The Resolution of Romance: An Interracial 2020 Love Story

I know, we all want to put 2020 behind us. A decade from now, when we tell people we were engaged and married in 2020, eyebrows will raise. Why would you marry during the apocalypse? Love, that’s why. And an uncertain future. Who wants to fight zombies alone? But this union was highly improbable. Not even possible. Very unlikely. But it happened. The story is contained in three separate Facebook posts, below, in the order they went online. Hold on to your emotional hat.

Post #1

An open love letter to my Facebook Family about why on earth I’m getting married after all these years…to Erin Hannigan.

I proposed to Erin on July 31, at the end of a day where we saw boiling mud pools, hot springs, geysers, buffalo and high plains. I had decided that I wanted to be with her some time ago, but marriage was never an option. We just knew we had an extraordinary bond as humans and would not let each other go.

Yellowstone Park was the place I decided to move forward. But Erin is the reason I’m getting married. This was never ever an option in my life, as anyone who knows me has heard over and over. I did not have faith in the institution. But I do have faith in Erin.

Erin is an extraordinary woman, as her friends will attest. I’m tagging her in so that her friends can speak to who she is. Most of my friends have yet to have the chance to meet her. Martin Luther King told us to judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. So, I did.

She is generous, nearly always positive, a willing ear to her public, has a special empathy for seniors, children, her friends and especially her family. And shelter dogs. She is tough, stubborn, persistent, analytical, smart, empathetic, and a fun alpha female of a woman. She walks in and she is the life of the party. And she’s sexy.

But as she will likely tell you, our magic is how we get along (and maybe that I am damned sexy too). Sure, it has only been 3 years — and we will have challenges, for sure — but our approach to our challenges is that we always want the other person to be happy with any decision.

We love spending time with each other at the Treehouse at A’s games, tailgating at Raiders games and attending Warriors games. (We liked them both better in Oakland.) We spent a glorious weekend in Seattle together, a long weekend in Madison, a week in Ireland and a week in New Zealand. She even braved Burning Man with me — twice! (In dust we trust.) We are now headed to the March on Washington on August 28 for racial justice.

An emotional moment at a June 2020 Black Lives Matter march in Benecia, California

Wherever we go and whatever we do, we grow closer. We sit on beaches and look at rocks like geologists. We dance late into the night at home alone, or at Burning Man. We eat at food trucks. We like quirky bars. And we comfort each other when we lose friends and family.

We spent three weeks with each other recently, quarantining.

We both had two long zoom calls in the afternoon, staggered, so we didn’t see each other all day (in the same house!) Once we did become free, we hugged. We acknowledged that we missed each other. This is extraordinary for me. I love time to myself. But I am a better man and I enjoy life more with her around.

Marriage was always all about me, and how I felt, and what I wanted, and what I did not want. As I’ve always said, ‘It is not the marriage that I am fearful of, it is the divorce.” Deciding to ask for Erin’s hand in marriage was not about me. It was not about fear. It was kinda about who I wanted to give unconditional love to.

Forever. So, I chose Erin Hannigan. She chose me back.

As many of you know, I first met Erin when she attended Chico State. I was a grad student in my last year — and she was a freshman from Fairfield. We bumped into each other again back in the 1980s, but only briefly. Then she saw me on Facebook in 2017. So, on July 23, 2017, we had our first date. And we have been close friends and lovers (of life) ever since.

We counsel each other in tough times. “Navigating rocky waters and knowing more about your subject matter than anyone else,” is her specialty as an elected official. “Patience and a measured approach to problem solving” is what I learned as a PR manager and Historian at Hewlett-Packard Company. So, whenever we have mountainous problems, like most folks in relationships, we lean on each other for advice. That speaks to our friendship and respect for each other.

Erin is a very powerful public servant, and I’d always known that I would end up with a powerful woman who needed a man to put his ego to the side. We joke about her being “White Oprah” and me being “Stedman.” Which is code for, “Stay out of the way.”

I’m fine with that. I don’t need attention. I get enough from the thousands of students I have taught as a college professor. She’s also at my academic and public presentations, assisting me. She has spoken in my classes at Chico State and at San Jose State. She empowers women — especially women of color — as both a mentor and advocate to move into public service. I deeply respect that commitment.

And we tease each other ceaselessly. And we drink Irish whiskey and giggle. And there are times every week when we laugh so hard, we have to ask the other to stop talking. I won’t be ever discussing our relationship on-line like this again (because I don’t want her to be uncomfortable with doing anything around me), but this is my statement to the many people who are shocked as to why I want to marry. Erin is your answer.

You are my friends and family and I want you to know how wonderful she truly is.

I see many people who get engaged and marry and announce on-line, and I’ve always wanted to know “Why? How?” — and the process they went through to make their decision. I decided, this one time, to say why I got down on one knee and asked her to trust me and to love me like I love her.

The Rainbow that started it all…

The Proposal

We had an extraordinary day of seeing Yellowstone’s beauty. But I couldn’t pull the trigger. I never saw a situation where I said, “this is the moment.” I wanted this to be special and memorable, but I had no plan. We rushed to get to Old Faithful Geyser, which I thought would be an appropriate spot, but there were too many people around. And I thought, “Who am I — Lewis and Clark?” The Geyser had no specific meaning to me. All day, no magical moment.

I thought, “Maybe this isn’t supposed to happen. If I’m nervous and can’t seem to do this, then maybe it isn’t meant to be.” All sorts of niggling doubts.

I decided to stop on the side of the road to watch fly fishermen cast their lines at the end of our long day. I was thinking about my friend Pete Olson, fly fisherman and hoops star out of Stoughton, Wisconsin. I just wanted to watch the water peacefully and enjoy our final moments in the park. She declined getting out of the car. No big deal. I’ll watch fly fishermen by myself.

When I got out, I saw a huge rainbow and people looking up in wonder. I poked my head into the car and said, “You need to get out and see this rainbow.”

The scene overwhelmed me. It was perfect and that rainbow was magical. All my doubt disappeared. She lagged behind me as I moved to the rocks by the river.

It was decided. I would ask for Erin’s hand in marriage. Right here and right now. It was just a wave of emotion at how beautiful the setting was. And she was wearing my favorite color, goldenrod.

I walked up to a guy and asked him to get a photo of us — and whispered through my Covid mask that I was about to propose. He said, “Fantastic. I’m a wedding photographer!”

He asked if I wanted it filmed, but I said “No — I just want a photo of the moment.”

He mouthed the words to his carload of family and four or five teen girls that, “He is going to propose!” They all jumped out of the car and stared. I sat Erin down on a rock, and she awkwardly agreed to sit for a moment.

She said “Yes!”

Then I dropped down to my knee and grabbed her hand. I told her “I’ve loved you for a good while now and can’t see being with anyone but you,” or something to that effect. I had no plan nor a speech.

She said, “You are on your knees! You don’t do this!” Then I pulled out my mother’s wedding ring, fumbled around trying to get the baby-pin it was attached to unhooked (she helped), then I put the two rings on her hand. She was crying by this time. We hugged. To say she was surprised is an understatement. She was shocked.

Then I said, “Oh — I forgot to ask — will you marry me!?”

She said “Yes!”

I yelled out to all the fishermen and the groups sitting and enjoying the rainbow that, “She said yes!” Everybody clapped.

I got all the folks together for a “family shot,” which was funny because everybody was white. So I said, “Looks like my family didn’t show up!”

Our relationship surviving is all about our friendships and family members keeping their arms around us. We love you. We want you in our lives. And if we get together with you and laugh too hard and fart, then that’s just who we are.

Black and White and Professor and Politician and madly in love with each other. This is my open love letter to my soulmate, and now my fiancé, Erin Hannigan.

Dr. Vernon Andrews and Erin Hannigan Andrews Wedding

Post #2: Erin’s Response

So, my boyfriend, Vernon Andrews, surprised me last Friday with a beautiful marriage proposal in a meadow alongside the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park.

I cried as he leaned on one knee and told me all the reasons he loves me and his own journey to get to this very moment. I said YES of course because frankly I’ve had a baby crush on Vernon Andrews for over 3 decades and 3 years after our first date we are committing to each other. It makes sense; we are soulmates.

We first met at Chico State in 1983. I was a Freshman and Vern was a Grad student. After college I looked for this handsome guy, with the crooked smile and the twinkle in his eye, in the Ma Bell white pages and between us there is a glimmer in our memories of a nice meal at Jack London Square sometime after the summer of 1987.

Fast forward to July 2017. I saw Vernon in a Facebook post of a mutual friend and I took a chance and messaged him. I asked him out on a date, to the Dead Fish of course, and our relationship blossomed.

I’ve often referred to Vernon as a unicorn . Never been married, no kids, lived abroad in New Zealand for 14 years, very well educated, published author, emotionally intelligent, adventurous, attended Burning Man 11 times, has many, many friends all over the world, loves to travel, he’s compassionate, measured, patient, kind, funny, smart, loving, sexy, thoughtful, a great dancer, he cares about my kids, embraced my family as I have his.

I’m shocked and surprised and grateful and emotional and on cloud 9. I love Dr. Vernon Andrews and I look forward to our life together forever.

I’m the luckiest girl in the world

PS. Since this is Covid times any wedding and celebration plans are on hold.

A Covid Wedding in 2020: “Dr. Vern Andrews and Erin Hannigan Andrews and families”

Post #3: The Yellowstone Photographer

A proposal in Yellowstone National Park?!?

In the times we are living in, everyone could use a little sunshine. So here is a story for y’all.

Last week our family was in Yellowstone National Park. This had been a dream of mine since I was 10 years old. I had spent so much time researching, watching Old Faithful, taking courses at UNCW related to the protection of our National Parks and quite frankly, my dream workplace. So, 12 years in the making, I finally was there.

As we were leaving the park, Amelia spotted a rainbow behind us. Dad asked if we wanted to stop, and we all decided too. We got out of the car and I grabbed my camera and began taking pictures. As I was watching the rainbow, a Tesla quickly whipped in the parking spot beside us. As the gentleman hopped out and walked towards me, I realized I had spotted him earlier in the day at a Geyser in the park, over 30 miles away. As he approached me I though “what in the world does he want,” because in the Covid world we live in, it seems people get upset if you even look at them the wrong way.

Julian our photographer, on the left, with his family.

He trotted up to me and asked, “Will you take a picture of us?” I gladly said, “Yes!” Then he said, “By the way I am proposing to her,” and there comes his girlfriend behind him. As you can imagine I was SHOCKED, because isn’t this every photographer’s dream? I was so excited, and I mouthed quickly to the family “He is proposing.” He sat her down on a rock, and I took a picture with his phone and quickly switched to my camera as he pulled out the ring from his pocket. I snapped as many pictures as I could while the rest of the family stood out of the car and watched in excitement.

After she said YES, they turned to me and said, “Thank you,” and commented on how beautiful the rainbow was and this is when I slipped in, “By the way, I am actually a wedding photographer.” We exchanged contact information, and tonight I just sent them an album of pictures.

Their story is so unique, and they shared it with us of how they met. Because long story short, they had spent 30 years apart before crossing paths again and spending the past 3 years as soulmates.

All I have to say is wow! No matter what you believe, you can’t deny there being something greater than we can imagine at play. A wedding photographer from NC, a double rainbow, a couple who had not seen each other for three decades from California, a beautiful scene around (with a rock that worked perfectly as a seat), and all colliding at the same exact time… WOW!

Love is love, no matter the times we live in, love always wins.

So, to Vernon and Erin, congratulations, you will never know how special this moment was not only for y’all, but for me too. Two of my passions collided at the same time.

Honeymoon in New Orleans in October, 2020
Two-minute wedding video

© 2021 by Dr. Vernon Andrews. All Rights Reserved.

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Dr. Vernon Andrews

Dr. Vernon Andrews

Dr. Andrews is an Oakland native and New Zealand citizen. His awesome new book is titled “Policing Black Athletes: Racial Disconnect in Sports” (NY: Peter Lang)