By Nathan Poppe, The Curbside Chronicle
Mark and Rene slow danced to their first song together as newlyweds, but their thoughts were far from the dance floor.
The moment’s soundtrack was ‘Finally Forever’, a sentimental ballad by the late rocker Chris Cornell about an unlikely pair that wound up getting married. Sort of fitting for two Curbside vendors who’d faced a mountain of uncertainty on the way to the altar.
The couple, who married in 2018, first met while experiencing homelessness. Their wedding song reminds them both of finding comfort in one another during desperate times.
Flashback to early 2016, when it had started raining on Mark’s campsite. He had been living alone and sleeping outside for several months. His bedding was just two couch cushions.
Mark had very few friends and almost no money to his name. He’d keep to himself mostly and wasn’t convinced he’d meet many companions in his situation let alone find a wife.
“Everyone had always told me that homeless couples can’t get off the streets,” Mark said. “I don’t know if that’s true. I think it helps. It has gotta help to have somebody else.”
Heavy rain threatened to drench most of Mark’s belongings, but Rene — who was visiting — volunteered to help improve the situation.
Using tarps, she covered the makeshift lodging and helped make it feel more like a home. There’s a few lyrics in ‘Finally Forever’ that really remind Mark of that evening: “When I saw you walk into my space / A woman like you I could not replace.”
Around that time, the couple had just been friends. Mark first encountered Rene when she was living in a nearby storage unit. The locking metal doors provided her with a safe place to stay. She knows it’s not allowed but welcomed the temporary shelter. It’s not the meet cute you might witness in a romantic comedy, but the two hit it off instantly.
“We’d had such a hard time trying to find someone that genuinely cared,” Rene said. “It seems like that’s partly why we were struggling.”
That chance encounter led to Mark and Rene bonding over a shared compassion for assisting others.
“What I find most charming about my wife is she likes to help in any way she can,” Mark said. “Now that we’re back in housing, we try and give back together. A couple times, we’ve cooked and passed out meals.”
Mark and Rene’s courtship was admittedly sporadic — he was in and out of jail around this time — but their dates made them feel like any other couple. The two would visit thrift stores together, work in a community garden or go fishing — big catches were fed to their campsite cat.
“I don’t want to pretend we are like other couples,” Mark said. “I really want to believe we are.”
They’d feel the most welcome hanging out at Joe’s Addiction, a south OKC coffee shop and eatery that gladly serves people living on the fringes of society. Rene would often cook meals there. Joe’s is where she hung a copy of Mark’s illustrated wedding proposal — where he addresses Rene as the lady of his dreams in the style of an old public notice — and it’s also where the couple hosted their wedding. Both Mark and Rene are close with Joe’s owner and local pastor, Jamie Zumwalt.
That’s who officiated the ceremony in front of a small crowd of close friends they knew from the coffee shop, Curbside and the Homeless Alliance. Before the wedding started, Mark put in an early-morning shift washing dishes and cooking at a diner he’d recently started working for.
His shift was cutting it close to go-time, and he was nervous he might miss his bus and the ceremony. Luckily, he secured a ride and made it to the ceremony with little time to spare.
“The stress of waiting had been lifted, and we could start the next chapter of our lives. I was grateful,” Rene said of her wedding day. “I was happy to know I had someone to go through life with and finally know someone’s there, not running away.”
Guests danced, snacked on pizza and enjoyed an impromptu performance from Mark and one of his childhood friends on guitar. Rene was amazed after her best friend from high school showed up to surprise her for the event. By the end of it, the newlyweds said they didn’t need anything fancy for a honeymoon. Just going back to their new home and spending time together was plenty.
“The wedding showed us the love and appreciation that everybody had for us,” Rene said.
Mark added: “I felt like we knew that they cared, but now, how can we ever deny that they care?”