Photo: The back of my wedding dress. I totally bought that dress just for this feature. I wanted something dramatic and beautiful.
It is 3pm Eastern Time, and 5 years ago today, I was walking into what would become an 8-hour drunken dance party.
My husband and I married in a beautiful church in North Carolina (in a time before it went crazy) in front of God, Man and Ancestor. We’d been on the journey to a lifetime of happiness for a long time–by the point, we’d been together as a couple for nearly 6 years–and yet, that ceremony was the true beginning of a fulfilling journey.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table with my mother and her good friend during my senior year of high school. I’d been dating my husband for a few months at that point, and it was time to get ready for Prom. More importantly, the college letters were in–I was going south to Virginia to go to school. Husband was staying in Maryland, on his way to the flagship state school on a full scholarship. I was sad, of course, because our relationship was so new and we were about to be tested with distance. Prom needed to be special because it was going to be one of our bigger moments before we were to head apart.
“There will be so many other men for you at Hampton,” my mother told me. “Beautiful young Black men, smart Black men, who are focused and wonderful, just like you.”
I was not interested in hearing another lecture from my mother about dropping my white guy and picking up a Black one instead. “Didn’t you marry some Black man from Hampton? How’d that work out for you, again?”
Her friend took over, “I know that this is fun and interesting right now. Your mother and I understand that you’ve always been a bit rebellious… but you are going to have to understand that White doesn’t always equal right…you know?”
“Nope,” I replied with a raised elbow. Rebel, indeed.
“Just keep an open mind. You have no idea what you are about to experience.”
That was true. I had no idea what I was about to experience. Husband and I said our goodbyes under the shady tree in front of my house and I cried as he drove away. We ended up leaving for school at about the same time–me for “Freshman orientation” (Read: The waste of 4 days on campus before other students come and we start school) and he for marching band practice (Read: The part of the year when he is sunburned, sore, and exhausted). But thanks to technology, we were forever emailing, IMing, and calling. In important ways, we were never missing each other. Then again, being on different campuses allowed us to grow and develop independently.
There were very handsome men on the Hampton campus. I remember spending many a time in the Student Union staring at the Alphas, dressed in the most dapper of ways, and wishing I was “that” girl who would even have a chance with one of them. There were other gentlemen who were more accessible–the guy in my math class, the two guys in my English, that one guy in my Political Science class who was a genius as well as beautiful… but none of them could match what Husband had. None of them could give me what Husband did, even 4 hours away. What I loved about Husband then and still love about him now is that he gave instant comfort and ease to life. Even in my most stressful moments (like when I over-slept for my first ever final exam and ran across campus and top speed in order to make it before the doors were locked), he was able to make me laugh, bring down my anxiety, and make me remember to breathe. It had nothing to do with the color of his skin. It had everything to do with his mind and his soul.
There were many reasons why I left Hampton. The majority of them were academic and social–it was absolutely not the college for me–but Husband was a reason as well. I needed to be closer. In ways, he is the reason why I ended up having the greatest college experience that I could ever ask for. UMBC, in my eye, is one of the greatest schools in the country, and wanting to be closer to Husband allowed me the opportunity to attend such a fantastic school. Indeed, I credit him for my acceptance into Harvard. i knew that his goal was to come up here for graduate school and I was determined to come with him. I worked my ass off, sought opportunities, got good grades and put in the applications so that way I could follow him whereever he decided to go. (The irony of this is that he wanted to go to Japan and I got into Harvard…and when he was on the fence, I told him I was going to go no matter what his decision was…)
When we left my mother’s home in North Carolina with a U-Haul and my Ford Taurus in tow in August 2006, I felt so good about what I’d accomplished. We were on our way to “Happily Ever After” in Boston. Us against the world while studying at our dream schools. Before long, we’d be Dr. and Dr. [Last name], two great thinkers in two important fields. We were going to change the world.
“Happily Ever After” is such a funny thing. The prince and princess get together and they have to figure out the quirks. And the quirks are where things get interesting, because they either drive you crazy or bring you closer. For me and husband, it was a lot of both. I learned that he likes to hang up all of his shirts–including his stupid free T-shirts from college. He left me about half an inch of closet space in our first apartment! I learned that he didn’t like the way I folded clothes. I also learned that when got angry, he snapped. He learned that i can be a bit naggy about things. He learned that I hold dinner time to be sacred and he had better have a good reason to miss it. He learned that I spend a lot of time doing stuff to my hair. He learned that I will go to the grocery store and spend too much money because I found a rare/interesting/high quality/crazy awesome ingredient and money is no object when it comes to that sort of thing.
Not gonna lie–There were a good two months in there when I thought I’d hitched my horse to a very wrong wagon. But as we eased into each other and into school, we found a very good groove. So when I didn’t get into that doctoral program and I had a choice, get a job here or get a job back home in Maryland, I started asking some tough questions about us and our future. I told him that we’d endured college, that we were comfortable, that it had been a great year… was he going to make me an honest woman or was he going to string me along?
He had another year of his master’s program and was looking at another 4 for his doctorate. Qualifying exams were going to come up soon. He was in love with me, he was happy to be with me, but he couldn’t plan a wedding. Maybe after graduate school, he told me. I told him that I loved him but I wasn’t going to wait for him for another 5 years. He was going to have to do something, or I was going to go home. We’d reached an impasse.
I went through the early spring months deeply contemplating moving out of that apartment, leaving Boston, leaving this man that I’d spent this time with, and starting all over again. The very thought of packing a single box brought me to tears. What about the things we’d bought together? What about the memories? What about the us that we’d so lovingly created? I remember sobbing over my computer in the library on Appian Way.
And so I decided that I would stay. That I wouldn’t push. That I couldn’t leave him. That I loved him and myself too much to walk away over something so stupid as time. We’d been able to last through so many other more difficult challenges–time would not be the thing to do us in.
So when he surprised me with the signature blue box that contained my engagement ring two weeks after graduation, I was sincerely surprised and elated.
We moved to a bigger apartment, I started my first full-time teaching gig, he studied for qualifying exams, and we planned a wedding. We were engaged for about a year and a half. The amount of time that he really needed to get his academic life in line.
One thing that I wanted to do on my wedding day was give members of our families a meaningful gift. We gave our aunts, uncles, parents and grandparents a pretty gift box with an acorn, a pot, and some soil. Their love and support had planted the seeds in us that grew into what would become our relationship.
It was so fitting to give trees on our wedding day.
Like a marriage, a tree can be so easy to find, easy to start, and yet so difficult to cultivate and grow. For it to exist, it must weather all seasons with bravery and resolution, dutifully working, even when we don’t see it. In the moments of glory, like the spring and in the autumn, many an onlooker gaze upon it in awe. We find inspiration from the many trees around us, looking up to them and their beautiful canopy. Some of us rely on a tree, for their cool shade, for a free umbrella against the falling rain, for a secret hiding spot above the ordinary ground. In the summertime, we take them for granted—their green just like all of the other greens in the world. So mundane, so uninteresting. Some of us seek the texture of sand, the exotic nature of palm fronds during these times… and yet, in the autumn, we come crawling back for the beautiful display that can only come from our home forestry. Even in the depths winter, when world is at its bleakest and the wind is at its cruelest, trees shimmer in their resilience. They wear the snow and frost as grand finery. They place their energy within themselves to continue to grow, even when the outside would kill them one frozen gale at time.
And a tree must endure and perform. Year one. Year five. Year twenty-five. Year one-hundred. A tree endures, grows, thrives. Always. Even when others see the aging bark or the gnarly branch, the tree is working. Even when lightening should split the trunk in twine, the roots run deep. As the acorns fall about it, dropping roots of their own and start taking resources, the tree continues on.
My husband and I are five years married. Eleven years together. We, as a unit, grow taller, wider (oh…so much wider), more intricate and elaborate, more beautiful as we grow together and indeed as we expand beyond ourselves. I was such a little girl when I met him. He was such a little boy when he met me. Manhood and womanhood have crept up on us, steadily putting more upon our shoulders and minds (and backs and foreheads and is that a gray hair???). Is it possible to grow only stronger, only closer as we go on? I think that the trials of this past year have given me a clear answer.
The fifth anniversary is traditionally the wooden anniversary. How fitting–this is the year when the honeymoon/newlywed feeling really does wear off and digging down deep begins. No decision we ever make is easy anymore, gone are the weekends of doing nothing more but spending time in bed, rare are the moments when we can look at each other and remember the early times of new love and the rosy feeling of getting to know each other. We are starting the years when our love must become something more than we can imagine. We must be our best selves every day, even when we don’t think we are, even if we don’t know if we ever can we.
I spent all week wondering what to give my husband today. Watching Ursa Minor on the playground, doing his best to find a place among children who didn’t necessarily want him to be there, I found my answer. As he was doing his best to make a friend, he started collecting the many, many acorns that had fallen on the ground and started handing them to people. It all brought me back to day one of this marriage.
We spent our entire year looking for a place in the world to put down roots, raise our children and become a true family. While it hurt to know that the soil we’d grow in would not be in Maryland, we worked hard to find the right community, and we’ve found a beautiful place. We looked at so many houses, settled on one and lost it… and now we fight every day for the house that I’m still hopeful (but not fully sure) will be our home. We’re planting seeds, again. So when I picked up a punch of those fallen acorns and brought them home with me, figured out which ones were viable, and ordered a pot and soil on Amazon.
Most beautiful things in the world grow from a single seed. To grow from seed is difficult, wonderful, miraculous. I am grateful for all of my days with a great man and our beautiful children.
I wish you a moment to look at your soil and the seeds that you grow. I wish you a time to say “I love you.” I wish you a moment of rebelliousness against those would keep you from your fate. I wish you a moment of conviction that comes from a stirring in the place between your heart and your soul. I wish you a moment of remembering where life went left instead of right, and you ended up alright anyway. I wish you a warm mug of cider on a crisp autumn evening. I wish you a new seed for a new project, and I wish that it will grow beautifully. I wish you joy on this Friday and every day.