Chapter Eleven: Secrets
You guys know I love surprises. And I bet you didn't see this one coming!
There's more to the story, and I'm ready to tell it. You may have noticed that I changed the title of our love story re-telling to something simple and devastatingly accurate: A True Love Story. I also decided to give titles to the chapters, because I always liked when books did that and because I can.
(Pst: If you're new to all this, you can catch up here.)
It's a funny time to change the title, though, seeing as this particular chapter is why I originally called it, "All the Things I've Not Yet Said." Read on: you'll catch on pretty quick.
Someone proposed to me. No, not just someone. A perfectly decent, talented, handsome, faithful, funny, and tall Australian man. He loved me. I loved him. And he proposed.
There is no easy way to describe the feeling you have on the other side of accepting a ring. It’s at once an ending and a beginning. Just like that—your single life is over. Everything you’ve known up until this point will quite possibly end up being the shortest, most distant part of you life. An old way of living, a memory.
I drove home with my left hand on the steering wheel and a diamond in my view, easily distracting me from the road. A million questions ran through my mind, the first of which involved my father.
There was not a doubt in my mind that I wanted to marry Matty, but there was a small catch in my heart when I said yes without knowing if he’d talked to my parents. And of course there was the matter of this ring—how did he get it? Was it real? Would I break it? I’m clumsy. It’s possible. He was working at a coffee shop and living in New York City without a credit card. How…? Also, he wasn’t supposed to arrive in Austin until the next day. I had his flight information. I had it all planned. Goodness, I still needed to clean the bathroom before he came over!
Question after question fell out of my mouth as Matty beamed at me, expecting as much. He patiently answered each one with pride.
Today was Monday and as far as I knew, Matty was arriving in Austin on Tuesday afternoon. He knew that I would be meticulously planning up to the minute, so he searched for a flight and sent me a fake itinerary.
He actually left New York on Sunday morning and flew directly to my parents’ house in Fort Worth. He originally told them that the flight was cheaper and that he would take a bus to Austin the next day to surprise me. It took them about five minutes to figure out what was really happening.
That was the Sunday that Matty wasn’t answering my texts or calls and I thought he was mad at me. His friends told me that his phone died, when really they’d driven him to the airport that morning after a long night out.
When I called my dad on Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day I had no idea that Matty was sitting right next to him. He’d already asked my parents for my hand in marriage and let them see the ring.
Which he bought with cash, by the way. Never doubt a man in love. Matty had been saving for some time and purchased the ring from a friend who was a jewelry designer. He had it custom designed: a single princess cut stone on a rose gold band. Matty knew more about diamonds and cuts then I did. All I knew is that it was pretty and shiny.
On Monday morning, Matty took the bus to Austin with the intention of proposing at a garden near my apartment. I ruined his plans when I told my friend Becca that I wasn’t going home after work, so he decided to propose on the lake near my office instead. And that is why Becca begged me to come out to the lake for a photo before we went on to dinner.
A dinner that didn’t happen, because it was all a cover to keep me off the scent of the trail. And it worked beautifully.
So. There we were. My long-distance boyfriend was now my Texas-living fiancé. There were several things to uncover about living in the same state as the person you’re in love with, but before we could get there, we had to make sure he could in fact stay in the state.
A quick understanding of Matty’s visa: he lived in America for two years on a visa that allowed him to train and work. His workplace agreed to sponsor him and he had to prove that he was learning under a traineeship. Once those two years were over, he was to return to Australia. He managed to extend his visa to a 3-month traveler’s visa, beginning that very June, knowing he couldn’t legally work during that time. From where we stood, he had to figure something out now, or he’d be leaving the country in September with no promise of return.
So we hired an immigration lawyer.
Before our meeting we ran every different scenario in our heads. Perhaps he could get a job to sponsor him again? Maybe we’d have to get married within a certain time period? What if he went back to Australia for a different kind of visa?
Our lawyer appeared on Skype with an incredibly pleasant smile and a genuine excitement for our engagement. She was encouraging, kind, and knowledgeable, which was a combination we’d heard was often lost amongst immigration lawyers.
We laughed nervously, holding hands, telling our story, asking our questions...and then she asked one of her own.
“Are you sure you want to marry each other?”
“Perfect. I am so happy to hear that because you need to get married. Now.”
“Well, let’s say within a month.”
We closed the computer. My parents were nearby and heard the entire conversation. The room was quiet but I could tell everyone’s mind was racing.
“Well,” said my dad, “you better call your grandpa and explain.”
From that moment on, there was no turning back. We all laughed and Matty and I looked at each other…
“Okay! We’re doing this!”
In no time at all we were talking to my grandparent, asking for their blessing—and their help. My grandpa agreed to marry us that July and my grandmother agreed to not tell a single soul.
It was just over a month after our engagement and we were in Fort Worth to celebrate my mother’s birthday. Our lawyer told us we needed photos of the wedding ceremony to show to immigration and that they needed to be the real thing. My mom, self-sacrificing (and clever) as she is, offered to use her birthday as the ruse. Our family would be over, we’d be celebrating her, and we could take photos of the entire thing. We decided to make it a half birthday party / half engagement party. Only a few of us knew that it was actually a wedding party.
My grandparents arrived early with a small bouquet of yellow flowers. I put on a blue dress and Matty wore a button up shirt. My grandpa sat us down and flipped through a tattered book of traditional vows, names scribbled in the margins of all the couples he’d married, including my cousins, aunts, uncles, and my parents. He wrote our names in the book and prayed with us before walking to the backyard where ever so quickly, quietly, and secretly, he married us.
Shortly after, the house was full of family. We toasted to the “future” Chatburns and ate cake in my mother’s honor. Someone asked us to tell the story of how we met and got engaged, so we shared the whole thing...leaving out the fact that we’d just been married a few hours earlier.
It was never our intention to lie to our friends and family. In fact, we knew that we’d be very open about it one day. But aside from our parents, siblings, and grandparents, we told no one.
Our reasons were twofold. First, we believed in our hearts that this “marriage” was not the real thing. We viewed it as a stepping stone that would allow us to be married. It was risky, since we didn’t know how we’d feel once we’d said “I do,” but I believed that because we’d so firmly made the decision that our real marriage would come later, there was grace to go on living as an engaged couple. We didn’t want guests to come to our wedding (or miss our wedding) thinking that it wasn’t the real thing.
Second, we wanted to avoid anyone making assumptions about our private life, if you know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean, here ya go: we were waiting for marriage. And that marriage was beginning on March 14, 2015, not any sooner.
Weeks prior to July 2014, the craziest thing I could dream up was going to the movies with my boyfriend who lived in the same state as me. Instead here I was, a married woman.
Surely nothing could surprise me now.