The architecture of love: Oseguera-Willendorf

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THEN1: On June 1, 1995, Debra and Jaci pose for a photo at “The Prom You Never Went To,” an annual celebration for the gay and lesbian community held at the old Mountaineers club on lower Queen Anne. (Courtesy Jaci Oseguera and Debra Willendorf)
NOW: Debra and Jaci pose near the original location of the Mountaineers club, replaced by an apartment building sporting a ground-floor yoga studio. (Jean Sherrard)
‘Could I have this (second) dance for the rest of my life?’
By Jean Sherrard

Love means never having to say you’re sorry, right? Jaci Oseguera and Debra Willendorf, however, would beg to differ.

Throughout their 27-year partnership, they’ve collaborated in a particular everyday magic: apology and forgiveness demonstrating powerful lessons of love.

After long marriages to men, both women found themselves questioning their identities. Coincidentally, both arrived in Seattle in 1987.

Jaci, a Vietnam War protester, had left the Northwest 17 years earlier to raise a family in Honduras. Debra, born in the Midwest, wearied of following her peripatetic husband from job to job, finally choosing to put down roots in Seattle, where her love of the outdoors would flourish.

It wasn’t long before they were “brought out” (in Jaci’s words), joining the city’s vibrant lesbian community. Both recall meeting for the first time in 1989 at the Timberline Tavern, a legendary, now-shuttered gay and lesbian dance club on Capitol Hill.

Romance, however, did not blossom until several years later, when they met again at the Timberline. Call it love at second sight.

“We waltzed to Anne Murray’s ‘Could I Have This Dance?’ ” recalls Jaci.

Debra completes the song’s first line: “… for the rest of my life.”

Jaci and Debra at their 2013 wedding

Jaci: “And we just clicked. Dancing with her was like heaven.”

Debra: “Like we’d been dancing together for years, even though we’d really just met.”

Jaci: “I think I manifested Debra. I’d made a list of things I wanted in a partner. She had to have kids and love to communicate. No smoking, likes to dance, no more than five years age difference.”

Debra: “And I did not fit your list. I was nine years younger.”

Jaci: “What did it matter? I just fell in love.”

And to what do they ascribe their resilient relationship?

Debra: “We really appreciate and love each other and don’t hold grudges.”

Jaci: “Constant forgiveness. And always giving each other the benefit of the doubt.”

On Aug. 11, 2013, less than a year after Washington state legally recognized same-sex marriage, Jaci and Debra were married before a large group of family and friends.

THEN2: Debra’s and Jaci’s wedding day: (from left) Jaci’s grandson Javier, daughter Joline with son Jax, Jaci with granddaughter Avianna, Debra, and son-in-law Jim. (Doug Pigsley)
THEN3: Jaci feeds Debra cake at their commitment ceremony in 1995. (Courtesy Jaci Oseguera and Debra Willendorf)

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