Finding Each Other After 40 Years

Cassandra Laity & Cynthia Affron • Friendsville, TN

Cassandra and Cynthia

In November of 2012, two women, Cassandra – or “Candy” - and Cindy, met up, began to talk, and were soon enamored with each other. After a few months communicating long-distance, Candy moved from New Jersey to be with Cindy in Tennessee. And almost two and a half years after meeting in that coffee shop, the two women were married in Florida in a simple ceremony.

This may sound like a typical love story, but it’s not – it starts 40 years before that meeting, at a girls’ boarding school in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Young Love

The two women met when Candy was 17, a senior in high school, and Cindy was 16, a junior. “The moment I saw her I was just smitten,” Cindy said, thinking back to seeing Candy walk into her classroom.

The moment I saw her I was just smitten.

The girls quickly began dating at school, although it was forbidden – the year was 1970, and a same-sex relationship in a boarding school was unacceptable. Cindy said that many of the other students at the school knew about their relationship, although they were relatively discrete about it.

While the other students were by and large accepting of the couple, the administration was another story. They were eventually discovered by their dorm parents, a new couple who had just moved into the school.

The dorm parents immediately threatened to expel both students from the school. That’s when Cindy stepped in, asking that they only expel her.

Cindy was trying to protect Candy who, as a senior, was close to graduation and was one of the top students in their school. “I said, ‘I’ll leave quietly without a fuss, but don’t sacrifice Candy,” Cindy remembered. “She was top of her class – brilliant. And they agreed, and they kicked me out.”

“I Am Serious About Wanting To Marry Y ou”

Cindy had asked the school not to tell her parents about the reason she was kicked out, fearing her parents wouldn’t understand her feelings. The school complied, but her parents quickly discovered the nature of their relationship when Cindy ran away to see Candy at the school in her parents’ car. 

In 1970, homosexuality was classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” This meant that the American Psychological Association approved treatment of people based solely on the fact that they were in love with someone of the same sex.

Cindy’s parents, worried about her, sent her to a psychiatrist, believing that her same-sex relationship was indicative of a mental disorder, and they needed to help her overcome it. Cindy attended sessions with a psychiatrist and went to public school, but never stopped thinking about Candy. Unable to see Candy as much as she wanted to, she began sending her letters.

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Even at the young age of 16, Cindy knew that there was nothing wrong with the love and commitment she felt toward Candy. “I got to see the psychiatrist Wednesday,” one letter, written while Cindy was in study hall at the public school she now attended, reads. “I’ve decided to tell him the truth - that I don’t want to change.”

Cindy thought of Candy constantly, even mentioning marriage to Candy in her letters. “We should be very happy together in future years,” she dreamed. “I think it will last; our marriage, that is. I love you.”

We should be very happy together in future years. I think it will last; our marriage, that is. I love you.&

Although the two were not at the same school any longer, they managed to see each other occasionally, when Candy could drive out to New York to see Cindy. “I love you. It was great seeing you, if only for a short time,” Cindy wrote after one such meeting. “It seems to get tougher on me each time I see you, I mean the being without you after I’ve just seen you…. My love for you is so full, so complete, that you couldn’t begin to know.”

The two continued to make brief trips to see each other through the summer and the following fall, when Candy began to attend NYU in New York City. One of Cindy’s last letters to Candy reads, “I feel I owe you a lot, and I am serious about wanting to marry you.”

Moving On

Soon after Candy started attending NYU, though, Cindy’s parents grew increasingly concerned about Cindy and sent her to a mental health institution, where she stayed for three months. While institutionalized, Cindy remembers the staff immediately understanding that she did not need to be there, giving her work duties to occupy her time. However, the experience of being locked away for something that was so clearly not a disorder was a harrowing one, and when Cindy was released, she was eager to reconnect with Candy.

But Candy had moved on, and started a relationship with another woman in college. “When I think back on it,” Candy admitted, thinking back to the dramatic situations that had kept them apart, “I think I couldn’t stand the pain anymore. It was so traumatic.”

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Although Cindy was heartbroken, she realized that it was important to let Candy move on. “I always thought of her as my first deep love,” she said. “But I assumed that she would marry a doctor or lawyer and have lots of kids. And I didn’t want to rock that boat, so I never tried to get in touch with her.”

I must have been instantly in love when I saw her picture, even though she was 40 years older.

Over the next four decades, the two women went their separate ways, moving forward with their lives. Candy went to graduate school to become an English professor, and met a man there, who would later become her husband and the father of her son, who is now 21.

Cindy became an English high school teacher, and worked to mend her relationship with her parents, who slowly came to understand that she could not change who she was - and that Candy had always been the one for her, something she discussed with her mother. Years after they came to understand her, they both passed away, but not without letting her know that they wanted her to be happy with someone she loved.

Throughout the years, Cindy struggled to find another woman who made her feel the way that Candy had when she first saw her in class. So it was a shock – a thrilling one – when she saw that she had a Facebook message from Candy.

“I Loved You Then, Now, And Always.”

Candy’s marriage was ending, and she had seen a picture of Cindy on Facebook and been swept away. “She really didn’t look like she had changed much,” she laughed. “I must have been instantly in love when I saw her picture, even though she was 40 years older.”

The two began speaking on the phone and writing letters to each other again – just like they had forty years ago when they were separated in high school, only now Cindy lived in Tennessee and Candy lived in New Jersey. They knew that something incredibly special still existed between each other. “I want desperately to see you, and I would have caught a plane the day you first emailed me,” Cindy wrote. “I never gave up, and I have always loved you.”

The two soon met each other in person, and it seemed as if nothing had changed. “Within a half hour of our reconnection, we were exactly right back in love like we had been when we were 16,” Cindy remembered.

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Later, she would write another letter that mirrored what she had said when she was 16. “If I’m the luckiest girl in the world, you tell me when to propose.” She even joked about the passage of time since she had last mentioned marriage: “I guess I could get down on one knee, although it wouldn’t be a pretty sight, and you’d have to help me up again.”

She concluded her letter with, “I loved you then, now, and always.”

The couple struggled being in a long-distance relationship for several months until Candy decided that she could do it no longer and moved to Tennessee to live with Cindy. The couple now lives in a beautiful cabin by a lake.

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A Fairytale Love Story – But Not Respected

The couple loves Tennessee, and they feel grateful that they get to live on a beautiful lake in a beautiful state. The couple says that most of the people they know in the state are extremely kind, and they love the wildlife and the climate.

It’s a strange shock to come back here and feel like we both are and aren’t married.

But one aspect of living in Tennessee has been heartbreaking for them – the fact that they are denied the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Earlier this year, in March, the couple was finally wed in Florida, 45 years after Cindy first told Candy that she wanted to be married to her. However, when they returned from their small legal ceremony, their marriage was no longer legally valid in their home state.

“I’m angry that we’re not recognized as we should be,” Cindy said. “We’re totally in love, totally devoted, two productive people. And it’s not recognized.”

“It’s very painful to get married and have everybody congratulating you and sending you cards,” Candy added. “And, yet, you’re not married here. It’s a strange shock to come back here and feel like we both are and aren’t married.”

Still, the two are hopeful for the United States Supreme Court’s ruling, expected later this summer. They are encouraged by the reactions of people around them – even their car insurance agency recognized their unique and difficult situation and changed their policy to allow them to be listed as spouses for their purposes. They hope that, soon, their marriage – after two proposals and 45 years – will be valid nationwide.

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