By John Clayton
Photo credits Kate Ignatowski (with thanks to Ben P.)
Tomasz is Polish and has a Green card. Outside the Daley Center on a December Saturday (rainy and cold with lake-effect wind), his Jamaican bride-to-be stands six inches higher, probably more in her decent heels. She’s witty and carries a Celine handbag. On either side are their Romanian witnesses, chain smoking. Fourth duty-free Dunhill in, they fret at a small stain on his lapel and prod his silk-ish necktie to have the requisite dimple.
I exchange jokes with the bride. I admire her heels. I realize her handbag has the wrong zippers and is most likely a fake.
My soon-to-be husband stands next to me and shivers, waiting for them to unlock the doors. He’s Japanese. I’m American. My father was a Marine; that means we’re early. It is 8:56 and the seconds click by like a metronome; it’s one timed to make an interesting simile that just won’t come by the time this piece gets published.
I don’t care about his dimples or his lapels. I continue to make jokes with the Jamaican bride and continue to admire her heels. We walked up to the door at the same time this morning, and I waved them ahead of us. Though I committed to this years ago and am thrilled, jittery, ecstatic at the prospect of really having this chance…still, I let them go first. Southern Gentleman? Final regrets? Or just plain incompetence? We waited for the Supreme Court...what’s another ten minutes?
I look across the street at Starbucks and wonder if I should get a latte.
A chubby white security guard muffin-topping out of his polyester pants opens the door. His shoes fold and crease. He points downward without saying anything. The marble-floored foyer leads to escalators. Inching into the abyss the hallways narrow, the marble and wood gives way to veneer, and each of us vies to be first to grab paper tabs from an electronic counting machine.
Minutes later at the certificate office, it’s as if the local DMV hooked up with a model UN summit after too many mixed drinks. A Mexican couple in taffeta white dress and satin tuxedo have both sets of parents, at least four cousins, assorted friends, and bright floral arrangements in tow. I expect a boombox playing assorted Banda tunes will be along shortly. A helium-filled balloon basket floats near the asbestos ceiling. Next in line, a Philipino couple argues angrily in Tagalog and tries to fish passports out from a large carry-on bag.
Second-ish in line, we look around and see that we are the only ones who are both dudes. We joke and use that word. I played tennis in college and my fiancé had a Judo scholarship to one of the best schools in southern Japan. People look at us, but nobody says anything. It’s less judgment than that all are waiting for our wives to show up.
We defy expectations.
Those wives don’t show up; we hold hands, we speak in Japanese. I’m wearing Castangia. People smile and say “Congratulations” in languages and clicks and waves. They shrug; we shrug. “It is what it is,” they seem to say. And then they turn back to their own positions in line and fight with their parents.
Judge Cain is white and pudgy and seventy-ish and puts a black robe over his cardigan. He will officiate. It’s a tiny closet with a boardroom table, less wood or veneer than outright plastic coated to look like plastic. He’s here on a Saturday because, no doubt, he gets a premium rate. He looks over and stamps our documents. He asks me about Chicago and then launches into a speech about his daughter. She’s at Cornell. I smile and just wish he’d sign the paper. He defers and gives us his advice: always live in the same place and always eat dinner together. He does it all very quickly and wishes us the best. He gives me his business card and smiles.
With certificate in hand, we go across the street to register it. An elderly African American lady behind a desk admires the pen I brought to sign the documents. It was something Paul Smith commissioned Cross to make back in the late 90’s. I brought it with me just in case the other one didn’t work; the one attached by a chain to her desk. It didn’t work. Mine did. She smiles and prints out the documents.
We are married.
And then it all truly begins. Sure, we are the first generation to try all of this, dudes marrying other dudes. And here is this piece: eight vignettes in search of a wedding theme.
I’m not sure I have one, except that we are all searching for that path that has precedence, but can be our own. We are looking for something that doesn’t make us feel alone, but that also doesn’t put us on par with the Stepford Wives (or Husbands). In bad polyester or Castangia, dimples or Giordano’s stains, we’re all just figuring this out for the first time.
John Clayton is a writer and teacher in Chicago. He was really never all that good at tennis. He looks great in Castangia. View his website at www.johnlloydclayton.com