I hope you enjoy this vignette from Jonathon’s point of view. The Tarnished Souls books, a series of loosely linked, stand alone novels centered around Jewish holidays (published originally by Loose Id 2012-2013), are all love stories told from the point of view of one of the major characters. As I rerelease them, I’ve been posting a short bit written from the other guy’s viewpoint to show you how they’re both doing two years later. You’ll find the story for Learning from Isaac here and from Fields of Gold here.
Jonathon’s Hanukkah Surprise
We’d been together two years, pledged heart to heart, as close as two people could be. David and Jonathon, a matched pair. I had thought that was enough.
It was the second week in November. Although the rains had stopped, the heat and humidity made it feel like we were living in a sauna. It was odd to have guests at La Serenidad. Usually the first tourists arrived around Christmas, and kept coming until just past Easter. Ironic that the rhythm of my life on the Mexican coast wasn’t much different from the job I left behind. Funny to think that the busiest time of the year is the same for a priest as it is for a yoga teacher in coastal Mexico.
But this year, a hot yoga group had decided to give this reduced rate season a try. They had brought their own instructor, so all I had to do was make sure everyone had the blocks, blankets, straps, and mats they needed. Meanwhile, David sweated away in the kitchen. He made cooking for twenty look easy, but there was no way to stay cool behind simmering pots and roaring ovens. An early group cut into our regular prep time, but I think he enjoyed having people around to appreciate his food. I had lived the monastic life for too long to eat David’s amazing creations guilt free.
One morning, in-between sessions, I was organizing the prop closet, when I overheard two women talking about a party one of them was going to when they got home. I was trying to chase a lizard out from under a stack of blankets, and so wasn’t paying close attention. The lizard kept skittering from one side of the closet to the other while I made ineffective shooing motions trying to get it out the door. All God’s creatures deserve a place to live, but not necessarily amid my yoga blankets. The women had left the studio by the time I got the lizard out of the closet and headed toward the jungle.
But there was something one of them said. Later that night, while the guests were oohing and aahing over the dinner that David served, I logged onto the computer. I held my breath while it searched for a signal. Our service is intermittent. I breathed out a long thank you when the computer found what it was looking for. It always feels miraculous to be sitting on a mountain in a remote village, listening to animals in the jungle, donkeys braying in town, and the distant crash of ocean waves, yet be connected through a plastic keyboard to the entire civilized world. I found the page I was looking for, skimmed it, then read again more carefully. When I was finished, I sat back. Once planted, the idea took on the force of a compulsion.
I thought about it while I helped David wash dishes, and again while I brushed my teeth. In bed that night, I lay with my arms wrapped around him, inhaling the familiar, soapy scent of his skin. His body molded to mine like the vestments I’d worn all those years never had. The way we were together felt like a sacrament, something God must have ordained. In the morning, I tried to meditate, but instead of clearing my mind, the thought turned around and around in my head, making me too distracted to focus. Later, as I swept, chasing spiders over the edge of the paved platform on the edge of the mountain that served as a studio, I started to plan.
Surprising someone is a gamble. Some people need to always be in control. They resent the unexpected. I suppose I’m one of those. But David isn’t. His is a much easier temperament. He tends to take life as it is and make the most of it. On the other hand, I’d never really surprised him, not with something big. I told myself that the worst thing that could happen was I’d be out some money. But, of course, that wasn’t the worst thing, and I knew it. I’d seen relationships fly apart over seemingly small things. I lay awake wondering about unintended consequences. It was driving me crazy.
The group left the next Saturday morning. While David walked them down to the boat, I sat with my feet dangling off the edge of the studio, and brooded. It’s one of the things I do best. In fact, I’m such a good brooder that David didn’t blink an eye when he came home, just kissed the top of my head, and went back into his kitchen to make lists of what we needed to buy in Puerto Vallarta the next day. I sat and worried. The sun beat down. Rivulets of sweat rolled down my spine. Even the forest went quiet in the midday heat. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and went in search of David.
I found him asleep in our bed. Looking at him through the mosquito netting was like staring at a fairy prince, a sweet, seductive pagan image from a fairytale in my youth. Or like a knight of the round table in his bower. Or like an angel. I parted the netting and stared down at him, not a prince or a knight or an angel but my own human, sweaty, amazing man. The bed rocked as I sat beside him. David opened his eyes and smiled up at me, and everything, the doubt, the fear, even that silly plan, came crumbling down, and all that was left was the idea as it had first come to me.
I started in my usual fumbly, inarticulate way. “They were talking in the studio the other day about marriage equity, and it turns out gay people can get married in Oregon now.”
“I know.” David gave a sleepy nod. Of course he knew. Unlike me, David read the papers. “It happened last spring, I think.”
I ran my hand across his stubble. “Let’s fly to Portland and get married.”
He blinked, his hand going to the talisman I’d hung around his neck two years before. “I sort of thought we were.”
I lay down beside him, cradling my head in my hands so I could look down into his gorgeous, sleepy face. “I mean legally. If we get married in the states, it’ll be recognized here.”
David’s brow wrinkled. “You’re serious.”
I nodded. “We wouldn’t need to make a big production out of it, but I think your dad would like to be there.”
David’s smile was slow but dazzling. “John, if you’re asking me to marry you, then yes, of course I’ll marry you.”
“Good.” I exhaled for what felt like the first time in days. “I bought plane tickets for the second week in December. It was supposed to be a Hanukkah surprise, but I couldn’t wait.”
“Next month?” He reared back and peered at me. “Why not wait until summer when we have a long break?”
I cupped his face and held his gaze. “Because now that I know we can, I don’t want to wait. The need to be your husband is like a hunger.”
His face softened. He scooted closer and threw one leg over mine. After a moment he murmured, “We have a group arriving two days before Christmas.”
“We can be ready for them before we leave.” I pulled him close. “Please say yes.”
He nuzzled my chest and whispered. “Yes.”
My heart soared like a thousand angels singing. This was what happiness meant.
The wheels touched down, and we coasted to the gate. Rain streaked the windows. I glanced down at the little, blue, immigration form I’d filled out. This was my first visit back to the states since I left five years before. With a work permit, I didn’t have to come back every six months, and there simply hadn’t been a reason to, before. I had wondered how it would make me feel to be back on U.S. soil, but I couldn’t dredge up the sentimentality I’d expected. Beside me, David slid his book back into his pack. He took my hand and squeezed. I smiled down at him. The United States, Mexico, or any other country wasn’t home. David was my home now.
We were funneled from the plane to immigration, where we were separated into residents and nonresidents. I followed David to the resident line, feeling awkward and displaced. How could I be a resident here when I was a tourist who’d go back home in a few days? Resident or alien—the distinction was absurd. I found the chatter of the crowd, mostly in English, disorienting, and the press of people was uncomfortable. I focused on the top of David’s scull like a talisman, tuning out everything else.
He turned and looked up at me. “Are you okay?”
I shrugged. This too shall pass.
The line moved forward and we were next. A customs officer waved to David. He stepped forward. I moved into his place, alert for the next opening. But David grabbed my hand.
He gestured toward a woman and man with three small children they were herding toward one of the customs officers. “Families go together. Come on.”
Even though he dropped my hand, I still felt the warmth of his encircling fingers as I followed him to the little booth. Everything else disappeared, and I stopped worrying about nationalism or language or where I fit in. David and I were family, and family stays together.
We made it through customs, found our bags, and walked through the automatic, sliding glass doors, and out into the Portland winter chill. I shivered. Five years in coastal Mexico, I’d forgotten about real cold. David rummaged in his pack and brought out his blue fleece pullover.
Then he brought out my black one and passed it to me. “I found this hanging in the laundry room.”
Leave it to me to forget something like that. And it was just like David to remember. I was going to tell him something like that when I heard a familiar voice calling our names. Fifty feet down the street, David’s father stood by his car, waving. I picked up my pack and followed David as he trotted down the sidewalk to greet his dad.
I had only met him a few times, when he came down to visit David. Short, round, his hair a white ring around his head like an old time friar, I imagined he was what David might look like at sixty. Add to that his complete acceptance of me in his son’s life, so different from my own family’s rejection, and Daniel Schwartz had earned my profound affection. With an awkward hug for David, and a friendly pat on the back for me, Daniel Schwartz officially welcomed us back into the United States.
Three days later in a dark paneled living room, I stood with David, his father, his old friend, Charmaine, and a justice of the peace. I’d insisted we rent tuxedos and we were far too formally dressed for the space. David’s father had taken one look at the tuxes and changed into a dark suit. Charmaine had swept her dreadlocks up on top of her head, making her elegant in a simple, floral dress. On one side of us was the blank eye of a big screen TV, and on the other, a bank of windows, and a Hanukkah menorah. Cakes of wax stained four of the candle holders and five candles were set up, ready to light at sundown. Outside the gutters dripped rainwater.
The Justice of the Peace, a pleasant woman in a dark business suit, pronounced words not too different from those I’d used to marry Catholic couples in that other life. I’d often looked out at the congregation and seen husbands and wives exchanging secret glances as the ceremony went on. Now, holding David’s gaze as I promised to love and honor him in sickness and in health, I knew that from this moment forward, those words would always bring back this moment for me, and that I’d take his hand and smile our secret smile.
“Mazel Tov.” Daniel Schwartz raised a glass of sparkling grape juice. He clunked my glass. “Welcome to the family.”
My heart swelled. Before that casually overheard conversation in the studio, I hadn’t known how much all this would matter to me. Now I knew that it did.