April 16, 2019

I Love You I Love You I Love You

by The Cut on Tuesdays

Background show artwork for The Cut on Tuesdays
Marriage: Why do we bother? Our theory is that it all comes down to a good story--so this week, we've got two couples with really good stories. First, she's Deaf and he's hearing. Second, a couple who met while he was serving 25 years in prison.

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From the Cut and Gimlet Media, this is the Cut on Tuesdays. I’m your host, Molly Fischer.


A couple weeks ago, my friend Genevieve told me her theory of marriage. We were a couple of beers into a work party, which is… as a good a time as any to nail down a theory of marriage.

It was on Genevieve’s mind because she’d just finished editing a bunch of stories about marriage for New York Magazine. The idea had been to investigate why people choose to get married and stay married in 2019, when anyone will tell you marriage is obsolete, but also, that their fridge is covered in save-the-dates. Anyway, working on stories about all these other marriages had gotten Genevieve thinking about something a slightly older friend had told her, years ago. Here’s what he said:

GENEVIEVE: You had to have a shared story, you had to both believe in the story of your relationship. I do think you have to have this origin story. Like how we met, and how important that is to a couple. You have to have this thing that you both refer to as the reason you’re doing this. And I think that thing is a story.

<<MUX IN>>

I like the theory of marriage as a story. It fits nicely with one of MY theories… which is that, a lot of times, people get invested in romantic situations they aren’t actually that into because we’re all just dying to have SOME kind of ongoing plot line—some kind of story—in our lives. Wondering whether or not some joker will text you back is better than not having anything to wonder about at all. You want suspense. You want at least a little narrative drive.

There was a famous study in the early 90s that looked at the way couples told the story of how they met: The more excited and enthusiastic they sounded, the more likely they were to still be together three years later.  

GENEVIEVE: that story is a guiding light of why are you doing this, right, when you could be doing all these other things when it's really really hard You need some things some sort of higher reason for doing it.

If marriage is a story you’ll be telling for the rest of your life you want it to be...a good one. And in this episode, we’ve got two couples with really good stories.

We’ll start with Keri and Andy November. They just got married three years ago, but the two of them go way back.

KERI: So we met at sleep away camp when we were 13 years old.

That’s Keri. And this is Andy:

ANDY: You know, I remember the braces and I remember her hair was up and I can distinctly remember her hearing aids and I don't ever remember having any consciousness of her deafness when I was 13.

KERI: And it was difficult summer because I didn't really have anyone I connected with and I didn't really have anyone I communicated well with.

ANDY: And I had a similar summer camp too. I was a loner just as much as she was. I spent the vast majority of my time hanging out with the counselors.

KERI: I was having a snack. I was sitting by myself and I just remember that Andy walked over to me and he made an effort to talk to me and get to know me. But I remember that at some point he asked me if I wanted to go for a walk with him. So I said okay. So I went for a walk with him and we went outside, we walked into the woods. Now I know that this type of story today may seem a little creepy, but it was really sweet.

MOLLY: [Laughs]

KERI: So he walked me into the woods and it started getting darker and darker. And as it's getting darker, I said to him, "I can't see you. I can't read your lips anymore." So he took me back toward the light, but just with enough privacy because the next thing he was going to do was try and kiss me.

ANDY: You know, she's striking and I guess I was a man for the ladies at 13, and you know, I saw her and I'm like, “I don't care that she's deaf. This girl's hot. I want to kiss her.”

KERI: So he leaned in to kiss me and I remember right away it was the taste of black licorice and Coca Cola.

Black licorice and Coca-Cola—a very 13-year-old taste. Naturally, they both had braces, and naturally, Keri worried they’d somehow get stuck. Fortunately, they did not.

KERI: And then when it was over, I remember we locked eyes. And I will never forget that face. It stayed with me because it was the first real interaction I had with anyone, boy or girl, that made an effort to really get to know me, to connect with me.

KERI: He stayed with me enough that I wrote about him in my diary. I actually did all of that hearts, Keri loves Andy, Andy and Keri sitting in a tree, all of that. As life went on, I dated different people, I kept thinking back to that moment, that night of the human connection.

Keri’d been born profoundly Deaf, in a family where everyone else could hear. This was back in the early 1980s--and at the time, doctors told her parents that if she learned sign language, she’d never be able to speak or read lips. This is an outdated approach--it’s not a choice any parent would be given today, and it’s frowned upon in the Deaf community. But at the time, Keri’s parents wanted her to be able to live in the hearing world. So she grew up reading lips--she didn’t become fluent in sign language until college.

And Over the years, as she grew up, that moment of human connection with Andy was something Keri never forgot. But they didn’t stay in touch. He became a disability lawyer in Cleveland, and she became an ASL teacher in New York.

KERI: I got out of another relationship and that man really broke my heart and I felt like it was kind of an eye opener to the type of guy I needed. I needed someone that would try and communicate with me that would be patient. And even though he was 13 and he could've been a completely different person, my gut feeling told me that the essence of who he is would be the same. So I was thinking of reaching out to him and then I saw in October, 2011, he was married and I figured, okay, time to move on. Time to give up on the idea of Andy. That ship has sailed.

Andy was married, but THEN… Andy wasn’t. And he and Keri reconnected, as people sometimes do, over Facebook. He wrote to wish her a happy birthday, and for the next few days, they were messaging all the time.

ANDY: I knew I had to make a move. I said, "Hey, as luck would have it, I have a trip planned to New York. I'm only going to be in court for an hour. Would you like to go on a date?"

KERI: So I said, "Okay, sure, that's fine." I have to tell you this, it's very important. Six months into our relationship--he told my parents this before he told me--he told my parents that he only made up the fact that he had to work so that he wouldn't scare me off and he wanted me to say yes to a date. He came in just to take me out and that was it.

ANDY: It's like I can't believe I'm flying to New York and I'm making up the reason why I'm going there and I'm packing a suit just in case she looks in the armoire of the Doubletree.

KERI: I just went on so many first dates. Most of the time I felt like none of them made the effort to get to know me or talk slowly or respect the fact that I was Deaf.

ANDY: You know, I had it mentally prepared. I tried to learn a few signs.

KERI: He learned how to sign dog and cat.

ANDY: I think I showered twice that day before I met her.

KERI: He said, "Do you want to go for a walk?" And all of these things are racing through my head. If we go for a walk, it's going to be difficult to talk to him because imagine Manhattan, it's not as if I can take my time and talk to him and read his lips. So he said, "Well let's just find a store maybe. Let's walk around." So he takes me to Macy's.

ANDY: We spent just the first four hours of that first date just talking. We walked around a Macy's, I think it was, some department store.

KERI: By Penn Station and I'm thinking, okay, this isn't exactly the best idea, but I was trying to play cool. So literally we kept finding little places to stand in Macy's to talk. And people kept bumping into us.

ANDY: I'll never forget how much my neck hurt and that was because I had to keep my head to the side so she could read my lips.

KERI: At the end of dinner, I was just really excited, hoping that we were going to have our real first kiss that night. It wasn't until he got my coat for me, when he came to put my coat on, he leaned in to kiss me.

ANDY: I just grabbed her and kissed her and it was definitely that time stands still moment.

KERI: And that was nice because the first kiss was really slobbery, I remember because it was a 13 year old, he didn't know how to kiss.

That laughing you hear is Keri’s friend and interpreter Rachel, who was listening to our call and signing my questions. Rachel had been pretty quiet up to this point, but she couldn’t help it.

KERI: Rachel's in front of fun of me, she's laughing really hard right now.

RACHEL: I'm so sorry.

KERI: I appreciate having someone in here responding to what I'm saying 'cause I know it's funny. So of course I was thinking, thank God, he knows how to kiss now.

ANDY: I remember being so sad when I left her. I actually went to a bar right by Penn Station, some shady little Irish bar and I think I had like three shots of whiskey and I just was beside myself. I'm like, I'm falling for this woman. Like how is this possibly happening?

KERI: Saw him again the next day. And our second date, we literally talked about, “okay, basically I want a future with you. I want to be with you. Where do we go, what do we do? How do we move forward from here?”

For a while -- not very long -- they did long distance. Then Keri moved to Cleveland, they got married, and they started to build a life together. Neither of them necessarily quite knew what that would look like--and there are all kinds of unexpected challenges you deal with when one of you can hear and the other can’t.

ANDY: Keri sets off our house alarm at least once a week.

The house alarm beeps when you walk in the door; that’s the reminder to shut off the system. And if you can’t hear the beeps… or the siren...

ANDY: I get these calls from Seavers Security on my phone and then sometimes I can't get in touch with her. So the neighbors start texting me and they're like your alarms going off. And I'm like, I know it's my deaf wife. So it's little things like that you just don't think of.

In basic ways, the world is built for hearing people: it’s built for Andy and not for Keri. And there are a lot of things about the way the outside world works that they can’t always do much about. But living with Keri has changed the way Andy sees things--in his legal practice, he’s actually started specializing in Deaf discrimination cases.

And his signing has improved significantly since he taught himself “dog” and “cat.”

KERI: The fact that he learned sign right away meant he respected what was important to me and he wanted to make sure I was comfortable, and he wanted us to connect and communicate well. And that meant the world to me.

ANDY: When we get to sign with each other, even if it's an elevator or on an airplane or in bed, you know, signing in itself is very intimate. You know, you're looking at someone in their eyes and you're communicating with, you know, different body positions and posture and facial expressions. And I love, this is so immature, but I love signing in the elevator with her when there's other people in it. it's incredibly immature, but both of us really enjoy it because it makes people feel awkward. So sometimes we just like to sign and it's our secret code.

KERI: If we go to some kind of event that we don’t necessarily want to  be at, and he sees a person he's not thrilled about seeing, he’ll be like “that guy, he can be kind of a douche bag” and he knows how to sign douche bag.

ANDY: I love signing dirty things to her in public and watching her get red. It's a lot of fun.

KERI: He'll always kind of sign under the table just in case there's people in the room that happen to know sign language. You want to have sex, and he'll sign the word sex.

ANDY: And she'll just hold it together. We can lock eyes and she's saying to me with her eyes like, you better stop that right now.

When they’re out together in public, they’ve got a bubble of privacy. But inside that bubble, they’re still figuring things out. Communicating takes work--it takes patience.

KERI: He never, ever says “never mind.” If I miss it, if he ever does speak through an argument, he will tell me what he says. The first few months we were together, he did start off with “never mind, it's not important”-- and I sat him down and I said, “you cannot do that to a Deaf person,” and he never did that ever again.

ANDY: I realized very quickly I wasn't going to be able to communicate like I'm used to. I have a very dry sense of humor. You know, my dry jokes are not going to work. She can't just hear it in my voice.

Even though Keri can read lips, Andy has to make sure he’s speaking so that she can understand.

ANDY: You know, you've got to talk slowly.

But having to think very carefully about what you’re saying--that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

ANDY: When you're fighting as a hearing person with another hearing person, you can say some of the most horrid, terrible things that come to mind because you just spit them out in rage. You don't even think about it. But when you're speaking to someone that's reading your lips and you're not fluent in sign language, or your sign language isn't enough, I mean, you've got to just really boil down your grievance into something calm. So yeah, there's some times that I'm so worked up that I just want to let loose, and I might be mad in the moment that I can't let loose. But at the end it's like, it makes me a better person because it really, really forces me to stop my brain, think about what I want to communicate to my wife and say it in a way that she can understand. And you can't yell and have her read your lips. So yeah, it's frustrating in the moment, but in the end, I mean, we don't really have blow ups. We work things out. Her deafness is a, it's a fire extinguisher.

In some ways, every marriage is a very tiny subculture. Behind closed doors, you have a shared vocabulary of made-up words and inside jokes that do not translate to the outside world, and would be very embarrassing if anyone else heard. For Keri and Andy, it’s also embarrassing if anyone else sees.

KERI: you like to have fun with sign language sometimes if there is no actual sign for a word you try to make up a word just between us, because technically he’s not supposed to bring that out into the Deaf world.

MOLLY: Oh wow.

ANDY: A few of my signs have been accepted by the Deaf community.

KERI: Because I introduced them to the Deaf community on your behalf!

ANDY: I came up with the sign for pug.

KERI: Yes you did make that up. It’s basically a palm on the nose and you scrunch the nose in.

MOLLY: Olivia and I both just did that in the studio

KERI: I wish I could see!

Coming up after the break: two people whose wedding happened in the only place where they’d ever met.

SHEILA: We got married in the visiting room. So Rose went to the vending machine and she bought all this kind of stuff. Candy bars, sandwiches, chicken wings. She said here's our wedding banquet.


Welcome back to the Cut on Tuesdays. This week, we’re talking about marriage, and the way that any marriage comes down to a story that two people tell each other.

But what if it’s a story that they write together, literally--what if it’s an epistolary romance?

What if instead of a constant connection machine buzzing in your pocket, you’re limited to paper and a pen? It still happens. And when it does, you’re forced to slow down and think about what you actually want to say. That’s how it was for Sheila and Joe.

SHEILA: 2001 I was a journalist at The New York Times. I was by then an editor.

That’s Sheila Rule. In 2001, she was looking for ways to get involved in her community, and she went to a kind of club fair at Riverside Church.

SHEILA: And a woman who was sitting at the prison ministry table for some reason looked at me and said you need to belong to the prison ministry.

Sheila joined and she got a stack of letters. They’d been written by people who were incarcerated in New York: her job was to respond, so she did.

SHEILA: The word got out around the state that there was somebody who would write to you. So at some point Joe Robinson wrote a letter.

JOE: I’m Joe Robinson. Early 2000s I was incarcerated. At the time, depending on what year we’re talking about I had almost 10 years in prison. And I wrote to Riverside Church prison ministry and asked basically for a penpal, someone to write to and to connect with. Mental connection like something of substance, that was important to me.

SHEILA: There was a line that he used which I--I have the letter. It said “To Whom It May Concern -- though currently incarcerated, my spirit is free.” He said he'd like to write to a young lady and I am very literal. So I wrote back and said we don't have any young ladies in the prison ministry. We're all middle aged, basically.

MOLLY: How old were you at the time?

SHEILA: I was 52.  

JOE: And she said something like “while there are women who are involved in the ministry or something like that, there are no young women.” So it was a nice letter. Yeah it felt like it was a brush off. Like a nice brushoff. Kind of like “hey buddy, look elsewhere” you know that kind of thing. But I persisted.

SHEILA: I was surprised that he wrote back. You know because it was like “Ok, good luck Joe.” That was basically it. But he wrote back because he it was important to him to be understood.

JOE: You know, that I didn't mean to you know offend or anything like that and that it was just I was just speaking colloquially and that I said it “I'm assuming then you're an older woman” because you know I didn't mean anything by it. And then I basically said well let me tell you a little bit more about myself. And then I talked about the fact that I had a son, and how much I loved him, and how I tried to be engaged in his life and all that. And so yeah, and hope we could be friends or something to that effect.

SHEILA: So I was very moved by the letter and I wrote back and I said, “Joe,” I said. “I will be your friend.” And that's how it began.

JOE: After that we were just like really really getting to know each other. It was really deep. It was, um, I don't know if I've ever used these words before but it was almost like spiritual in some sense seriously for me. One thing I say about Sheila, like I guess it comes from her journalism background, and at that time I didn't know she was a journalist. But she had a way of pulling stuff out of me that I hadn't experienced. Period.

In Joe’s letters, he wrote things he didn’t usually talk about--growing up in East New York, his family--

JOE: My mother's addiction in the 80s and 90s to crack cocaine.That wasn't something I was sharing with everyone. Now I'm a lot more comfortable talking about it but back then I wasn’t really, to be honest, there was like some shame. You know I love my mom. But I was like that’s nobody’s business.

And so she when she would ask questions before I responded I was like wow. To be honest a couple of times I was like wow, should I answer this? I mean like really, should I go there? You’re getting kind of deep here. You know they say be careful what you ask for, right? So then that's why I said it was it was like kind of spiritual and that I I needed it. I was at a place in my life where I really needed to work through stuff.

Joe and Sheila started writing to each other in 2002. At that point, Joe had been in prison for ten years—or essentially his entire adult life.

JOE: I was arrested in 1992 in Brooklyn for a homicide in upstate New York. I was 21 turned 22. Like a few weeks later after I was arrested. And I wasn't a hardened person. You know some people can just like disconnect. I mean I know because I've been around people who can disconnect themselves from like inflicting harm on other people, and that’s not me. Not to racialize the situation but here I was, a young black man who took the life of another young black man. I had a lot of remorse. It was tormenting, you know reflecting on what I had done and how I had gotten to that point. So I was focused on growth. And that’s who Sheila met ten years later.

When Sheila was starting out at the prison ministry, she was writing letters to about 20 people. Over time, though, Joe’s letters stood out. Answering them didn’t feel like community service anymore.

MOLLY: When did you start to realize that you were maybe developing feelings for him?

SHEILA: Well, I think it was actually my friend Rose who pushed me--my best friend Rose--and I would say to Rose, you know “Joe said blah blah blah. Oh I was writing to Joe--” and she said, “Hmm, so tell me about Joe.”

And Rose who was just this fantastic human being, and very wise, she said--because Joe was 20 years younger, and Rose always went with younger men. When I met her she was going with someone 30-something years younger. Now for me it was like “oh you go girl. But for me I'm saying not me, that sounds crazy.” You know for me, but not for her. She she could carry it off. But she said “So what's the problem with that. There's no problem with that. If you really cared about somebody.” So she really wore me down, basically. Until I really had to sit with myself.

MOLLY: Yeah.

SHEILA:  And I had to ask myself that question: “What is it?” Because Rose said “What is it? What is it that makes you hesitate?” And I was disappointed in my answer. It was society. My generation, society dictated certain things. The man is older man is taller.

MOLLY: Why do you think that it was his age that felt like a sticking point to you rather than his being incarcerated?

SHEILA: It may have had something to do with why I was a journalist. When I wrote to people in prison, I really saw them as people whose circumstances were different than mine. I didn't come with judgment or assumptions. But when it came to someone much younger--somebody that young you know it's different. Like what we talk about?

JOE: I was like, what are you talking about? I'm an adult. I'm in my 30s. And you know she was like when I was you know whatever always saying like “when I came to New York you were seven” you know stuff like that. I'm like OK great. Now feel like a little kid.  I always tease her now I say, “oh you just didn’t know. I knew all along, you know.”

After 14 months of letters, Sheila went to visit Joe.

He’d sent her a picture early on, but she hadn’t sent one back--he didn’t even know what she looked like.

She had a two-hour bus ride upstate to Sullivan Correctional facility.

SHEILA: I did feel a bit nervous. And I remember for some reason craving chocolate and I just ate on the bus. I was just eating chocolate.

JOE: I don't know maybe had some butterflies. Especially because I didn't have a visual. You know you just don't know. It's like I'm going on a blind date. But its with someone who I've been writing for over a year which is weird.

MOLLY: Wow. Yeah.

JOE: So it's like OK. So I was on my best behavior. You know not wanting to be too forward; although it felt to be on like such a buildup. For the first time seeing the woman on the other side of the letters being able to say OK this is a real woman.

Neither of them were quite sure what they were up to here. Joe and Sheila had essentially found themselves on a daytime is-this-or-isn’t-this-a-date, except instead of a coffee shop, they were in a prison visitors room. They talked--about themselves, about their favorite radio station, KISS FM--and Sheila knew she’d be coming back.

MOLLY: How did it feel to have to leave that first time after that first visit in person?

SHEILA: It actually felt like a relief to leave, because there was so much to digest.

They tried, for a while, to write the kind of letters they’d been writing before--that is, not explicitly romantic. They didn’t keep doing that for very long.

JOE: so she wrote me a letter that I'll never forget.

SHEILA: I was at home and I just went to the computer. You know Joe, if I do not say this I will explode. I love you. And I am in love with you. So I said I love you, I love you, I love you. And I am in love with you. I am in love with you. And I said to be continued, Sheila.  And I put it in the mailbox.

JOE: and so I wasn't expecting that. I just felt really that now I could,  so now I felt like free.

SHEILA: He wrote back and on the outside of the envelope was “I love you too.”

JOE: The letters then took a different shape-- like, intimate letters, I’ll just say intimate letters. And I'm a pretty good writer as well. I’m not a professional writer, but if I must say. And I’m sure she didn’t talk about this, but she loved the letters. She loved the letters.

JOE: Cause she’s a reader, and she would tell me that she would actually read my letters while she was in a bubble bath. So she looked forward to the letters I was like nice. That’s a nice visual.

MOLLY: Yeah, that’s really nice!

JOE: So anyway, that was something. That was a long time ago.

Sheila and Joe weren’t going to be able to do anything else about their attraction unless something major happened. Luckily for them, they had Rose.

JOE: Rose was Rose, meaning she didn't hold back. So she basically was like you know “so what's the next step with you guys?” something like that. And Sheila was like “well what do you mean?” And she was like “well can you be…” she was more explicit, but she said “can you be together?”  And I didn't know this, Sheila told me this afterward. And she said you know “I’d love to. I want to do this to him.” I said, “Really? You said that?”

MOLLY: To Rose?

JOE: Exactly! You should have said it to me! But anyway, Rose said you know “what's stopping you?” She said well we would have to get married, that’s the only way.

So they did: about a year and a half after they first met face-to-face. Joe’s mom came, and so did his son, and Sheila’s son, and Rose.

SHEILA: We got married in the visiting room. So Rose went to the vending machine and she bought all this kind of stuff. Candy bars, sandwiches, chicken wings. She said “here's our wedding banquet!” So we made it as festive as it could be. Sat and chatted until it was time for us to go.

Molly: Oh god. How was it to go?

SHEILA: It was...it was not easy. But I understood that this was part of the commitment.

Now that Joe and Sheila were married, they could apply for what’s popularly known as a conjugal visit. They had to wait 90 days after the wedding, and to qualify, Joe had to have a completely clean disciplinary record. Officials from the state of New York had to visit Sheila at home in her West Village apartment.

If they were approved, though, they’d finally get to see each other alone. The process took months.

Joe and Sheila got married in January of 2005, and their first visit was finally scheduled for July.

JOE: It was six months later. Yeah, so  talk about a buildup. It was crazy, I was like I’m gonna go crazy.

SHEILA: I hope...I hope I don't get hit by a bus. I hope this really happens, because that would be great if this really happened. So it happened.

Even though it took six months, Joe and Sheila were lucky. Joe was in a state facility in New York, one of only four states that has a family visiting program.

SHEILA: The lingo is trailers. So it's like “oh we got a trailer. We're going on a trailer.”

“Going on a trailer” is not strictly about sex. People have their kids come and visit, or their parents. The trailers are like little mobile homes, parked on prison grounds.

SHEILA: There's a living area, like a little living room, kitchen, television.

JOE: Like there’s just like you know like two little rooms, two small bedrooms, very small, bathroom. And you know like an open space, like open concept. I mean, it’s a trailer…

MOLLY: This is our open plan trailer.

JOE: I don’t want to make it sound luxurious, you know, it wasn’t like that.

Family visits are intended to help people who are incarcerated maintain some kind of connection to life outside--as far as the state is concerned, it’s about reducing the chance that they’ll come back to prison. But as far as the families are concerned, it’s about time.

SHEILA: in the books it's forty four hours. You know you go in one afternoon so you'd have lunch and dinner together, then you'd have a whole day and then you're gone the next morning.

One of the best things about the trailers was that you got to bring groceries and cook your own meals. There were all sorts of rules though: You could bring steaks, but not steaks with bones. You could bring bagels or muffins but not ones with poppyseeds—they might show up as heroin on a drug test, and Joe was tested before, during and after every visit.

Joe and Sheila spent days planning the meals before their first trailer.

SHEILA: We had decided on our menu. What are we going to have.

They got to have breakfast together:

SHEILA: OK first day first morning was when we're going to do this for breakfast. Biscuits and scrambled eggs, and I think one day we had pancakes, and it may have been banana pancakes. And I think Joe did that.

And dinner:

JOE: I'm sure we had steak the first night, because I like steak, and salad. I mean it was just really nice like ice cream like stuff you don't have in prison.   

Molly: What was that like to be alone together for the first time.?

SHEILA: It was fantastic, it really was.  

JOE: We were like little kids just like giddy, just like it felt like Easter. So it really was something.

JOE: But I remember like staring at the ceiling, like I couldn't sleep, because it was like “oh is this a dream?” And then I look over, see my wife and I'm like “oh it’s not a dream! This thing is really happening!”

After that, they’d get a trailer every few months. Joe would get processed and arrive in the trailer first, where he’d clean the place up and wait for Sheila.

The first time, they’d brought too much food, but after that they got good at it. Sheila would bring the groceries from the outside. Joe would bring the pickles from the commissary that Sheila loved, and beverages so she didn’t have to carry the heavy bottles. Then they'd close the door of the trailer, and do their best to feel at home.

JOE: They gave us a sense of normalcy.  We were able to cook together would dance we would watch TV we'd dream together is was really really something, and it gave me and I imagine Sheila something to look forward to

But four times a day--morning, lunchtime, afternoon, and night--a loudspeaker would crackle, and Joe would hear a voice say, “Robinson, step out for the count.”

It could be snowing or raining--he and Sheila could be cooking, or in bed--no matter what, he’d have to go outside and be counted.

JOE: It can really mess you up, because you know at some point to back your mind like I'm thinking I'm sure she's thinking that she has to leave. Like literally leave the prison grounds, and I have to go back to the madness of prison.

When they were lucky, they’d have 44 hours together every month and a half--that’s about fifteen days a year. When they weren’t lucky, they’d have four visits a year. That’s more like seven days, in a whole year of marriage.

JOE: And then there were times where I felt guilty. You know it was like, I mean she's an adult,obviously,  she’s older than me. But it was like, for lack of a better term I was kind of sending her back into the world alone.

SHEILA:  I'd be thinking I can't wait til what passes for normal really becomes normal. So it was that yearning, the yearning, the yearning.

For 11 years, their marriage happened in the space of the 44 hours they got in the trailers. And then, in 2016, Joe went before the parole board and got a release date. He was coming home to Sheila.

SHEILA: I said I cannot imagine what it must be like to be coming home to this technicolor world after 25 years in prison. And I said I really think therapy would be a good idea. Couples therapy.

JOE: Because I did bring home some residual stuff from prison that I didn't anticipate.

We might be coming from Trader Joe's for example, and she'd be like “oh I'll get the bags”. And I’d be like “no I got it, I got it” you know.  I would say it with an edge and I wouldn’t mean to say I like that.

But what I learned in therapy, and I said to her therapy, was that for all those years she had been the one carrying all this luggage, and bags, and bringing me food bringing me and making my life just rich and natural and all of that. And so I wanted to finally say ‘No let me take the load off’ but I couldn't articulate it until we had that therapy.

SHEILA: I take it as it comes and but I really can say it with gusto now. We're an old married couple. You know, we're like a pair of comfortable old shoes.

Joe and Sheila know that just feeling like a normal married couple can be a luxury--which probably gives them a leg up on most married people. But I asked them if there was anything they missed from the pen-and-paper years.

JOE: I think one of the things that I missed and probably still miss is the longing for each other. So now we don’t have to long, she’s right here.

SHEILA: I want us to live the spirit of our letters. The love and the joy and the energy—and electricity.

Getting more and more comfortable without losing sight of the feeling you had at the beginning: That’s the tension in any marriage.

Everyone knows how to tell an origin story. The plot points are always pretty much the same: the first kiss, the big declaration, and then you’ve done it--you’re in love! Now you have to figure out what comes next. That story’s trickier to tell--fewer chase scenes, more character development.

When people talk about a “marriage plot,” they’re talking about a story where marriage is the END. And the whole point of getting married is that it’s not the end: It keeps going.

That’s it for this week’s show… We’ll see you next Tuesday.

Also!  we want to hear from you. We're working on an episode about calling our moms--because, at any given time, there's a decent chance we should probably call our moms. But what's the thing you really need to call you mom about, the call you've been putting off? Is there a confession you've been too afraid to make? A question you've always wanted to ask? Or an apology that's long overdue—even if it's for something like stealing her  lipstick when you were 10? Psych yourself up by giving us a call and telling us about it. And, if you want us to help you out with your mom call, leave your name and number and we'll see what we can do. Our number is 413-247-4698. Again: 413-247-4698


The Cut on Tuesdays is produced by Sarah McVeigh and Olivia Natt.

Our senior producer is Kimmie Regler.

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