by Peggy Evans and Stella Hess: Transcript, June 25, 2015
STELLA: Good evening and thank you for being here tonight. First we'd like to thank The Dallas Way board and the Outrageous Oral committee for the opportunity to share our story with you tonight. The Dallas Way is an amazing organization that has an important mission, one more critical than I think we fully understand: to document and archive our history in Dallas by capturing our own stories. It is an honor to be here tonight and tell you why we said "I Do!"
PEGGY: By way of introduction, I am Peggy Evans and this is the Stella Hess. Earlier this month we celebrated our 19th year together. Our story starts in 1995 at The Black Tie Dinner where mutual friends, Sue Wyll and Susan Russell, introduced us late that Saturday night after the dinner was over and we were wrapping up The Black Tie Auction. Stella served as treasurer on the Black Tie Dinner board, and I was volunteering impromptu for Sue and the Auction.
STELLA: Fast forward to early 1996 when Peggy and I reconnected while playing softball together. The team we played on was call Between the Sheets and sponsored by Sue Wyll and Doris Sanders Ltd. Peggy was the player coach and, when I was allowed to play, I played right field. So if you know anything at all about softball or baseball, this tells you who's the athletic one in our relationship. Later in June of 1996, Peggy and I started dating. And not your traditional lesbian dating; first date dinner, second date sleep over, and third date a U-Haul. It was not until September of 1996 – after a full 90+ days – that we did move in together.
PEGGY: Almost two years into our relationship, in May of 1998, Stella was diagnosed with breast cancer, and we later learned the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. We went through this together hand-in-hand, and looking back it is probably the one event that cemented our relationship. We had to think about the what ifs and the what abouts. And during that time we both got to see and understand our true selves. Luckily we found we both really liked those people, too. Stella was incredible, she had two surgeries, 5 rounds of chemo, and weeks of radiation. All the while, she only missed 5 days of work and never missed a beat on her volunteer work. She never once questioned that she would make it. Always positive and strong. I do want to share one very funny story with you about this. If you or anyone you know has gone through chemo, you know the doctors ALWAYS tell you that you could be the one that does not lose their hair. Stella did believe she would be THE ONE that did not. The doctors told her it would happen anywhere between 7 and 10 days. So, starting on day 6, Stella would wake up by pulling her hair. When nothing happened, she’d remark that, “Yep,” she would be the 10%’er. Well, on about day 9, Stella and I took my mom to a concert in Fort Worth at the Bass Hall with a good friend of ours, Cathy Steward. And thank goodness I had purchased four back row seats in the lower section. About halfway into the first half our friend Cathy silently caught my attention and motioned for me to look behind our seats. There on the floor sat about half of Stella’s hair. What to do…. Of course I had to show and share it with her. As expected, it was clear she was disappointed that she was not a 10% ‘er but square in the 90%, she smiled and said, “Oh well.” At intermission, while standing in line for some adult refreshments, a long lost friend spied us, and made their way over and was all like SO GOOD to see you both…. And kind of slowly says, “Stella, I LOVE what you’ve done with your hair.” We both cracked up and then explained what was going on.
STELLA: So very true…. That next week, I did let my staff at the time take a swipe at shaving off what hair I had left. Now, I do want to say that my recollection of the story as Peggy being the incredible one. When you are sick, people really don’t know how to act, what to say or how to interact with you. Many folks in my life seemed scared. Peggy was ALWAYS there for me, and this is where we adopted the Driving Ms. Daisy -- as Peggy never missed a being at a doctor appointment with me, a surgery, or a chemo treatment, and always drove me everywhere. She still does, and let’s not tell her that’s not normal! This was also the time that we realized how important marriage and its protections and declarations are. We had to seek out attorneys to write our wills and get special documents drawn up in the hope it would ensure that if the worst did happen, Peggy would get to consult with the doctors, our families would honor our wishes, and the list goes on. And while I did do my best to always remain positive, it was these concerns that weighed the heaviest on my mind. Had we been a heterosexual couple in Texas after three years of living together, we’d have been married and these items would not have been of any concern. Our marriage documents would have protected us and covered all our concerns.
PEGGY: Neither Stella nor I were completely out to our families, friends and our co-workers at this time. We also realized we needed to take care of this business as well. So throughout this experience we declared our love and relationship to those family members, our dearest friends and co-workers, etc., who we wanted to know. Since everything worked out for Stella 17 years ago, we both will tell you it was a great experience to have shared together. But another funny story I want to share is that during this time Stella’s mom, a fundamental Baptist ministers’ wife, retired from her full-time job. My mother required a full-time caregiver at the time, so we asked Stella’s mom to take care of my mother. And it was really my mother who outed us to Stella’s mom. Yes, one night after we’d had dinner with them at my mother’s place, we left and my mom announced to Stella’s mom, “You know Peggy sleeps with that girl,” to which Stella’s mom replied, “I know, that girl is my daughter.”
STELLA: Life went on and returned to normal ... a very relative term mind you. Since then, we've shared good times, tough times, and sad times. Not only did we have to deal with the “C” thing, we have dealt with discrimination at work. And again, had Peggy and I been legally recognized as married at work, I am sure that my sexual preference would not have mattered at all at work. In addition, we have experienced the loss of a parent -- Peggy’s mom, and the loss of a niece who was the closest thing to a daughter that Peggy and I will ever have. I am proud to say we've grown together with each and every experience. We have also shared some amazing times together and feel very fortunate about some of the experiences we have had the good fortune to experience together. There are many reasons to choose wisely when picking a spouse. For the near and long term, the two of you/us spend a lot of time together, so being compatible, sharing values, and finding someone that makes you happy and brings you joy is incredibly important. When Peggy and I met and started dating 19 years ago, I am positive neither of us realized this is where we were headed. But in our case, it worked out and we are two very fortunate individuals. So Why Marriage, and why “I do?”
PEGGY: It is said that marriages are made in heaven and celebrated here on earth. This popular belief continues today because a marriage is a very special bond shared between two souls: whether those two souls are: a man and a woman, two men or two women. The act of marriage represents these two souls, “who tie the knot” after promising to be companions for a lifetime. For us, our marriage was an important turning point in our life; we believe it represented to our friends and family our physical, mental and spiritual unison. So, during one of the most painful experiences Stella and I have faced to date, we, along with our very best friends Julie Johnson and Sue Moster, flew to San Francisco and had back-to-back ceremonies. We married first and exchanged our vows with Julie and Sue being our witnesses and they married next with us as their witnesses. It was an AMAZING day, which we will always remember.
STELLA: Someone once said: “Happy marriages begin when we marry the ones we love and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.” The concept of marriage remains the same across the world, and, as we all know too well, different laws have been formulated to legalize the ceremony and relationship. For Peggy and me, our marriage was an act to show our love to each other, our commitment to, and acceptance of, each other, and it would become a symbol of respect toward each other and the love we share for all to see. It provides a proof to our family, friends and associates that we are committed to each other. A symbol of our love, understanding, mutual respect, trust, commitment and togetherness.
PEGGY: Marriage is a ceremony that reveals and confirms the greatest love there is. If love is a dream and marriage is the extension of that dream – when both dream and reality come together – it is the best thing that can happen to a person. For Stella and me, marriage was something we wanted and something we needed to do. Saying “I do” is truly one of the best things that has ever happened to either of us.
STELLA: Marriage is love, family, and commitment. And regardless of who we are or how we were made, we should all be free to marry the person we love. A year or so after acknowledging my full recovery, I wanted to thank Peggy for being the person she is. So, I purchased a keepsake from HRC that documented how I feel and why I said “I do” better than I could ever have said myself. It reads:
“You are always with me, a partner in life that enhances my accomplishments and helps me realize my dreams. Forever caring, forever sharing, you redefine the qualities of loyalty, devotion and love. Whether you are listening from the heart or inspiring by example, your contributions to my life surpass being significant.”
PEGGY: Thank you again for allowing us to share our story with you tonight.