The last thing Joseph Skillings remembers before his head hit the pavement was that he had stepped in to protect a woman who was being attacked by a man at a bus stop. It was January 2008, and Skillings was on his way home from planning a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for his second-graders at Adams Elementary School in Ballard. But what happened to him was more like a nightmare.
The man, who was never identified or apprehended, coldcocked Skillings and left him bleeding on the pavement. The woman disappeared from the scene as well. Skillings suffered a traumatic brain injury and spent several months in the hospital. Colleagues and parents from his school pitched in to provide around-the-clock companionship, run errands and take care of his beloved dog, Tucker. This was, by any stretch, a very bad year.
Until he met Michael Dickneite on an online dating service. “I had gone to online dating kicking and screaming,” Dickneite says. “But after I met Joseph, I thought, ‘Hmmm. This has potential.’” He showed up for their first date in 2009 carrying a massive bouquet of tulips, which Skillings still has. They were married in Canada in 2010, in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, and now live in Wallingford. “We would love to get married in Washington,” says Dickneite. “I feel a void, because our union is not recognized in our home state.” Adds Skillings, “It’s like having a double life.”
Skillings says that the brain injury has put his teaching career on hold. Since his accident, he has had trouble processing information and makes errors in judgment. Even so, he volunteers at Adams as an exam proctor, mentors troubled kids and raises guide dogs for Guide Puppies of Seattle. Dickneite works with blind students in vision rehabilitation for the public schools; he’s working on his Ph.D. They are very hopeful that the marriage equality law will be upheld by voters, but what if the bill does not pass? This is something that Skillings knows a little bit about: “We will never give up.”