By Anthony Molta
It was around 3 p.m. when I realized what was happening. I couldn’t be sure, though; there wasn’t a single clock in that church. The organist was playing some loud, familiar tune – not one that I particularly wanted to be hearing at the moment. I could see Lauren, escorted by her father, walking towards me, walking way too fast. I wish she’d slow down, or maybe get lost coming down the aisle. God’s aisle. Please God let her take a wrong turn and end up in a crowded pew with random, distant family members. No such luck. Her father clearly knew his way around a church.
How did I even get here, I found myself thinking. Me, getting married – such an asinine thought. I stood there with a stupid look on my face. I tried smiling, but I’m sure I looked like an innocent man in a cheap tuxedo, struck with fear. An innocent man only in so many ways. After all, I felt a little guilty about agreeing to get married in the first place. What a pretentious shmuck I was – combing my hair, shining my black leather shoes, playing the role of the perfect groom. All the while, in my head, I was going over my list of reasons why not to get married:
1. Too young
3. Lauren… a little bossy for me. Beautiful, yes… but way too managerial. Talk about being whipped. Can’t even go drink a few beers at noon on a Saturday without getting lectured. Mom-like. Managerial. Pushy.
Number three was a little long, and it really didn’t do Lauren justice. She wasn’t a bad person. But maybe she wasn’t the right person for me – especially as my wife. So I told myself I’d figure it out tomorrow, and then the same thing the next day. And there I was, at the altar, in the ultimate “there is no tomorrow” situation.
Standing there, stiff as a board, list or no list, I knew I couldn’t get married. Not that day, not that moment; but what was I to do? Emergency bathroom break only to never return? They’d burn me at the stake. I looked to the priest for help, but he had no idea what was going through my head. Behind me stood Dave, my best man. “Best Man.” Where the hell was he when I needed him? Behind me, maybe. But he certainly didn’t have my back.
My parents! Shit. They’d disown me if I screwed this one up. They loved Lauren a lot more than I did. I realized this wasn’t just about me anymore. Mom adored the time she spent with Lauren: shopping, getting full-body massages, organizing dinner parties, and other lady-like hobbies. The kind of things her bungling only-child son would never do. And Dad, that creepy way he watched Lauren prance around the pool in her tiny bikini. He’d kill me if I took that away from him. And then, of course, there was me. There were a lot of things I loved about Lauren. Could a marriage survive on a lot of things? No. Our relationship was dilapidated by a ridiculous engagement. Could I have just said “no”?
* * * * *
It was something like a year ago, maybe a little longer. A good husband would know the answer. We were on her stupid Hampton Beach vacation driving around in her stupid Volkswagen Bug rental car. It was such a dismal night outside. Rain pounded on the windshield as the wipers darted left and right like a hyperactive polygraph. Lauren drove slowly as she talked on and on about how happy she was. What was she talking about?
“Yea, yea. This is great,” I chimed in, here and there. I pretended to be sick, but I was actually falling asleep to the monotonous beating of the rain drops on the roof. I couldn’t have been less pleased when she pulled the car over onto a wooded side-trail.
“Come on,” she said. “I want to show you something.” She darted out of the Bug and down the muddied dirt trail.
“Oh hell no, what the… shit!” Goddamnit, I thought, I’m not going out there.
“Come on, Donald!” she screamed as she disappeared into the darkness. I got out of the car, reluctant and pissed off. “It’s Duke! My name is Duke! Do not call me Donald!” Where was she? I was shouting at no one. Lauren only called me Donald when she was either really happy or really mad. I stopped for a moment in the dark, secluded woods. The type of place people are taken to get axed. Could she be that mad?
“Over here… Duuuke,” she yelled sarcastically. I ran to her voice; she was standing in a rotted-out gazebo, suspiciously placed in the middle of nowhere.
From there I think we did what you’d expect a young couple to do in that moment. We embraced each other, kissed, and just stood there keeping each other warm. It was something out of a Kay Jewelers commercial. Only the sentiment was all off. You had the romantic, big-hearted girl trying to stoke the fire of our relationship. And then you had me: the pragmatic boyfriend, shivering from the rain, pretending to be sick, wondering if he was actually going to get some action in a gazebo.
“I want to talk to you about our future,” she whispered. And then she talked. And talked. Presumably about our future. Her idea of the future probably didn’t match mine. I was trying to calculate my possible gains or losses on that night’s Patriots bet. Dave, my future best man, had gotten me addicted to sports gambling over the years. When I think of the future, I think of money. And when I think of money, well, I think of gambling. Shit, how could I stand there and neglect my girlfriend? My beautiful, energetic, slightly confused girlfriend. I almost felt bad.
“Did you leave the keys in the car?” The question popped into my head and I just sort of blurted it out. I had nothing else to say.
“Listen, jackass,” she snapped back at me. “You’re not making this easy.” She was still smiling. What did she see in me?
Just then she awkwardly positioned me onto one knee, as she took a seat on my upright thigh. Well this is anything but comfortable, I thought. “Marry me,” she whispered, the words lingering on her lips as if God Himself were trying to put them back into her mouth. Is this what it has come to? An unorthodox proposal indeed; was I not man enough to ask the question myself?
“Yes,” I said, apparently. My words didn’t match my thoughts: Hahaha, are you serious? Please get off me now, my knee hurts.
How could I say “no” right then and there? Nnnnnn-nnnnn…
* * * * *
Daydreaming at the altar, how appropriate. Lauren was now standing right next to me, my hands in hers. How did my hands get there? The priest was reading something from a black book. I don’t think it was the Bible. I couldn’t pay attention; my tux was choking me, I was almost struggling for air. Damn tux. I had wanted to wear my shark-skin suit; it was stone black with a subtle shine like the top of Isaac Hayes’ head. But Lauren insisted I wear the tux, and I let her have her way.
She gripped my hands tightly, she wouldn’t let me leave. I couldn’t even wipe the sweat from my eyes. Now would have been a good time to pretend to faint. How do you faint? I could just fall backwards and hope the impact knocked me out. I imagined the headline of the next day’s Daily Republican:
“Groom Faints at Altar, Allergic To Weddings.” Sorry honey, I’m so shook up about what happened back there, I think we should put off the wedding indefinitely. I don’t know if I can endure that again. Poor guy.
Too much doubt in my mind. My natural instincts would trigger my arms to break my fall. Even the priest would see the pretense in my dramatic collapse. You don’t do that sort of thing in God’s house. Even I knew that, and I’d only been inside a church a few times before then. Once, to confess my sins when I was twelve:
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first confession.”
“What is it that brings you here, my son?” The Father/son thing easily confused the shit out of a kid who never went to church.
I really didn’t know what I was supposed to tell him. “I stole some cookies. And I yelled at my mom, once, Father. I’m really sorry for that, I do feel bad.”
“Is that all of which you seek forgiveness?”
“Pretty much,” I said. How the hell was I supposed to know? It would take me all day to tell him every bad thing I had ever done. Was I supposed to tell him I sometimes watched my Dad’s adult movies at midnight, eating candy, after I had brushed my teeth? He’d damn me to hell for sure.
He muttered some holy gibberish under his breath, which now I can only assume was some sort of Roman Catholic scripture. Then he leaned his face up close to the metal screen separating us, to the point where I could see his priestly eyes staring at me. “Your sins shall be forgiven upon your prayers. Please say three Hail Mary’s and one Lord’s Prayer.”
I casually walked out from the confessional, and since I had no idea what Hail Mary’s or Lord’s Prayers were I ran across the street to get some snacks before my Mom picked me up. All that talk about cookies had made me hungry. Just because my sins couldn’t be forgiven didn’t mean I was giving up snacks.
And then, once again, my one pitiful memory of church was right in front of my eyes – the white veil in front of Lauren’s face! It reminded me of that worthless confession. I didn’t see Lauren behind the veil; I saw that old priest! Was he haunting me for lying? I’ve heard Lauren recite the Hail Mary prayer enough times over the years that I was able to start repeating it right there in my head while I stared through that confession-inducing white veil. God’s house was full of mystical revelations. I was losing it. Perhaps my biggest sin was coming to mind and it wanted to bedevil me. Why couldn’t I resist temptation?
* * * * *
It was exactly thirteen days ago. I can remember this one specifically. Lauren drove out to her parents’ place to make the final adjustments to her dress. Dave, upon my announcement that he’d be my best man, decided we’d go out and celebrate. What started out as a man-date of dinner, beers, and football at our old college bar turned into an all-out reunion that more closely resembled a frat party.
Clearly I had lost any competitive drinking edge I might have had in college because by 11 p.m. I was blitzed.
“Hey, old man Dukie, how’s the 401K?”
“Hey you, I’m gettin’ married so shut up!”
“Whaaat? Ahh you’re so old man – that’s crazy!”
“Fuck you; I’m not… really gettin’ married. Yes I am. Shut up.”
This was pretty normal for the majority of the conversations that night. Things started and then continued to go downhill when Kim Craymore showed up. Kim Craymore. What a stupid name. Kim was my girlfriend senior year of college. She was a sophomore then, a senior now. K.C. she went by. Well no shit, she still went to school. Of course she’d be at that bar! What was I thinking? Evidently I wasn’t.
“K.C. – Kim, hey! What’s up, how are you? It’s been way too long.”
“Wow, Donald. Hey, nice to see you around for once. So what’s all this talk I hear about you gettin’ hooked?”
“Ah, c’mon these guys are idiots. Don’t listen to them. Go get a beer, let’s catch up,” I said, almost begging.
And we talked, and caught up, and shared a few laughs. At the end of the night we split a cab, ’cause that’s what old friends do. Where that cab was going, I had no idea at the time. Turns out it was going to her place. And back at her apartment we continued with various forms of catching up, most of which would have been looked down upon by my fiancé. How long had Kim and I been broken up? Years ago felt like days ago. Was this just a drunken romp? Or was it enough for me to tell the priest to screw off? Shit, no excuses; the deed was done.
It was at this point in time that I officially considered myself an asshole. Not necessarily a bad person, but definitely an asshole. I couldn’t treat Lauren like that, and I knew I’d have to end the engagement. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with a plan in those thirteen days prior to the wedding.
* * * * *
So there I was again, continuing with the wedding that I had no interest in, thinking about my drunken sins. And there was Lauren, talking now. What the hell was she saying? I soon realized we were at the part in the wedding where we exchange vows. Oh, how I despised that part.
“…the most generous and loving person I have ever known, and I promise to always love and respect you. I trust, through shared kindness and unselfishness, that we can create a lasting life together for ever and ever…” For ever and ever. There must be some mistake.
“And Duke, you may now read your vows,” the priest ordered.
If only they could hear what I really had to say: “Lauren, you are so beautiful. And you can be really nice… sometimes. So I promise to always admire your physical beauty as well as your ability to save face with a little charm. But, you’re a little too demanding for me. So I promise to keep taking your shit and letting everyone else believe you are the perfect partner, so long as we don’t actually get married. That would be a big mistake.” Then I’d turn around, high-five Dave, and Lauren would jump into my arms as we got the hell out of God’s house.
Instead, I pulled out a small index card which held some generic vows I’d found on About.com:
“Lauren, I love you. I want to be your husband so that we might serve Christ together. Through all of the uncertainties and trials of life, I promise to be faithful to you and love you, so that together we may grow in the likeness of Christ and our home may be praise to Him.”
Over my shoulder I could see the Crucifix staring down at me. I’d done it now. Now I was mocking him! Couldn’t I have found some more secular wedding vows? Barely two sentences, and still two references to Christ? God’s house was caving in on me. There were several white statues what looked like Moses, Mother Teresa, and a man carrying a baby giving the peace sign. They all looked at me in disgust. Even my parents had confused looks on their faces. But Lauren donned a huge smile. I thought maybe her smile would calm Jesus and his angry statues. I also thought maybe I was still high from the night before. Goddamnit, Dave! Why did I agree to try smoking marijuana with him the night before my wedding? Best man, my ass!
* * * * *
“It’s a ritual. You gotta get stoned your last night as a free man.” Had the slaves been afforded this ritual?
“You smoke all the time, Dave. I’ve never done it before. I just don’t wanna get too messed up,” I pleaded.
“No worries, brother,” Dave said as he handed me a small ceramic bowl that kind of looked like a really smooth chess piece. And we smoked his marijuana. God forgive me, for I have sinned, yet again.
The only thing worth mentioning from that wedding’s eve night was the conversation we had about Lauren. I had never been high before, so I didn’t realize the stowed-away words of frustration and repression that would come spewing from my mouth.
“I don’t even love her, man. I don’t wanna get married.” Well, technically it was true. I didn’t want to get married. However, it probably wasn’t the right time for that conversation.
“No, no, no Duke, don’t say that. Forget about that crap, that’s the drugs talking. Lauren is awesome. She’s so hot; she’s so perfect for you,” Dave insisted.
“Yea? Ok, I guess so.” The conversation hadn’t gotten very in-depth, but there was an admission of guilt: I had told Dave that I didn’t want to marry Lauren.
* * * * *
That was 16 hours ago. I had to have been sober by the time I made it to the altar. Besides, I don’t think it’s possible to be high in religious places. Especially not in God’s house. But the damage had been done. Dave stood behind me, and he knew that I didn’t want to marry Lauren. Maybe he would rescue me at the last moment. After all, that’s what the Best Man is supposed to do.
Priest: “If anyone knows why these two individuals before me should not be married, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”
Dave: “I have reason to believe that these two individuals should not be married!”
Priest: “Please, do tell us what you know.”
I doubted if Dave had it in him; he’d have to be high to pull something like that. Besides, he’d already told me I should marry Lauren. I was running out of options. Maybe faking an illness really was my only way out? I’d already given up on the idea of fainting. What about a heart attack? I’d never seen someone have a heart attack, but who has? Nobody would be able to tell the difference. But what would happen when the EMT arrived? He’d blow up my spot for sure. “You’re healthy as a horse, sir! Get back up there and marry that girl.” Scratch that.
My grandparents, in the last pew! Their divorce when I was 9 – how could I make use of that? I’d pretend I had PTSD from their separation, and that I had lost all respect for the sacrament of marriage.
“Why, Gram? Why did you leave Gramp? You left him all alone – how could you?” People would definitely sympathize with that. You can’t expect someone to get married when they’re still traumatized by divorce in the family. Except that everyone knew I loved Gram’s new husband. He’d just had to take me to all those Red Sox games!
I was losing opportunities to walk away left and right. When would this thing be over? Could I wait it out indefinitely? Not likely. Before I knew it, two sets of extended families were bustling in their seats. Big smiles came across their faces and everyone sat up a little straighter in God’s pews. They were ready for something big to happen, finally.
“Duke, do you take Lauren to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
No. “I do.” Damnit.