I’m taking a little break from blogging this week. So I thought it was a perfect time to run this absolutely beautiful post by Cara. I love it when we meet people who love us without question and this is a fantastic example of that.
It was just me and Mr. Darcy for a long time. The two of us, girl and dog, figuring out life’s beautiful mess together. He was alongside me in every significant moment, working or resting or vacationing. He was my other, my companion.
And then, as often happens to dogs, a man entered the picture – and by sacred utterance of the words, “I do,” we became a family of three, all under one roof.
It was altogether lovely: but even with husband beside and Mr. Darcy at foot, newness surrounded me, seeming to define every area of my life. Four months into wedded bliss, I broke down: I was lonely and yearned for community. I craved Everyday Friends, people whom I didn’t have to book out three weeks in advance. Walking the dog in and out of the neighborhood’s streets, I hated the very nature of our isolated suburban community: parking in the garage and entering a house without ever having to utter a hello to the person who lived next door.
Understandably, my friendship with Neighbor Mark was then as unexpected as it was real.
I’d seen him around the cul-de-sac, tossing the ball with his scruffy little mutt, offering friendly waves to cars that passed by. As dog owners often do, we too followed the rules of brief, cordial greetings with benevolently vacant smiles.
I figured we too would go on that way, friendly, dog-loving neighbors, each in our separate boxes. I’m so glad we didn’t.
His eyes amusedly affixed on my canine companion, he officially welcomed me to the neighborhood. When the conversation staled and silence ensued, I thought it’d help to remind him who I was: “I’m Cara – I married James. We live at the end of the block.”
“Oh yeah, I know, he’s the…” And he stopped mid-sentence.
It was obvious I needed to finish his thought – after all, this kind of thing happens a lot when you are a pale white girl and you marry a black man. People don’t exactly know what Politically Correct term they’re supposed to use, so I often feel the need to – you know – help them out.
“…black guy?” I finished for him.
“Oh no, Hunny Bunny,” and he started laughing. “You’ve got me wrong: I was going to say hot guy.”
He went on to tell me how he and his partner, Steve, and the other gay men in the neighborhood, all thought my husband was quite the catch. Standing in the middle of the cul-de-sac, a friendship was birthed and I’d been christened “Hunny Bunny” by a gay man 20 years my elder.
Soon, I knew I could count on Mark to show up every morning to throw the balls with our dogs, and our conversation turned beyond the obvious canine-filled dialogue. An interior designer, he balked upon first glance of our living room, instructing me to “…for the love of all that is holy, please do something about those curtains that hang four inches above the floor” – while begging me to tell stories about the high school kids I worked with in the next breath.
I was in full-time ministry at the time, serving with an outreach organization that walked alongside middle school and high school students.
“Is it Christian?” he asked. I nodded my head in assent.
“Oh, that’s trouble.”
Having grown up in the church, he understood theology, through and through; but like many in the gay community, he’d been rejected by the people who claimed to love him the most. So he left. Finding solace outside the boundaries of religion, he was embraced by other gay men who accepted him for his sexuality, not in spite of it.
But Jesus was a different matter altogether.
“Hunny Bunny,” he said to me once, “there’s nothing that’s going to stop Jesus from loving me. That’s his job.”
And it became Mark’s job as well: loving me when I needed it the most.
Time passed, and eventually we found out I was pregnant with a little one. Even when I was bone-tired, Mark remained, steady and consistent, still knocking on my door every morning at 8:30, coffee in hand, circling dog at his feet. Together, our pace slowed as my waddle progressed and the belly grew, but his determined efforts at making me laugh never waned.
“Oh come on, Hunny Bunny, why can’t you name him Justin Case or Justin Time? How about Robin Banks? Ugh. It’d be so much easier if you were having a girl; the name options are endless,” and he’d wink, mouth agape, waiting for my own laughing acknowledgment.
But he didn’t just provide laughter and the occasional snort – his was a shoulder I came to rely on.
Mr. Darcy’s aggression had begun to rear its ugly head, and try as we might, with a baby in tow, we realized the heartbreaking inevitable: we had to say goodbye to our beloved pup.
This time, with three-layer chocolate cake and bottle of wine in hand, Neighbor Mark was the first to arrive on our doorstep, mourning alongside us and retelling favorite stories and offering hope that another family with a big, big field with lots of room to run around in would adopt him. How we’d all loved that damn dog!
Five weeks later our baby was born, and Mark celebrated with us, exclamation points heavily marking his cheerful, exuberant texts. Arriving this time with Mr. Pickle’s sandwiches, he was one of the few we invited to stand beside us in the NICU after our son was born. I coveted his calm and soothing presence in the midst of miniature IV lines that just don’t belong in a baby’s body.
“Oh, Hunny Bunny, this too shall pass,” he reminded me, when again my eyes filled with tears of the unknown.
A mere 48 hours later, in the sweet peace of a clean bill of health, our family of three went home. But before we left, in the sterile, cold cubicle of the hospital, I was reminded of the extension of family Mark had become: my neighbor had become my friend, my confidant and a source of steady Hope when I’d needed him most. He, who had felt disposed off by the very people who signed my paycheck each month, had become my person. It wasn’t about him being gay, and me being a Christian, but it was simply about us – actually being neighbors and loving each other as we should have been doing all along.
Neighbor Mark had become a real, fleshy Jesus to me.
Former high school English teacher turned youth minister, Cara is now learning what it means to BE as a full-time mama and writer. She loves pretending to be a foodie, being outdoors and trying to read seven books at a time (although never very successfully). She and her husband, James, live in San Francisco with their 10-month old son, Canon. Find her on Twitter (@caramac54) or on her blog, carameredith.com.