Amber Whitlatch puffed at her purple-red bangs, introducing herself and her husband Jeff from my porch. After the obligatory salutations, she emphatically added, “God, it’s too damn hot out here.”
Once inside, she began rifling through the kitchen cabinets and commenting on the “insane organization” found within. The investigation quickly turned into a self-guided tour of the entire home, including the walk-in shower and bedroom closets.
“That’s Amber. She’s not afraid of anything, even social norms,” Jeff said and shrugged, following her from room to room. He smirked as she shrieked with delight about a piece of artwork on her way to the master bath.
“Nope, I’m not. Why live that way?” she answered back and opened the one cabinet in the bathroom I wished she hadn’t. “Us girls all have our periods,” Amber said, moving on.
Soft-spoken Jeff tempered the feeling that this home interview-turned-invasion was now out of my hands. “She has a naivety that always gets her into trouble, but it’s charming, and it’s pretty endearing,” he said.
“I have one more room to look at and then I’ll be good,” she said, adding, “Tell me that you hire a housekeeper, or I’ll kill you.” She must have missed the cobwebs in the corner of the dining room.
Amber’s assessment ended with praise for the kitchen countertops made from poured concrete. “Concrete’s great, just in case you need sturdy countertops for some sort of activity,” she said as she tested the counters by leaning her body weight against them, winking.
Jeff plodded along as he filled in the gaps or reorganized the details once they were told, but Amber allowed her emotions to take over, and cried more than once when referring to her husband.
“I am under lock and key with this man,” she said, her aqua-blue eyes pooling with tears. “He holds the keys. I am more free than any other woman that I know.”
This revelation contradicted another statement she’d made earlier, when she said more than once that she has been “non-exclusive” in all of her relationships.
“We’ve never been exclusive. If some exotic, erotic Armenian comes and sweeps me off my feet, I will say, ‘Bye Jeff.’ ” She laughed for several seconds and then turned quiet, as if she knew her statement wasn’t true.
This roller-coaster approach to conversation mirrored the path of the highs and lows in their relationship. And strangely enough, this arrangement has worked for them for more than two decades.
In 1988, Jeff and Amber met at Broken Arrow High School soon after Jeff’s family had moved from Ohio to Oklahoma. The “new guy” brought with him an entirely different culture—part Sid Vicious, part Johnny Rotten, all punk—that the town of Broken Arrow had never seen.
“He had this six-inch-tall, blond mohawk combed over to the side, silver nose ring hanging out of his nose, and black combat boots,” she recalled. “I had never seen anything like that, ever, ever, ever. My heart just dropped into my stomach and I said ‘That’s the one I want.’ ”
Amid the odors of cheesy nachos and rib sandwiches, Amber crossed the school cafeteria to reveal her intentions.
“Amber passed me a note that said she wanted to get to know me,” Jeff said. “But I thought she was a little odd, most definitely. She wore vintage clothing, had long hippie-ish hair and would sit out in the middle of campus and meditate.”
“He thought I was a total slut,” she said. “He told me that the first time he saw me, he was reminded of that Prince song, ‘You need another lover like you need another hole in the head.’ ”
Amber confessed not only to dating eight boys simultaneously, but also to the revelation that “throwing herself at Jeff” didn’t seem to work. “Slowly he started becoming friends with all of my other friends and then we started talking. School was almost out and we became inseparable,” Amber said. “By senior year, we shared a locker and before school we’d go have donuts and coffee. We were just best, best friends for a long time.”
But due to Amber’s enthusiasm for non-exclusivity, Jeff’s romantic interests stalled out at the friendship level. He refused to give Amber what she so clearly desired.
“I had been begging, ‘Can we please have sex, please?’ ” she recalled. “But Jeff said, ‘I can’t stand to be number eight on your list, Amber.’ ”
One by one, the boyfriends fell away and the list narrowed down to one. With the timing finally right, the couple’s first experience beyond friendship was “under the cherry moon romantic,” as Amber had hoped it would be.
However, the “cherry moon” loses its glow when real life seeps in. The relationship survived its bouts of break-ups. Amber, for instance, opted to go out with a “band guy” rather than celebrate her and Jeff’s one year anniversary. It survived new players added to the team, with even her female roommate being fair game during Amber’s “growing-up” phase. It survived several years of silence after Jeff professed his love and Amber responded with, “I never want to see you again.” And it survived several thousands of miles apart as Amber moved to Los Angeles to see beyond Oklahoma.
But, it survived.
“We dated for 10 years before we got married and we were engaged for 4 or 5 years,” Jeff said. “So, the ceremony of marriage seemed superfluous since we had been together for so long.”
But it was something they both still wanted, although Amber wonders whether Jeff would have been “happier getting a monkey” than getting married.
Both Jeff and Amber “flatly refused the death do you part, faithfulness bullshit” typically promised in a wedding ceremony. Instead the couple agreed to “love each other as long as the love lasts” because for Amber, “Who knows what tomorrow may bring?”
Jeff and Amber Whitlatch were married at the Nightingale Theater, which they opened in February 2000. Jeff made sure that no Armenians were invited to the wedding.