Our wedding was not what you would call traditional. After seven years of monogamous fun, two of them co-habitating and officially “engaged,” I decided that enough was enough. Somehow the thought of continuing to live with a man whose only legitimate label in society was “boyfriend” really bothered me. First of all, he wasn’t a boy. Second, he was a Hell of a lot more than just a friend. The thought of employing the equally silly though perhaps more mature title of significant other was even less appealing.
“Yes, it’s wonderful to meet you Mayor Douchebag. This is my significant other, Bill.” Please. Significant other sounds like a nineteenth century euphemism for a menstrual cycle. “Lady Jane won’t be joining us this evening. Her significant other is visiting, poor dear.” Wink wink, nod nod.
It didn’t help that I was twenty-seven and in the beginning stages of suffering from the inevitable, Holy- Shit-I’m-Almost-Thirty-And-Still-Single syndrome. Although in my own defense, after seven years with Bill it was more like, “shit or get off the pot.” We were both way past ready to make that final commitment, and if one more idiot asked me, “so when’s the wedding?” there was a fairly good chance that I would have an assault charge on my permanent record.
When we decided to elope I recalled the beautiful garden we had visited in that loveliest of Southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina, during a college spring break many years earlier. You know, spring break. In March. So I had the brilliant idea of getting married in the fore mentioned garden. We knew it would be summer and having experienced what we believed to be sweltering heat in Connecticut, we figured we could take anything the south could throw at us. How hot could it be? We assured ourselves that it would be perfect. Just the two of us, the moonlight, and the magnolias – you couldn’t ask for more. The bonus: no family. Not that we don’t love our respective families both collectively and on a one-to-one whack job ratio - but the thought of all that kissing and hugging; all that forced formality that no one is comfortable with; all those distant relatives who only seem to materialize at the buffet tables of weddings and funerals - was more than either of us could bear. So in late spring I began planning our big day.
“If we do it on a Tuesday we’ll have the rest of the week as a honeymoon,” I pragmatically blared from the center of a sea of brochures on the living room rug.
“Okay,” bemoaned the complacent voice from the kitchen.
“Maybe we should hire a photographer or something. Don’t you want wedding pictures?”
“There’s a really nice inn that we could stay at, but it’s pretty pricey.”
And so it went on. Every suggestion got a resounding okay. Some women get angry when their fiancées don’t participate in the planning. I had complete free reign and loved it. I could have suggested a dude ranch or perhaps the circus and gotten the green light. All he had to do was show up in a well pressed suit. Not a bad deal considering the some of the bridezillas we’d known over the years. He dodged a bullet and he knew it. I was determined to make this as painless as possible for the both of us.
Charleston, South Carolina can get pretty balmy in late July. Let me rephrase that. The bowels of Hell would have been a welcome respite from the palmetto chirping, sweat drenched swamp that is Charleston in late July. However, the inn we stayed at was indeed lovely. An old antebellum mansion of the Rhett and Scarlet variety complete with a four post bed and afternoon aperitifs.
For the record, I can drink with the best of them. So when the predictable black chambermaid brought in both red and white wine with the bread and cheese platter I went all in. I felt great!
Later Bill and I went to dinner and then to a walk in humidor/bar where some of the most tremendous live jazz I’ve ever heard happened to be whaling in the corner. The leader was a lanky black kid, no older than sixteen or seventeen dressed in an oversized white tee shirt and baggy ripped jeans. It was a no frills kind of dive. But boy did he blow like Dizzy in the hey-day.
Naturally, several high balls were consumed over the course of the evening. I was still feeling great. We were getting married the next day at 5:00. Everything was moving according to plan. For the first time in weeks I could relax.
At the evening’s close we staggered through the oven-in-the-face heat back to our air conditioned room and decided not to have sex. We were both plastered and agreed that it would have been a shame to have sloppy drunk sex on such a magnificent bed.
The next morning, my wedding day, I was hit with the worst hangover in world history. Charles Bukowski couldn’t have experienced a worse one if he drank anti-freeze with Mad Dog chasers. When the maid brought in the breakfast platter of homemade breads, jams and wonderful southern delicacies that we Yankees have yet to embrace, I sprinted to the toilet. It was the first time I had ever actually hurled from a hangover. Lucky me.
As I stared into the bloodshot eyes reflected in the bathroom mirror all I could do was cry. Of all days! Bill was sympathetic and, of course, felt absolutely fine.
“Are you okay in there?” he asked with a mouth full of some sort of biscuit while peering into the marble floored powder room at his half dead fiancé.
“No I’m not okay. I’m sick! Look at me, look at my eyes. We have to call it off, I can’t do this today,” I sobbed.
“What? We already got the license; we have to go through with it now. You’ll be fine, just rest for a while.”
I tried to rest. It did little good. Then Bill got the brilliant idea of going to some museum a mile away and talked me into it. It was noon by then, the hottest part of the day with the worst hangover of all time. Yay. Mercifully, an early period did not arrive to complete this turducken of misery. I trudged on.
The museum was uninspiring; in fact I can’t even remember anything in it. He liked it. Walking back we found a florist and bought some roses. Oh yeah, there was that thing we had to do at 5:00.
Arriving at the garden fully dressed and on time was a challenge but we managed. My dress was simple, but with stockings and a full girdle it was almost unbearable. I felt alright, but I was angry at myself for letting my vices get the better of me. Poor Bill only had one suit, and it was black wool. But boy did he look hot in the incredibly sexy way.
We had to check in at the park office which was located in one of the rooms of the mansion museum on the property. A tiny black haired woman in her fifties greeted us. She was dressed in a black floral dress and wore a headband to keep the hair off her face. Fans were blowing in two corners of the paper cluttered room as well as a window air conditioner at full power but nonetheless losing the battle to make the climate anything cooler than evening swamp.
“You’re not from around here are you,” she drawled as a statement of fact and not a question.
“The park closes at sunset. Feel free to walk the grounds. I’m sorry but there are no more tours of the museum today so you’ll have to remain out of doors for the duration,” she said in a tired end of the day voice.
A rather portly justice of the peace greeted us on the veranda of the plantation house with a photographer who can only be described as the ghost of Chris Farley. In a powder blue suit I might add. So it was just the four of us, Bill, the reverend, Chris Farley and me.
To my surprised delight a funny thing happened as we were standing there listening to the booming southern drawl of the right reverend. My head ache disappeared, the heat magically lifted and for those few precious minutes everything in the garden stood still.
Bill and I looked at each other and an overwhelming rush of love and confidence washed over us. We were meant get through life together, and nothing was more important than to officially and legally proclaim this fact. It was all that mattered in the gravity of that moment. We were in awe of its meaning.Those first few hours after taking the vows were indeed blissful. Even though we’d been in love for years, the instant we said, “I do” it was bigger. It meant more. Bugs and all.
Only a couple of erudite Connecticut Yankees would be clueless enough to plan an outdoor wedding in Charleston in late July. Nevertheless, it was the most romantic day of my life and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.