Everything was perfect.
Then, it all changed. On September 26, exactly a month after we started dating, Jesse took me out to dinner at Bennigan’s to celebrate. We ordered a dessert called Death by Chocolate—rich chocolate ice cream with almonds and marshmallows on an Oreo crust smothered in dripping hot fudge sauce. It was one of the best desserts I had ever had. I didn’t get out much.
Afterward, in the car he had borrowed from his dad, he handed me a little velvet box. Surprised, I looked up at him.
“Open it,” he said, smiling.
Before Jesse, I had only been out on a few single dates. Not that there was anything wrong with the guys. I was simply not interested in seeing any of them more than once. Even though I was only twenty, dating for me had one purpose—to find the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. I could see that with Jesse. When we were together, hours went by in what seemed like minutes, but I wasn’t certain he felt the same way.
So when I opened the little box and saw a little gold ring set with a green stone on top, it took my breath away.
“It’s a promise ring.”
My eyes started to fill up.
He took my hand in his. “I promise that someday I will ask you to marry me.”
He slipped it on my finger. It was a little too big, but I didn’t care.
“It’s a peridot, the birthstone for August when we first started dating.”
My throat tightened. It was beautiful. No one had ever given me such a present. In that moment, I knew it was God’s design, the answer to my prayer that moonlit night. He had healed my body and given me someone to love.
The next day, as my mom drove me down I-496 toward East Lansing to drop me off at my French literature class, she noticed the ring on my finger. “What is that?” she asked.
“It’s from Jesse. It’s a promise ring,” I said, looking down at it. A warmth enveloped me as I thought about him.
“He will not marry you!” she snorted in disgust. “How can you be so naive?”
Her outburst startled me and I didn’t know what to say. Why was she so upset? To me, it seemed wonderful and perfectly normal. We were in love.
But all she could see was this boy who’d been dating her daughter for a month who had now promised to marry her. Somehow, she missed the irony that she and my dad got married after only dating for six months. We hadn’t planned on actually getting married anytime soon. It was simply a declaration of our love.
Of course, in hindsight, as a mother of two college-aged daughters, I can see how it might have been unsettling to my mom, but I was young and blinded by love. Jesse didn’t have any ill intentions. We were just two kids who had found soulmates in each other.
Mom turned off I-496 to the Trowbridge Road exit, and we sat at the light waiting to turn left. This beautiful woman beside me had taught me everything and was one of the most loving and kind people I knew. She had been both mother and best friend for twenty years, but now she glared at me and spit out the words, “He has you in a spell.”
I didn’t say anything, but I felt my blood begin to bubble in anger like the water in a teapot on the stove. Yes, I was under his spell, but it was his charm and the love I felt in him that had bewitched me.
She was quiet for a moment as if searching for more words. Then she blurted out, “It’s against God.” She paused to make sure I was listening.
The air in the car suddenly felt colder than the ice I skated on.
“The Bible says, ‘Thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.’ It doesn’t matter how you feel. It’s wrong.”
Wait. What? I shook my head, angry and confused. Just last week, he had been invited to our house for dinner, but now that we were serious, it was against God because he was multi-racial? I didn’t understand. How could God be the reason not to love someone? My mother had always taught me that God was love. Hadn’t God brought him to me? It couldn’t be wrong. How can any love be wrong?
Maybe my mom couldn’t see that love. Maybe all she could see was her little girl, her best friend, leaving her too soon, but to me, it felt like she had just plunged a dagger into my heart.
Never had I rebelled against my parents. Up until that moment, I never had a reason to. That changed as soon as she uttered the words. I ignored her pleas to stop seeing Jesse because I couldn’t stop.
In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes tells the story that at one time, humankind was a whole being, not man and woman, but an entity that encompassed both/all. Zeus, fearing an uprising, split humankind into two beings. For the rest of time, these partial beings would be consumed by the search for their other halves. Where the original being was split determined whether man searched for man or woman or woman searched for woman or man to become complete. The Greeks believed this desperate search and then discovery of the soul who made you whole was love.1
In Jesse, I had found my complete being.
My parents didn’t say much at first, not used to my resistance. Not-so-subtle passive aggressive comments were thrown in here and there to voice their displeasure with my disobedience and Jesse’s “manipulative” schemes. I dismissed them as idle intimidations.
Then one crisp fall night, Jesse drove me home from a romantic evening exploring Greektown in Detroit. We laughed and sang show tunes at the top of our lungs the entire hour and a half drive back. It was late when we arrived at my house, a little bit after one in the morning, but I was a twenty-year-old college junior, and I’d never had a curfew. I wasn’t paying attention to the time. As we pulled into the driveway, my parents were outside waiting for us, and they didn’t look happy. We stepped out of the car, and then it was like a hurricane hit us and everything became a blurry mess.
There was shouting.
“You are never to see each other again!” my father roared, getting right in Jesse’s face. “Or there will be consequences!”
There was nothing else we could do or say. They wouldn’t listen.
I broke into pieces. I’d discovered my soulmate. In his kind green eyes, I saw my future, but it didn’t matter. They knew what was best for me.
Sick and disoriented, I felt like I’d fallen through the ice and couldn’t find my way out of the frigid water back to the surface. Barely able to see through the tears, I watched Jesse climb back in the car and drive away.
I didn’t have my own car, and there was no way to call him without the possibility of my mom listening in on the other end.
Out of fear, we stopped seeing each other for a while. My parents could keep us apart. They could not however, keep me from loving him, and after a few days without Jesse, I knew I didn’t want to live in a world where God was used as a reason to put up walls between people. I refused to believe in that God.
The God I believed in brought people together.
Now I was forced to make a choice.
Either I would comply with my parents’ wishes, like the good, obedient daughter I had always been, or I would choose my own path and risk losing my parents, my family, and maybe my salvation.
I prayed day and night for a sign, but none came. My heart already knew the answer that my brain was afraid to accept. I couldn’t put it off any longer. I had to decide between my parents and my past or Jesse and my future.
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