The Perfect Celebration Of Us
With Alex by her side, Frankie prepares to fly to Italy to confront the final obstacle standing between her and her dream.
Elleni Toumpas www.ellenitoumpas.com.au
“So he’s cutting the adhesions away from the stomach wall…that’s the aorta there. And now he’s moving the small intestine aside.” Frankie was enthusiastically pointing at the computer screen while I was trying to avoid puking in my hand.
”And he’s cutting the vein.”
With what looked like a pair of pruning shears.
“Won’t he die?” I panicked, breathing deeply to calm my laparoscopic surgery induced nausea.
“He won’t need that vein after this,” Frankie reassured me.
That made no sense. Why would he have a redundant vein? Anyway, it didn’t matter. I couldn’t watch anymore. It looked like the surgeon was ripping the skin off the chicken he was preparing for dinner, and now I was both hungry and disgusted at the same time.
Despite my nausea, I found Frankie sexy when she was all doctory and I wanted her to push the computer away and lie on top of me. I slid my hand under her t-shirt and lightly brushed my fingertips over her stomach, feeling the skin bristle into goose bumps with each caress.
“Now this gets really interesting,” she continued, moving my hand away and pointing at the surgeon, who was prodding buttery yellow blobs of fat out of his way.
Scared I might actually vomit, I leapt off the bed. “Ok, I’m off to exercise.”
A stressed out Frankie was three weeks away from spending Christmas in Italy, where she would sit a two day written, oral and practical surgical exam. Eight months after she was offered a job and two months after the contract was to begin, hospital funding had fallen through. Now the position had to be opened through the government and that meant sitting the exam.
“Coraggio, Dottoressa. Stay strong,” urged the head of the department when he broke the news over the phone. “I still want you for the job.”
This wasn’t just a job to Frankie, this was her dream job. She hung up the call, walked to the bed and started to cry.
It took her several days to work through her grief and several more weeks to heal her wounded pride. She’d told everyone that she was off to Italy to restart her medical career. And now, whenever she spoke to someone, they asked her when she was leaving.
“I have to get this job” Frankie announced once the shock had worn off. “I’m not sure I can do this but I have to try.” So we cancelled all social arrangements and Frankie stuck her head in her books.
Her routine now consisted of work-study-home-study-sleep and she spent her weekends reading and watching surgical videos. Once she’d consumed our entire internet for the month, she set up camp in the local yoghurt shop and used their Wi-Fi instead.
Life was very different now from six weeks ago, when Frankie was busy planning our wedding in New Zealand. Nervous about the lack of recognition for our relationship in Italy, she had read that a French lesbian couple sued Italy for not recognising their foreign marriage. They won and the court forced Italy to register the marriage and respect the couple’s rights.
So Frankie rang me from work one day and casually enquired which Friday I would like to fly to Christchurch.
“For the weekend?” I asked.
“To marry. I emailed a celebrant. She’ll organise the paperwork and meet us in a park with two witnesses.”
“Why?” I asked. “Can’t we indulge in some thermal spa therapy instead?”
“You’ll be like a Syrian refugee in Italy so I’m mounting a humanitarian mission to New Zealand.”
“What about photos?” I asked.
I hung up without deciding a date. Frankie’s spontaneous nature could be fun, but I had enough experience to know she’d regret this afterwards. Getting married without telling anyone? That wasn’t our style. Frankie was all about her friends. I didn’t want her eloping just for me.
Granny rang that night and I accidentally-on-purpose spilled my news.
“About time,” she admonished, like we were the ones dragging our feet on marriage equality. You’ll have to stay dutifully by her side in Italy now. A woman always stays dutifully by her husband’s side.”
I stifled a giggle.
“Are you taking her name dear?”
“Can’t she take mine?”
“She’s a Doctor.”
“Oh. Ok. We can hyphenate. Mrs-Dr-Alexandra-Kathryn-Francesca -Conte-De-Marco.”
“Be serious dear. She’s a professional.”
Since it wouldn’t be fair to tell one person and not others, I texted Juliet. And Erin in New York. And Dresser. And Katerina.
“Give me a date. I’ll book a ticket,” Juliet answered. “Dress? Vintage feel?”
“No! We’re already planning our trip to Italy. Wait!!!” Messaged Erin.
“Gross,” replied Dresser, who was more into polyamory and love affairs than marriage.
“Actually I wanna be bridesmaid. I’m wearing ugg boots down the aisle.” She added five minutes later.
“Bella, don’t even think about marrying without us there,” Katerina demanded. “I’ll do your makeup, Stefano can style. Total glam squad xxx.”
I realized that I hadn’t even thought about a dress. I had actually been considering wearing my skinny leather pants and new Cesare Paciotti heels to our elopement.
I asked Frankie what she’d wear to our wedding.
“A grey suit,” she replied, like she’d given it serious thought.
“And to elope in a park?”
I couldn’t picture our wedding at all. I had no family to attend, for one thing. And no interest in taking Frankie’s name for another. Or wearing white. Or walking down an aisle. Or any of that patriarchal bullshit. I knew I wanted to commit my life to Frankie, but I wasn’t sure a wedding was the way I wanted to do it.
“We can’t marry in New Zealand. Everyone will be upset and you’ll regret it and I’m not poncing down an aisle in a white dress while you wear a suit and everyone expects me to take your name and thinks I’m your little woman and Dresser wants to wear ugg boots. And I have no family and you’re only doing this for me.”
“Breathe,” Frankie ordered, staring at me like she was considering prescribing a mild sedative. “Hugo and I are your family. Our friends are our family.”
“Which is why we can’t elope.”
I asked Frankie if we could take the time to work out what we both wanted. I told her I was thinking a civil union in Italy with all of our friends and her family might be the right choice. Civil unions would be legal in Italy in a few months, so it wasn’t like we’d be waiting for long.
“You’ll wear a dress?” She pleaded.
“No. Just a beautiful dress.”
“Maybe one in your hair. And makeup. I love you in makeup. And Hugo can carry the rings. They can hang off his collar.”
“But I don’t think I want an aisle,” I added hesitantly.
“Maybe we could walk down the aisle together?” Frankie responded gently. “And I want an engagement ring! I bought you a ring. I want one too.”
Wedding negotiations underway, we refocussed on our move to Italy. Until the exam changed everything.
“You’re meeting the fam for Christmas? Epic,” said Dresser, like no one ever meets their partner’s parents.
“And all her friends. I won’t understand a word they say, so my plan is to just sit and eat. And we’ll have a week together before the exam, so I’ll be eating while Frankie will have her head in a book.”
I’d been so focussed on the exam that I hadn’t considered what a big deal it was for Frankie to take me to Italy. She’d never introduced a girlfriend to her family before and most of her friends didn’t even know she was gay until earlier this year.
“Epic.” Dresser said again.
That night I woke to hear Frankie softly crying.
“I don’t think I can do this,” she cried. “I’ve never done one of these stupid exams. I don’t know what to expect. A few weeks aren’t enough time to study all of general surgery. I think I’m going to lose this job.”
She broke into fresh sobs and I lay there, holding her and feeling utterly helpless. I’d never seen her like this before, so fragile and vulnerable. As she snuggled into me, I felt like Frankie was a part of me now. Her tears ran down my cheeks, her sobs escaped my chest; her life flowed through my veins.
This is a marriage, I thought to myself as I rocked her back to sleep. We are married. Through the good times and the bad we’re united, stronger together than we’d ever be apart. Bound together by love. And the next step is to find the way to express and honour that love, to solemnise that commitment to each other, our way. I closed my eyes and for the first time I pictured our big day. And I realised that it wasn’t a wedding we were planning. It was the perfect celebration of us.