Brandi Segers and Aliyah Wilds
April 17, 2018, in Philadelphia
Aliyah was talking with her friend Hope at Hope's April 2011 fish fry party when an attractive stranger on the other side of the Arts Garage distracted her. "Who is that?" Aliyah wanted to know. "That's my cousin Brandi," Hope told her.
Moments later, Hope introduced the two of them in the middle of the dance floor. "She looked up at me and smiled really hard, and I'm like, 'Wow, OK!' " Brandi remembered. She had to leave soon after but asked Hope to give Aliyah her number. Aliyah texted later that night. A few days and a few conversations later, Brandi invited Aliyah to her place for baked chicken, macaroni and cheese, broccoli, and cake. Neither one really ate, but they talked about their lives.
Aliyah, who is now 31, was born in North Philadelphia, graduated from high school in Swedesboro, and lived in South Philadelphia. She has a daughter, Mahasin, now 9, and is an elder-care health provider for My Independence at HOME, a self-employed hair and nail stylist, and an after-school group leader.
Brandi, now 39, lived in North Philadelphia, where she grew up. She has a son, Zaair, who is now 16, and a daughter, Niyah, now 14. She also is an after-school program group leader.
"I thought she was going to be my girlfriend that first day," Brandi said. "I was so hyped up inside, but I had to play it cool."
Within three weeks, they were girlfriends. Brandi was soon in love. "She was so free and so open," she said of Aliyah. "She loved herself — she was just so happy to be her — and that was really dope."
Aliyah really, really liked Brandi. "I thought she was very nice and kind and sweet, and was cute and everything," she said. But Aliyah did not fall in love. "I was still young, and I didn't think I was ready to be tamed," she said.
In 2013, they broke up and Aliyah moved on. Brandi tried to do the same. Later that year, she learned from Facebook that Aliyah was engaged to another woman. It hurt, but she had to admit that her ex looked happy. "I knew I had to let her go."
By early 2014, however, Aliyah's relationship ended. The breakup left her in an introspective space, and she came to realize she had hurt someone who had been really good to her. That, and the fact that Mahasin was really missing the friendship she had with Niyah, made Aliyah brave enough to reach out. "I emailed her and told her I was sorry for hurting her, and I wanted to apologize," Aliyah said.
"I thanked her for apologizing. It meant something that she reached out and said she was sorry," Brandi said.
Later that week, Aliyah's mom, Miriam, called Brandi to ask if she could pick up Niyah so the girls could play. When Miriam brought Niyah home, both Mahasin and Aliyah were with her. "It had been awhile since I'd seen her, and she looked so different. But then she smiled — like some Colgate commercial," Brandi said.
Learning that Brandi had a new girlfriend, Aliyah said she hoped she was happy. But Brandi was already realizing she still wasn't over Aliyah, and so there was no way things could work with anyone new.
Aliyah's mom was "still trying to play Chuck Woolery and hook us back up," Brandi said.
They saw each other for their girls' sakes, then as friends, and then, by fall 2014, because there was no denying there was something between them.
This time, Aliyah was ready. "Sometimes, we think we want certain things in a partner, and then when we get them, that's not what we want at all," she said. "When I really realized what I wanted, it was Brandi" — someone who listens, someone her daughter also loves.
Brandi fell in love the second time with Aliyah's sweetness and kindness. "She is so selfless. It's never her first."
In January 2015, they moved in together.
In July 2017, Aliyah went to Ocean City, Md., with family. "I missed [Brandi], and she came down to the beach to see me." The two drove home together, stopping at the King of Prussia Mall on the way.
"What if we got married?" Aliyah said as they walked around the stores.
"Are you serious?" Brandi asked. Aliyah had always said marriage wasn't for her, and Brandi had been trying to convince her otherwise since 2011. She needed to know for sure before she answered.
"Yeah. I'm serious," Aliyah said. "You want to go try on rings?"
"I couldn't get the smile off of my face," Brandi said.
The couple planned on something small at City Hall, but Aliyah didn't think the space was happy enough. They found the Magnolia Garden, which is part of Independence National Historical Park, and nondenominational officiant the Rev. Kathleen Spicer.
Their children were their only attendants, leading to the hashtag #2WivesPartyof5. Rev. Spicer led a ceremony woven with personal details, and Brandi read a poem she had written in secret:
Give me your heart
And I'll give you mine
Cherish it dearly
Like it was your own
In a way it is
Because your it's home
Help it to beat
Loud like thunder
Don't take it for granted
I don't have another
Make caring for it your routine
Like the air you breathe
So loving you
Is like loving me
Afterward, a reception dinner for 37 was held at the Hotel Monaco. Aliyah's mom gave a speech welcoming Brandi into the family. The couple spent most of the evening moving from person to person, talking to everyone.
Rev. Spicer walked to the altar first, followed by the couple's children and Aliyah's mom and dad, Raymond. Then came Aliyah. "As I watched her come down, I started shaking, and I told the reverend, 'I'm too scared! I don't think I can do this,' " Brandi said. "She said, 'You can do this! You're ready!' I see her, and I can't believe this: She is going to do this, she is going to marry me."
Brandi's cousin Stephen made a reception speech. "He brought up her mom [Michelle], who passed away last year," Aliyah said. "And then he said that watching us made him believe in love again. I looked at him, and I looked at her, and then at my ring, and I thought, 'Wow. This just happened!' and I was so happy."
A bargain: The Magnolia Garden cost $50 for a three-hour rental.
The splurge: A wall of flowers at the reception.
Five days in Miami, to be followed by a week in Guatemala in June.
Officiant: The Rev. Kathleen Spicer, Norristown.
Ceremony: Magnolia Garden, Philadelphia.
Reception: Kimpton Hotel Monaco, Philadelphia.
Photography: Stephen Segers; and Jermaine Parker, Philly Connextion Photography, Philadelphia.
Flowers: James Walker, Philadelphia.
Brides' attire: Lulu's.
Aliyah's hair: Onnay Oliver, Glambition.
Aliyah's makeup: Alexander Taylor.