Courtenay and Matthew make an ideal couple. They are the type of couple that used to make me jealous, because their happiness with each other was what I found missing in my life. They will say that they have had their share of heart ache and that it was pure chance that they found each other. But I think they were always meant to be together.
In many ways, they are the all American couple. Matthew was the high school prom king, the class officer and a football player. He is tall with thick salt and pepper hair, classically handsome features and a ready smile that puts strangers at ease. Courtenay was in the high school choir, trained in classical piano and has an easy laugh and trim figure from years of competitive swimming, a fact that Courtenay is too humble to talk about.
When they are together they play off of each other’s good will and sense of humor. Matthew will tease Courtenay in a way that makes friends laugh, but in his face you can see a love so big that it fills the room. When Courtenay offers Matthew friendly advice he will ask, “What’s your job?” to which Courtenay always replies with a roll of the eyes. “To sit here and look pretty.” Matthew responds “That’s right and what a good job you are doing.” And he completely believes it. You can see it in his eyes. I love watching them banter back and forth.
Many of their friends, myself included, find it hard to believe that they have not always been together, but this is the second marriage for both of them. They both have children and a finer example of parenting can’t be found in my book. They are working hard to send their children through college. They talk about their children constantly and when they mention them, it is never yours or mine, but always ours. Courtenay’s job provides insurance to all of the children, which is important because their youngest child is diabetic.
I was with them on their wedding day and the months leading up to their wedding. Courtenay fretted about every detail and Matthew silently made all of the plans come together. At one point Courtenay confided to Matthew that he might share a little more in the wording of their vows. His response was typical Matthew “Actions speak louder than words.” And Courtenay cried because Matthew’s actions would always be louder and fuller of love than any words.
On their wedding day friends and family gathered from all corners of the country on a beautifully surreal New England summer evening. The sky seemed bluer, the air seemed clearer as if God had created this day just for them. I can still remember their vows:
“I pledge you my love and respect - my laughter and my tears. From this day forward, you shall not walk alone, my heart will be your shelter, and my arms will be your home.”I don’t think there was a dry eye in the crowd when these words were spoken, because everyone understood what seemingly insurmountable odds they overcame to become married.
Because of Matthew and Courtenay, I understand the sanctity of marriage. I understand that this is the example of marriage that should be held up as the ideal. I understand this because my middle name is Courtenay and Paul’s middle name is Matthew.
On May 8th the citizens of North Carolina will vote to amend the constitution with words that will not only forbid marriage equality, but would not allow ANY type of recognition between same sex couples. No one should have to beg for recognition of their love. But I am begging my friends and family in North Carolina to show on May 8th that their actions, by voting against Amendment one, can speak louder than words.
Our shoes make a satisfying crunch in the sandy gravel as we follow the lakeside path. Side by side we walk through the early morning mist that hugs the orange and golden hued trees. The air is still in the early morning half-light and does not yet carry a hint of winter’s arrival. We chose this path instead of our typical indoor gym routine the moment we stepped outside. The fall air so welcoming that we could not refuse it. It was a shared thought that Paul vocalized “Let’s walk around the Reservoir together instead”.
As if to highlight how separate we are at that moment, Paul abruptly says “Don’t refill the soap containers.” I laugh, because this is something I would never think to do anyway. Do people refill soap containers? I think to myself. Maybe it’s because we have chosen a different routine this morning that makes Paul think that I will continue to do things out of the ordinary.
Every week I would mow The Harrell’s yard. After so many years I knew the routine. Eventually Mr. Harrell would no longer need to tell me what to do. Trim the ivy on the hill in the spring. Empty the gutters in the fall. Clean out the lawnmower before putting it to rest in the winter.
“It’s good to mix things up” I say. “I used to be good at cooking. Its fall, it seems right.”
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” C. S. Lewis
There is a weariness that grows when packing up a home. It’s not so much the physical labor as it is the tedium of seeing your possessions out of sorts. When you’ve seen your life, your things arranged in one pattern for so many years, your mind can’t immediately comprehend the scattering of packing paper, stacks of boxes and picture less walls where an organized room once existed. It works to set things back into place.
My mind is re-arranging the chaos in our home when Paul shouts “Have you gone through your nightstand yet?” At this point, it is less of a question than a demand. I have put this task off because I know that I will have to make decisions about what stays and what goes while sorting through the remnants of my life, stuffed into a couple of night stand drawers.
I walk into the bedroom with a garbage bag in one hand and a box in the other. Slowly I lower myself to the floor. There is a ghost of me lying on the bed with one hand resting on the nightstand arranging the pictures of my own daughters. There is sadness in his expression because in those early days, his mind had trouble re-arranging what was missing in his heart with what was found.
I open the drawer and begin to sort through the contents. There is a stack of cards and notes from Paul. When he would leave for business trips, he would place a note on my pillow. “Goodnight handsome man”, one of them states in his neat handwriting. Another card is illustrated with two ridiculous looking reptiles staring at each other with a heart floating above their heads. Underneath each one our nicknames “Willy” and “Scooter” are written. On the inside of the card, it simply states “Iguana love you forever.” I laugh as I place these in the keep box. And so it goes with a restaurant receipt, a Singapore dollar, a 20 baht bill from Thailand and a travel magazine from Ogunquit, Maine, dated July 2008.
Then I find a wedding band; different from the one circling my finger now. In that band a thousand more memories are stored; memories of moves similar to this one, but different in so many ways. When I wore that band, I used to convince myself that each move would finally make me happy. But when all of the furniture was arranged in the new house, it didn’t seem to fit. I place the band on the nightstand and pull out a teddy bear. It was left behind in the old house when my daughters moved back to Virginia. I tried to give it back to Taylor, but she told me to keep it. “I don’t want you to be lonely, it will keep you company at night” she said. I pick up the band, it’s just a piece of gold, but without it, there would be no teddy bear, so I place them both in the keep box.
When I am done, the things I keep fits into the size of a shoe box. I bring the box downstairs and pack it in a larger box. Within hours the house is empty and we walk from room to room as Monique runs through the house giggling, just as she did when Paul first moved in. In the living room two ghost lovers, the new owners, smile at each other full of pride, promise and love. They kiss and make love in front of the fireplace.
We walk outside and regard the container filled with what we keep, most of the furniture sold or donated to friends and family. I wonder if the container were to become lost and opened by someone in the future, what would they think about my shoebox of remnants? But more importantly, if this container became lost I think my mind would be at ease; when things are arranged properly in your heart nothing else matters.