It all started with the Washington Post, when I think about it.
In the summer of 1980, I'd graduated from college and went to Washington, D.C., to find a job as a writer. With only an English degree and zero experience, I waltzed into the offices of the Post to inquire about staff writing positions.
"We may have something coming open," the human resources person informed me. "It's in the library. But I'm afraid you're unqualified."
The Post's rejection was the coup de grace that came after about 45 days of fruitless job hunting, a final setback that hurled me toward Greensboro, N.C., to move in with my parents. I'd run out of money and self-esteem.
I still had determination, however. So I set my sights lower, looking for jobs at small-town newspapers in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virgina. After months of rejections, I received an offer for an entry-level reporting job at the Daily Herald in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.
Reluctantly, I accepted. I packed up my yellow, 1967 Camaro convertible and drove to this small city, with its smelly paper mills and hick farmers and Bible thumpers. Along the way, I had a talk with myself. "Forget about meeting someone," I said. "For the next year, focus on your career, get some experience. Maybe then you can try Washington or New York or another big city."
About one week into my job, I looked up from my computer terminal and saw Nick Parham.
Nick had come to the Herald to socialize with another reporter, Adrienne. He was the director of PR and community affairs for VEPCO, the local utility company. Nick was handsome, tan, and dressed in a Pierre Cardin suit. He did not belong here, I thought as I eavesdropped on his conversation with Adrienne.
Nick was showing Adrienne pictures of his recent vacation in Cancun, Mexico, which included, to my dismay, photos of topless women sunbathing on the beach. Now I was even more intrigued, and I finagled an introduction.
A week later--specifically June 3, 1981--I ran into Nick at the Planters National Bank. It was a Wednesday, and each Wednesday, practically the entire town went to the bank to cash their paychecks. I was thrilled when Nick said he'd read my Sunday column, even quoted it to me, and said he'd heard about my infamous review of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I said something that he thought was funny, and for the first time, I witnessed the famous Nick Parham laugh. His head tilts back quickly and this joyful, unrestrained laugh bursts forth, sometimes accompanied by a few drops of spittle, which landed on my arm that day and caused a tingle I still feel.
Nick invited me to his office after lunch. I went. He invited me to his house for dinner that night. I wore a Polo shirt purchased in the boy's department at Belk's. He grilled steaks on the deck of his lake house. We talked for hours about movies and books and our ambitions, and I still wasn't sure he was gay.
Finally, at 2 a.m., I decided to end the mystery without revealing too much about myself (though I wasn't exactly hiding anything by wearing a boy's Polo shirt).
"When you go to Raleigh for business, do you go out for fun?," I asked. "You know, to a bar?"
"Yes," Nick said. "The Capital Corral."
Jackpot--the Capital Corral was a big gay bar in Raleigh. We ended the night with a hug, and I returned again to Nick's house that weekend.
I moved to Charleston, S.C., less than a year later, and we continued our relationship long distance. We moved in together in Atlanta in 1984, then made our way to San Francisco in 1987.
In February 2004, when then-mayor Gavin Newsom defied every law on the book and invited same-sex couples to marry, Nick and I said our first vows. Within about a month, all those marriages were annulled. Four years later, for a few months at least, same-sex marriages were legal in California (until Prop 8 passed), and Nick and I took another trip down to City Hall to say "I do."
|Jim and Nick, the second time around|
I used to be philosophical about this. When Nick and I re-married in 2008, a TV reporter asked me what I thought it would take for same-sex marriage to stick. "Time," I said. "It's going to take time."
Now, with the news this week from North Carolina and President Obama, I'd have a different answer for that reporter. "It's going to take a fight," I'd tell her. "And this time, I'm ready."