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Friday, December 2, 2016

My friendship with Jackie Cassara began over lunch in 1992, after she announced that she was gay as if it were a warning.

We had spoken over the phone a few times for a story about one of her colleagues. Jackie and I were both working mothers with young children. Our conversations were lively and fun and constantly veering off topic. After my story ran, we agreed to meet in person.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Jackie had only recently started coming out to friends and family. Reactions had been mixed, sometimes painful, and she didn’t want to get hurt by me, too. On the spot, she decided to test my reaction.

“I’m gay,” she said softly.

She caught me mid-bite and off guard. “Ohhh-kaay,” I said slowly, nodding like a bobblehead.

“I wanted to let you know that,” she added, “in case you have a problem with it.”

More nodding.

“Great,” I said. “Fine with me.” Or something equally silly.

I didn’t know what to say. Jackie was a kind and smart woman with great comedic timing. I didn’t really care who she loved. I just wanted her to be my friend.

Twenty-one years later, she’s more like a sister, the bossy kind who’s as hilarious as she is right. We’ve been through so much together: single parenthood, house moves, graduations and children abandoning us — or growing up, however you want to put it.

Jackie and I celebrated each other falling in love, too. Except, in this regard, I was not the friend to Jackie that she was to me.

When I agreed to marry Sherrod in 2004, Jackie helped plan the wedding and reception and taste-tested a dozen cake samples. On my wedding day, she drove me to the church and escorted me to the entrance of the sanctuary, where her partner and my friend, the Rev. Kathryn Matthews Huey, officiated.

Here’s what I didn’t do for Jackie: When she and Kate held their commitment ceremony in 1996, I worked instead. I don’t think I bought a gift or even sent a card. Whenever I ask her about this — and I’ve apologized countless times for my thoughtlessness — she refuses to acknowledge that I did anything wrong.

“We were the first commitment ceremony of anyone we knew,” she told me over lunch just this week. “Nobody knew what it was. And you had to work.”

No matter how many times she tells me this, I can’t shake the feeling that I let her down. Worse, I wasn’t the only one.