The rental car guy made me cry yesterday.
It’s strange what does it these days. I’ve always been pretty quick to tears anyway but the triggers have obviously shifted. Honestly, I can’t even tell if it’s hope or hopelessness rolling around inside of me that’s got me all worked up and weeping. Either way, it’s clear that the quest to have my marriage recognized here—in the land of the free and home of the brave—has broken me wide open and people like rental car guy can now move me to tears.
My wife and I drive old, beat down cars. While my Jetta needs some work, her car is far more beat down. Every time it crosses my mind, my stomach churns with the reality that we could be sharing a single old, beat down car soon, like this afternoon or next Tuesday soon. She’s a senior at a local university preparing for law school and I am a life coach with a growing but still very young business. I also have a part time job… as a writer. Enough said, right?
There’s also a long, probably unnecessary story about her work-related injury, the lost battle for worker’s compensation from the government agency which employed her, and the pain and limited mobility that she continues to deal with every single day. I will spare you those details but if any of this sounds familiar to you, then you know that going out to pick up a new car isn’t an option at this point.
We were unconvinced that either of our cars could make the two road trips we planned to make this summer but were willing to try. A very kind and generous relative offered to pay for us to rent a car both times and the aforementioned wife found a super deal through Budget and made a reservation in my name. When we went to pick it up, the rental car guy in question asked if there would be any additional drivers. I pointed to my driver of choice and said, “Yes, she will be driving too.”
It turns out there is a charge for extra drivers. This fee is waived for spouses. Well… it always comes back to that, doesn’t it? Damn. It. America.
I’ve been sharing my driving responsibilities with this woman for four years. We live in her house. She is co-parenting my children from a previous marriage (to a man, their father, with whom I could no doubt get a spousal waiver of the extra driver fee). We share our money, as well as the strain when there isn’t enough. We are one another’s biggest fans. We plan to spend the rest of our days together. We are a family.
One year ago this week, we were married in a courthouse in Washington, DC. This means we are married. Married. Spouses. Not gay married. Not lesbian spouses. We are married.
Of course, none of this matters because we live in Tennessee.
So, when rental car guy said that there was a spousal exception to the extra driver fee, I (perhaps a little too gleefully) exclaimed, “That’s great because we are spouses!” My wife explained that we didn’t have a copy of our legal marriage license with us but that we had one. He grinned and settled for us having the same address on our driver’s licenses, although he wondered aloud about why we didn’t have the same last name. He didn’t care, it seemed, but was just curious and (more importantly to me) comfortable enough with us to wonder about it aloud. We explained our reasons. It was lovely. We got our extra driver fee waived, loaded up the offspring and headed west to the my family’s reunion in Estes Park, Colorado.
So, back to my tears… the second trip was to Wisconsin to see my wife’s family. Yesterday, we returned to the same Budget car rental location in downtown Nashville to give back the second rental car. As always, it seems, rental car guy was there. He said, “I was just talking about you guys the other day.” As the story goes, a pair of boys or girls (I’m not sure which) came in to rent a car. They are legally married (in one of the handful of places that same-sex couples can be married in this country) but lived in Nashville. He told them about us, about how he learned from our conversation that our Washington, DC, marriage didn’t count in Tennessee, and delivered the news that they qualified for the spousal waiver of the extra driver fee. They were excited (and it sounds like visually moved) because, “this was the first time in Tennessee that anyone said their marriage counts.”
The story made me cry. I cried because I know what it’s like to have your marriage not count.