On Love: ‘I see in you the fire of life’

Kit LaCroix credits two things with her recovery from a psychological breakdown that became the bleakest chapter of her life: the steady love of Bennett Mace and the rise of the Occupy movement.

LaCroix had been happy in Chicago, where she failed to finish art school but found work waiting tables in a pub. She tamed the social anxiety that first appeared during college and relished the banter with customers as much as the solitude of her studio apartment. Then the recession hit, her tips dried up and for two months in a row she couldn’t make rent.

Reluctantly, LaCroix moved home to Fairfax City to live with her parents in early 2009. She took a job doing customer service for a government contractor but was largely friendless and bored. So she began popping into the Auld Shabeen, a bar near her childhood home, and quickly became acquainted with the other regulars.

Among them was Mace, a bearded, gravelly voiced man who grew up in the Netherlands, worked at Starbucks and seemed to know everything about everything. One night LaCroix showed up with a historical fiction book about Medieval Wales and Mace began expounding on the events of the period.She felt as if she were listening to a nutty professor. “He was like a stocking on Christmas morning,” she says. “Like, ‘There’s all sorts of weird stuff down here — let’s see what we got.’ ”

He told her that he grew up with Asperger’s syndrome, which led to difficulty reading social nuances, that he’d had a major depressive episode during high school and that, until recently, he’d spent a lot of time feeling bitter about things that had gone wrong. Now he was trying to focus on what could still go right.

When he found out it was LaCroix’s birthday, he suggested they meet at the bar. By the end of the night, they were making out in the parking lot of her old elementary school. The next weekend he asked her on a date to Summers, a soccer bar in Arlington. She didn’t go home for two days. “There was just all sorts of driving and philosophizing and killing of the time,” she says. “And it just flew by.”

“I immediately understood that she didn’t have as high an opinion of herself as she deserved to have,” he recalls. “I was very taken aback by her intellect, by her social instinct.”

LaCroix loved to listen to Mace and found him greatly calming, but she resisted the idea of a relationship. In the past, men had fallen for her free spirit but then tried to change it. For much of the next year they floated along nebulously, spending most of their time together but refusing the labels “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

But in May 2010, Mace grew frustrated with his work at Starbucks. They began to talk about marriage. If they were married, they realized, she could add him to her health-care plan and he could quit his job. “We were like, ‘This really makes a lot of sense,” she says. “Of all the people I’ve ever known, this is the person who I would love to be 70 years old with, sitting on a Barcalounger hearing history unfold around us.”

She logged onto Web sites for partners of people with Asperger’s and chatted with other members who told her the condition was “incompatible with marriage.” But LaCroix had better communication with Mace than anyone she’d ever known and found the direct honesty of their interactions refreshing. “From day one we’ve always had that ability to be like, ‘Hey, this is what I need,’ ” she says.

They decided they would have a civil ceremony quickly and plan a wedding for 2012. But three weeks later Mace found LaCroix in a panic, frantic about her job performance and contemplating suicide. He took her to the hospital and visited every day for the week she was there.

When LaCroix was released, she began therapy and tried various medications but became reclusive. Mace lives in the basement of his parents’ house and she spent most of her time there, making paper flowers and other decorations for the wedding. “It was this long, difficult period and he stuck straight by me — never even wavered,” she says. “He was the most supportive person I can ever imagine.”

They were legally wed at a courthouse that September., two days before her insurance was set to run out. He continued to work at Starbucks until the following May, when he began babysitting for his 5-year-old nephew. The couple signed up for a COBRA health insurance plan that allowed them to continue to afford their medications.

When a friend invited her to an Occupy protest in October, the message resonated. A week later, she and Mace returned to Freedom Plaza with a tent. “For me and my current battle with mental illness, that was really the icing,” she says. “I went from zero to 60. I was on committees and doing actions, just totally out of my shell and back to my old self again.I felt appreciated for who I was and what I was contributing.

The pair stayed until late November, when they left to focus on wedding planning. For their Jan. 15 celebration, which they consider the real start of their marriage, Mace crafted personalized rubber stamps for each guest. LaCroix made all the bouquets, and as her masterpiece, an 1800s-style wedding dress with a green corset, ivory bustle and a six-foot train. It was sewn out of curtains from J.C. Penney and a local thrift store.

A friend from the Auld Shabeen officiated the ceremony at the Old Town Hall in Fairfax. Mace had tears in his eyes as LaCroix walked down the aisle to “Baba O’Riley” (perhaps better known as “Teenage Wasteland”) by the Who.

“Before I met you I lived within a zone of comfort. I had ceased to be curious,” he told her. “You saw through my aloofness and dared me to take a risk. I see in you the fire of life.”

At the reception, cousins and uncles mingled with friends from the Occupy protests, who were variously clad in dark coats, plaid kilts and black boots. One approached the bride and told her he had a wedding gift for her. “A cold?” she asked cheerfully before examining his face. “Oh! You shaved!”

With the wedding over, the two are planning their return to the protest. And LaCroix knows that whatever happens after that, it will be an ad­ven­ture.

“I have yet to have a single day of knowing Benn where I have not been delightfully surprised by something,” she says. “He knows so much and there’s so much to pick in that brain — there’s definitely a lifetime’s worth in there. I’m not going to get bored with this one.”

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