A Family Filled With Love And Hope

(from left) Jayden, Neenz, Chelsea and Noe | Jade Moon photo

“It doesn’t matter what gender, if it’s a male and a male, or female and female, or male and female. It’s all about the love. It’s just two people who are in a relationship, taking care of each other, loving each other, living their life together. That’s what it’s about.” – Chelsea, 17 years old.

“It’s the same thing as a husband and wife, as long as there’s love. It’s the same thing. Just accept that.” – Jayden, 9 years old.

Meet one of the best families I’ve had the pleasure to know. Jayden and Chelsea, along with their two moms, Neenz Faleafine, 42, and Noe Mendiola, 35, have been together eight years. Eight years of living like any other family – squabbling, sharing, loving, supporting and facing the world as a united front.

They have a good – no, a great – life together. Faleafine is CEO of Pono Media, a business consulting firm. Mendiola is going to school to become an esthetician. They are solid in every way. The only thing they don’t have – yet – is a marriage recognized under the law.

In June, Neenz proposed.

Because, for the first time since she became aware at a very young age that she was gay, she thought there was a chance that she could have something she’d thought was impossible: a legally sanctioned love.

Neenz says the turning point was the dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

“When the Supreme Court made their ruling (striking down DOMA), in my heart I thought this could really happen. This could happen in my lifetime.”

Noe thought the proposal was a joke, at first. They had talked about marriage, but since both thought it was something out of their reach, they’d agreed they were fine just as they were.

Noe says, “When I realized that it was real, and it was true, and it was something that she wanted to do … then of course, I just cried.

I was just, oh my god.”

This is an unconventional love story. They knew each other as kids. Neenz grew up, moved to the Mainland, came back and met the grown-up Noe. She fell in love. But she didn’t reveal her feelings because Noe thought of her as a friend.

It took a tragedy to cement their relationship. In 2005, Noe, her boyfriend, Jayden and Chelsea were in a car on the freeway. Another car came barreling down the wrong way and hit them head on. The driver, who apparently had been high on ecstasy and alcohol, died.

So did Noe’s boyfriend – the car seat carrying baby Jayden was thrown out of the vehicle. Chelsea was hurt; a Good Samaritan wrapped her in his shirt and tended to her until help came.

And Noe was in a coma for two weeks. “I was disoriented when I woke up. I didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t recall a lot of the accident. Basically I had to start all over again.”

She had to learn to walk. She fell into deep depression. But when she despaired the most, her friend Neenz was there.

Noe cries as she tells me, “Not a lot of people I knew cared the way that she did. And she didn’t baby me at all. She was there for me. She stood right next to me. She believed in me. She believed in me more than I believed in myself.”

And that’s how Noe fell in love. Every step of their relationship has included the children. Neenz promised them that if having two moms caused them pain or trouble, she would leave. Eight years later, she’s still there.

In fact, Jayden and Chelsea were in on proposal, and even helped Neenz pick the song – the Lauren Hill version of Can’t Take My Eyes off of You. They’re excited about the wedding, and want a big one with tons of friends and family.

And all of their hopes hinge on what happens this week.

Hawaii’s lawmakers are in special session to decide whether Hawaii will, finally, have marriage equality for all. They’ve said they have the votes. This time, apparently, they have the will. This is the time to decide on the most important civil rights issue of our time.

If our lawmakers do the right thing, Neenz and Noe will be married. You can bet Jayden and Chelsea will be a big part of the ceremony.

But no matter what happens this week, they are a family. Solid. Loving. Committed.

And nothing can ever take that away from them.