Two Become One

A Saturday afternoon was unlike any other. A story told to me allowed me to recognize true love when I saw it — and I saw it.

I walked into the Roquemore home, immediately feeling love around me. A home of two, but filled with peace, joy, love and faith.

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Marquez and Laurie Roquemore \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

Marquez and Laurie Roquemore sit on their sand-colored love-seat couch, I’m across from them on the matching sofa, and pizza and lava cakes sit on the coffee table. I see the look in their eyes, and it’s a love that displays safety and true care.

She had overcome some of life’s most challenging obstacles, and he had seen the cruelty life had to offer. They had experienced hardships and seen more than their fair share, but it wasn’t until they had seen each other that they realized it all made sense.

“I would see her come through the gate, and she was always driving drunk people home,” said Marquez Roquemore, recalling the first time he saw Laurie Acho, while he was in uniform with his red hat on duty for Security Forces at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. Acho was assisting the Airman Against Drunk Driving program throughout late hours of the night, which consisted of her picking people up from their destinations, and driving them safely home. Her generosity immediately sparked Roquemore’s interest, but that was just the beginning.

“I was at a Slip N’ Slide, and she was standing there and I saw her,” he recalled with a smile of Acho standing on the balcony of the dorm room area of the base. He and his friends, hanging around in the grass, invited her to join them, but her interest hadn’t quite matched theirs. “I had just showered,” she said. “I got my hair straightened; I’m not about to get my hair wet, and I’m all dressed up with makeup on. No,” she laughed. “I just went back into my room.” She lay there on her bed and didn’t come back out, but fate would eventually give them another opportunity.

“One night she came through the gate and I complimented her nails,” said Roquemore. And to prove he was truly paying attention and not just complimenting her to say something nice, he remembered the exact color she had on. “It was almost a cotton-candy pink.” The same color, he says, of a smoothie in Qatar. She was always around him, even when not physically present. “I came to work the next day and was like, ‘Some guy at the gate complimented my nails,” Acho said to her co-worker. “He must be looking to actually notice my nails.” It was the simple things that Roquemore had demonstrated that had caught her attention — being friendly at the gate, inviting her to join their Slip N’ Slide, and complimenting her nails, which is something not everyone would notice.

And then, their worlds collide.

The Communication and Security Forces squadrons held a Combat Dining Night, which is a mock battle between the two teams. Acho was the first one to see him this time, and she turned to her co-worker and said, “The guy with the red hat! The guy with the red hat! The guy who complimented my nails!” She pointed at him, which caught his attention, and she immediately put her hands down out of embarrassment. And in that perfect timing, “Someone had thrown water at him from my direction, and I was like, ‘I didn’t do it!’” Her idea was much better.

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Laurie photobombing Marquez’s selfie \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

“Me and my ladies went to Security Forces and we pretended we had boyfriends. We took their water guns and busted their water balloons so they wouldn’t have anything to play with, and then we’ll leave,” she said, describing her plot to win against their squadron. On her my way to put her plan into action, she photobombed his selfie. “I took a selfie with just a bunch of people and she was in the back of the selfie with her two fingers up, photobombing the photo,” recalled Roquemore. “I said, ‘Who is this? Oh, that’s her!’” It wasn’t until the photo had already been taken that Security Forces realized what Acho and her friends had really done with their water guns, and then they chased the ladies out of there.

Without direct contact and communication, they had shown each other two qualities already: care and humor. And now it was time to speak face to face.

“The day I said something to her outside from the gate was at the gym,” said Roquemore. “I was talking to one of the janitors there — we were just talking about life — and she walked through and said, ‘Excuse me. I don’t like walking through people’s conversations.’ We were standing in the middle of a narrow hallway. I said, ‘That’s fine,’ and she said, ‘No, I don’t like doing that.’” Acho stayed in place until she she didn’t have to walk through their conversation. Her manners had earned her the first step toward a new romance.

The pair remembered each other from the previous festivities, and Acho asked Roquemore what he was doing. He had just finished a workout in an effort to become a personal trainer; coincidentally, Acho had been looking for a trainer. “I had a trainer and she left me, so that was my first day back at the gym without a trainer,” she said. She had told Roquemore about her situation, and he agreed to train her. As she was walking away, however, she realized one thing: “How are you going to help me and you don’t even know my name?” To her surprise, he did. “He said my first and my last name. He pronounced it correctly: Laurie Acho.” Unexpectedly, her response was different. Although his face looked familiar, she hadn’t learned his name. “Marquez Roquemore,” he told her. “People just call me Rockie.” She gave him her phone number in that moment and asked him to let her know when he goes to the gym, and she could come along.

She received a text message from him the next day while she was at work.

“I rolled in my chair and started spinning and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he texted me!’” She went to her co-worker and said, ‘The guy with the red hat!’” She still couldn’t pronounce his last name. They began texting, and she had the perfect setup. “I had a photoshoot — a fitness photoshoot — and I was like, ‘Hey, would you like to be part of a photoshoot?’”

“I was reading it fairly quick, and I thought she asked if I could come along with her,” said Roquemore, before he figured out to what he had really agreed. Initially, he had kindly said no and was going to stay back; when she asked if he was sure, he changed his mind and thought, “Why not?

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Laurie and Marquez during their fitness photoshoot \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

The next day she had the photoshoot, and Roquemore showed up in a white t-shirt and black gym shorts. “Are you gonna wear that for the photoshoot?” Acho asked. Unbeknownst to him, thinking he was just there to tag along, he asked what she had meant. “You’re a part of it, right?” She asked. That’s when he realized he hadn’t read her whole text message. He couldn’t back out now.

They went to the photoshoot and met the photographer, who they described as a sketchy man with a creepy laugh. All of the doors were locked at the university because it was closed, and the shoot was in the stadium. They went up there, regardless, only to learn that the photographer hadn’t had a battery for his camera. Roquemore tells me he was very glad he had ended up going with her because this wasn’t looking to be a safe shoot. What was supposed to be a swimsuit photoshoot didn’t happen; instead, they took regular fitness photos.

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Laurie and Marquez during their fitness photoshoot \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

Roquemore lifted Acho onto his shoulders, learning then that she was afraid of heights. She laughs while telling me the story, but said she was shaking and thinking, “I’m gonna die in the hands of a guy I don’t really know. How did I end up trusting a guy I hardly know? If anything happens, there’s no proof.” Roquemore, however, knew she in the right hands and told her to sit still. They finished the photoshoot, and the photographer ended up only giving them three photos out of over 20 shots — to this day, they still have not received the rest of their photos. They didn’t let that ruin their night.

They went to a restaurant afterward, called “A Taste of West Africa.” I’m watching smiles form across their faces, and I don’t think they realize their smiles are naturally shaping as they reminisce about their date. Roquemore said, “It went very well,” but Acho said, immediately afterward, “Not really.” Laughter bursts out of all of us, Roquemore looks at her, but she’s still caught in thought. I joke and tell Roquemore, “You thought it went well!” What she had really meant was the food didn’t taste like that of West Africa; their date went well. “The food didn’t go well,” he added. But the conversation had.

The duo left the restaurant and headed back home. They’re driving through a forest road in North Carolina, dark skies above them, Roquemore plugs in his music, and immediately, the singing begins. The thing Roquemore didn’t realize was he had just earned himself many points in that moment. “As a little kid, I actually had a checklist of things that I wanted my man to have or know how to do,” said Acho. “I wanted someone that knew how to draw; I wanted someone that knew how to sing; I wanted a family man; I wanted a Christian man; and someone that knew how to dance,” she described. All of these thoughts ran through her head as she listened to Roquemore’s serenading, feeling calm and able to forget everything.

And little by little, time after time, she found herself mentally checking off boxes on her checklist.

“When we started hanging out, he would call his mom and his sister and check up on them. Most guys don’t do that. He cared about his family,” she shared. But that wasn’t all. “We went skating, and that was the first time I saw him dance.” Her excitement level arose, as she sat up straight and described his dancing skills — but he had more skills she had soon discovered.

While sorting through a pile of papers in his room, she saw a drawing book. He had gotten a board and started drawing a character from a comic. He had been drawing since before he was 13 years old. One drawing in particular caught Acho’s attention. It was one he had drawn in technical school for Security Forces. “It started out as a rabbit, which turned into a seal, which turned into a walrus with ears into a cat with whiskers,” said Roquemore with a laugh. Acho later proudly showed the drawing, and it lived up to its description.

There was one more box to check, and it didn’t take long until it was.

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Marquez and Laurie Roquemore \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

“One Sunday he invited me to go to church with him. I thought, ‘A Christian,’” she said, but she still couldn’t believe her luck. “I need to find some dirt on him. This is too good to be true.” After some failed relationships on her end, she was cautious and afraid. She talked to him and said, “You’re a really nice guy — everything is great with you — but I think it’s too good to be true. I need to find some dirt on you,” she told him, to which he replied, “Well, dig. Let me know when you find something.” Roquemore broke the silence and confessed it had upset him when she told him that. Matching his tone of voice, sympathetically, I asked, “Why?” “She wasn’t the first person to tell me that,” he said. The qualities of a good man were bred into him, but Acho had seen that they weren’t bred into all men.

Roquemore had a mental checklist of what he looked for in a spouse, but he admits it wasn’t as detailed as Acho’s. He jokes, “Let me stop drawing one day and see if you still like me. Don’t let me stop singing.” He wanted someone who would love and support him, regardless of the situation, and little did he know that the perfect — but devastating — opportunity for her to prove her love was ahead of them.

The first Category 5 hurricane in a decade to devastate the Atlantic — Hurricane Matthew.

“My first thought was, ‘I have to stop the water from going into his room,’” Acho recalled. “I got one of my towels, folded it up and put it in front of his room. I started making calls to get sandbags to try and unclog the gutters.”

The Security Forces Squadron was ordered to be gone for three days to ensure everyone around the base was OK and safe; meanwhile, Acho was making sure his belongs were unharmed. It was then that Roquemore’s co-workers had informed him that his car had been totaled. “They said, ‘Hey, man, your car moved.’ I said, ‘What am I gonna do about it now?’” The water was up to the seat. He had only had his car for two-and-a-half months.

I saw Roquemore face the floor, and Acho’s reflected his. As if the day hadn’t been bad enough, it was also the anniversary of his father’s death. “I didn’t even want to go to work,” he said. “The hurricane, rain, my dad’s birthday.” But Acho was a saving grace for him. “She was there for me. She sat with me for a while.”

That time caused Roquemore to think about life a little harder than usual. He thought about the good, the bad, the future and what he wanted. He went to Acho and asked, “Why do you like me? What do you see? Why do you care for me this much?” It was a very important question to him, and an answer he needed. Her response was simple, but very true: “It’s just in my nature.”

The serious side of them came out, as their faces were filled with remembrance of that tough time. Their emotions were so strong that I was able to feel empathy for what they had endured. That difficult time influenced a big decision for Roquemore, and I asked him how he knew what he needed to do next. “Love is a real thing, and you can see it better than you can hear it,” he said. His face serious, but his love for Acho written all over. “Actions speak louder than words.” And hers spoke volumes louder than he had ever heard.

“I didn’t have some grand way of doing it,” he said. He had asked a friend of his how he had proposed, and his friend said, “We were outside, sitting on a bench one day, and we were just talking about different things and about us. We knew we loved each other, and I just asked her.” The story encouraged Roquemore to emulate. Acho recalls he was outside, praying and pacing back and forth, and she had fallen asleep while watching a movie. “He woke me up and said, ‘Hey, will you marry me?’” She asked if he was being serious, and then he explained all of the reasons he wanted to marry her, followed by the proposal again. She put her hand on his shoulder, covered her face, and said, “Give it a week. Give me a week to pray about it.” She needed a blessing from God before she could make any decisions. She spoke with her parents about it for a week, and they all prayed and fasted. Day five of their praying, Roquemore and Acho went to church together again, and that’s when a familiar face had appeared: the same man with whom Roquemore was talking in the gym — the pastor; it was his church that they were attending. He hadn’t known about the proposal, but he could feel their love. He turned to Roquemore and said, “This is going to be your wife.”

Acho was moved to tears. In that moment, her prayers had been answered. “I was asking for some kind of sign, and this random guy who I don’t know, and doesn’t know me, told Marquez that, ‘This is going to be your wife.’” Roquemore immediately responded to the pastor and shared the news that he had just proposed. What touched them all was that out of all the places she could’ve received her sign, she received it at church.

The proposal wasn’t over just yet. In African culture, the proposal also entails meeting the parents and receiving their blessing, and only after their blessing can they get married.

So Roquemore and Acho packed up, took leave and headed to Texas.

“They didn’t know I was coming home; they thought I was going to be talking to them on the phone in regards to him,” said Acho. “I told them I might not have enough leave days, but I actually wanted to surprise them.” When they arrived, she was mostly excited for Roquemore to meet her little brother. “My little brother was happy because he had found someone other than my dad to bond with. The whole time he was clinging to him. I was like, ‘I don’t get any love from my brother anymore.’” Roquemore joked that she was jealous, but she admitted she really was.

“It was very hospitable. They made everything easy. The atmosphere was nice,” said Roquemore. And then he experienced another great part of their culture. “They had these big plates of food for me when I got there. I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ The food was good.”

The celebration seemed to have already begun, but now it was time for them to get serious. Traditionally, the man is supposed to bring a gift for the father when asking him for his daughter’s hand in marriage, so that’s what Roquemore did.

“The next morning I addressed the reason I was there. It went well because I knew the answer he was looking for, although he wouldn’t say it directly,” he said. Her father told him, “I understand how and where you met her, but why are you here? Why did you come to my home?’” Roquemore replied, “I’m here to marry your daughter.” A discussion followed, and her father liked what he heard — and saw. Roquemore presented her father with his favorite bottle of wine. “Now you’re talking.”

Her father approved of Roquemore.

Acho’s parents sat her down to discuss marriage and the details it entails. They asked her if she would be able to tolerate the bad things that she may not like all the time, as well as appreciate the good. Marriage is about tolerating the little things, after all. “Do you want to marry him?” Her father asked. “Yes,” she said. “OK, go ahead and go call him.” On her way to get Roquemore from upstairs, Acho stopped at the top of the staircase and started crying. It was real. Her parents had given their blessing. She was getting married.

There was still much for Roquemore to learn about the Acho family, one being their love for food and hospitality to guests.

“Now, I’m used to a lot of groceries, don’t get me wrong. I’m used to getting two buggies for family,” he said. “But we went to the store, and I kid you not, those square packets of chicken — the 12-pack — they got so much chicken.” They had chicken piling up as high as the child seat in the basket. He wondered who was going to eat all of that food, and then Acho’s mother had told him they were having an event. They went to three different grocery stores that day. Acho laughed about him complaining about all of the food, but teased that once her father had fried and grilled it, Roquemore was the one eating it all, and even brought some back to North Carolina. He was having a great time, getting to relax and enjoy some great food; Acho, on the other hand, was having a different experience.

“I got called up to my dad’s room and he told me, ‘You’re not gonna have a visitor in the house and not feed him. How rude of you not to feed him.’ He was yelling at me, and then my mom came and said, ‘Your dad just told me you’re not feeding him. Why aren’t you feeding him?’” Meanwhile, Roquemore was stuffed from eating.

A storm took over Texas and caused the lights to go out, and that only fueled the flame. “See! I told you to cook for him and now he’s not gonna eat,” Acho’s mom said. They told her to call for pizza and ask Roquemore what kind he would like. He told them he wasn’t hungry. That wasn’t a good enough answer, as they were going to order him food, anyway; though, just as they were about to order the pizza, the lights came back on and Acho immediately started cooking to avoid any further lectures. “Even now, she asks, ‘Are you hungry?’ I better not go the kitchen because that would mean I’m hungry.” If he looks in the fridge for water, he said, she and her family assume he’s hungry.

They flew back to North Carolina later the following week — chicken in tow — and spent the next few days preparing for their wedding at the Court House. They signed their marriage certificate papers, invited four of their closest friends, and gathered everything for their big day.

Show time.

Their witness signed the papers, and their friends called their parents on FaceTime and Skype; Acho’s dad was crying and her mom was laughing, while Roquemore’s mother and sister remained on the phone.

The Christian ceremony began and their vows had been exchanged. Roquemore reached to put the ring on his bride’s finger — and he put the three-piece set on backward. The engagement ring goes in the middle and the wedding bands sit on the outside, but he had put the bands on reversed. It was then time for Acho to put her groom’s ring on — but he’d already had it on. “Oops,” he thought. She watched as he struggled to take it off, and then she put it right back on. The vows were said, the rings were on, and then they became husband and wife. The Roquemore Family was formed on June 8, 2017.

The newlyweds were able to enjoy one month of marriage together, going to parks in Goldsboro to take photos, going to iHop, and experiencing the bliss of being married to the one you love. And then too soon, he received orders to deploy.

When it was time for him to leave, she drove to Virginia to stay with him until the very second he had to bid farewell. The weather reflected their moods: gloomy, rainy and cold. A time that only strengthened them and their marriage, but one that would hurt tremendously. She gave him a hug, and sooner rather than later, she saw the cargo plane take off.

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Marquez and Laurie in their Dress Blues Uniform \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

“I felt bare,” he said. “I would just wake up, go to work, get back. You’d have your off day and find something to do, then you just do the same thing everyday. That’s what I did for six-and-a-half months.” And life wasn’t moving any differently or faster for her, either. “The hardest part was lunch time for me because every lunch time I’d always spend with him,” she shared. “So when he left, I would just sit in a chair the whole time.” She pointed to the chair in which she sat, and I could feel the sorrow she experienced. “I would just stay there for 45 minutes, and I’m like, ‘Well, I guess I gotta go back to work now.’” She would get to work and realize she hadn’t eaten lunch during those 45 minutes; she had no appetite. “It was mentally exhausting.”

After six-and-a-half months of constant communication and FaceTime calls, he finally returned to America from his deployment, and they were able to spend a week together free from work. He made sure to point out that she hadn’t forgotten to feed him. She made him four meals before 7 p.m. on his first day back. Her first thought in the morning was, “I’m just thinking about what to make for breakfast.” And he would respond, “Good morning to you, too!”

Now the couple is preparing for their wedding celebration, and they have much — and many — to look forward to in the future.

Laurie Roquemore shares she is excited about “being able to cook even more some time later on” for her future children. “Hopefully they don’t eat as much as he does, but I do look forward to a family. I look forward to just enjoying the little things, and appreciating the little things.” According to Marquez Roquemore, he laughs and says she’s looking forward to years of being pampered, but she says, “Years of being annoyed.”

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Marquez and Laurie Roquemore \ (photo courtesy of Laurie Roquemore)

And it’s only just begun.

What lock does not need a key?”

“A padlock,” she answered.

“A monkey.”

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