A Relationship That Moved Like a Rolling Stone
In May 2022, Kevin Patrick Gleeson upended his life. He was in the process of dissolving his marriage with his second wife, had retired, left Woodside, Queens, where he had lived for the majority of his life, and relocated to Macon, Ga. He had no idea that love would uproot him once more a few months later.
“I hit every single museum, every hiking trail and every Native American burial ground,” Mr. Gleeson said. “I walked a lot of trails, praying for someone just like Lisa.”
While Mr. Gleeson, 63, had never tried online dating, by September he logged onto SilverSingles, a dating site for people over 50, and was immediately drawn to the profile of Lisa Anne Felix Smartt. It was a photo of her hugging a pillow that caught his eye. She “just looked so cute,” he said.
Ms. Smartt was nearly 250 miles away, in Asheville, N.C., when they started corresponding, but within a week, her adult daughter who lived in Berkeley, Calif., contracted Covid and was suffering acute symptoms. This, along with the fact that her mother, ceramics artist Susan Duhan Felix, had been ill and was in palliative care, brought Ms. Smartt back to the city from which she hailed.
Ms. Smartt’s 28-year-old daughter now has long Covid and has been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, which causes her to experience symptoms like extreme exhaustion and impaired mobility. Ms. Smartt became the full-time caregiver to her daughter, who is now bedridden, squeezing in visits to her mother when she could.
It was not exactly the optimal time for a new relationship, as Ms. Smartt was “exhausted and depressed,” she said, “and at times paralyzed in grief at the condition of the two women I loved most.”
Her correspondence with Mr. Gleeson became a wonderful distraction. When they broached the topic of spirituality, Mr. Gleeson wrote, “My life is a living prayer.”
“Holy smokes,” Ms. Smartt, also 63, thought to herself, using a saltier word than “smokes.” “I’m done.”
Mr. Gleeson, who has been in recovery from drugs and alcohol for nearly 38 years, said that while he was raised Catholic, he doesn’t ascribe to any one belief system. Rather, he lives his life “as an action of gratitude.”
“As part of my recovery, I’ve sat with inmates in prison and with people in psychiatric hospitals,” he said. “I don’t do formal prayers, but I live a life of gratitude and service.”
The son of two Irish immigrants, Mr. Gleeson worked for the New York Police Department as an administrative graphic artist for almost 18 years, where he designed their graphics.
He also plays guitar in a variety of Rolling Stones tribute bands, playing the part of Keith Richards. With the band Sticky Fingers, he has toured Europe and other countries numerous times. Divorced twice, he has two adult sons and recently became a grandfather.
Ms. Smartt’s Jewish parents were New York transplants to Northern California, and born in the same Queens hospital as Mr. Gleeson. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and then earned a master’s degree in educational psychology from San Francisco State University.
As someone who survived childhood trauma and experienced addiction, Ms. Smartt developed an interest in near-death experiences; she is the author of “Words at the Threshold”; “Cante Bardo: A Song Between Lives”; and “Veil: Poems from Across the Threshold.”
“We started corresponding on a profound, intellectual level about our past, present and future, and our thoughts, beliefs and fears,” Ms. Smartt said.
They also shared about their previous marriages. Ms. Smartt had her adult daughter with her first husband; she and her second husband divorced in January 2020.
Ms. Smartt and Mr. Gleeson’s email correspondence soon totaled more than 100 pages.
“Kevin has so much soul, and kept telling me that he didn’t see himself as bright, as he didn’t have as much education as me,” Ms. Smartt said. “But he was writing me this incredible poetry and was so thoughtful.”
On the night of their first Zoom call, Mr. Gleeson serenaded Ms. Smartt with the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” and Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.”
A new piano student, Ms. Smartt told him she had been writing a song, and they began working on it together.
Soon, Mr. Gleeson read “Cante Bardo,” Ms. Smartt’s book about a flamenco singer.
“I fell in love with it,” he said. “Lisa’s writing really spoke to me.”
(Interestingly, Ms. Smartt’s mother fell in love with her father, poet Morton Felix, by reading his poetry; she was afraid of meeting him in person as she feared it might spoil it. They were married for 54 years before he died.)
They began having nightly Zoom dates, 7 p.m. Pacific time, 10 p.m. Eastern, so he could play a song for her at the end of her long days of caregiving.
When she told her mother she was falling in love, and introduced Mr. Gleeson to Ms. Felix on Zoom, Ms. Smartt’s mother said, “You can’t know if he’s the one until you kiss him.”
Mr. Gleeson booked a flight and a rental with a view of the San Francisco Bay, with separate bedrooms so as not to presume. Ms. Smartt asked one of her daughter’s friends to step in to care for her daughter in her absence.
On Oct. 23, about a month after they first connected, Mr. Gleeson flew to the Bay Area. He quarantined for several days upstairs in Ms. Felix’s home, and then got a Covid test before meeting Ms. Felix unmasked. When he did, he and Ms. Smartt kissed in front of her.
Mr. Gleeson played several Bob Dylan songs for Ms. Felix, at her request, that he had been practicing, just for her.
Ms. Felix was not shy about asking Mr. Gleeson about his intentions. She liked that he had both a solid pension and was an artist and musician. When he told her he was also handy around the house, that was all Ms. Felix needed.
“You should marry this guy,” Ms. Felix told her daughter. When Mr. Gleeson then dropped to one knee at Ms. Felix’s bedside and proposed, Ms. Smartt said, “I will gladly get engaged and then let’s give it some time to get to know each other better.”
“Some time” turned out to be only three months.
While Mr. Gleeson agreed Ms. Smartt’s life was complicated, he was used to being the caregiver, he said.
No matter how much work he had done on himself, Mr. Gleeson said there was a part of him that felt stuck as the person he was before he got sober.
“Lisa got me to be the man I was supposed to be,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good about myself or in my skin in over 40 years. She’s magic to me.”
“Kevin is magical, soulful, honest, caring, a survivor, and has a heart of gold,” Ms. Smartt said. “We’ve found that safe space to share openly and to heal.”
Soon, Mr. Gleeson moved them both out of the Southeast, and drove west in his van, towing Ms. Smartt’s car behind him. They found a house to rent together in Sonoma.
While at first, the couple planned a larger wedding in Ms. Felix’s backyard, the Covid surge expected after the holidays worried them. The date stayed the same but the wedding was scaled back to only five guests, plus Ms. Felix’s two caregivers.
The couple were married Jan. 21 by Elizheva Hurvich, a close friend of Ms. Felix’s who is a Universal Life Church minister and rabbinical student, in Ms. Felix’s living room, which had become her bedroom; she lay in bed next to the white tulle huppah decorated with lavender cloth roses; Ms. Felix also wore a Frida Kahlo-like crown of the same roses.
Six musicians from Saul Goodman’s Klezmer Band integrated the Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” into a klezmer tune as the bride and groom processed down the staircase.
Mr. Gleeson played a song he wrote for Ms. Smartt, called “One,” beneath the huppah.
Ms. Hurvich directed the couple to the front stoop of the house to break the glass.
After the ceremony, the group walked a few blocks, turning on University Avenue, where they danced a spontaneous hora on the sidewalk, while cars driving by honked their horns.
When they reached the Montecristo Taqueria, everyone ordered off the menu and shared a tres leches cake.
There, Mr. Gleeson announced he was taking Ms. Smartt’s name, he said, “to flip misogyny.”
On This Day
When Jan. 21, 2023
Where The bride’s mother’s living room in Berkeley, Calif.
Happiness and Hardship “While we are here to witness joy, we acknowledge that our lives are complicated,” Ms. Hurvich, the officiant, said, adding, “Who would guess that Lisa would find love, and not just any love but this love? In the midst of such hardship, it’s testimony to the miraculous.”
What They Wore The bride wore a white dress her mother wore at her own 50th anniversary party. The groom wore a black suit, and when they left the house, he donned a purple top hat.
A Mother’s Blessing The bride’s mother, Susan Duhan Felix, died Feb. 4, exactly two weeks after the wedding. She was 85.
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