In less than a week I’ll be officially hitched. And I’m totally looking forward to it, though I’ve had my moments of abject shock and fear. It’s not the idea that I’ll be losing my freedom in some sense or that I’m doing the wrong thing. Hell, I’m only slightly concerned about how things will change after the “I wills” (apparently, Episcopalians don’t say “I do” to anything), which I suspect is not much. I think it’s the idea of standing up in front of God and everyone in a monkey suit to declare my undying love and devotion that has me a tad shaken, which is odd considering that I typically dig the whole public speaking thing. I think my fears extend from my best friend and best man Bill’s wedding eight years ago.
I was home for a week some time in the summer in 1994 when Bill and I got to talking about life, the future – y’know, the typical on-the-edge of adulthood stuff. He had his plan set out – he would almost definitely marry his high school sweetheart Melissa within a couple of years, but he wanted to wait until he got his feet firmly planted in a solid job. It was rather startling to me at the time how much he’d thought through it all – Bill never was much of one for having a solid plan, preferring to live in the present and take things as they went. In my eyes, that made him a bit immature but, at that time, Lord knows I was too.
A week after that conversation when I was in my apartment in Berkeley I received a call from Bill. It was weird. He called me in the morning to tell me that he was going to marry Melissa. I remember saying, “Yeah, I know, in a couple of years. We just talked about this.”
“No, Bob. I’m marrying her in a couple of months.”
I was stunned speechless for a moment. “Is she pregnant?”
“No, she’s not pregnant,” he lied, “We just want to get married. I’m going to tell my mom tonight at dinner. I’m hoping she’ll be ok with it.”
Still totally, completely, horrifically stunned I babbled incoherently at him. Finally he just asked, “Bob, will you be my best man?”
“No question. I’m there.” And that was that. Later that evening, after he and Melissa discussed the whole thing with his mom over a teary-eyed dinner, he called me back, absolute glee in his voice, to tell me that everything was a go and, by the way, she was pregnant, but he wanted to minimize the shock by waiting to tell me. Didn’t work out as well as he expected – I had just recovered from the previous conversation but went back into incoherent babble mode upon hearing I’d soon be an uncle – but I was both stoked and scared for him over the whole deal.
At the wedding that October, he was a nervous wreck. The wedding was at the cute little church located in Knott’s Berry Farm. We arrived about an hour or so before the park’s official opening. Bill was sweating bullets and he began to experience a small bit of cold feet. “Jeez, Bob, I’m not sure I’m ready for this.”
I had a brief flash of wanting to dangle my car keys in front of him and offer to get him out of it. In my eyes, getting married at age 19 was the end of everything. I was in my second year in college with a supposedly bright future, and I painted everyone with that same brush. Bill’s reality was that he had a pretty good job as a mechanic and was attending classes at the local JC. In truth, he was completely ready for the whole thing – there was nothing holding him back – but in my narrow-minded view of the world, I couldn’t help thinking it was a mistake. Still, I played my role as the supportive friend and told him everything was going to be fine and that life with Melissa and his soon-to-be child would be terrific.
Shortly after the park opened, one of the groom’s men came in with the mother of the groom. “Hey, guys. The rides just opened. Want to go on Montezuma’s revenge?” Bill’s mom laughed, “Oh, Dennis, you’re so funny,” and walked away.
“Seriously,” he said once she’d left, “Let’s do it. We’ve got 20 minutes before the ceremony and there’s no line.” We hemmed and hawed for a moment or two, contemplating the hell we’d meet if we were late for the ceremony. Finally, we just did it.
So the five of us ran over to Montezeuma’s Revenge, tuxedos and all, and took a ride on the big, one-loop roller coaster. There were a few high schoolers standing in line staring out the formal attire. “Why are you guys all dressed up?”
“The big guy here’s gettin’ hitched today,” I proudly announced. The women cooed over the romance of the thing, the guys high-fived us for doing the roller coaster as part of the wedding. Bill and I hopped into the very front car, with the groom’s men in tow behind us, and we looped the loop.
All nervousness melted away instantly. We ran back to the church, hair more than slightly mussed, stoked to get up to the altar. “Let’s do this thing!”
We took our places and tried to ignore the mollified look of the groom’s mom, who had instantly figured out what happened to us. As the bridal march began, the bride’s maids – Melissa’s aunts and sisters – filed down the aisle. Behind them, a vision of puffy white lace and taffeta, came the bride. Bill, standing just in front of me, began smacking my leg. “Dude, dude! Look at her! She’s HOT! Can you believe how beautiful she is?”
“Shhh… I see, I see.” Whatever fear he had before seemed to have evaporated completely. He was wholly committed.
Then he almost fainted. I suddenly felt his 6’7″, 290lb. frame sway in my direction. A look at his face showed his naturally olive skin had drained to a pale white. I propped him up throughout the ceremony. Everything ran more or less smoothly after that, but I wasn’t sure how I’d hold him up if he decided to go down for the count.
On Saturday afternoon, the roles will be reversed. There will be no roller coaster to relieve the stress, but we may get a chance to do some light hiking. And, lucky for me, Bill’s much bigger than I am, so he can probably take it if I go down. But I remember vividly the way he felt when Melissa walked through the church doors, and I’m convinced I’ll experience the same mixture of fear, excitement and absolute raw love and affection. And, frankly, that’s the one moment that scares the living hell out of me. I don’t think I can do anything to adequately prepare for it. When I imagine it in my head, it makes my heart race. It’s the moment of absolute clarity when I know, once and for all, this is not only the right thing to do but the best possible thing that could happen to me. That kind of clarity is scary as shit. I hope Bill brought the smelling salts.