Somewhere outside Tallahassee. An out-of-the-way restaurant. The burgers are small, the beer will freeze your molars. My server is a guy who looks mid-twenties. He wears an Atlanta Braves ball cap, therefore you know he’s good people. When he delivers my burger he tells me he’s getting married.
Married? I reply.
“Yep. Just asked my girlfriend to marry me this morning. She said yes. Man, I still can’t believe it. Hey. You wanna see a picture of her?”
“You can keep scrolling through them, my whole phone is nothing but pictures of her and her two daughters. They’re my life.”
What about this one? Where was this picture taken?
“Lake Talquin. We were fishing. That was my girlfriend’s daughter’s fifth birthday party. Caught her first fish.”
“And she knows it, too. This one’s from her last baseball game. Well, actually, tee-ball.”
What about this picture?
“Oh, that? That was after my accident, few years ago.”
Looks like a bad one.
“It was. Flipped my truck, almost died. Was in the hospital for a long time. Man, I got all sorts of pins in my body now. Check out this scar. And this scar here is covered by my haircut.”
“Yeah. I’m lucky to still be here. My girlfriend was beside me throughout my whole recovery, she lived in that hospital, man. Wouldn’t leave me unless the nurses physically removed her. Whenever I opened my eyes, there she was, asleep in the chair. She spent the holidays with me. Lost her job because she wouldn’t leave my bedside.
“She never let go of my hand. One time, she must’ve held my hand for eight hours straight. My hand had this huge dent in it from her holding it so long.”
She sounds like quite a woman.
So how did you pop the question?
“Well, I just did the down-on-one-knee thing before she left for work this morning. Told her she was the reason I was created, that I loved her. All that stuff. Her two daughters—they’re four and five—helped me with the proposal. We made it a whole production with the ring.”
I bet both your families are excited.
“Actually? No. See, that’s the sad thing. My family won’t have nothing to do with us, not since I moved in with her. My family won’t talk to me no more. Even my brother won’t take my calls.”
Is there a reason?
“I mean, well, I guess it’s ‘cause I was raised in a religious family, my dad was a preacher, and sometimes my mom can be… I don’t know. My mom’s just my mom.”
“She says I’m shacking up, living in sin. But the whole reason I moved in with my girlfriend was because I felt her kids needed somebody stable, and because I love them. I want to be there for them.
“Anyway, a few nights ago I went to my dad and tried to make peace, he told me I’m pretty much going to hell. He think’s I’m stupid to take on a divorced woman’s kids.”
What a guy.
“But listen, I’m not gonna let him ruin my happiness. I love those little girls. Their biological dad didn’t want them, but I do. This morning they asked if they could call me Dad. I told them it would be the greatest honor of my life.”
So when’s your big day?
“I left it up to my fiancée. Told her whenever she wants to do it, wherever, it’s all good with me. Got my nice clothes ready, and I saved up enough to take us to Las Vegas for the honeymoon. But here’s the kicker. When she gets back, I’m gonna surprise her with a new house.”
“Yep. She doesn’t know I bought us a house last week. Twelve hundred square foot, man. I feel so grown up. It needs work, but hey…”
So do you think you’ll have a big wedding or a little one?
“Small. Definitely. And it won’t be in no church, either. My dad would have a fit.”
But it’s not his wedding.
“No, but I respect him. And it’s all good, because in a way he’s right about me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ll never be perfect like he is. But you know what? I know what love is.
“When I was a kid, my dad used to always preach about love. He always said love was the only thing that mattered. Said God was love. And know something else? I sat there in that pew all those years and I actually believed what he said. I still do.”
It is my prayer that the old preacher might happen upon these words tonight and have the bravery to believe it, too.