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Let’s Go Talk about Catering Events: A Conversation between John and Renee Gorham, Part Two

You ready for this? Of course you are. We're just getting started. Have you been on the edge of your seat since yesterday's post? Hope not because your ass would really be pins and needles after nearly 24 hours of that. Shake it off!

Here's the second installment of a conversation I recorded in the spring of 2012 between John and Renee Gorham.

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John: My marriage with Courtney was falling apart for a long time before we split up. Neither of us were happy. We were married for 12 years, and for a long time we were comfortable but we weren't happy. We're both good parents, though, so we had this strong idea that we needed to stay in the same house for our daughter, Ruby. That's when we decided that we'd have an open marriage but still live together. I think a lot of people in Portland try that, to be honest — being so progressive. So Renee and I were both in big times of change at that point, and we said, "Let's just have an affair and have some fun."

Renee: John and Courtney invited me over to use their hot tub in the early spring of 2008, which you know means trouble. I wasn't planning on doing anything but having a glass of wine and then going home.

Renee: After the first hot tub night in 2008, I went back a few days later to hang out with John and Courtney. In the very beginning, it was not just John and me together and Courtney and her lovers together; it was all three of us together — John, Courtney, and me. I promised that I would never spend the night there at that point. I knew that I absolutely couldn't do that and wake up in their family home. But four or five Manhattans later and, well, it happened.

I woke up there that morning and Courtney had gotten out of bed to make John and I coffee. She didn't drink it. John and I laid in bed together and that was the first time that we truly connected. When we got up, I got dressed and Ruby woke up not long after and said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Oh, I just came over for coffee."

I'll never forget the first thing she said to her dad when she was still in her nightgown. She looked up at John and said, "My papa has a big heart."She looked up at John and said, "My papa has a big heart." I've never to this day heard her say a thing like that. It was so poignant. He picked her up, gave her a big hug, and I saw John then as a papa for the first time. It melted my heart. I knew I was in trouble at that point. Then we sat around the breakfast table and had coffee. I was in the clothes that I'd worn out the night before, and I thought, I've got to get the fuck out of here.

John: A few months later, on the Fourth of July, 2008, Courtney talked to Renee about how she was uncomfortable and wanted to put an end to our open relationship. We'd gone white-water rafting with the entire Toro Bravo crew for our employee party. This was a few months into the affair. It ended with Renee leaving and me saying that I didn't know what we should do.

Renee: Something dramatic always happens to John on the Fourth of July. It's a big day in his life. I cooled down and came back to the party later that night, and I was the last person there. The next morning...

John: I packed my stuff and never went back. I knew I was over our marriage and needed to go. I went to Renee's house that night. In the morning I called my buddy Mike and asked him what to do. He said, "You're a grown-ass man; you're making money; you can afford it. Get a fucking apartment right now."

John and Renee in Spain

Renee: Let's backtrack for a minute. For a few months before Fourth of July, John would come over, and I swear to God we never slept. There were times when John would get an hour of sleep, but Courtney and John had Ruby, so they were living these double lives. When Ruby woke up, Courtney and John were always both home because it was supposed to seem totally normal — as if nothing had changed. There was a lot of driving home in the middle of the night.

What started off as really fun pretty soon became not what we signed up for. I really fell in love with John, so watching him leave at 5:30 a.m. was hard. There were times when I was at his house and Courtney was at her lover's house and we would drive past each other on the road at the crack of dawn. I still to this day have this image of all of us doing those drives of shame. It was kind of comical but, of course, bittersweet.

I'd been good friends with Courtney and felt horrible because here I was in a situation where I knew I was hurting my friend, but I was so madly in love with John. My rule from the very beginning was: I will never get fired for this and I won't leave work. I'm really stubborn and I always put work first.

John: After I left the house on the Fourth of July, the three of us — Courtney, Renee, and I — continued to work together for several months until New Year's, 2009. Courtney and I didn't work together too much, though, because of co-parenting. During most of that time, she and I only worked one day a week together.

Renee: Here's a story that kind of shows you how tense it was for the three of us to work together then. We were using these cheap glass Ikea pitchers at Toro, and the metal ice scoops would click on the edge of the pitcher, and the next thing you knew, broken glass would be everywhere. That wasn't okay, of course.

John: Renee had come to me because she was manager now. Well, Renee was managing five days a week and Courtney was managing two days a week. So Renee says, "I have a solution. We should buy plastic ice scoops and we'll have less breakage." So I put the metal ice scoops in the basement to use with dry storage, and I went and bought all new plastic ice scoops. When I got to work the next day, Courtney had been working and there were brand-new metal ice scoops everywhere. She had pitched the plastic ones and bought new metal ones. From there on out, if Renee was managing, the staff would bring up the plastic scoops, but if Courtney was managing they'd bring up the metal ones. Our staff was protecting the integrity of the restaurant with fucking ice scoops.

Renee: At this point in late 2008, just shy of a year into our affair, John and I had a relationship, but there was so much guilt and turmoil surrounding it. I put the restaurant first still, even though there were a lot of stolen moments and kisses and "catering meetings." John had a lot of guilt because he felt like he was breaking up his family. During that year, we broke up and got together over and over. We couldn't stay away from each other, but we also knew our relationship was full of strifeWe couldn't stay away from each other, but we also knew our relationship was full of strife, and we thought maybe we were making things worse. It was really painful.

John: I wouldn't share Ruby with Renee that first year so, as far as parenting went, I was always alone with Ruby. Courtney and I had our friends that were on the whole more sympathetic toward her, so for a long time I had to put a lot of energy into building back and maintaining those friendships. In the beginning of our separation, when I had any time off, it was me and Ruby and that was it. I was pretty lonely. I became a single dad to a little preschool girl — Ruby was three years old at the time — and it was really hard to get her together with other friends. In the end, though, Ruby and I are ridiculously tight because of that time together.

Renee: Friends chose sides as they often do. From the public's point of view, John was the asshole, Courtney was the victim, and I was the whore. John lost a lot of friends in that split, and I took a lot of grief publicly because of my role. I wasn't allowed to see Ruby or be in her life out of sensitivity toward Courtney. We also wanted to make sure that if we went ahead with our relationship, we'd be in a stable place before I was introduced to Ruby. That, of course, was a good idea since she was so young. The first time I was allowed to hang out with Ruby as John's girlfriend was when she was five. It was Christmas. There was a big snowstorm and John gave her a record player. It was a really big deal for me.

Before that there were many, many nights when John would have Ruby and I would come over after she went to bed and leave before she woke up. It was the same cycle over again — we're having an affair, and now instead of hiding from the public I'm hiding from a four-year-old. One morning during that time, Ruby had woken up and we were sleeping in the room next to her. When Ruby woke up, I did too, and I really had to pee. I couldn't go to the bathroom, though, because I wasn't supposed to be there for Ruby's sake. John had gotten up and was in the kitchen, and I got up, got my things, and just left. There was a door to the side yard in that room. That was a big end-all moment for me — one of the many times that we broke up. I thought, What the fuck am I doing? I'm a grown-up and I'm acting like a 15-year-old. I'm hiding from a four-year-old child. This is ridiculous.

John: Courtney and I decided that we wouldn't get divorced until we could calm down and do it logically. We didn't want Toro Bravo to dissolve. We always kept our mind on Ruby and the restaurant. I was so scared that I'd lose Ruby. I should have talked with a lawyer sooner to know what my rights were, because they were stronger than I thought.

(Read Part Three of "Let's Go Talk about Catering Events: A Conversation between John and Renee Gorham")

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Liz Crain is the author of Food Lovers Guide to Portland and Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull. A longtime writer on Pacific Northwest food and drink, her writing has appeared in Cooking Light, Budget Travel, VIA magazine, The Sun magazine, The Progressive, The Guardian, and The Oregonian. She is also an editor and publicity director at Hawthorne Books, as well as co-organizer of the annual Portland Fermentation Festival.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Food Lover's Guide to Portland (2nd... Used Trade Paper $12.50

Liz Crain is the author of Food Lover's Guide to Portland (2nd edition)

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