“You hold my hand in the street. Walk me back to that apartment; years ago, we were just inside barefoot in the kitchen. Sacred new beginnings that became my religion.” – Taylor Swift
On April 27th, 2020, Deaven and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. All fairy tale love needs is a happy ending. Our love story, rooted in the ups and downs of reality and the human experience, is full of sacred new beginnings. In her song “Cornelia Street”, Taylor Swift writes “Sacred new beginnings that became my religion.” Deaven and I have had many sacred new beginnings. For me, the firsts are almost too many to count. It is my first relationship with a woman. My first time living with a significant other. Our first cross-country move to another country. My first time being completely vulnerable with another person, opening myself up, and being honest with myself and another person. Loving Deaven has always been easy; being in a relationship has not always been so easy. The beginning of our story was both beautiful and messy.
We met working at a non-profit animal shelter. Most employees worked 12 to 14-hour days. All my coworkers bonded and fought like a family. I spent more time with my coworkers than my own family. At the shelter, we worked tiring, unforgiving hours, putting our heart and soul into saving dogs. We weren’t always able to save them. The work was trying, terrifying, heart-wrenching, and lifesaving. We were family. We opened up to each other and told each other things we hadn’t told anyone. We had a bond to each other and the animals. It was unlike anything I had experienced before.
When I started, Deaven was an assistant manager and I was a dog counselor. Everyone, from employees to volunteers to supervisors, loved her for her fierce sense of loyalty to her underlings. She worked to find solutions to make everyone happy. She defended her employees. She thought quickly on her feet. (All things she still does and more.) She was promoted to manager. I was promoted and worked directly under her as a lead counselor. It was no surprise that Deaven and I got to know each other well. All of us on “the dog team,” as we lovingly referred to it, grew together. Many of us who stayed longer than a year were promoted. After I worked there for a couple years, Deaven, as my manager, recommended me for a new grant-funded position, which I got. I worked my ass off at the shelter. I knew I deserved it. In this new position, Deaven was no longer my manager.
A couple weeks after being promoted, my sister and brother-in-law had bought tickets for all of us to see Taylor Swift. The day of the concert coincided with my 30th birthday. We had an extra ticket. I knew Deaven, like me, was an unapologetic fan of Taylor Swift. I ran the idea by Katie, our coworker and Deaven’s roommate to see if she thought Deaven would go with me. Katie said, “Of course! Let me be on the phone when you call her.” Katie and I called her to ask if she would go to the concert, knowing she would say yes and freak out. The concert was on a Saturday night after a Formula 1 race. Saturday was a workday for Deaven, so she asked off early to attend. Deaven and I had hung out a few times outside work, always with a large group of coworkers. I had slept on her couch at her house and watched Criminal Minds after we floated the river in San Marcos a couple times. Deep down, I knew I felt something for Deaven I had never felt for anyone.
I also knew she had a long-time girlfriend. I knew the odds were against me. I fantasized about telling Deaven how I felt about her. At the concert, fueled by passion and margaritas, as Taylor sung her love songs for us and I embarked on a new decade, I knew it would be my one and only shot. We went to the concert with my sister, brother-in-law, and my roommate. Even with the cars buzzing around us and the concert awaiting us, I couldn’t take my eyes off Deaven. After we watched the Formula 1 race, she pulled open her backpack to get her phone and headphones. She played “Lost Boy” by Ruth B. She said it signified her time at the animal shelter and how she felt when she found “our” people. Our family at the shelter we both loved. The song ended with, “Neverland is home to lost boys like me, and lost boys like me are free.” I felt free and found with Deaven.
While we waited for Taylor Swift to perform, I had to know how Deaven felt. I told her how we all loved her. I gushed about how all my coworkers had a crush on her. I then went ahead and held out my heart. I told her I loved her. I had to say it, or my heart would have shriveled up and dried out. Anything but being with her would be my ending. She told me she felt the same. We watched the concert. In a moment I could have never predicted, Taylor Swift was the least exciting thing happening. After the concert, Deaven and I stepped into the backseat of my sister and brother-in-law’s SUV. I laid my head on her chest. We stared up at the trees and stars passing. We kissed. The more talked, the more we had in common. We watched Dumb and Dumber, another favorite of ours, and spent the night together.
The next week passed like torture. We both knew the cliché. We both thought a relationship was impossible. Deaven didn’t trust how I deeply I felt about her; I didn’t believe she would leave her girlfriend. A week after my birthday, I texted her and told her how hard the past week had been. We said how much we missed each other and wanted to be together. She felt the same and broke up with her girlfriend.
Before our new beginning, my old self would have been wrought with guilt and thought only of others. I would have let the following questions stop me from pursuing my dream with Deaven, “How do we face our coworkers and convince them all this took place after the promotion and I deserved it? How do I tell my family I’m not straight? How do we face Deaven’s girlfriend who still worked at the shelter with us?” The opinions of others weren’t enough to dissuade either of us. I wasn’t thinking about what our coworkers, friends or family would think. I had let other’s opinions be my guide in all my decisions before in my life. Both of us let go of other people’s expectations for ourselves. I had been chained by the weight of other’s expectations. Both Deaven and I, in beautiful and painful ways, cut ourselves free. I had to know what it was to be loved by someone, to feel so deeply for someone, to try to want to work in a relationship for the first time in my life. The start of our relationship didn’t feel dishonest. It felt like both of us were finally being honest with ourselves and others.
The first few weeks after we got together, I would wake up in the morning still in shock. I was in a relationship with another woman. I hadn’t come out to my family. Our relationship started in late October. By November, I had to stop hiding it. I knew this was it. I never planned to come out to my family. They are Lutheran. Their church doesn’t allow or condone gay marriage. I knew my family loved me. I didn’t trust how much. I always said marriage wasn’t for me. I was attracted to women. I could spend my life alone. I didn’t need to spend my life with anyone. I met Deaven. Meeting Deaven was my most sacred new beginning. I felt, for the first time and corny as it sounds, destined to be with her, willed by a feeling worth fighting for.
I told my sister and brother-in-law first. My brother-in-law wasn’t surprised. He had sensed a spark the night of the Taylor Swift concert. My sister was. Both said they loved me and were happy for me. I told my parents around Thanksgiving. My mom urged me to tell my grandparents before I made it public. My dad’s mom was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to meet Deaven. I was so scared to tell my mom’s parents because they were more conservative. I had been working on a book with my grandpa. I had worked with them. Their relationship meant the world to me, but I knew my relationship with Deaven meant more. I knew I would be with Deaven regardless. I drove up one night by myself and told them I had fallen in love with a woman. They were shocked. My grandpa, in his gruff voice and the stubborn man I’ve always adored, told me in all seriousness, “Tiff, you are a child of God. If anyone tries to tell you different, you tell them to go to hell.” Afterwards, we made our relationship public on Facebook. I didn’t feel the need to hide it or justify it to anyone else. We were in love. We were getting married. My grandpa loved us with all he had for two years. He was hospitalized on my 32nd birthday and died in his home five months before we got married. My grandma’s brother officiated our wedding. My whole family was there cheering us on. Most importantly, my wife, the wonderful woman I never thought I’d meet, was by my side.
We can’t change the past. We will never know if Deaven and I could have started differently. Maybe it could have or maybe it never would have. I can live with the way our relationship happened. I couldn’t live with it never happening. I am happier, healthier, more alive, and more loved than I have ever been. I hope Deaven feels the same.