When I was a little girl, I did sometimes imagine being a bride, but I can’t say it was one of my life’s aspirations. I didn’t see myself walking toward a man at the end of an aisle and I really didn’t like the idea of the traditional female role in a heterosexual relationship… I felt it stripped me of the ability to express some parts of myself. I also knew early on that I didn’t hold boys and men in the same light as I held women and girls. The female species was intriguing, deeply in touch, mystical even. It was a serendipitous event that led me to have my first lesbian relationship at the age of 19. I tried for a few more years to see if boys could fill that space in my heart. They never could, and in 2004 I declared fully that I was gay.
Over some years of the regular gamut of relationships we all go through, I learned what love really was and what I was looking for. I am the steadfast, always at your side type of person and I knew that dating around was never going to be my favorite source of attention or pseudo love. I needed the real deal. I wanted the long haul. Although commitment is sometimes scary and saying forever is a little too much for me, I enjoy growing with someone and the beautiful progression of feelings that only time can bring.
In September of 2011, I did a walking meditation for something like 3 hours while in my brother’s swimming pool in Sanford, Florida. I was coming out of an emotionally charged and often draining relationship of over 5 years. I was worn down, but with a new sense of calm in my heart. I could see the light and love for life flood into me in the absence of all that I thought my last relationship had failed to fulfill. Where before this day I had tried and tried endlessly to fix whatever in life about me or her or us was ‘wrong’, I knew then that the relationship had run its course. Every fiber of me was ready to move on. It was a lot of realizations in a very short time and I knew I needed to let the universe know what I deserved this next time, instead of waiting around for whatever came.
I described a person, a soul that was kind and thoughtful. That adored people, loved others without needing a reason, and saw the beauty in sunsets and fireflies. Someone creative and not afraid to try new things, always. Someone with a good head on their shoulders and who made good decisions from the right place- their heart. Someone that would love me so fully that I would finally release my fears of abandonment. Someone I could soothe and heal with my own kind of special love, someone that sometimes needed me. I even went as far as to describe them physically. They’d be a full head taller than I am, with dark hair, light eyes and a sweet smile. Their arms would be thick and feel like home.
I let this vision and intention go and knew beyond any doubts that this person would come to me. I deserved it. I thought that I needed time to heal, or time to be alone and get to know myself, and that I would spend some time single and relaxed. But, the universe obviously didn’t agree. I was introduced to Candice via text and picture the next day when I returned to Tampa. Blue eyes and all.
She immediately felt like a close friend. I could answer the door without make-up on. I could tell her my corny jokes without worrying if she was judging me. I told her that I felt the world internally and lived by my intuition, sometimes seeing things in a sixth sense. I told her about my dysfunctional family’s past and all the bigger mistakes I’ve made. She didn’t even blink. When a subject we didn’t see eye to eye on came up, we discussed it… she heard me out, and I gave my full attention to her. We had the same ideals, lived by the same ethics, loved with the same depth of integrity. I tried to push her away on a few occasions. Honestly, the kind of love she gave me was foreign. I had never been loved so unconditionally and it scared the living crap out of me. What if this happens? What if that? But, but, but, but… With each time that I tried to distance myself emotionally, she would just be there, waiting patiently, understanding my need for space and loving me through it. I fell deeper in love with her over and over again because of this special trait of hers. Her patience with me. She intuitively knew exactly how to love me.
We were engaged within 7 months. I didn’t give it a second thought. A year into our relationship we sold all of our worldly things and backpacked together up the east coast of the US and down through Europe from Iceland to the Mediterranean Sea. There were many moments of tension. Spending so much time in such trying circumstances- foreign countries, a strict budget, travel plans, interaction with people, what to eat, where to sleep- I am sure would push the limits in any relationship. Somehow, we learned to handle conflict constructively and laid a solid foundation of complete trust and honest communication.
We started over in Asheville, North Carolina. For the mountains, for the open and accepting culture, for the great food and air of creativity. It was so ‘us’. Free spirits. And we made it work. I broke my leg and Candice was there every single day caring for me, for months, supporting us and being the perfect life partner. I went from someone who was so wary of commitment, unsure of what it meant, to someone who finally learned what real love looks like and feels like and how it acts in the morning… it was a huge leap for me. And I had my Candice to thank.
I knew I wanted to always be with this person that had been such a gift to my heart and life. But, here, in my own state, I couldn’t have my commitment validated. I couldn’t get married. It weighed heavily in our hearts that maybe we would have to leave this city that we have just gotten to know so intimately, because we could potentially run into issues if we wanted a family or a future on our terms. We talked about houses and things we are passionate about and babies and our purpose in life. We are a beautiful example of love. It was just plain sad that when I’d mention my fiancee and people would ask, ‘when are you getting married?’, my reply would always be, ” when it is legal”.
I never could understand how someone could justify that a relationship outside of their own could matter in their own personal life. How can the older couple down the street, that have two children and a shaky marriage to work on, possibly be concerned with who I love? How can they begin to know what we have gone through together? And why would they want to take the honor of proclaiming our love publicly away from me? I couldn’t live somewhere too long if my kind of love was not recognized, if I knew it was in other parts of the country.
News of the Supreme Court and the fourth circuit ruling last Monday got us all excited. We read article after article to weigh the speculation with what was real. I googled ‘gay marriage in North Carolina’ more times than I know, waiting for a new news feed to pop up.
Candice picked me up from work on Friday afternoon at 6:30 p.m. She said, “guess what”… but the look on her face was too evident for guessing. We rushed out the door and headed to the register of deed. We made it in before they closed for the evening. On our way out the door, the option to have our marriage officiated was presented and we rode the wave of excitement and cheers in this momentous occasion right to the front steps of this city building. We said our vows, holding hands, in front of a crowd of about fifty people. I would want to say they are strangers, but how can someone that knows exactly how you feel, exactly why this moment means so much to you, be a stranger? They are family, our human family. With a crowd cheering for our love, I looked at Candice with tears in her eyes as I said, and meant every word of “so long as we both may live”. The officiant asked everyone there to announce “Candice and Jessica, you are now legally married”. It echoed beautifully in my ears.
The moment was unreal. It took hours to believe that that had really happened. The day after I was a little emotional and wished maybe we could have waited for a ceremony or to have friends and family around. Really, it happened perfectly. I felt history. I lived it. The power of love won, and I was part of it as it reached outward. I am a part of it. I live it every day.
The love that Candice and I share is deserving of every right that could ever be bestowed on an American. On any human being. On any soul for that matter. Love is love. If I changed my story to say “I couldn’t imagine my life without him“, how would that make it any easier to stomach for some people blinded by outdated doctrines? It would change their life none, really. But it changes my life completely. Some of the smaller things are sharing a health plan at her job, being able to have a second parent adoption if either of us has a baby, being able to file our state taxes together.
The biggest difference is the pride I feel in being able to let the world know the depth of my devotion to her. I am able to call her my wife.
Thank everyone who was on our side, who fought for us and with us. We do appreciate you.
Following are the vows we spoke on Friday, soul to soul:
I, Jessica, take you, Candice, as my life’s partner. I promise to share my life openly with you, to speak the truth to you in love, to honor and tenderly care for you, in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, so long as we both may live.
We have done this and will continue to.This, is what love is.