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Melissa and I in her backyard

By: Kabelo Khanye

It has been a prodigious two years since I last saw Melissa Schoeman: an old friend I first met in high school. A few weeks before our meeting, I received news she’d gotten engaged to be married at the end of the year and my jaw has been dropped ever since. I would soon make it my short-term goal to have a conversation with her and find out what lead to her decision to get hitched at age 20, how it all came to be and how she met her fiancé through a mutual friend … God.

My friend Bethany and I have just entered the gates of Melissa’s mothers’ home in Midrand, also a B&B described as a natural break from the city where you can unwind and appreciate the nature around you. Almost immediately after stepping outside of the car, we are greeted with enthusiasm by Leo: her chow-chow. Amidst our gushing over her dog, here comes the bride all dressed in a calmative smile and a beaming energy. We are taken into the back garden, a place we’ve spent many times in doing school work and having parties and now, talking marriage. It’s a sunny and quiet Sunday afternoon, and as we sit out on her porch within the beauty of the surrounding trees and plants, vast garden space and swimming pool, the groom to be himself, Garth van der Watt (23) emerges from inside the house to greet and join in on the conversation.

Kabelo: When I think of you, Melissa, I’m immediately reminded of our public speaking days back in high school, so to find out you are getting married this year was a huge deal for me. How are the wedding plans coming along?

Melissa: Very well,  we’ve got everything and we’ve only been engaged, tomorrow, a month.

Kabelo: What? Already?

Melissa: (Laughs) Yes. We’ve got our minister, our décor, our flowers … yes, everything but the dress.

K: Whose been helping you? Do you have a wedding planner?

M: No …

Garth: …We doing it ourselves

K: And when do you have the time? After work, over dinner, are you guys busy planning?

M: (Laughs) Yes, and on the weekends we’ve been planning, but everything is now booked and paid for.

K: And do you guys know how many people you want at your wedding?

M: Yes, it’s 90? … (Turns to Garth)

G: 95.

K: So it’s going to be pretty small and intimate?

M: Yes, it was actually going to be 60 but because we got this voucher where we can accommodate 100, we added more. We don’t have to pay per person.

K: And bridesmaids?

M: Yes, I’ve got one bridesmaid and my [older] sister is my Maid-of-Honour and then my [younger] sister and [niece] are flower girls and then my nephew: we’re going to try to see if it will work for him to be the ring-bearer.

K: And, Garth, you’ve got your best men?

G: Yes, it’s only two: my brother and my best friend.

K: And when is the big day?

M: 24TH of August. Our chapel is on a mountain peak so it overlooks the whole area. It’s an outdoor wedding, we Love the outdoors. It will be from sunset.

K: Take me back to when you first met Garth

M: (Giggles) Ok, so it was about two years ago and at the time I was dating his next door neighbour…

K: …that’s so Desperate Housewives of you…

M: (Laughs) I know.  When I met him, I was immediately attracted to him but I was not interested obviously, because I was dating [his neighbour] at the time. But then we met again, properly, last year February for my birthday. There was a braai here (points to pool area) and then I knew. But then, he was in a relationship.

K: So you guys just kept missing each other

G: We kept missing each other the whole time because I had just come out of a five year relationship.

K: So you’ve known each other for two solid years …

M: …and we only dated two months before we got engaged.

K: Was marriage in mind when you decided to date?

G: Almost. We spoke about it early in our relationship…

M: …And we prayed about it.

K: Both of you have dated before, did it feel different this time around?

M: Very. This is a nurturing relationship: my previous relationship wasn’t and this is like a completely  different thing for me. It still feels surreal to me, like I often feel I need to pinch myself … ‘is this really happening?’ Really, I’ve never, ever, ever experienced anything like this.

K: So this is what Love is?

M: This is what God wants. For me, this is the first Godly relationship. It’s from Him, it’s for Him, everything is surrounded by Him.

K: When you knew you wanted to marry Melissa, did you go to her family?

G: Oh I went to everyone.

K: Tell our readers how you proposed to Melissa

G: I decided on the Monday that I was going to propose on the Friday and then we still went to go see Martin (preacher who’ll be counselling their marriage) two days before. So on the Friday I took leave, paid my brother to take her out on a date…

M: …not on a date, for supper (laughs)

G: …and then on my way here, to prepare, we drove past each other so I thought ‘I’m busted’. But then my brother said he’ll spin some story. So then I came here and set up with her mom and her sister and niece, and we set 400 candles from the pool to the conference room, photos of us everywhere on the window in the conference room and they were black and white, because she likes black and white. Inside the conference room, Danielle (Melissa’s younger sister) made a heart with some of the candles and then I was waiting inside the heart with the ring. But then it was a long wait, so I called my brother and asked ‘where are you?’, ‘no, we’re watching Wipeout’ he said, but he didn’t know, so I told my brother you have to leave right now.

K: And what was your initial reaction when you saw all this?

M: I immediately knew what it was

G: And I didn’t put the ring on, she grabbed it from me (laughs). And then we walked out the garden and next thing, her sister is screaming fire! It was an entire fire caused by the burning candles …

M: Yes, up to the roof!

K: Did all the pictures burn down?

M: No, thank God. Only half, everybody pitched in to help (with the distinguishing of the fire).

Melissa and her fiance, Garth van der Watt

K: What do you believe binds you two?

M: Our faith, honestly. That is what we base our relationship on, going to church [together].

K: What happens after the wedding?

M: We move into our house that we’re either going to build or rent.

K: And are you both going to continue on with your studies and working?

M: Yes. (Melissa is studying a BeD in ECD: early childhood developmet and Garth is studying to be a medical technologist. She works as a grade 0 teacher at a nursery school, and he works at Sunninghill Hospital)

K: And children?

M: Later, first alone time. I mean children are a huge responsibility so not any time soon: maybe in two to four years.

K: Do you know how many kids you want?

M&G: Two.

K: What do you say to people who might think you’re moving too fast?

M: There’s no specific time set for things like this to happen. If the Lord didn’t want this to happen, He wouldn’t have opened the door, so by Him opening the door we took it as He wants us to and we want to. Yes, it’s a huge commitment completely but if you are comfortable with yourself and your partner, then why not do it …

G: There’s no handbook to this.

K: Did your families react positively to the news of the engagement?

M: Yes, they were very supportive. We didn’t expect them to be so accepting because we do understand that we are young.  

K: You do understand, though, why it can be seen as shocking?

M: Believe me, it’s a huge step in your life. This is what you dream of so to have it happen is a huge thing.

K: Did you always know you were going to get married so young?

M: No …

G: I had a five year plan.

K: And this feels right?

M: Yes, when you’re with your friend then yes.

K: And are you guys well aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses?

G: (Laughs) Oh yes, trust me we are.

M: We try communicating as much as possible, that is very important to us.

K: What is the vision for your marriage?

G: To just grow every day, together and to just be happy. We know they’ll be hard times but to be with each other, that is the aim.

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