From the beginning, T Kira Madden and Hannah Beresford found an easy cadence, first through horses, then writing.
Cynthia LaFave had a word of warning when she first met T Kira Madden in 2015.
"She said, 'If you hurt my daughter, I'll kill you,'" Madden recalled.
And that, by Madden's reckoning, was a fair enough thing for her to say about her relationship with Hannah Beresford. Years earlier, Beresford had fought an episode of depression so crippling she required hospitalisation.
Madden was no stranger to pain, either: Her 2019 memoir, Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, outlines her trauma-filled coming of age as the queer, biracial daughter of a pair of well-to-do addicts in South Florida. That Madden's pain may have affected Beresford was a reasonable concern for her mother.
It proved unwarranted. "Their relationship has brought so much peace to them both that, as it stands now, if anyone tries to hurt Kira, I'll kill them, too," LaFave said.
Madden and Beresford, both 31 and now living in Beacon, New York, first saw each other in 2012 at the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy in Brooklyn. Beresford, a former professional equestrian, worked there as a trainer and coach for the nonprofit Metropolitan Equestrian team. Madden was shepherding the half-dozen homeless veterans she drove there through therapeutic interaction with the horses. It was part of her job as a teacher and counsellor at the Doe Fund shelter in Harlem, which also housed formerly incarcerated men, many of them addicts.
Madden had just received a master's degree in fine arts from Sarah Lawrence College, where she is now a professor in the MFA writing program. A career in social services wasn't in her future, but the shelter job attracted her for its proximity to a population that felt familiar. "My parents were pretty severe addicts," she said. By the time she moved to New York at 17 for college at Parsons School of Design, both were in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Then, "we had this second sort of beautiful life together," she said. "They were sober and we had these happy adult relationships. My parents always loved me. They weren't bad people."
Just complicated ones. Madden's Hawaiian-Chinese mother, Sherrie Lokelani Madden, lives in Atlantic Beach, a part of Hempstead, New York, and is the general manager of the Dop Dop Salon in SoHo. Her father, John Laurence Madden, was Jewish and, after a career as stockbroker, headed his brother Steve Madden's international fashion accessories business; John Madden died in 2015 of complications from lung disease. In addition to their addictions, they had secrets. Their daughter found out as a child that she had two half brothers on her father's side from a marriage that her parents' affair broke up. As an adult, she learned about another half sister on her mother's side and a brother, whom her parents had placed for adoption. Still, her childhood in Boca Raton, Florida, had a shiny exterior. She grew up winning equestrian ribbons and attended an exclusive high school, North Broward Preparatory School, in Coconut Creek, Florida.
Fridays at the stable with the Doe shelter residents were an opportunity for her to be around horses again and, on occasions when volunteers ushered her charges through their riding and grooming lessons, to read books.
"Hannah noticed me first," Madden said. "She remembers me reading at the picnic table, a Joy Williams book called Escapes." In 2013, before Beresford and Madden found a chance to be properly introduced, the shelter's horse program ended. But Madden's love of horses lingered. She returned to the stable to ask the barn manager if there was someone who could give her lessons.
She was reconnected with Beresford, whose job at the stable overlapped with her graduate studies in poetry at NYU.
Beresford earned her master's degree from NYU in 2014 and now teaches poetry at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. She grew up in rural Voorheesville, New York. Her parents, LaFave, a trial lawyer from Albany, and Jon Beresford of Cañon City, Colorado, the owner of Beresford Remodeling, divorced when she was 5.
At 4, she had started horseback riding. "It became pretty consuming," she said. In 2007, Oklahoma State University recruited her for its NCAA Division 1 equestrian team. But by then, after years on the road touring, distractions from her athletic career were mounting.
"I had struggled most of my teen years with anxiety and depression, and it all piled up," she said. In 2008, she hit what she called rock bottom. "I was hospitalised for a while, and in the hospital, I came out," she said. She called friends and family to tell them she was gay. "As they say, it got better."
Credit belonged partially to a college poetry class. "Though I'd hate to suggest that depression can be treated with anything less than intensive therapy by a medical professional, that became something I could look forward to, where I could see a future."
At Madden's first riding lesson in Brooklyn in 2013, Beresford set a professional tone. "We connected on a lot of different levels," Beresford said, especially riding and writing. "But I didn't know how Kira identified. It didn't cross my mind that she might be gay. I think coming out in Oklahoma, spending my formative years there, made me assume no one else in the world was gay."
Madden noted "that we both were in relationships at the time. But right after that lesson I texted my friend, 'This lesbian in breeches is so hot!' I felt very crushy toward Hannah." Not so much, though, that she was willing to break up with her girlfriend and ask Beresford out.
Instead, life got in the way, she said, and after six months she stopped taking lessons. More than a year passed. "But I always thought of Hannah, how I wished I could be her friend." In late 2014, she scoured Yelp for the names of Jamaica Bay Riding Academy instructors, hoping to find Beresford's last name and contact info.
Eventually, she reached Beresford through Facebook. "I was like, 'Hey, remember me?' " Madden said. Both were nearing the ends of their relationships; Beresford, who considers herself more a country than a city person, was about to move to Austin, Texas.
But after exchanging and reading some work each had written (Beresford a manuscript in progress and Madden short stories and part of a novel), they decided to meet for a first date in February 2015 at the Stonewall Inn.
"In the back of our heads we were thinking, this could be really painful, because I was moving in a matter of weeks," Beresford said. But their book swap had already connected them. "When you're reading something autobiographical, you not only learn the facts of the person's life but the lens through which they see the world," Madden said.
At the Stonewall Inn, they talked and kissed until closing time. "We got kicked out," Madden said. "It felt like love."
As the Chinese New Year began on February 19, Madden, who embraces her Hawaiian-Chinese heritage, and Beresford celebrated together.
Weeks later, Beresford rented a U-Haul for her move to Texas. Madden told her, "You can't move to Austin without me taking you." They drove together. Madden returned to her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, apartment alone. Then, in the fall, her father fell into a coma.
"My father was my person — I was really close to him," Madden said. Beresford booked a flight and planned to stay in New York until Madden recovered. When he died, she comforted Madden through her grief. They wouldn't return to Texas to pack Beresford's things for a full year.
By then, they had become experienced road trippers. "Hannah and I always joke that we spent most of our relationship in a car," Madden said. In addition to the U-Haul trip, by the end of 2016 they had driven to Buffalo for a horse show and to Kansas to visit friends of Beresford's; they also drove to upstate New York regularly to ride horses and spend time with LaFave.
Madden's mother had also become a fixture in their lives, through regular visits to the home in SoHo she shared with John Madden before he died, and later to Long Island. Sherrie Lokelani Madden felt close to Beresford immediately. "Hannah really grounds Kira," she said. "She has this soothing effect. I admire so much how they bring out the best in each other."
In 2017, Madden and Beresford moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, where Beresford had accepted a yearlong residency at the Fine Arts Work Center. The next year they moved to Inwood in Manhattan, spending the bulk of their time teaching, writing and editing the literary journal Madden founded, "No Tokens." They had already traveled to 30 states when, in July 2018, Beresford planned a surprise 30th birthday trip for Madden.
"We went up the California coast through the Pacific Northwest and stopped in Powell, Wyoming, to ride horses at this campsite ranch near Heart Mountain," Madden said. On the evening of July 12, they climbed back in their rented Toyota to watch a meteor shower.
"There were so many mosquitoes we turned the lights out in the car. Hannah started talking to me about how she wanted to spend the rest of her life with me. It was corny in a great way."
She spoke Madden's whole name — T Kira Mahealani Ching Madden — before saying, "Will you marry me?" After Madden said a tearful yes, Beresford opened her car door and found her way to Madden's side in pitch blackness to present a ring. They counted down from three before turning on the car lights so Madden could see it: A teardrop-shaped opal surrounded by watermelon tourmalines and gray diamonds, designed collaboratively by Beresford and Misa Jewelry, a Hawaiian designer.
"It was typical Hannah, being the most thoughtful person in the world," Madden said. "Years ago, when I was feeling very lonely, I had bought a watermelon tourmaline engagement ring to remind myself to always commit to my well-being first."
On January 7 at Kualoa Nature Reserve in Kaneohe, Hawaii, Madden and Beresford committed to each other's well-being for life. At a wedding attended by 72 guests, Madden, wearing a marigold dress designed by Zac Posen before he closed his business in November, walked with her mother down an outdoor aisle strewn with multicolour rose petals. Beresford wore an aubergine suit by Bindle & Keep, a Brooklyn company that specialises in suits for queer and gender-nonconforming people.
N. Michelle AuBuchon, a friend and fellow writer, officiated the wedding ceremony. "To know T Kira and Hannah is to know how fiercely they love, with no boundaries, barriers or divisions," she said.
A dozen attendants stood by the couple as they exchanged handwritten vows. "You and I have dedicated our lives to words and the arrangements of those words, but it's these moments, our moments of silence and understanding without explanation that matter most to me," Madden said. In her remarks, Beresford was characteristically poetic: "The universe may be limitless, but I can count my life in moments of seeing you, of hearing your voice, of disbelieving in scale."
On this day
January 7, 2020
Where: Kualoa Nature Reserve in Kaneohe, Hawaii
Tradition: During the ceremony, AuBuchon led a traditional exchange of flower leis between the families.
Time for a tour: At a cocktail hour, guests were taken in two separate boats on a short tour of the Molii Fishpond. The 125-acre fishpond is a form of sustainable fishery management, which dates back 800 years.
Grass skirts: A band, accompanied by a trio of hula dancers, played traditional Hawaiian music during a dinner that featured short ribs and sea bass.
Written by: Tammy La Gorce
Photographs by: Michelle Mishina-Kunz
© 2020 THE NEW YORK TIMES