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Natural Order

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I met my husband in a bar. It was a stone's throw from his house and a place where his buddies went to throw darts and drink beer. For me, it was a place where my former classmates gathered the night we learned a friend had drowned in Mexico.

My husband and I grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same pool, shared some of the same friends. Yet our paths had never crossed. I thought it was a matter of two worlds colliding that summer night at the bar. But once the dust settled on our relationship, I began to see that it was the natural order of things to be inexplicable, irrevocable and incomplete.

Our relationship grew by fits and starts and a miracle cemented it. We had what you might call the opposite of a shotgun wedding. Celebrity couples are famous for what hardly defines us now. Our baby came before our vows. She comes before everything.

I had been married once and had already done the big church and bridal party affair. I had done divorce as well. My husband, on the other hand, was holding out.

Together we embraced our future, looking to our families for proof that our love would last. Both my parents and his had been high-school sweethearts, each couple sharing four decades of anniversaries. This seemed like an eternity to us.

My husband proposed in May during one of our regular walks by the James River. He pulled a ring from his pocket and placed it in my hand. One day it will be our daughter's.

Long before we knew we'd be parents, we talked about getting married on the Outer Banks or even, of all places, in Argentina. Instead, we invited friends and family to join us the third Saturday in July for cocktails and bluegrass in the garden at his parents' home in Richmond.

The day of our wedding, a huge white tent was draped over the backyard in case rain punched down. Sunflowers and zinnias handpicked from a local farm topped tables, and so did gooey cupcakes. Wine popped open as neighbors and far-flung loved ones exchanged embraces that seemed familiar, made so in the spirit of the occasion. I watched it unfold from a bedroom window upstairs, while I tried to decide how to hold the delicate bouquet my husband's mother and sister had made.

When Pachelbel's Canon in D began to play, my dad proudly escorted me through the small crowd. I wore a strapless, ruched dress with my hair up -- the way my husband prefers. It was terribly hot and I was nervous.

Then I stared at my husband-to-be, standing before a hedge of hydrangeas, his father and brother next to him. He looked strikingly handsome — so much so that I almost laughed aloud. All of a sudden I remembered a blip in time when it had all seemed like a dream. How had infatuation, giddiness and a quest for romance come to this? It was breathtaking and not what we had planned.

After the ceremony, champagne flowed. My husband's father raised his glass and made a toast. He remarked that at most weddings, guests can't help imagining what the newlyweds' children will look like, but in our case the beautiful result was before us. I wish I could remember it word for word because it was funny and tender and underscored something profound.

My father-in-law died at his home a few months ago in the middle of the night. An acute aneurysm claimed his life but, in a very real sense, not his marriage. In time, I would learn how. Over the holidays with friends and family gathered near, my husband assumed a new role. He raised his glass in honor of his dad. He spoke from his heart. It made me think of our wedding day and his father's words. Maybe, when it comes to the natural order of things, the beautiful results are not what we imagine they'll be.

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