J, I hope you don't get fun-punked when your coworkers read stuff like this

Several months back I wrote a piece for a magazine called "The Urban Hiker" that's published down here in the Triangle, and after submitting it found out from the editor that because the publication had fallen on tough financial times, there weren't going to be any issues for a while. This was too bad because you could find some really great first-person stories in there, and I hope they are able to rebound. Recently I was contacted by a Catholic magazine down here to do a short piece on the "Vocation of Marriage." I decided to dig up this old piece, which never was published, and which, I realized, I never even showed to anyone. So I've decided to post it here.

Just so you know, even though I sometimes write stuff like this that is slightly more serious than what I normally write, don't get any big ideas that J and I are going to swoon all over each other during that first dance at the wedding. I hate that stuff.

Here's what I wrote...

Justin is sitting on the ledge of the wooden deck at the house we currently rent, a Saranac Mountain Ale by his side. He is playing something on the guitar vaguely familiar to me, and singing, making that face he reserves for just this. It’s half concentration, half “I’m a musician and this is the face musicians make.” The sun is filtering down through the early springtime leaves, just back on the trees, and if you forget the daily stress due to an upcoming move, an upcoming wedding, the daily perils of grad school for him, and my own, personal conflict at being 27 and not sure “what to do with my life,” then yes. Yes, this is perfect.

We met a wedding. Specifically, we met at Max and Karla’s wedding, mutual friends we knew from different points in our lives – Justin in college, and me when my live in boyfriend started working with Max after we moved to Raleigh. That’s where the story gets interesting. In September of 2000, a year before the wedding, this particular boyfriend and I drove a U-Haul down from Boston where we’d both gone to college and where we’d dated for four years. No jobs, no place to live and North Carolina seemed to us some kind of Utopia where rent was incredibly low and jobs plentiful. We weren’t far off that year. We moved from the hotel where we’d stayed for a few days while searching for housing to an apartment in North Raleigh one hot day in the pouring rain. You couldn’t tell one complex from another up and down Creedmoor, Millbrook, Six Forks Roads. Unlike the rusty pipes, graffiti, and creaky stairs of our places in Boston, these places were clean and had new rugs and accessible, pleasant landlords. I paused on each step for a good thirty seconds when we carried up the futon mattress. It was deceptively heavy and we lived on the third floor. I wasn’t very helpful.

Justin and I live, as I mentioned, in a rented house and we’re about to move to another. We’ve been packing up slowly to try and make the event less stressful. We got in a small argument one night when I got tired at 8:30 and wanted out of the day-by-day moving plan. I wanted to read in bed. Sometimes we lay there in the first sleepy moments of daylight before the alarm has gone off and the dogs start to whine and say incredibly sappy things like, “I can’t believe we met.”

One hallmark of Max and Karla’s wedding was this bartender at the reception. Every time he’d pour me a Jack and Coke he’d smile a mischievous smile and pour a little, then a lot more liquor. This was Labor Day, 2001, and most of us were just a year out of school. Max and Karla joke sometimes now, saying they had their wedding too close to college, which is why certain things happened, like when our friend Eric got locked, naked, out of his hotel room. There were two groups: The people who worked with Max at a high profile computer data company in the Triangle, and the people who’d attended James Madison University with the newly married couple. I myself was a mere significant other, but as I’m wont to do when in the presence of large groups of strangers, I needed to roam. The night before the wedding most of the guests gathered in a hospitality suite in the hotel. A red-haired, wild-looking young man popped his head out of the suite, coincidentally right across the hall from our room, and said, something like “Hey, we’re having a party.” It was only minutes after we’d entered that room that Justin, wearing a blue t-shirt with yellow writing – “Patrick Henry Elementary” – that he still wears, walked over and said, “Hi.” The next night was the wedding and the mischievous bartender and we never stopped talking.

Our new place has a turquoise door and a porch with two white rocking chairs. We aren’t ready to buy, because Justin’s only got a year or two left of grad school and we want to move someplace new when he’s done. My current favorite is Seattle. He likes that idea too, but we’ve also talked about San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. It’s only talk for now. We’re concentrating on the immediate move, only five minutes from where we currently live. I like the excitement of moving and it’s hard to concentrate on other things. When we’re married, I worry, our styles will be so different we’ll offend each other. I love to go through drawers, throwing sheaves of paper, old magazines and other “treasures,” kept for one reason or another, away. Justin piles them up, anxious to hold on to anything that was once of value. “What will happen,” I ask him, “if, when we’re married, and this is all “ours,” I get rid of something you love because I don’t think we need it and you get angry at me?” He tells me that wouldn’t happen because I’d, of course, ask before making such a decision. I agree.

We first talked about it – the feelings – at the World Beer Festival in Durham in October of 2001. Because it was an appropriately festive occasion some of Justin’s friends drove down to join us for the weekend. I went, naturally, with my boyfriend. We all met up and received plastic cups. Hundreds of different kinds of beer. After walking, alone, to the far edge of the tent, Justin and I got into a discussion. It held an “I have to tell you something” vibe. He suggested we say what was on our minds at the same time so no one would be embarrassed. “What if it isn’t the same thing?” I asked him, to which he answered he thought it probably was. He went and I didn’t, scared, but then elated to hear “See, I really like you…”

Boxes now fill the hallway leading to our garage, and where there used to be bookshelves there is newly discovered dog hair, pennies, and “lost” jewelry. In addition to the move I’ve been on a big wedding kick. It’s only six months away. We need to finalize the guest list. We need to make sure they have places to stay, and soon the fun stuff will begin, like visits with the caterer, bachelorette and bachelor parties. We need to register for kitchen appliances. Our blender smokes when you use it for more than thirty seconds. It is hard to believe we need a thing, what with the books and artwork littering the house. It sits in piles. I know that after we’re married our lives will intertwine in even more practical and romantic ways. We will share a bank account which scares me to death, and we will wear wedding rings, which will take some getting used to. I’ll have a new last name.

The boyfriend I dated for four years in college now lives in New York City and is happily ensconced with a girl and an active social life. Four months after that fateful wedding he and I had broken up. It’s easy to say but there were heartfelt conversations with friends over coffee who wondered “What, exactly, do you think you’re doing?” There were truths I had to convince myself, and many others, of over and over again. Justin was unbelievably patient. Four months after we’d met at that wedding, I’d made a decision and we went to a New Year’s party together in Richmond. The party was thrown by a friend of his from college, the guests were on our side. There was no discussion of specifics. He and I didn’t talk about what traditionally happens at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. Nobody did. We talked all night again. We got each other beers. We never remembered whose cup was whose. Months later we were recounting those first crucial interactions before we were officially together. We remembered the times when everything we did in each other’s presence and said to one another was so important because it all played a part in a potential future together. He told me, when we got comfortable enough to talk about those times, that just before midnight on the New Year’s Eve we spent at a friend’s party in Richmond, he’d run upstairs to brush his teeth. Just in case.