I signed my life away on a cold, drizzly December morning, standing over an oak desk inside an oatmeal-colored, mid-70’s, government building. The walls were beige, the low ceiling covered in large white acoustic tiles stained with mysterious brownish-orange splotches in the corners. I could feel the fibers of the oak desk under my hand as I kept the certificate from sliding under my pen. The dozen or so-ish chairs in the courtroom were made of the same yellow oak, and covered in scratchy brown fabric. At least three of the half dozen people sitting in those chairs—watching me—were wearing wispy, ivory-colored clothing. They smiled with the hope of an audience who have seen this play before.
Half an hour earlier, they had been feeding me lines of advice about a happy marriage. I had smiled through every picture we took as we stood in the hall outside the courtroom, nodding a nervous smile at the occasional visitor who was on their way to pay a parking ticket.
“You look so beautiful,” they said, “congratulations.”
I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I smoothed out my white satin Oleg Cassini dress. It had been freeVa classmate in my community college Tae Kwon Do class gave it to me after she heard I was getting married.
“I just decided I wanted something different,” she said, handing me yards of satin and lace stuffed into a shiny black trash bag. “I don’t have the right bag for it, but this should keep it out of the rain.”
The top gaped up at me, made for a woman with a chest several times larger than mine. “This part is too large for you to play,” it said. “The role of a wife is not for a girl who can’t even hem a dress.” My future mother-in-law and I meant to fix it before the ceremony, but we never did, so the night before we threw some safety pins and creative folding techniques at it and hoped for the best.
Now one of the pins had popped open, and was doggedly refusing to go back into its catch. My grandma walked up and took it out of my hands.
“Here,” she said, pulling the pin out entirely and disseminating the extra fabric among the other pins. “I always hated these fuckin’ things.” She glared at the pin, fastening it with shaky hands before stuffing it into my hand. “Put that in your purse, in case you have to use it later.”
Given the amount of warning we’d given my family, I was genuinely surprised so many of them showed up. Adam and I had made the announcement on Christmas morning, after a failed attempt on Christmas Eve. Sometimes food and gossip and screaming kids take priority. The only person who’d known I was engaged was my cousin Kelsey, who impressively managed to act as surprised as the rest of the family when she was badgered by our grandparents.
“Did you know about this?!”
“No..I mean, I knew they were talking about it…but…”
My mother, by sheer chance seated at the head of the Christmas table, took my hand in both of hers and smiled, tears filling her eyes.
“Just remember,” she said, “Any marriage can work, as long as you two respect each other.”
Now here we were, 11:00 AM on December 27th, taking pictures of Adam in his class A’s with Aaron wearing his beret, waiting nervously for our name to be called.
“Waymire?” A chubby blonde woman in her mid 50’s and a pale blue dress called to us from behind the protective sliding glass window. “You can go in now.”
My mother and grandfather pulled open the large oak double doors, revealing a small courtroom with a man in a long black robe waiting solemnly. I wiped my sweaty hands on the delicate satin of my dress and walked inside.
Pictures from that day show me leaning back, smiling hesitantly as the judge read his script. Adam was leaning forward with eager anticipation, no fear in his smile. Of course he wasn’t afraid: He was five years older than me. I guess that gives you some more time to prepare for these sorts of things. I don’t know. It’s been thirteen years, and I still don’t know.
“Where is your reception outfit?” My mother asked. In two days, my mother had thrown together a sizable reception in the rec room of the apartment complex we had shared only three months before.
“I thought you were supposed to wear the wedding dress to it?” I smoothed the top against my chest again.
“No, honey, of course not. We can’t have you going to the reception in your wedding dress—they’ll think I don’t know how to get my daughter married!”
We walked across the street to K-Mart, my dress piled in shining heaps in my arms to keep it from the oil-slicked roads.
I felt like a celebrity as we walked in the store: Everyone watched as my mother led me to the junior’s section and began thumbing through the racks of rhinestone-studded jeans and polyester blouses.
“Are you going to Olan Mills?” passersby would ask, walking halfway across the department to talk to me.
“No,” I’d mutter, red-faced. “I just got married.”
“Congratulations!” They turned to my mother. “She’s a beautiful bride. You must be so proud of your daughter.”
“She is, isn’t she?” My mother beamed. She turned back to me, saw me picking at a stray thread on a polyester blend blouse. My dress was pooled around me in great heaps—when physical escape is impossible, retreat into the nuances of the mundane. Pick, pick, pick. “Oh honey, don’t worry about it. This is your wedding day. You want to look nice. ”
The reception was lovely, low-budget, and full of friends and family that were happy to see me. The $300 my mother had spent on decorations and frozen finger foods had gone impressively far. We received your typical swarm of presents: A microwave, glasses, a toaster, two satin negligees my mom and mother-in-law had purchased—purely by coincidence—on racks right next to each other at Target.
My grandparents gifted us a two-night stay at the Doubletree by the airport. I had to go in to work the second day, and was asked why I didn’t answer my phone when they tried to call me in the night before.
“Because I was on my wedding night.” Steve, the Intel-Engineer-Turned-Quizno’s-Franchise Owner, looked away and busied himself with counting the till. I finished stocking the meats and veggies and handed Steve my apron and hat.