the next few days, he convinced me that we could have a relationship and maybe even a life together. Just one little hitch: Joe was Irish, and he lived in London. His daughters lived near him with their mum. He had no desire to visit the USA overmuch; they’d made this trip to support a fellow musician in her first guest of honour slot at a little convention that happens near Atlanta, Georgia every January.
We lasted six months apart after he and his daughters returned to London. I travelled to London for a long visit over two months that summer, and when I came back to Georgia, it was only to pack my stuff and move. We were married the following year.
Joe was magic. I guess if you have been or are in love like that, you will know what I mean. And what’s more than that, he was able to help me understand that I was magic, too. If I said I would like to accomplish something, Joe would start planning how it could happen. That was a far cry from the responses I was used to, the kind of responses that are only good for making one person feel powerful and the other person feel weak. I’ll give you just one example. I’d spent many years studying English in American universities, but I had never achieved a degree in it, despite the fact I was and am a thorough and thoughtful reader, a good analyser, and an excellent writer. American universities, if you’re not familiar with them, require students to go through a ‘core curriculum’ that includes most of what you would like to forget about high school, including, for me, college algebra and lab sciences. I never passed a university level math course, not with all the help in the world. I let Joe know that despite what I saw as my past academic failures, it was a dream of mine to have an advanced degree in creative writing. And he (in my memory it seems that he did this without blinking an eye) suggested that I just go to this university that had a great programme, bring in my application, and explain my academic past.
And do you know what? it worked. And I made it on to that course, and I worked my arse off part-time for two years and made good friends and found fantastic mentors and graduated with a Masters in Creative Writing. With a Distinction. All because Joe said, ‘I think we can make that happen’.
My relationship with Joe helped me feel confident enough to do things like apply for great jobs and get them, stand up to people who belittled me, and what’s more, he was the sort of person who’d do that for anyone. I had never had a relationship with anyone who understood how I felt about everything from feminism and politics to music to why it was OK to just sit on the couch and hold hands all night if that’s what you wanted to do. In 2012, my life felt like it was on track. Sure, it had taken me 46 years to get to this point, but that was OK, because Joe and I were OK, more than OK, and we had plans to be the couple in the old folks’ home still so much in love that people would tell us to get a room!
In 2012, I got my Master’s.
In 2012, I got a promotion at my job to do the thing I’d wanted to do since I got there.
In 2012, Joe, for the first time in his life, started feeling sick: it seemed to happen cyclicly, about once a month. After a lot of frustrating near-diagnoses and annoying false flags, our wonderful GP, the like of whom I’ve never seen since in the NHS or elsewhere, made a very pointed calla and got Joe admitted to the local hospital for tests, so they could watch his condition.
When the news came, it was scary, because the word Cancer is always scary. But it was going to be OK. It was all going to be OK. You see, said the doctor, you’re very lucky really: you have Hodgkins’ Lymphoma, and 90% of patients with Hodgkins recover fully after treatment.
And as scary as that word, cancer, is, what we heard was, ‘You are going to survive this’. And why shouldn’t he? Joe was just 55 years old, in very good physical health, and he had all the other things that pointed to a seamless trip through chemotherapy and a successful outcome.
90% of people who get Hodgkins’ Lymphoma recover fully after treatment.
What you don’t think about, when you’re there holding your husband’s pale and slightly unsteady (from shock) hand, is that in order for there to be a 90% success rate, there must be that other 10%.
I think because I needed an escape of a different kind, in 2012, about a month after Joe’s initial diagnosis, I started roleplaying on Second Life. It helped pass the time when I wasn’t at work and I couldn’t sleep. I guess even though everything was going to be OK, I still worried. And I found a really nice roleplaying community, made some very close friends, and started a little roleplaying blog, because it gave me somewhere to write.
In 2014, I discovered Fantasy Faire, and I practically lived at the Faire while it was on, as you do when you’re new to something wonderful. I IMed people and bugged them to find out how I could get involved.
The next year, 2015, I became an official Fantasy Faire blogger, and I became acquainted with the idea that there was a Litfest, and said, ooh, could I help with that? Joe sat in on several meetings via Skype (it seems forever ago that we used Skype!) and watched over my shoulder, even though he was quite ill a lot of the time that year, as I learned to take better and better SL photographs and wove stories around the Faire.
And Catalina Staheli took my official Why I Relay photo, and if you’ve been following this blog for a long time (all 2 of you!), you probably remember it, but here it is again.
Less than a year after Cat took that photograph of the earlier incarnation of The Amazing Catwoman, I was at widow at 49 years of age. The convention where Joe and I had planned to spend my 50th birthday felt like a wake. That whole year passed by in a blur, and now it is 2022, and I have been working with Fantasy Faire and Relay for Life for eight years, and for six years, six years, three months, and six days, I have been a widow.
It’s not OK for world leaders to purchase yachts that cost more than this Faire raises in a year, when there is not a cure for cancer.
It’s not OK for people in the country of my birth to have to consider the words medical bankruptcy when they contemplate what their lives will be like after someone in their family has been diagnosed with cancer.
It is not OK.
I am not unhappy. I have a full life, a beloved partner who loves me in the same way Joe loves me (yes, I used the present tense, because I do not believe that even if Joe’s atoms are scattered far and wide into the cosmos (and some of them into me), those parts of the things into which his stardust settles would, could ever stop loving me), and my beloved partner knows that I still love Joe and that he is not Joe, and he loves Joe too.
Because love, to quote a song I wrote before Joe died, is a well that does not run dry.
Love (love love)
Love is a well (love love)
Love is a well that does not run dry
But, and this is an important but, it is not OK that we do not yet have a cure for cancer.
And that, my beautiful darlings, is why I relay.
Notes, Credits, & SLURLs
- Fairelands Junction is one of twenty regions that make up the 2022 Relay for Life of Second Life’s Fantasy Faire, to benefit the American Cancer Society. Mythspire Ridge is designed by Saiyge Lotus and sponsored by The NeoVictoria Project. Fantasy Faire opened on the 22nd of April at 12pm SLT (that’s US Pacific Time!). Visit before the 8th of May, when all the Fairelands will fade back into the mists, never to be seen again as they are this year.
- Gwyneth’s Skin: ND/MD, Uli, in Snow
- Gwyneth’s Earrings: Mini A Chuu & MishMash Fusion, Telynor Bee Wings Earrings
- Gwyneth’s Gown: AtaMe, Xaron
- Gwyneth’s Wings: Lunaria, Dragonfly Wings
- Gwyneth’s Crown: Mosquito’s Way, Hirwen Circlet Tiara
- Other items not featured at Fantasy Faire: Hair: Stealthic, Realness; Head: Lelutka: EvoX Gaia; Body: Maitreya; Eyes: Euphoric, Mia; Lipstick: Shiny Stuffs, Secret’s in the Gloss