Yesterday was the thirty-fifth anniversary of the day Mark and I got engaged. We always celebrate this day; this year we had a delicious, leisurely dinner on the terrace of a local restaurant. The palms overhung our table, the crescent moon shone up in the sky, and the Mediterranean splashed and frolicked in front of us. It was a lovely night.
Of course, because of who we are, there’s a funny story attached to our engagement. Although we’d only been dating three and a half months, Mark and I were pretty serious in May 1985. Late in the month we shared a romantic weekend in New Orleans. I thought Mark might pop the question on that trip, but no dice – which was fine, because we had a great time. But I was a little puzzled.
Fast forward a couple of days. Mark was moving, and I agreed to come to his apartment after work and help him pack boxes. We had a quick dinner at his place, and then he went back to his office in downtown Houston to make revisions on a document and give the new draft to the word processing pool (remember them?) to turn around. Kind soul that I am, I stayed at his apartment and packed boxes. I remember in particular that I packed the contents of the bookshelf in Mark’s spare bedroom. One volume really grabbed my attention. It was the alumni notes from Mark’s 10th high school reunion, which he’d attended shortly before we met. Mark’s entry included his educational achievements and work history to date, but the note at the end was what got me going. It proclaimed, “And girls, he’s still single!” I specifically recall looking at that sentence and thinking, “Not for long, if I have anything to say about it.”
Anyway, Mark eventually returned, and he asked me to take a break and sit on the couch with him. I complied unwillingly, partly because I didn’t like that couch (it was an atrocious green and white brocade, and lumpy to boot), but mostly because I wanted to keep on packing. Focusing on the latter issue, I was contemplating how to induce him to get rid of all the wire coat hangers he’d accumulated in his coat closet when he finished whatever he said before and ended with, “So, will you marry me?” Okay, that I heard, but I was so startled that I burst out with, “What? You’re kidding!” and then proceeded to laugh uproariously. Poor Mark. It was not my finest hour. When I finally managed to stop laughing and looked at my sweet, mortified suitor, I recovered enough to get out some sort of affirmative. Despite the laughter, he didn’t rescind the offer, and next weekend we went shopping for the middle ring you see above. No, he didn’t show up with a sparkler. Being a smart man, he knew I’d want a say in what kind of ring I got. (P.S. There is a story about the top ring, the solitaire wrap, that I got for our 20th anniversary. It involves cold water, marijuana, cave tubing in Belize, and one of the reasons I’m especially fond of the state of Pennsylvania. But we’ll save that tale for another post.)
When I started thinking about this post, I’d intended to stop here, after adding just a bit of verbiage about how happy we are and how grateful I am for this lovely man. But while both of those things are still true, between then and now George Floyd was brutally murdered by a now ex-police officer in Minneapolis. And as a privileged White person, I feel that I can’t just write a fluff piece here and call it a day. The inhumanity and the horror of this act, and the commonplace nature of the destruction of Black bodies, makes that impossible. George Floyd sat at our dinner table under the Spanish palms last night as we talked about him. Sandra Bland drank a toast with us. Trayvon Martin sampled my hake and Mark’s salmon. How can they not?
See, it’s all about promises. When Mark and I got engaged, we made promises to each other. Yes, I will marry you. Yes, I will love you. Yes, I will be true to you. We turned those promises into vows in September of 1985, and the vows turned into the love, laughter, children, friends, and mutual support of the last three and a half decades. But what, I wonder, do we promise our African-American citizens?
John Locke said that our social contract, the mutual promises made between the state and the people in it, includes protection from harm and fair enforcement of the law. Up until the last few years, I believed that, more or less, the American version of this social contract extended to all persons. But I can no longer deny the evidence of my own eyes and the witness of people of color. The social contract described above extends to me, because of my race. And equally, tragically, it fails to extend to people of color. The promises made to them look a lot different, as far as I can tell. Those promises seem to be that their lives are expendable, their very existence is subject to a White man’s adrenaline-addled whim or, perhaps, calculated desire. I can’t imagine bearing that knowledge day in and day out. I can’t get my head around living in a place that hates you. It has to be a nightmare. So while I’m horrified that rioting has occurred in response to George Floyd’s murder, I also am beginning to understand where the impetus to riot comes from.
So here we are at the last paragraph, where I usually try to tie up some inspiring thought with a cheery epigram. I’m sorry, folks, but tonight I’ve got nothing but a broken heart at the broken promises our country has made. I love Mark, and I love the USA. But my soul is sad and heavy. May God have mercy on us all.