"You ready?” she whispers, swimming up behind me to encircle her arms around my waist. “Yeah, I’m ready.” We smile at each other, aware in that moment that we’re about to do something big, bigger than us. “Come on guys, save the kiss for later,” someone says. We look up just in time to see our wedding photographer, Kwesi Abbensetts snap a picture of us. “Say cheese, everyone!” he calls out to our guests who have all gathered around us, our bodies bobbing in the undulating waves. Everyone splashes around to find their space in the camera’s lens—family and friends alike. We all stand close, smiles etched on our sun-burnt faces; and the sun, nude and marvelous in all her glory rains down upon us.
This is a blessing.
[SEE THE GORGEOUS PHOTOS BELOW]
I married my soul-mate, Dr. Emma Benn on the luxurious compound of Silver Sands Villa in Duncans, Trelawney, a Jamaican parish, on Saturday, May 26, 2012. We exchanged our vows under the wooden arch of the gazebo overlooking the ocean four years after we met at Columbia University where she was a doctoral student studying Biostatistics, and where I worked as a project manager on a research team. As the waves of the Caribbean Sea crashed against the shore and the wind blew skirt tails in its sweeping lullaby, we said our “I do’s”.
Emma's best friend, Anna Masilela, who had been her friend since her college days at Swarthmore, was our officiant. We had six bridesmaids and one best man between the two of us. But one important guest loomed in the aquamarine backdrop of the sea; the green surface of the land. She needed no invitation to wear her canary yellow dress that lit up the day as she pranced above clouds. Her mystique was even spotted in the smiles spread across faces of onlookers. She was my Jamaica, the land of my birth.
The late afternoon sun casted a golden net on the water’s surface as our brides maids marched on the jetty with bright orange fans to Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love”. They looked elegant in outfits made by Raif Atelier, a Brooklyn-based designer and owner of Raif Boutique in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Kwesi clicked away as I looked to my immediate right. Emma was smiling from ear to ear, her dimples deepening, her face glowing from a recent tan. By then she had linked arms with her aunt, Carolyn Horton, the one she chose to walk her down the aisle as a representative of her father and the other elders, both past and present, who could not be there. My father stood erect, poised to walk me down the aisle. I squeezed his hand and he nodded, a smile broadening his face, touching his eyes with a sparkle, affirming his pride in seeing his eldest daughter down the aisle. He appeared more confident than I’d ever seen him.
My father took it the hardest when I came out to him six years ago. I told him during a ten hour drive from Ann Arbor, Michigan to New York City where I moved after graduate school. In the silence that followed, his hands were steady on the steering wheel, his eyes on the road where the journey seemed long and daunting, shrouded by darkness, except for the headlights on the rented van.
But on my wedding day, he had evolved into a different person. A man many moons apart from the boy socialized in a country where homosexuality is analogous to bestiality; a man who never knew that one day his daughter, now 30, would come to him and confess her preference for women. He was seven years old when Jamaica gained its independence from Britain 50 years ago. It was a memorable moment for the Jamaicans of his generation. Through their eyes, a country came of age. It grew with them as children, then teenagers, then young adults, all the way to adulthood; instilled in them values they held dearly like a comfort blanket bequeathed to an orphan by a deceased parent, the great mother Britain. Now at 57-years-old, my father took my hand and put one foot before the other, slowly making his way down the jetty. Toward his own independence. What took several months of planning, easily burgeoned into the most memorable and beautiful day of our lives. Little did my wife and I know then that we would make history.
For a long time I ran away from Jamaica, seeking refuge in the freedom that America offered. However when I met Emma, an African American born and raised in Bryn Mawr Pennsylvania, she was adamant about visiting Jamaica. “Why not?” she asked when I turned her down a few times. I couldn’t tell her then how much I was hurt by the