During the COVID-19 crisis, I joined together with others in my community to create a zine anthology. All of these stories centered on the following prompt:
“The dominant culture that we live in frequently pushes us to prioritize our relationship with a romantic, monogamous partner over other relationships with friends, family, and neighbors. Some ways we see this are in the expectations to cohabit with our partner, formalize the relationship through legal and religious ceremony, (for women in particular) to change our names in marriage, and for partners to share financial & material resources with each other. Create a culture where this is no longer the norm. Describe the alternative ways humans build, celebrate, or formalize relationships with each other in that world. Note: you do not need to create something “better than” what we have now, nor do you have to make a culture that you would want to live in. 1000 word limit. All genres welcome.”
Here’s the story I wrote, titled Goodbye, Nebraska.
“I’m moving out.” Sharie was nervous and overwhelmed. Maybe she was just whelmed. Regardless, she had anticipated that the news would be a lot to process for everyone at the table. “I’m moving in with Grace. Just us. I’m… monogamous.”
Monogamous. A four-letter word. Taboo. Shame. Mixed emotions filled her heart as ten other people sat with her eating dinner. The table was cluttered with food on a humid Nebraska evening. Outside, a Nebraska thunderstorm was on the horizon. You can smell the storms coming – it’s hard to describe. The windows were open so the storm could greet them. Thunder looked like it’d be overhead in half an hour.
Sharie rushed through her words hoping that they would make sense. “I know it is a different lifestyle. But this is my truth. It always has been. I think a lot of people are more open to it these days. More than ever! It’s 2020, you know what I mean?” She fidgeted and her lips formed a hesitant smile.
Geoffrey chewed slowly as his mouth formed a playful smirk. “So, let me get this straight – you’re going to live with Grace? Just Grace? How do you find a house that small? And, like, y’all are gonna do this… forever?
“That’s right!” Sharie beamed with pride. “Grace and I are finally coming out as monogamous. I have some articles I can email you that explain what it is… It’s like, you know how most people live in community with a range of people, lovers, partners, and children? It’s like that but… just me and Grace…” Sharie was again grasping for words. There has never been a member of congress or senate who was openly monogamous. However, recently a city councilmember in San Francisco came out as monogamous! Progress! There is a neighborhood there supposedly filled with monogamous couples and monogamy-friendly bars called The Castro, too. She just knew that change was coming!
Sharie had lived in this house for 7 years, and Grace for 5. They both found the house on an intentional community app where you list your preferences, send messages, photos, swipe right, etc. Sharie’s upbringing was “normal.” A traditional household of about 23 other housemates (give or take depending on the year, including 5 other children). Conflict was rare between lover/friends in the house or with neighboring households in the community. Adults of all genders delicately entered in and out of communities, relationships, partnerships, while expressing a range of sensuality and companionship. All of her parents generally got along. She was grateful for the stability. Grace’s house, however, had been stressful. Grace had mostly healed from it.
This normative upbringing made coming out difficult for Sharie. She met Grace at 43 years old after a pretty conventional life and… she felt a need to live with just Grace, and not have any other relationships. She couldn’t explain it. It was just… who she was. On TV there were a lot of stereotyped toxic portrayals of monogamous lifestyle. It wasn’t unnatural though– at least not in her eyes. Sharie shared her lifelong urges to Grace late one night as they cuddled after a potluck, bellies full. Grace cried as she came out too that night. It was picturesque.
Most of their friend/lovers expressed acceptance with smiles and nods. Xiaowen spoke next. “I accept you both. I want to stay in touch. I’ll always be your ally.” Friends and now-former lovers showered the couple with love.
While Grace had remained silent throughout the night, she was holding Sharie’s hand tightly, her nails painted a shimmering teal. Tears began to well up. Lovers have come and gone in Grace’s life, inside and outside of the house. She knew that all these years and lovers would be close to her heart, fondly, forever. There was a quote stuck with her since childhood: you never grow out of love, you grow into it, like a plant whose roots are tenderly reaching further into the soil for nourishment. Most lover/friendships ended peacefully in society with their mutual community reaching understanding and compassion.
Sharie’s lovers at the table seemed to take the news well, including her lover of four years Gregor. He suspected this day would come for a while. Sharie had withdrawn from others in the house and spent days exclusively with Grace. Grace’s now-former lover Charli didn’t take it so well, however. All of this hadn’t been communicated well in the house. That is why everyone was here.
“Call me old fashioned, conservative, whatever, but I don’t know if this alternative lifestyle is sustainable.” Charli was blunt as ever and was met with equally blunt disagreement from the other housemates. A raucous smattering of rebukes blended together into its own storm of sorts. An observer might have heard no, and why would you say that, and what the fuck, and that is completely out of line!
“Do you think this is easy?” Sharie said with her voice cracking. Grace chimed in, “we don’t want to keep this a secret any longer!” Rain started to trickle softly outside.
“I’m sorry.” Charli put her head down and sighed. She worked up the courage to put her judgmental words behind her. She wanted to patch things up and at least try to understand. “Um… where will you be moving?”
Grace smiled. She was a reserved and soft-spoken woman and the acceptance of so many housemates put her at ease. “We’re going to start over and move to the coast. I hear it is more progressive. I’ve found a job as a gardener in San Jose. We move next month.”
Shari was going to miss Nebraska. The majestic flat prairie never ceased to calm her soul. Grass sways for miles on end as the plains bless you with a bountiful sky which stretches from one horizon to the other. What was the ocean like? She dreamed it was a majestic plain of its own kind. That comforted her. It’ll all be OK, she thought. This storm will pass.