A Natural History: Jill McDonough


A Natural History of My Marriage

Text and Photos by Jill McDonough

The first time I saw her, May 2, 1999, I felt like I had just been plunked down from a future in which we’d been together for decades, and I had to convince her it was me.  The first time I heard her name felt like the first time I effortlessly understood overheard conversation in another language.  Josey. Of course.  Now everything made sense.

I won her over by writing her a poem called “Ghazal for Josey.”  Every month when I repay some MFA tuition I feel smug about what a bargain I got.

An open relationship, quickly closing: only nobody you know, only out of town, only one time, only on jury duty, only sequestered, forget it.

When we had been together for six weeks I went to my friend Sudha’s wedding and got drunk and called Josey saying I want you to marry me and I think we should have a big Indian wedding like Sudha’s.

We are neither of us Indian.

On one of our first dates we were in the glass-bricked tunnel of Back Bay Station, on the Orange Line in Boston.  And she sang the “O Mio Babbino Caro” aria from Gianni Schicchi because she liked the acoustics there.  Mother.  Fucker.  Strangers cried out Brava!

We got civilly united in Vermont, had all the clerks of North Hero in tears.  Party A Name:  Josephine Alice Packard.  Party B Name:  Jill Susann McDonough.  Josey made the skirt I wore out of an antique kimono.

Figure 1: The stack of documents that added up to something like marriage before 2004. Note that Josey has kept the receipts paid to the various city clerks.

I am married to the most competent person I have ever met, good at everything she has ever tried including teaching me how to use a drill, a dremel, a table saw, a jigsaw, a circular saw, a miter box, a powder actuated nail gun, a nail gun, a pneumatic stapler, a putty knife, a trowel, plaster, spackle, grout, wood filler, window glazing, drywall screws, perforated washers, a Boston shaker, a julep strainer, a Hawthorne strainer, a Tap-Icer, and a Lewis bag.

Figure 2: Josey built a greenhouse out of old windows she found on the street.

Figure 3: Josey built a spice cabinet out of old wainscoting we found in the basement.

In 2001 we had a lawyer hook us up with wills and health care proxies and powers of attorney so it was like we were married.  We got married in Massachusetts on the first day it was legal, but we have to have a special lady gay smart accountant help us with our taxes and health insurance and understanding “non-relative resident” and “imputed income.”

Figure 4: No one has ever had more amazing arms than Josey, a more adorable chin. Here she’s fixing our leaky house with something she found in the garbage. Good lord.

Sometimes she wakes herself up laughing.  Sometimes she eats corn chips and drinks bourbon in her sleep.  She has a space between her two front teeth that everyone should have between their two front teeth.  I am anxious every day that she will die, that someday we will not wake up together.

When I had an emergency root canal and was so scared I was crying too hard for them to start, she came in and held my hand, watched the whole damn thing.  And that shit is nasty.

I have a hard time with the word “wife,” which I think sounds like “wipe.”  Josey’s my husband, really—look at that list of tools.  But ladies can’t be husbands.  Not even special-lady smart gays.  There is no solution to this gay problem for the married gays. Sometimes I introduce her by saying “This is Josey Packard.  She married me.”  Or, if I want a bartender to understand that I am important, I will say “I am sleeping with Josey Packard.”

Sometimes a silver hair glints in her curls, or she cuts her eyes to see if she has made me laugh, or I recognize whether or not she’s had coffee yet from the way she moves, and I feel like I got blindsided with a ragged plank of 5/8” Drywall.  It makes my nose sting, my eyes well up with tears.  If I could have her children I’d be pregnant all the time.

We have a Kwanzan cherry tree that Josey wants to prune.  But I want to wait until the branches start to bud, bring them inside and watch them bloom. She said, “Then we have to bide our time, get the ladder out when the snow is on the ground.”  In the middle of winter, we’ll fill up this house with whole branches of double-pink blooms.


Jill McDonough thinks a freezer full of casseroles is like money in the bank.  She foots the forty-foot ladder for her husband, Josephine Alice Packard, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.



“A Natural History of My Marriage” is part of the Natural Histories Project. Click here to learn more >>

Jill McDonough’s poem “Accident, Mass. Ave.” was featured on The Owls website as part of the Stamps Project. You can find Jill’s poem “Breast Like Martinis” and a recording of her reading it at the Slate website.  Jill’s first book of poems, Habeas Corpus, is published by Salt (click for more info).


  1. […] Jill McDonough wrote “A Natural History of My Marriage” […]

  2. Simply divine. I’m lucky to know these two.

  3. Aw. You two are perfect together!

  4. Shit. I want to marry you both, now.

  5. It gladdens my heart to read of your love. That’s how it’s suppose to be…if you’re lucky. My husband Byron and I have been married for 30 years and I still get excited when I see his car pull in the driveway! Met you 2 on Monhegan and totally understand.

  6. i just had wine with your sisters, one of whom insisted i read this…
    lovely, i am happy to read of your happiness and true love.

  7. Holy shit. That is so fucking beautiful. Where can I find my own Josey Packard? (Please don’t say Boston. I heard it snows there.)

  8. Can I just say I still start crying every time I get to the damn plank of drywall? And I think of Virginia saying of Leonard, “And my heart stood still with pride, that he had ever married me.”

  9. I can’t believe I’m reading this for the first time now, years after having met you two and so enamored I am googling the two of you together. And here I am. And here I am, thankful.

  10. Geeze Jill… that’s amazing and beautiful. Wow.

  11. wonderful, wonderful…

  12. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Wow!!! This shows the reality of life!

  14. Absolutely moving. You are both lucky that you found real love to last a lifetime. As you grow old together, you have a relationship that not too many people have (heterosexuals)!

  15. Wow…refrigerator compressor is next. We’ve been at this a while…33 years. Wonderful and fun.

  16. LOVE this blog OMG. If only we gays were as good with tools as y’all. I think I could make that window-greenhouse thing. I’m wicked awesome with a glue gun. HOLY COW, I know this is crazy, but I love you two! Will continue to read! 🙂 @toddwhitley and my blog below.

  17. Reblogged this on uhm… and commented:
    See: we love just like everyone else.

  18. Lovely post, and what a great poem – “Breasts Like Martinis” 🙂

  19. Everyone should have this kind of marriage in their lifetime. Maybe we all would be a lot happier.

  20. The energy and intensity of your story is irresistible. Thank you for making it available. One thing we gay people must do is find alternatives for the “Husband and Wife” definition. It is not right for us. Maybe X-Box and Play Station as a tribute to Rachel’s comments today –no, they can’t talk to each other yet so not them. Although Play Station has a certain naughty ring to it. Any ideas?
    Please. There has to be something better. We haven’t fought for so long and so hard just to be imitators.

  21. A lovely story, movingly told!

  22. I think I have sent this to my girlfriend four times now…it says everything I feel and more…so beautifully. Thanks, Jill.

  23. See. Love. Stay. Believe. Cry sometime. And hide your face in her ocean of comfort, arms around you, blind, deaf and dumb to rest of the world. Love? Here it is.
    A sudden glimpse of that fear in her eyes when you slip on the floor, someone spilled the water, and you yell like you had a fracture. It’s just a bruise, and a sprain, but I know what I saw there. And when she goes to the bathroom to bathe, you think of that and cry some more.
    Love? Here it is.

  24. This is a lovely tribute to your not-wife. It reminded me of the time I fell in love with a woman after she showed me her compound mitre saw. She was pretty bad-ass.

  25. That was lovely.

  26. Wow Jill. Just got to enjoy this after all this time! Perfect!! Much love to you both, your semi-cousin, Alison (Jennings, House, Rosenberg):-))

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