I Choose You, Part III
All of Manhattan could’ve crumbled around me, and I would’ve been none the wiser.
I had just run headlong down the aisle of the tallest church in North America, my feet clad in gold Michael Kors heels, a brand new ring of Tiffany diamonds glinting on my left ring finger.
I got married, and you couldn’t tell me NOTHIN.
We paused in the aisle to kiss, and Grace paused a moment too late to catch us. Nevermind, we figured. Many more kisses to come. Mere hours before I would’ve demanded we redo the kiss, determined to catch every “moment” on film. But for a brief (very brief) and shining moment, I let go of control and surrendered to the joy of the instant, the abounding grace in that fleeting second. Let the moments emerge on their own, and anyone as skilled with a camera as Grace will find them where you least expect them. And they will be just as beautiful as the ones you plan meticulously.
We burst out into the lobby of the church, and I drew breath for the first time in what felt like hours. We were then ushered into the chapel for the briefest moment alone before signing our marriage license.
“We did it!”, she said breathlessly to me.
“We got married!” I nearly shouted.
Our parents and bridal parties bounded in right at that very moment - there was never a more multicultural, multinational, many-hued gathering of kindness than in that room right then. More than once in the 18 months of wedding planning we would extol the virtues of our tribe, often wondering aloud how we could’ve gotten so lucky as to have had such wonderful people in our lives. I jumped into my Dad’s arms for the second time that day. “You did it!” he shouted. My mom took me by the shoulders.
Reverend Palmore and Angela brought our wedding paperwork to us, and the realization trickled in ever so slowly that we were married. It was unreal. Tobi (one of my maids of honor) and Darius (Elena’s best man) stepped forward to sign our marriage license.
As we gathered our family members for formal portraits, I let myself imagine the future yet again. Years from now, pointing out these faces to our children. Showing them who they look like, where they come from, who loves them.
Family means everything to us, and not without good reason. Elena is the youngest of 3, and I’m the youngest of 5. My family has a Brady Bunch type story - my mom was a single parent of two young adult daughters, my dad had two young adult sons. Having spent their late teens, 20s and 30s raising children, they were content to spend their 40s enjoying the peace and quiet that adult children and stable careers tend to afford.
Then the Washington Redskins (our family’s lifelong team) won Super Bowl XXVI, and Valentine’s Day followed shortly thereafter. Much to their immediate and total shock, and later to their joy, I showed up that November.
Having another baby at 41 erased all hopes and plans for calm and quiet in their golden years, but I work every day to make sure that I was worth it. I was born into a ready made family - a mother and father, two sisters and two brothers. Whether it was needed or not, I united them - all 6 adults in question were now truly related because they shared me. And I shared them.
And while we’ve celebrated plenty of birthdays, both sides of both families have endured significant heartache - in a 5 year period, my Mom lost her own mother, aunt, uncle, and two of her sisters. In the decade surrounding, my sisters lost their paternal grandmother and my Dad lost his brother, father and beloved nephew. Elena lost her mother in her last semester of college, and her great grandmother less than two years later. She lost an aunt in 2015. In 2012 and 2016, I lost close friends - one to a sudden, fatal heart defect, and one to an car accident.
As we planned the wedding I couldn’t help but feel that this gathering of family would be healing for us all - we chose Elena’s mother’s birthday as our wedding day. A new beginning to a new chapter in all of our lives, one that will be filled with many more visits, lots more time spent together, and hopefully, more children. This is the “More Life” chapter of our newly joined family’s story. We 5 siblings are scattered across 3 states with our various spouses, children and jobs - I can’t tell you the last time we were all together. But I was dying to recreate this photo:
And though I couldn’t quite climb on my brother’s back in that gown, we did.
Our big, Black, joyful loving family. And we’re still missing a few. These are the people who raised us, loved us and brought us to this moment. This is the photo I will show my children. In comparison to other queer folks, we’ve had it easy. We had some bumps along the way with some family members, but everyone eventually came around. There was too much to be lost if they did not. My siblings LOVE Elena. Elena’s siblings love me. Her Dad and I are two peas in a pod. She adores my parents. She helps my 7-year-old nephew with computers, I help her 22-year-old nephew with his college work. We delight in our toddler grandniece. But as of that day, there is no more “hers” or “mine” - individual possessors are a thing of the past. Now it is our family, our heritage, our life. Now they’re our nephews.
I want each person reading this to see this very clearly: both sides of this multigenerational, unapologetically Black, devoutly Christian family in a church celebrating the marriage of their daughter/sister/niece/aunt to another Black woman. No compromise, no conditions. Love and only love.
What a mighty God we serve.
Once we took plenty of formal portraits, we hopped the party bus to the reception. There was lots of kissing and whispering happening between us. We couldn’t believe we’d done it. All the city seemed awake with color on that languid Friday afternoon - the weather had held up beautifully, and as we pushed our way downtown in rush hour traffic, I watched each face passing by. Do they know who’s in this bus? I thought. Do they know today is the best day of my life? Do they know that today a family was changed, updated forever? A woman balanced a grocery cart and a rambunctious toddler, an old man hunched over that day’s paper. Outside of this sphere it was a very ordinary Friday afternoon in New York City. That’s what I love about it. Any given day in Manhattan could be a grand one.
We had our reception in the Rare Book Room at the world famous Strand Bookstore.
With both of us being avid readers and all around nerds, it seemed only fitting that we’d celebrate somewhere literary. When our bus pulled up in front of the Strand, I had a bright idea to take a classic New York wedding photo.
I was not disappointed:
Dreamy as it all was, I was beginning to get anxious and irritated. The bus driver had changed the terms of our agreement RIGHT as we were getting off the bus, people were crowding us, we had lost track of our bridal party and I wasn’t sure how our entrance choreography was going to turn out. We had a whoooooole entrance music montage choreographed for the entire bridal party. I’m talking different songs, individualized choreography, a whole entire set up. Nothing less is expected when one of the brides is a dancer, correct? It didn’t quite go as planned, and the choreographer in me was ready to wreck someone. Our bridal party members weren’t supposed to go into the party until we got there, so that we could all enter together with the choreography. When we arrived off of the elevator, everyone was already inside! Elena sprung into action, and we quickly popped off to a side room where I was immediately brought snacks and told to put my feet up. I was hangry (hungry + angry) and anxious. Anxiety doesn’t take days off, y’all. On the happiest day of my life I still had to take 5 minutes for my mental health. I looked cute doing it, tho.
The choreographed entrance was as entertaining as you can imagine. I was so excited to see everyone there. Each of our bridesmaids paired up and had their own individual walkout music. It was like the NBA Finals. We chose Faith Evan’s Love Like This for our entrance music and there were a lot of rap squats. Mostly Elena, because if I even thought about getting too low in that dress, I’d be stuck there.
We had our first dance to Sam Smith’s acoustic recording of his smash hit, Latch. It had just come out when we first met and began dating, and it quickly became our song. Reverend Palmore even used it in his charge to us during the ceremony. She does lift my heart when the rest of me is down. And she does say often that I enchant her. And we both know what we’ve found.
My Dad and I danced to - get this- Ballerina Girl by Lionel Richie. We’re both such dorks, we whispered instructions to each other throughout. “OK, now to the left” “Alright, turn now!” - just to be sure everything went according to plan. As we danced, I was transported back to our living room, many years before. I had placed two tiny feet on my dad’s bigger ones, and swung around the room with him to My Girl, by The Temptations. I’ll always be his baby girl.
We had incredible speeches from Elena’s Dad (who, I shit you not, broke out singing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston), my Dad, one of my brothers, and our maids of honor and best man. Again, the refrain - look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now…
And then the turn up.
My good buddy Craig, a burgeoning name in the New York party scene, kept the vibe up all night long - every other song elicited a swell of approval from those in the crowd, the same “Awww yeah, this is my jam” that you hear at your Auntie’s July 4th cookout. I was so busy greeting people all night that I missed the opportunity to dance, but I was swept up in so much love from family and friends that I did not feel deprived. In fact, I was so overcome by the devotion of our loved ones that I hardly noticed the passing time at all. I picked up plate after plate of food provided by our amazing caterers, Night Kitchen, almost all allergen friendly for me and sinfully delicious. With each passing second my shoes got tighter and my gown heavier, but I was unaware.
The clock struck, but there were no pumpkins to be found. The room was still alive, every molecule electric with sweat and laughter.
So much love came alive in that room that night. Love unlike any of us had known before, love rekindled, love discovered, and joy abounding from each and eery face, from each and every step.
We cut our cake, made especially for us by our good friends at Aromas Bakery + Cafe, a stack of our all time favorite books. The cake topper was 3D printed by Doob, in SoHo. And YES, that’s Watson (our Dachshund puppy) in Elena’s arms on the cake!
Everyone was dancing, friends who’ve loved us for years were meeting each other for the first time, families came together and there was an overall air of familiarity and warmth. I could’ve kicked my shoes off and danced longer, Knowing the time was near, I looked longingly at my wife. My wife. Mine. Forever. Whatever it is that they say about your wedding night, one thing is for sure: as much as loved our families and friends, we truly just couldn’t wait to be alone. Anything else was entirely peripheral. As the haze of joy lifted I wanted those shoes off and that dress un-bustled and unzipped. I wanted french fries and some Parks and Recreation reruns. The fatigue had chased me down. Craig played Janelle Monae’s What An Experience for us as our last song, and we took our bags and ran through the crowd, hailed a taxi in Union Square, and sped uptown.
Our cab driver, a Muslim immigrant, congratulated us. He said “All love is beautiful and deserves to be celebrated”, he said. Too tired to be as overly gracious as I wanted to be, I merely nodded my agreement. I rested my head against the cool glass, Madison Avenue racing by just beyond. I closed my eyes against the whirl of the city scape, drinking in the sounds of an May night in Manhattan. Young women tottered about in pairs from bar to bar, too tall heels barely escaping the sewer grates, nursing half lit cigarettes in the smoky Manhattan moonlight. The fashionable set of my agemates engaged in the millenial mating rituals of Tinder and bars and wine and the fine mechanics of when to text back, as I turned the starlit diamonds on my brand new wedding band.
As we disembarked at the Plaza Hotel, On The Steps Of The Palace lilted across my memory. I supposed myself a Princess right then, as the uniformed doorman took my hand and I alighted from the taxi. Before me lay a glittering display of Old New York’s opulence, the kind I fawned over in Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence. There was a time when the gatherings of an age were held here, its luxury immortalized on paper and on film. It is still just as opulent, just as luxurious. True grandeur never really fades. Now here I stood, a Black woman who was once a Black girl from suburban Maryland, the great-grandchild of slaves on one side, immigrants on the other, reaching for another Black woman - my wife.
Our room was spectacular and blissfully quiet, the clamor of Central Park absorbed by cement and class and tile. We collapsed into armchairs, and released our shoulders down for the first time all day. The staff had been kind enough to leave us chocolate and 24K gold leaf covered strawberries and champagne, which Elena made quick work of.
She unzipped my gown and I slipped into the Most Comfortable Robe In The World. I’m serious. I did NOT want to take it off. I made a valiant attempt to take it with me. Alas, I was foiled by my own foolishness - my bag just wasn’t big enough.
Win some, lose some.
We crash landed on the bed and ordered late room service. Over empty plates, we whispered to one another, not daring to disturb the perfect, intimacy of that moment with too-loud voices.
“I love you”, she said. “I can’t believe we’re married”
“I can’t either. This all feels like a dream” I blinked, just to be sure I still could.
I buried my face in the crook of her neck, and she rested her lips on my forehead, kissing me gently. All that was coiled within me unwound suddenly.
I’m not afraid. I know who I married. Best of wives, and best of women.
only + always love,
P.S. - today's title comes from the sappiest song on Sara Bareilles' BEST album - I Choose You, from 2012's The Blessed Unrest