Jessie was barely twenty-two when she married Stephen. He, a few years older, had fallen hard for her, and she for him. Their first date was a dance, a fundraiser for foster kids. She did not admit to him that she’d been one, not then. It took a while for her to trust him with the story of her past.
When she did, he embraced her. “I knew the grit in you came from something hard,” he said. “I am so grateful for all you’ve been through, that made you who you are today.”
She remembers weeping into his shoulder as he said this, and deciding at that moment he was the man to marry. On their first anniversary, she told him about that moment and her decision, thinking he would be surprised to know how early she formed her attachment to his identity as her husband.
Instead, Stephen laughed. “It took you that long?” he said. “I pegged you as the woman of my dreams when I watched you walk into the classroom.”
She was flustered. “What? You didn’t even speak to me. You left class as quickly as possible when it ended, and didn’t say a word to anyone.”
“I know,” he said. “I was sure if I didn’t get out of there right away, my knees would buckle, I would throw up, and you’d never want to see me again.” His laughter was (and still is) the sound of a joyful, unselfconscious child, half-giggle and half donkey-bray.
Their first child was conceived that night, the night marking one year of a marriage that would stretch into (at last count) thirty years, and result in four biological children and dozens of legal and informal fosters.
Jessie and Stephen live a life based on the exchange of kindness and love, instead of money and goods. It has not been without struggle, loss, and grief; but it has been a kind of miracle of transformation.
As Jessie considers reconnecting with her mother, Louise, recognition of all of the work it has taken to make such a life floods through her.
Stephen, as always, embraces her. “It will be fine,” he says. “Whatever happens, it will be fine. You’re you now, Jess, and no one and nothing can threaten the amazing person you’ve made yourself into.”