Two weeks after Sherrod decided to run for the Senate, I was hanging out at home with our dog, Gracie, when a white van pulled up in front of our house and slowed to a stop next to the bags of garbage piled at the end of our driveway.
It was trash day, and we were so new to this neighborhood that for a moment I thought maybe we’d moved to a place where they use vans instead of garbage trucks to pick up the trash. What did I know about the genteel far west side of Cleveland? I was fresh from two decades on the gritty east side, where no two homes looked alike and trash day meant dodging redesigned golf carts that zipped into the driveway and scooped up everything in sight faster than you could scream, “Wait, no, not the lawn furniture!”
This new neighborhood was way more sedate than that, if you didn’t count the roar of Weedwackers, leaf blowers, and ride ’em lawn mowers. Still, everything sure looked
calm on our sapling-lined street. Everything matched, too, which is why for weeks Sherrod and I kept pulling into the wrong driveways when we came home from work. It felt like America as you might imagine it if nobody but the Pilgrims had been allowed to migrate.
My radar, though, kicked in when the two men in the van jumped out and I noticed that they were wearing suits. I don’t mean jumpsuits. I’m talking dress pants, suit coats, and ties. And each of them had just grabbed two bags of our garbage.
“Uh-oh, Gracie,” I said to our aging, half-deaf, nearly blind pug. “I think we’ve got a problem.”
Gracie had followed me from her bed under my desk to the CD player four steps away because she can never get enough of me, which really matters sometimes, like when you’ve just realized that two men in suits are trying to steal your trash and you suddenly feel very vulnerable, and very much alone.
The only reason I noticed them at all was that I was leaning over my CD player in front of the window to replay one of my favorite Bonnie Raitt songs, “Something to Talk About.” Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to name the artist or the song, but if it weren’t for Bonnie Raitt I wouldn’t have been in front of the window. Even now, I feel a surge of gratitude toward Bonnie just thinking of how she helped me catch in the act two men in suits trying to steal our trash.
I’m repeating myself, I know, what with the men and the suits and the trash and all, but really, the first time you see something like that out your front window and not in a movie theater you feel the need to say it a few times to let it sink in.
“Gracie,” I yelled, “those two men in suits are trying to steal our trash!” I ran to the front door and threw it open.
Even with Gracie’s considerable disabilities, she could grasp the seriousness of the situation, probably because I started screaming, and I’ve been told, sometimes not so nicely, that I have a voice that carries.
“Hey! Hey! Drop that trash! Drop that trash!”
On cue, Gracie started barking so hard only one of her paws was touching the ground. That got their attention. The men in suits took one look at me and the beast, dropped the bags, ran to the white van, and tore off.
“You’re kidding,” Sherrod said when I finally reached him after calling his cell phone, his BlackBerry, his desk phone, and his scheduler.
“Do I sound like I’m kidding?”
“Oh, my God.”
“Did you get their license?”
“Their license plate number? Did you get it?”
I wanted to say, “Oh, sure, I whipped out the binoculars we don’t own, focused the infrared ray we also don’t have, and nailed the suckers.”
Instead, I started to cry.
“Who would do this to us?” I blubbered. “Who would care about our trash?”
Sherrod hesitated, then sighed.
“I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “Welcome to the campaign.”
I was the last person who wanted Sherrod to run for the Senate.
No kidding. Dead last.
Sometimes, when I was in Washington, I felt the need to explain that I am not the kind of political wife whose life revolves around her husband’s career, and usually the person on the receiving end of this information would look at me as if I’d just admitted I needed the Fork of Shame in a restaurant where everyone else was using chopsticks. This was when Sherrod was a congressman. When you are a woman married to an elected official in Washington you are always, first and foremost, a political wife, and you are expected to toe the company line in a town where the commerce is power and politics. In such a world, the standard public version of the political wife is sleek, silent, and supportive, as seen and unheard as a Victorian child.
So I had a problem. My voice carries, remember? I’ve also spent all of my adult life as a feminist and a journalist, most recently as a newspaper columnist, sounding off, speaking my mind, giving my opinions without waiting to be asked. I had been getting all kinds of rewards for drawing attention to myself: a salary, health care benefits, my own mug shot at the top of the page twice a week. The thing is, if I can’t get others to notice me, they’ll never pay attention to what and who I care about, like hourly workers’ right to a living wage, innocent men holed up in prison, a law that requires every man to own at least one denim shirt. Okay, I made up that last one, but I can dream can’t I?
I don’t mean to suggest that a woman who is a feminist and a columnist accustomed to lugging around her own megaphone can’t fall in love with a congressman, and even marry him. In fact, I’m living proof that this is exactly what she can do, although an awful lot of people like to point out that we’re not your typical combo platter. They don’t mean to suggest we’re special. Most think we’re odd, if not overly optimistic. In any case, I’m a wife paid to give her opinion, so I’m your basic nightmare as a political wife, not to mention for any political consultant.
Not for Sherrod, though, which is one of the reasons I married him. He happens to love my opinions—most of them, anyway—and we tend to agree on most things, too. He is forever pushing me to speak my mind. He also shamelessly gushes on my behalf. Even total strangers tell me how proud he is of me. They know this because he often manages to work me into speeches about job-killing trade agreements and the doughnut hole in Medicare Part D. Now, that’s love.
When we married in April 2004, I knew that I was marrying a member of Congress, but I didn’t feel as if I was marrying a congressman. I fell in love with Sherrod, a smart, passionate, funny guy who claimed within weeks of meeting this longtime single mother that he knew he’d found the love of his life. The feeling was mutual, much to the shock of everyone I knew—especially me.
Like many women, I’d lived numerous lives by the time I met Sherrod. For eleven years I was a married, stay-at-home mom who wrote freelance stories at my kitchen table. Then, in the time it took me to say “But I want a career, too,” I became a single working mother, and I’d been doing that for another eleven years when Sherrod showed up. By then, I had figured out it was best to pave your own road to happiness, and mine took me to a place where, for the most part, I was fairly content.
I did have the occasional pang of loneliness. I recall a time when my daughter, Caitlin, who was nine at the time, couldn’t sleep. She asked if she could climb in with me. Now that she’s twenty and I’m lucky if she’ll even make time for lunch with me, I’m so glad I never said no when she believed just lying next to me would solve all her problems. She snuggled into bed with me that night, bringing our dog and two black cats with her, and was sound asleep in the time it took her to tell me she loved me. A long time later, I was still awake, lying flat on my back and thinking, “There are five beating hearts in this bed, and not one of them is a man’s.”
My dear friend Bill Lubinger once asked me, “Is it hardest to be alone when you have bad news?”
“No,” I said, “it’s harder when you’ve got good news.”
Overall, though, life was hectic but rich. My son, Andy, was already grown and pursuing love and his doctorate degree at The Ohio State University. (If I don’t include “The” in the university’s name, we’ll be noting my mistake in the paperback edition of this book. The things academia obsesses over.) I took care of my daughter, tended my friends, and held my mother’s hand as she took her last breaths. From that moment on, I also tried to be a good daughter to my grieving father, a retired factory worker who had always hated his job and most of his life and now he was mad at God, too, for taking Mom away so soon.
“Why does she
have to go?” he asked me outside her hospital room two days before she died. “It was supposed to be me.”
How do you answer a question like that? For five years and running since then, I’d been trying.
So, by the time Sherrod sent me his first e-mail asking where in the world The Plain Dealer
had found me, I’d done plenty of living and was glad of the adventure. For the record, I’d never laid eyes on Sherrod before, but I had read his book, Congress from the Inside. I had never shaken his hand or interviewed him or included so much as a paraphrased quote from him in any story I wrote. If I had, I wouldn’t have gone out with him. Some stories you’re glad you missed, which I didn’t know until I was forty-five and slid into the restaurant booth opposite Sherrod Brown on January 1, 2003.
He showed up wearing four days’ growth of facial hair because he was afraid of looking too eager. He also wore a sweatshirt from Lorain Community College. He didn’t even own a shirt from his alma mater, Yale, which he told me almost immediately and which earned him big points. He also brought two pages of his favorite quotes. He had typed them himself and then folded the pages into the back pocket of his jeans, which had holes in the knees.
I was in love by the time we ordered coffee. Sherrod, ever competitive, swears he knew I was the one as soon as I arrived, after I dropped my coat and then nearly head-butted him when we both bent over to pick it up.
We were engaged by Thanksgiving. We married on my mother’s birthday the following spring. Our children—Caitlin and Andy, and Sherrod’s daughters, Emily and Elizabeth—walked us down the aisle at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland. Sherrod is Lutheran, so we ended up with three pastors—Pilgrim’s pastors, my friends Kate Huey and Laurie Hafner, and Sherrod’s pastor from First Lutheran Church in Lorain, Linwood (Woody) Chamberlain. At our reception, Sherrod said when a journalist marries a congressman, you need three ministers.
I had lived in a rented duplex in Shaker Heights, on Cleveland’s east side, for eleven years, while Sherrod lived in his congressional district in Lorain on the far west side. After we married, he needed to continue living in his congressional district, but my daughter, Caitlin, was a junior in high school, and we did not want to further yank the yarn on her unraveling life by making her move and change schools. Also, most of her memories revolved around life with her single mom, and no one filled a house—or a life—quite like the irrepressible Sherrod.
“He takes some getting used to, Mom,” she said early in our courtship. This was right around the time he decided that our precious pug, Gracie, had a name that didn’t match her face, so he renamed her Rufus. To Caitlin’s horror, Gracie immediately took to the new moniker.
“Your name is Gracie,” Cait would tell her beloved pug. “Gracie.” The dog would wag, wag, wag her tail—until Sherrod called “Rufus!” Then off she’d go to her new best friend.
Cait was growing increasingly fond of Sherrod, though, which I first discovered while we were watching C-SPAN one evening, waiting for Sherrod to give a speech on the floor of Congress. The coolest people turn into C-SPAN nerds once they’re related to a member of Congress. You also find yourself referring to people you can’t stand as “my friend across the aisle.” Strangest thing.
As soon as Sherrod popped up on the screen, Caitlin turned to me and said, “You know, Mom, I do care about Sherrod.”
I know thin ice when I’m sliding on it, so I just tiptoed. “That’s nice, honey,” I said. “I’m glad.”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding her head as she stared at the screen. “If he died? I’d cry.”
So, for a year and a half, we kept two households going, which meant we were forever leaving something on the other side of town. When Cait graduated from high school in June 2005, we merged. By the end of that summer, we had moved together into a development, chosen because it was near the airport and only a half-hour drive to my job in downtown Cleveland.
Our children’s lives were humming along. Caitlin left for college in Ohio that September, and Elizabeth returned to Columbia University, where she was a senior. Emily was married to Michael Stanley. They lived in Brooklyn, New York, both of them working at jobs they loved. Andy had brought to our wedding a remarkable young woman from Long Island named Kristina Torres. He claims that when he asked if he could bring her, I immediately asked, “Is she worth $115?”—referring to our cost per plate at the wedding reception sit-down dinner. I was simply trying, in a mother’s subtle way, to establish whether this was a serious relationship. They have since set a wedding date, and I like her. Definitely worth the $115.
Our children were off living their lives, and we could finally settle into our own. For the first time, I felt that I was Sherrod’s full-time wife, and that person evolved in the moments hidden from public view. Sherrod’s wife twirled the curls of his hair around her fingers in the darkened movie theater and listened to him play “Let It Be” on the piano late at night. She took long walks with him even in the rain and sat like a girlfriend on the front stoop waiting for him to pull into the drive. Sherrod’s wife had Sherrod all to herself, at least once in a while, in those private, unscheduled moments that incubate a marriage and keep it alive.
Then the earth shifted.
Suddenly, Sherrod was considering a run for the Senate.
A Democrat had not been elected statewide in Ohio for fourteen years, but the political climate was changing dramatically in our state, and the gale winds were threatening to topple the Republican Party.
Excerpted from . . . And His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz. Copyright © 2008 by Connie Schultz. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.