We got engaged just to stop the nagging from our parents. Then, the incessant, insipid questions started.
Do you have a wedding date?
Who is going to throw your bachelor/bachelorette party?
Where are you going on your honeymoon?
When are you going to have kids?
All these questions were asked by friends and relatives with smiles so sickeningly sweet that you wanted to bitch slap every last one of them.
Barbara, my fiancée, being quite polite, managed to keep a smile plastered on her face for all these interrogatories, so much so that she feared the onset of facial paralysis. I, on the hand, began having trouble hearing what people were actually saying. It was as if their voices were being spoken underwater. Even though questions elicited a “Huh,” or “Could you say that again,” that did not discourage them from persisting in peppering me with their banal, bourgeois questions.
Fighting for our very souls, we decided to elope. Research at the local library led us to choose to Elkton, Maryland, known as the elopement capital of the northeastern seaboard. You could go down to city hall on one day, fill out a form, and get married the next — no blood tests or witnesses needed. Just 25 dollars, cash on the barrelhead. Bim. Bam. Boom. You’re outta there with marriage certificate in hand. At least that’s what we thought.
Early in the morning, we hopped on a Greyhound bus from New York City’s Port Authority and checked in at the Elkton Lodge, eerily reminiscent of the Bates Motel. We then marched to City Hall to fulfill the scant administrative requirements after which we zipped to a local Piggly Wiggly, loading up on snacks: onion-flavored potato chips, peanut M&Ms, and pizza (for nutrition).
The next day, we descended into the building’s marriage chapel in the dank, dark, stone-walled basement. In a small room dotted with gold-plated crucifixes and a holographic Jesus stood a tall man in a long black coat holding a Bible, looking like a cross between an older Elvis and Johnny Cash. Next to him stood a bespectacled woman with a permanent sneer on her face and a bun standing straight up, scarily high and pointy. We stood next to each other, eagerly awaiting the perfunctory discharge of the official’s duty so we could get the hell out of there. The man looked at us, smiled, and in a deep, stentorian voice said:
“This Is A Solemn Occasion.”
We burst out laughing. Our guffaws growing louder and more explosive each time we looked at each other. I was beginning to feel light-headed. Barbara’s face was beet red, approaching pufferfish proportions. Knees like rubber, we could barely stand up.
Interrupting our hysteria, the man sternly stated: “If you aren’t serious, I am not going to marry you guys.”
We managed to regain our composure, shoulders back, heads erect, standing steel straight, staring straight ahead, not even sneaking a peak at each other for fear of what would happen.
“Good. Now we can begin proper,” the man said as if we were errant children. Speaking in a louder voice and much more slowly, he said:
Oh my God.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
Barbara convulsed with a sound akin to projectile vomiting. I began giggling which morphed into braying and then gasping for air. Tsunami of tears cascading down our faces, our bodies shaking; doubled over, one step away from rolling on the floor.
The man and the woman looked at us like we were aliens from another planet. His eyes were squinting with anger, his pupils barely visible. The woman picked up a phone and whispered into it.
A few seconds later, a beefy policeman burst through the door, hand on his holster.
“What the dickens is going on,” he said, looking at the woman.
“These guys are pulling some sort of prank on us.”
“What do you want me to do with ‘em?”
She paused, looking at us up and down. “I think a day in jail for disorderly conduct should teach these young whippersnappers a lesson.”
The cop took a few steps towards us, grabbing my arm. I leaned backward, making it harder for him to drag me.
“We’re sorry…Please give us another chance,” I said.
“Get your hands off of him,” Barbara said, sounding like Linda Blair in The Exorcist when she said to the priest that your mother sucks cocks in hell.
The cop jerked his head around to fix his stare on her. The woman lowered her head, the seemingly weaponized bun pointing directly at Barbara.
“Folks, let’s all calm down,” the man said in a Mister Rogers voice. “I’ll give you one last chance but if you guys….” We nodded, if I might say, solemnly.
“Charlie,” the woman interrupted, saying to the cop: “You hang around to make sure they behave.”
Quickly picking up his Bible, the man said: “All righty then. Are you ready?”
We looked away from each other, standing like Marines at attention, biting our lips, not hold handing hands, pulling in our stomachs. Though atheists, even in a foxhole, we prayed to God in heaven that the man would not repeat those same words: This Is A Solemn Occasion.
Hours later, now married and on a bus back to the city, we got on the New Jersey Turnpike, breathing in the pollution with a sigh of relief. Barbara looked at me, her lips curling with that wry smile of hers: “When you thumb your nose at society…”
“It just winds up punching you in the face,” I said.
Those incessant, insipid questions don’t sound so bad now.