In the months since the memoir of our 50 years together, Double Life: A Love Story, was published, Norman Sunshine and I have received many extraordinary letters. In addition to the positive comments about the book, people have written us about their own lives. We learned about a gay brother who committed suicide because he was rejected by his family, and we heard from the wife of a blue-collar worker who was inspired to persuade her husband to go back to his original love of art thanks to what Norman had written of his own struggles as an artist. Gay couples wrote us that after the description of our wedding, they had decided to marry, and many gays shared their own stories of love and commitment. An editor in the publishing world with many famous authors to his credit told us that they all received letters from fans, but those letters were never as personally revealing as the ones we received were. We did get a few critical comments: Some wanted less about Hollywood and more about our love story, and others wanted less about our love story and more about Hollywood. One particular letter has always stuck in my head: It complained that "we led such a charmed life, so what's the big deal?" I thought a long time about that. Yes, we had been very fortunate: We were still together after so many years, we had had some success (which we had worked very hard for), and now had the wherewithal to spend our late years in a small town of great beauty and welcoming neighbors. We had not written in our book about any of our illnesses, about my losing my hearing in one ear through the negligence of an emergency-room doctor, about my nearly drowning at the Barrier Reef, or about other bouts with what we all experience as human beings who are destined to one day meet the end a life that begins with birth. But still we had a "charmed" life, and that's what we wanted to write about, hoping to show the happiness that we had gained from love and a long-time relationship. And then came cancer. So much for a charmed life.
I'm not going to go into the process that we've all read about many times. Norman discovered a lump, which was removed and found to be non-Hodgkins lymphoma. We went to Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and had all sorts of tests, and the treatment was prescribed. The chemotherapy was administered in our small town by a brilliant oncologist and an equally talented nurse and is now finished. A few days ago a PET scan revealed that Norman is totally clear of any disease and will just have to have some radiation to finish it all off.
The real story is Norman's (and every other cancer patient's) courage and ability to stay positive and optimistic. Norman had no pain but terrible bouts of fatigue and depression, as well as mood changes that were so frequent that I often didn't know which of the many people he became I was dealing with.The good news, besides the cure, is that I was able to be with him every minute and be part of every decision. Since we live in Connecticut, a state that recognizes our marriage, I didn't have to fight to prove that Norman and I were a couple or wave a power of attorney in everyone's face before I was allowed to be at his side at all times. As a spouse, I was at every meeting with the doctors in Connecticut, as well as in New York, which is also a marriage equality state. I was able to sit with Norman for the seven or eight hours that is chemo, ready to help if he needed me. Of course, the nurse was always there, so he didn't, but at least I could pull up a blanket or get him some tea, just a gesture to keep him from feeling alone.
I was there, a few inches away, when they drilled into his bone to see if the cancer had spread. I reached out for his hand in case there was pain. Fortunately there wasn't, but I was there anyway. No one questioned my being with Norman, and I was treated as any husband or wife would have been. Since the Supreme Court decision, I have had a new feeling of being truly married, and now I can even use the word "husband," which had always stuck in my throat before. Norman and I got married in Massachusetts in 2004, but it is only since the defeat of DOMA by the Supreme Court that I have begun to realize what marriage truly means. We can put our money together now, and when one of us goes, the other won't have to prove to the government that he was the one who paid for the dishes or the kitchen chairs. And then there's the realization that when the chips are down and it's a matter of life and death, we will be treated as a married couple in every sense of the words. So will the other married couples who live in the 13 states that recognize marriage equality. Isn't it coincidental that our country began as 13 colonies and grew to be the great nation it is today? Let us hope that just as those 13 colonies spread to become 50 states, marriage equality will do the same, and couples like us who have to face serious issues will be able to do so out in the open, with everyone helping them, and with the respect and acceptance that we were so fortunate to have.