Once upon a time, back in the days before my marriage, I still lived with my oldest younger sister. We lived together in a tiny grayish house in Hillsborough, North Carolina, a town that still holds my heart, though I try daily to forget it and devote myself body and soul to my new home on the Gulf Coast. (I will never give up hope that one day we’ll return.) We are sisters, she and I – close in age, in spirit, in friendship, even now with ten hours’ drive to separate us (thank god for g-chat). We are sisters and thus we sometimes get along like no two unrelated people in the world could ever get along. We know each other like no two unrelated people could ever know one another. She’s my beginning, and she’ll be there when I end, that’s for sure. A more sisterly relationship you could not find, and I am daily grateful for it, and for the year(s) (how long was it?) that we spent living together – first in a one bedroom apartment (she slept in the dining room), next in this tiny house that later became home for my husband, my eldest son – my sister supplanted by my beloved men, shucked, spun off to her own devices in an apartment across town.
But before all that, while we still we lived together in that house, there was this one morning that I opened my front door and saw, laying on the front mat, a pretty bunch of wildflowers tied with a ribbon. They were attached to a folded note, and on the front of the note, these words: Not for Gill.
I knew then that my sister was sunk. Wildflowers left on the porch? Is there such a man?
But that’s not the beginning. And I would be robbing you if I didn’t share with you how their story began. Which was – and this can be said of many a great love affair – with 80s dance tunes and lots of red wine.
So, here is how it went – and it takes a little concentration to follow the stream of the story, but I hope you’ll give the effort. It is incredibly unlikely, the meeting of these two soulmates, and the string of people who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone that starts it is an important illustration of the sheer luck involved in this love story.
I knew Maggie and January in college (a happy dating couple then, now married themselves). Years after that, I re-met Maggie and January and some other college friends in a new hometown: in a weird, freaky deaky coincidence, we’d all moved from a tiny school in Indiana to a much bigger college town in North Carolina. In fact, we lived just a few miles apart. It was a most excellent discovery.
The girls, as they are known, had lived in Boston at some point between the going to college in Indiana and the living in the small, artsy house in North Carolina, and while they lived in Boston, they befriended a man named Shelby. Meanwhile somehow they met a friend named Natalie, who was dating another Indiana college friend of mine named Sarah, and somewhere in there everybody moved to North Carolina and stayed the best of friends. Natalie’s and Sarah’s house in North Carolina was literally one block away from mine. Natalie and Sarah tended to have dance parties, and tended to invite Maggie and January and Shelby to those parties, and since Maggie and January and Sarah knew ME from college, they started inviting me to the dance parties, too. That is how, one Friday evening in March – I believe it was my sister’s twenty fourth birthday? – the Professor, the Sister and I trudged a block down the street to an eighties dance party, and got good and jolly in short order (red wine is delish). Shelby was also there. Shelby, it must be said, is an excellent dancer.
This would be the second or third time Shelby and and my sister were at a social function together. I remember them dancing. I remember her giggling behind her fingers in a drunken seductive way. My sister was going through the (long, drawn-out) end of a very (long, drawn-out) relationship at the time, and there was a lot of angst and uncertainty and sadness that seemed to melt away while she giggled with this exciting new man at this party that happened to fall on her birthday. She hadn’t believed she’d have the hope of any kind of future with anyone else for a long time – she’d held onto a dead dream for entirely too many years (she’d tell you this herself today). Shelby, shall we say a bit dramatically, brought her out of the darkness and into the light.
Post drunken dance party, their romance took off pretty immediately, but what was remarkable about it (and what remains remarkable to this day) was what terribly good FRIENDS they were from day one. They had nightly phone conversations. They read aloud to one another. He left flowers for her on her car, at our house, at her work. They lit candles in the house and talked for hours.
(They still light candles, read aloud, talk for hours.)
They are, undoubtedly, the best of friends, and so it is with tremendous happiness and excitement that I report that my sister will be marrying her best friend in November of this year.
So here’s how her fairy tale proposal story went.
The girls (remember them? Maggie and January?) moved to Washington D.C. a while ago. Shelby and Amanda go up there to visit pretty frequently. So when Shelby proposed another trip up north to see the girls one weekend, Amanda suspected nothing. And when Shelby and the girls decided to go to the botanical gardens while up in D.C., Amanda continued to suspect nothing, although winter is not the most ideal time to go check out a garden in D.C.
They wandered around for a while, with the girls taking random pictures of random sites. They were scouting out spots for The Big Question, but again, my sister was clueless.
So they find this backdrop here, which they announce is the perfect spot for a fun throwback-to-senior-prom photo. The girls instruct these two to do the typical, cheeseball pose. They oblige.
And then the girls ask my sister to turn around and do a face to face shot. And when she turns what she sees is her best friend proffering a small, ring-sized box.
She answers in the affirmative. Quite enthusiastically. There are no pictures in this series in which her arms are not a blur of flapping mad excitement.
On an autumnal Carolina hillside, family and friends will gather to watch them make it official. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that the deal was sealed long ago, with a tiny bunch of wildflowers left on our little porch in our little home in Hillsborough.
I have a number of wishes for the two of you, my sister, my new brother. May many wildflowers and candles accompany you through your long days together. May you always find things to talk about for hours. May you remain the best of friends, as you have already done, through sickness and health, for richer for poorer, til only death parts you.
I love you both, and am so looking forward to celebrating the official beginning of your lifelong commitment, in the fiery autumn of the year, in the beautiful state where you met and continue to make your home. Congratulations, a million times over.
Your big sis