It was a simple affair. A white trellis adorned with fresh gardenia. Two rows of white chairs. We held the ceremony at the home of a friend who lived on a tributary of the St. John’s River.

There were maybe a dozen people present. My parents came in from Texas. Her mom and a friend drove down from New Jersey. Because it was such a simple affair, we felt guilty about them coming at all—but they insisted.

And so here we all were gathered together under oaks dripping with Spanish moss, at sunset, on the banks of a river.

Someone lit floating candles and sent them adrift.

I stood under the trellis next to Tina’s boss—an attorney at the firm where she worked, but who was also an ordained rabbi and could perform marriage ceremonies. He was a lovely man.

I was nervous with pride as I waited for her to emerge from the house. Through a window I saw the caterer scramble to make sure everything was just so for the reception in a few minutes. We didn’t hire a photographer. Someone cracked a joke. I laughed nervously.

Then Aaron Neville began singing Ava Maria, and the door opened.

We weren’t supposed to be here. We were renegades. We met five years earlier, during confusing times in both our lives. She was married. I was newly sober. She had a “perfect” life. By the book. I was a dreg who worked in the mailroom of her law firm. 

It was a love that was not meant to be. Everyone said so. 

We didn’t believe them. And instead picked up our life in the north and moved to Florida. 

Where things only got harder. 

The job I’d secured prior to leaving disappeared, and we scrambled. We decided that I should return to college while she worked. The plan was for me to become a high school English teacher. I graduated in ten months taking 60+ credits at three universities concurrently, while Tina worked two jobs. 

We were each 32 years old and were far behind the curve on how normal people did things. 

Only, we learned early on that we didn’t have a normal love and that we had to approach life differently. The only thing that ever felt normal was being together.

She was a goddess in a simple white dress. My heart ran over to fetch her at the stairs.

She wanted me in her life. Forever.

I’ve still never felt luckier. 

The sun set low on the river, splashing us with golden light. We each recited memorized vows. Hers were better.

Then the rabbi said that we were married. And we kissed. And the scent of gardenia filled my mind. Where’s it’s stayed for twenty years now.

Love doesn’t follow a template. It cares nothing of your life agenda. It simply exists. Its only demand is that you risk. My wife is the bravest person I’ve ever known.

Happy twentieth anniversary, my love.




What's the Deal with Gone Dogs?
The Hard Sell

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.