“Casey and I are blessed. We have been happily married for nearly twelve years. I often say our marriage is the only thing I haven’t had to struggle through. We parent two brilliant children while we continue to build a priceless relationship with my firstborn. We have shelter, we have food, and we have access to clean water. We live nomadically but not in the way most do. We aren’t racing to fill in a sticker map or chasing every national park. We live this way to be together but to understand where we are, you have to see where we’ve been. When Casey and I met, I was a 17-year-old runaway in the process of emancipating myself. We worked at a Taco Bell in Tennessee, but I was planning on leaving once my emancipation was finalized. Besides, I was through with boys. I needed to heal from a lifetime of trauma, but something about him was different, and I knew it.
Weeks of spending time at the basketball courts after work turned into nights watching F•r•i•e•n•d•s on my grandparent’s couch. Sitting in a parked car, he asked for permission to kiss me the first time. I was used to being taken, piece by piece, from men who sated their lust and left me to pick up all the shattered parts. But I heard it, his soft growl. I saw nothing but patience in his honest eyes. He wouldn’t take anything from me. He would wait for what I felt safe to give. He asked and I said, ‘yes’.
This didn’t make sense. As the days ticked by, I knew our time together was coming to an end. I was moving 600 miles away to finish my senior year of high school and he had only known me for 4 months. I had plans: a friend of mine was willing to let me move in. I had tried to enlist with the Navy reserves on a career day during my Junior year, but they said I had to wait. I could sign up now. Because he was so different, I was convinced he deserved better. I came with a lot of baggage, more than what four months together could reveal. Despite it all, with only days left, my grandfather saw a future for us. He told my grandmother to tell me I needed to invite Casey to move to the beach with me while I finished my studies. I laughed. ‘Granny! This boy has known me for 4 months, no way will he agree to move 600 miles away from his family just so I can finish high school. He just graduated this year himself, maybe he has plans.’ She just said, ‘You won’t know if you don’t ask Raquel.’
The next time we were together I jokingly brought up my grandparents’ ‘bright idea’, but he didn’t laugh. He was game! However, there was a small problem…his dad was not. After thinking it over, he wrote a letter to his father, put it in the mailbox and we left in the middle of the night. I’ll never forget that ride. He was 18 but the fear on his face could rival that of a child walking into the dark unknown without a hand to hold onto, so I gave him mine. We couch surfed, but not really. It was one friend, one couch, and we were welcome on it until we could find a place to call home. That came two weeks later. The rundown hotel on the beach welcomed us for $200 a week. We had twin beds, a mini-fridge, and a hot shower. Not to mention, the beach was just steps away. We were free and it felt nice.
Eventually, I graduated Class of 2006 with honors. We went to New York City to celebrate, came back, hopped on a pirate ship off the coast of Virginia Beach and got engaged! We moved back to Tennessee, stayed engaged for entirely too long before he and his groomsmen walked down the aisle to Z.Z. Top playing Sharp Dressed Man followed by my lovely bridesmaids, whom I convinced to stroll out to Chris Brown singing, ‘I need ya boo, gotta see ya boo.’ He dipped me, we kissed and headed out for our honeymoon in the Gulf!
Our life, like everyone’s, has been a series of indescribable highs and unspeakable lows. Three months after marriage I convinced my husband we needed to try to get pregnant. I had been walking around for five years with part of my heart missing. In 2002, nearly three years before I met Casey, I was 14 and staring at my first positive pregnancy test. 9 months later I placed my daughter in the arms of the most amazing couple. I had to break my heart to protect hers. Now, five years later, I was pleading with my husband for a baby. I thought I could fill that void. A year later, when our daughter was born, I discovered that’s not how a mother’s heart works. It expands to make room.
Fast Forward three and a half years. We had been trying to conceive again for over a year. My father’s girlfriend was pregnant, and the adoption agency called to say my 9-year-old birth daughter wanted to meet me. 2012 was a year we will never forget. We welcomed my baby half-sister into the world and three weeks later, into our home. A few months after we started caring for her full time, we gained court-ordered custody. We drove 600 miles with our sweet 3-year-old, precious 4-month-old and waited in an office to see the blessing I had placed for adoption nine years ago. My heart was full.
Since then, we have visited my birth daughter too many times to count, finalized the adoption of our sour patch kid (she’s quite the personality). The father we shared died. We sold our first home to gut his and moved in. Funny how fresh paint can’t erase bad memories. We needed change. Big change. After years of living paycheck to paycheck, Casey decided to try something different. We made some phone calls and through knowing people who knew people he was offered a union book and a chance to work on the pipeline. That same day, my pa was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Casey left with tears streaming down both of our faces. This would be the first time we had been apart since the year we met. This wasn’t how our big change was supposed to go. I stayed behind with our girls to be with my pa during his last weeks. My grandparents raised me, and I was always his shadow. I can vividly remember sitting beside him on his hospital bed, unable to control the tears. ‘I’ve lived my life. Now you have to live yours.’ He passed in May of 2017, just a few months shy of 80 years old. We sold the gutted house that never felt like home, bought a camper and started following my husband’s work. If life has shown us anything, it’s time is invaluable. Community can be made anywhere, possessions are pointless past necessity, and home is more of a feeling than a square foot.
Wouldn’t it be romantic to end on that note? It’s poetic to hope laying down fear and chasing your dreams will clear your path of heartache and trouble but it isn’t realistic. In the midst of building a new future, we began to pursue adoption. We had considered it for years, but for the first time in our life we were in a financial position to follow through. We paid our initial fees, took the classes, turned in our profile book, and after years of infertility miraculously became pregnant. But we hadn’t discovered this blessing until I was in the midst of a miscarriage. We were heartbroken. Shortly after, my husband began networking to get onto the next job. This was the start of a grueling 11-month layoff with only scattered minimum wage jobs barely keeping us afloat. We were blindsided. We thought we were prepared but 30K in savings won’t sustain you for a year when your bills match a 100K income.
I don’t know if I’ve felt lower than I did the day we traveled 40 minutes away to a food bank just so we could eat for the week. Everyone else was walking or riding bikes, a few pulled up in old clunkers that matched their apparent need. They didn’t know we were days away from the bank repossessing the shiny new 2017 Jeep we rolled up in. The old black man at the door offered to help us carry the groceries to our car. We already stuck out, in a community of beautiful brown skin tones, but to lead the way to this car, I felt mortified. ‘No thank you, I said. I can get it.’ Would my refusal of help be taken the wrong way? I wasn’t sure but I was more afraid of looking like a hypocrite when I clicked a key fob to unlock the door. ‘Really, ma’am, I want to help.’ As we walked down the sidewalk, he made small talk. He explained, in not so many words, he had experienced his share of hard times, but God still blessed him, and he was thankful for another day. I pointed to our car, held my breath and opened the door. As I helped him load the bags of collards and cantaloupe inside, he never asked why we needed the help. He didn’t ask where we had come from, why we had TN tags on our nearly new car but were standing in a food bank line in rural NC. He simply said, ‘Things will get better. You have a blessed day,’ and then he walked back.
Things have gotten better. Casey found work with a solar company and we dug our way out of late payments and began to build our savings again but the most poignant truth we’ve learned from the past year is how quickly you can go from buying new cars and renting beach houses to standing in a food bank line. It’s so easy to assume poverty is a choice, a lack of hustle or a product of laziness. Sometimes, the man holding the sign on a street corner asking for change doesn’t need you to pass judgment on how he got there, he just needs you to say ‘We’ve experienced our fair share of hard times. Things will get better. Have a blessed day.’ Why? Because humans crave relatability. We crave love. We crave hope.
Social media is the biggest community we can be a part of, and I want to be a voice of relatability, love, and hope. Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. The ‘American dream’ is dead because a financial status does not equate to success, happiness does. ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Raquel McCloud, 31, of North Carolina. Follow her family journey on Instagram here and her website here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more stories from Raquel here:
‘I was 14 and pregnant. ‘Would you be willing to meet?’ 9 years after she was born, my birth daughter’s family encouraged her to hug me. I didn’t want to let go.’: Woman shares perspective as an adopted child, birth mom, and adoptive mom
‘Our young girls are telling their husbands they are unwilling to have sex EVER, because the act seems totally gross.’: Mom proudly says ‘sex is sacred’ and she cannot set her daughters’ ‘moral compass’
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