I easily explain this to my parents. With seven kids between them, and grandchildren popping off biannually, they are fine with sitting this one out. But for Kenyatta's mother, Camille—the in-law who isn't—this is a loaded proposition. When Kenyatta was 2, her father walked out on his family. He never returned, but his ghost walks with Kenyatta and Camille, dredging up ancient issues of trust between black men and women. And so for their mutual protection, Camille has forged a secret pact with her daughter—it's the two of them against the world. Nobody, especially not a man, can save them.

I want to believe that I've given both Camille and Kenyatta reason to think differently about me. I don't close down the clubs or run the streets. I have a passion for cooking and reading, which makes me a natural homebody. Most important, I love Kenyatta. And I also feel bound by her pain. Her father's sin of abandonment, so common among black men, feels like some sort of burdensome family debt. On my honor, I'll have that debt paid. But I want to do it as I see fit—without fanfare and pomp, without grandiose titles and pronouncements, without marriage.

That's where I run afoul of Camille. Her own father was emotionally abusive. She was 19 when she got pregnant with Kenyatta, and her parents told her that marriage was the only next step. But things fell apart before Kenyatta was even born. Kenyatta's father joined the air force and shacked up with another woman. After Kenyatta's birth, he'd make the occasional half-ass effort to check in, but even that never amounted to much because of the considerable anger Camille held toward him. She only kept two pictures of him—one in which she's sitting on his lap looking very unhappy and another from his days as a collegiate basketball player.

Kenyatta is the only good that came of that relationship. In a life filled with disappointments, Kenyatta will always be Camille's rock. Smart, ambitious, and compassionate, Kenyatta is Camille's greatest and surest investment, a monument to Camille's determination and strength. Camille has long dreamt of the day when she could properly release her daughter into the world, but she hoped that release would come with some sort of guarantee. For Camille, marriage is at its core an insurance policy. That this guarantee did nothing for her own situation doesn't seem to matter.

Kenyatta and I rejected that notion of marriage early on in our own relationship, feeling that looking at matrimony from that perspective made the wedding ceremony resemble little more than an elaborate prenup. Besides, I doubt all promises made in the grand fashion of a wedding. A relationship is about the day-to-day work. Save the ring money, I reason, and make a down payment on a house.


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