Marriage on the Rocks
I got married at a young age: seven.
The bride was named Karla, a portly girl with rosey cheeks and strawberry blond hair who’d been my best friend since kindergarten. We were in the middle of playing house, as we normally did, when Karla threw down her doll and shouted,
“This isn’t right!”
I thought she was talking about the doll’s diaper, which was backwards and upside down.
“That’s okay, I’ll fix it,” I said, taking the doll from her hands.
“Not the diaper!” she screamed, snatching the baby back. “I mean us.”
I stared at her blankly, not having the slightest idea what the girl was talking about.
“If we live together, and we have a baby, then we should be husband and wife,” she said.
Her idea caught me off guard. I hadn’t really viewed Karla as wife material. She was the girl who would eat half of my bologna sandwiches and protect me from bullies on the playground.
“Do I have to kiss you?” I asked.
“Noooo!” she laughed. “My mommy and daddy never do that.”
“Okay, then I’ll marry you,” I said. “But who’s gonna marry us?”
Our friend, Eunice, jumped at the chance.
“Me, me! I’ll do it!”
“Stop jumping,” demanded Karla. “You’re making me dizzy.”
“Please, please can I do it? I watch my daddy marry people all the time.”
Eunice’s father, for the record, was a minister. Not a bigamist. Karla eventually gave in and let her perform the ceremony, which took place during recess.
“Do you Mark take Karla..,” Eunice began.
“Just get to the good stuff,” I don’t want to miss kick ball,” interrupted Karla. And just like that, we were husband and wife.
Things moved pretty fast after Karla and I got “married.” On day two, she was pregnant, and by day three, we’d had another baby—her cabbage patch doll. By day four, she was complaining that our pretend house was no longer big enough for her. And after just a week, Karla ditched me at lunch to sit with Michael McCrossen, sending me into a jealous rage. To get even, I went home with Eunice, where the minster’s daughter took me up to her room and asked if I wanted to see her “tweety.”
“Sure,” I said. “I love birds.”
“No, silly, my tweety’s not a bird, it’s…”
Eunice hiked up her skirt and, no her tweety wasn’t a bird at all. It was her puddy. I ran out of her house screaming, and to this day, can’t watch Tweety and Sylvester without getting chills.
The incident, however, got back to Karla, who demanded a divorce. We remained friends (for the benefit of our babies, of course) but the experience left me bitter and broken, and I swore never to get married again. If only I had made the same vow about watching others take their vows.
In my adult-life, I’ve been to more weddings than most people attend in their lifetime, thanks in part to my jumbo sized Italian family, large circle of friends, and inability to say no. Whether it’s my best friend, second cousin, or an ex-lover, once I receive that engraved invitation in the mail, it’s all over. I’ll write a big, fat “YES” and then race to Bloomindales to buy a new tie.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a perfect attendance record, going to over 40 catered affairs from Pittsburgh to Paris, and spending a small fortune on hotel accommodations, tuxedo rentals, and bachelor parties. And then there’s the gift, which is typically a large sum of cash—if I’ve had a good time, a little lesson I learned from my Aunt Bella.
Aunt Bella would always go to weddings with a wad of hundreds. “It’s always better to give cash because no one can trace it,” she will tell me. Rumor had it that Aunt Bella had ties to the mafia, and sometimes I thought the licorice she bought me was paid for with stolen drug money, but that didn’t stop me from eating it. Aunt Bella had a very simple checklist: if the bride and groom sat her at a head table, spent more than five minutes with her, complimented her dress, and said thank you, they were rewarded nicely. If, however, Aunt Bella was seated next to the kitchen, near the band, or with people she didn’t like, she deducted 100 dollars. Ignoring her dress would result in a penalty of another hundred. And if the newlyweds ignored her, that would cost them a whopping 200 bucks. Aunt Bella also carried the same policy when it came to funerals, specifically her funeral. In her later years, she handed me a wad of hundreds and said, “Mark, when I die, I want you to be in charge of tipping the funeral director. If he gets my name right, and sits you in the head pew, he gets the whole thing. If he gets your name, or anyone else in our family’s name wrong, deduct 100. If he gets my husband’s name wrong, give him an extra 200…”
I found Aunt Bella’s approach to be a fair way to approach the wedding gift. Certainly better than buying part of a fancy china pattern, gravy boat or some other stupid registry item that the bride and groom would probably never use. But I found myself taking her tactic a step further, deducting money if the vows were unoriginal, if the band wasn’t good, and if I hear the phrase, “the love between a man and a woman is the only natural kind.”
Being from a predominately Catholic family, I tend to face the last one a lot. I’ve heard the story of Adam and Eve so many times, I can recite it verbatim. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’
And with this happens, I’ll reach into the bride and groom’s wedding envelope, pull out a hundred dollar bill, and thanks heavens that I’m an atheist. Then, I’ll think about the absurdity of a man giving up one of his ribs and let out a little chuckle. Usually no one will notice, but last time this happened, my sister happened to be fake praying and called me out on it.
“What is so funny?” she whispered. “Is Uncle John’s fly open again?”
“Gross. No, I was thinking about your ex-boyfriend.”
“Why are you thinking about…Mark! You didn’t…do anything with him, did you?”
“I mean, it’s okay if you did. I always thought he was a little gay. No offense.”
“I was thinking about how when we went out for BBQ, he would never share his ribs.”
“And not only did only did I have to order my own ribs, I had to pay for them, too! Cheap bastard,” she recalled. “You know, one day, I told him, if you don’t share your rack, I’m not sharing mine.”
“Mark, please, we’re in church.”
The priest continued the story of Adam and Eve, while I rolled my eyes and my sister went back to fake praying. But even this torture was nothing compared to the most recent wedding I attended.
That event was almost unbearable, a black-tie event in Northern New Jersey that I had to attend by myself since I hadn’t been invited with a guest. That was a curteosy extended only to married couples or, at the very least, those who were engaged. The Adams and Eves.
The bride was my friend Karla, the same girl I’d married in elementary school. I’d hadn’t seen her since high school, and we’d hardly kept in touch with the exception of
and had barely even talked to, with the exception of a few spordadic e-mails and some text messages here and there. Still, we were bound by our childhood and Karla insisted that she couldn’t get married without the presence of her “first husband.”
I felt uncomfortable as soon as I entered the reception hall. The room was filled to capacity, over 200 people, and just about everyone was partnered off. I began to feel lonely, so I took solace in a Vodka Tonic, and then went to go find my table.
Number 12 was located clear across the room. I squeezed and shuffled between parents, best friends and other important people on my way to Siberia, where I found myself seated at on oval table with the distant relatives, co-workers and other degenerates invited solely out of obligation. Sure, they seemed nice enough. Karla’s third cousin, William, for example, wasted no time in telling me about his gout, while his wife, Angela, offered to fix me up with their daughter. But I had little interest in making small talk with a table filled with strangers.
Instead, I got myself another drink, and then went outside for some air. The saving grace of this reception hall was that it had a beautiful little pond. I took a seat in the grass, stared at the water, and wondered what the hell I was doing here. It was clear that Karla and I weren’t going to have any sort of grand reunion, since she apparently had better things to do, like tossing a cheap bouquet or shoveling cake into her husband’s face, than engage in a meaningful conversation with a friend she hadn’t seen in years.
I decided to go back inside, grab another drink, wish Karla and her new husband (I couldn’t even remember his name) luck, and then go back to my hotel and eat a rotisserie chicken. At least, that was my plan, until Katie entered the scene.
I didn’t like this girl at first. I was pretty pissed that someone had infiltrated my secret little club and worried that she’d try to stage a coup. I hated the way her heels scraped against the sidewalk and couldn’t stand the way she tapped, tapped, tapped on her wine glass in between puffs of her cigarette. And I nearly had a coronary when she sat down on MY grass.
“Is it f-in hot in there or what?” she asked. She was 100 pounds, if that, but spoke with the rhapsody of Tina Turner.
“So, how do you know the bride and the groom?” she continued. Ugh. Small talk, really? My dislike for her multiplied.
“I used to be married to the bride, I kidded.
“That’s cool,” she said. “I used to fuck the groom.” There wasn’t the least bit of comedy in her voice. And suddenly, Katie had my full attention.
“Now, that’s interesting,” I commented.
“I know! Everyone’s like what is the ex-girlfriend doing here…”
“No, I meant how come you used fuck in that sentence, but not the previous one?”
“F-in hot vs. fuck the groom.”
“Oh,” she laughed. “I only say the actual word when I get really angry.”
“So, did he dump you or something?”
“It was a mutual breakup, you fucking asshole.”
“I’m sorry. I’m still a little sore about the whole thing. She was supposed to be the rebound girl, not the one he marries. I don’t even know what I’m doing at this stupid wedding.”
“I can relate.”
Katie and I spent the next few hours bitching out the bride and groom. Way after the bride danced with her father, the bouquet and garter were tossed, and the last dance was had, Katie and I remained by the water, sharing any and all aspects of our lives, from favorite music and celebrities we’d most like to f-.
We stayed there until one of the cater-waiters politely asked us to leave.
“Would you sluts get out of here, already?” he shouted. I was supposed to meet my boyfriend an hour ago!”
Katie was the first to stand.
“I guess I should get going. It’s a long drive home,” she said.
Not wanting the party to end, I invited Katie back to my hotel.
“I don’t know,” she paused. “I’m a little worried.”
“Relax,” I assured her. “I’m gay.”
“F-in duh! I’m not worried you’ll rape me, I’m worried you’ll judge me for not wearing matching bra and panties.”
“Ugh, I hate that word!”
“Wow, you really are gay.”
“Want to know my least favorite two words in the English language?”
“Give me a hint!”
“It contains one of the words you just said.”
“Oh, I know! Wet panties!”
“Gross! But very warm.”
“Not that warm.”
“You gays and your games. I give up.”
“That’s just ridiculous.”
“You’re so close I could vomit!”
“You are such a weirdo!”
Our moment of Zen was interrupted, once again, by the same cater waiter.
“If you bitches aren’t out of here in five seconds, I’m going to turn the hose on you,” he snapped.
“Kinky,” I replied.
He rolled his eyes and went back inside.
“Good thing we didn’t get the hose,” said Katie. “Then I’d have moist panties.”
I shrieked, totally put off, yet I was kind of love with her. She agreed to come back to my hotel room where we raided the mini-bar, ordered room service, and flipped through the joint’s “premium” cable offerings—12 channels, most of which was religious programming and scrambled porn.
“Does straight porn still do it for you?” asked Katie, gnawing on a half-eaten stick of beef jerky.
“Porn is porn” I replied, unwrapping a king-sized Snickers.“I’m not picky.”
“What about lesbian porn?”
“Bulldog or lipstick?”
“Let’s go with lipstick.”
“I’d probably still watch. Just for shits and giggles.”
“Have you ever had sex with a woman?”
“Ditto. But I’ve kissed plenty.”
“Would you kiss me?”
I didn’t think she was serious. But before I could answer one way or the other, Katie pressed her lips to mine.
“This isn’t doing anything for you…is it?”
Katie broke away, unsure of herself. It was an awkward moment, as if this were our first dance at a junior high school prom. Katie sat on the bed, defeated. I loved the way she pouted. It was soft, and inoffensive, and created tiny dimples in her cheeks. It was one of the cutest sights I’d ever seen—and now, I really wanted to kiss her.
Less than a foot of space stood between us, but I had no idea how to reach her. It had been so long—over ten years—since I’d kissed a girl, and even then, the kiss wasn’t so much romantic, as an end result of a game of “truth or dare” at a high school friend’s graduation party. And similar to that moment, I moved toward Katie and pretended to know what I was doing, but in reality, just fumbling toward her without a clue. I moved toward Katie’s lips, and crashed into her nose. We pulled apart. I took a moment to get over the embarrassment, and gazed at Katie’s unfolding curls, fading mascara, and those dimples, then moved toward her again. This time, my kiss landed, if only for a moment.
“Sympathy kisses from a gay guy? Is this what my Saturday nights have come to?”
Her doubt ignited an animal passion within me. I pounced at her, like a lion to a gazelle, grabbing her with gentle firmness and pushing her face into mine. And then, she screamed. Unfortunatley, it wasn’t a cry of passion, but rather pain. I’d gotten my watch caught in her hair. We struggled for a bit, as I divided my attention between Katie and the scrambled bodies thrashing together on the television. God, even scrambled, they made it look so easy. We feel to the bed, and struggled some more.
“I think I got it,” I said, struggling beyond belief.
“No, I got it,” Katie snapped.
We laid there in silence for a moment, until Katie decided it was best for her to go home. She thanked me for a wonderful time, obviously lying through her teeth, and then left. There were no false promises to see one another again, or any other forced pleasantries. I didn’t even have the heart to ask for my Coldplay t-shirt back. I’d stolen it from an ex-boyfriend, anyway.
The next morning, I packed up my stuff, and realized I’d left my camera behind. I raced back to the reception hall, but it was gone. I did find Karla, though. She’d come back to settle up a descripencey in the bill.
“Mark!” she called out to me. “What are you doing back here?”
“I lost my camera.”
“It’s really great to see you. And I’m so glad you could come! You know what’s funny, Doug was really nervous about meeting you. You know, because you were my first husband and all.”
For a moment, I imagined what it would be like if Karla and I had gotten married for real. I pictured us living in a big house in the hills of Los Angeles. We had two dogs, a pool, a Volvo, and baby on the way. I was a successful screenwriter and she was an award winning photojournalist. And we’re happy, at least for a while, until Karla gets frustrated with my reclusive behavior, and I get jealous of her frequent trips to Africa. Our minds begin to wander, and then our bodies begin to stray. She has an affair with a doctor; I start sleeping with the pool boy, and six months later, we’re in the middle of a bitter divorce.
“Trust me, you’re much better off with Doug,” I assured her. “Anyway, I should probably get going.” I leaned in to hug her, and something sharp stuck me in the side. I reached into my pocket, and realized I’d neglected o give Karla her wedding gift.
“Oh, before I forget…”
I felt the bills and thought about my deductions: 50 dollars for the crappy seat assignment, another 50 for not paying any attention to me, and another 100 for..
Karla interrupted my train of thought.
“Mark, really, thank you so much for coming.”
“Oh, screw it. Take it all.”
I handed Karla all of the bills in my pocket and walked out of the catering hall. On the way out, another voice called out to me.
“Hey! HEY! Did you lose a camera?”
It belonged to the cater waiter, the same one who had threatened to give Katie and I the hose.
“I did, thank you.”
“You’ve got some really cute pics on her. I especially like the ones of you in your underwear,” he said, playfully.
I snatched the camera from his hand, midly embarrassed.
“Guessed I should have deleted those.”
“Mark. Nice to meet you. And thanks, for the camera.”
“No, thank you,” he said.
He smiled, which I took as an invitation to stick around a little while longer.
“Did you ever make that date,” I asked.
“Unfortunatley. He dumped me.”
“So, what are you doing tomorrow night?”
“Are you sure you’re ready to start dating again?”
“No. But it just so happens I need a date for my friend’s wedding.”
“Well, Brian, lucky for you I can’t say no to weddings.”
We exchanged numbers, and then I drove to the nearest Bloomingdales to pick out a new tie. Perhaps I wasn’t the marrying kind, but I guess another wedding wouldn’t be so bad.