(EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was first appeared in City Pages, a Twin Cities alternative weekly.)
By Christine Schuster
I said yes to getting married over the shouts of a middle-aged man wearing short shorts and no shirt.
He was yelling something about private property.
It was the summer after my junior year of college, and my boyfriend James had been dropping hints for months. I picked up on them, and had just one request: The location had to be somewhere I could feel anonymous. No family or friends around, at most a small population of the general public.
Gold Medal Park would’ve been perfect. We had some fun memories there, like the time I dropped my keys down one of the slats in the wooden benches – essentially, a box bolted into cement – and James spent an hour fishing them out with a stick.
But when we arrived that warm day, the whole hillside was packed for a General Mills company celebration. Hence the relocation to a random North Loop condo complex.
We decided to marry that December, a month before my 22nd birthday. At 21, modern society would suggest, I wasn’t ready for marriage. I didn’t have a Pinterest account. I wasn’t even a senior in college yet.
When I chose to go to Bethel University, I’d heard about the culture of “ring by spring” – as in, spring of your senior year, when a lot of students want their marital plans in place. It’s common for students to get engaged, even married, while still enrolled at Bethel. Most students there have religious backgrounds and traditional beliefs.
I, on the other hand, never felt any pressure to get myself proposed to “by spring.”
In deciding that I was ready for it, I surprised even myself. I defended myself against the peer pressure and stereotype accusations with the fact that I didn’t meet him at Bethel.
Besides: When you meet a guy who wins a “world’s fastest drummer” title for playing 935 beats in 30 seconds, you’re ready to commit for life.
In fact, James and I had been in the same place at the same time plenty back when we were 15 and both played in our high school’s drumline. We met during a long bus trip to Indiana. He stood in the aisle to “stretch his legs” (meaning: talk to me)… for 10 hours.
So we’d known each other a long time, and the timing of our union was traditional. Our wedding day was anything but.
My mom doesn’t derive any pleasure from thumbing through bridal magazines or dreaming up mock table arrangements. She’s the kind of woman who asks for night vision binoculars for her anniversary. (And gets them.) I take after her. Not like my friends, the kind of eager girly-girls who would have questions (and strong opinions) about lighting, flowers, and the right “something blue.”
My first decision came easy: no bridal party.
Two weeks before the wedding, I bought a dress off the rack while my mom waited in her car, listening to nothing. (She hates music.)
There was no champagne toast, and I wasn’t verklempt at the sight of myself in a dress that was held to my body by the force of plastic clamps, the same ones you’d use to close a bag of potato chips. Still, I’d found my dream dress. I celebrated by riding the elevators around, alone, looking for the street-level exit of a multipurpose office building.
The wedding budget took a $300 hit when squirrels ate the FedEx package on the doorstep consisting of ornately wrapped Godiva chocolates. It took another, smaller hit when my mom ate all the buttermints.
On the big day, poor judgment prevailed, and my sister was assigned to drive me to the venue. She arrived on time, then said she had to clip her toenails and hard boil an egg. (Note: These activities were unrelated.) On the car ride, she noted the ineffectual use of “hidden driveway” signs, which blatantly announce the secret roadways. “Why call attention to that?”
I arrived 45 minutes late. An hour later, my mom told me she forgot my wedding dress. Then I realized I forgot the wedding bands in my dresser.
My brother-in-law dashed off and collected the missing pieces. My closest girl friends and family gathered for the big moment of the dress reveal. Everyone snapped photos and stood in awe of my breathtaking beauty. Until my hangnail bled down the front of the silk gown.
James and I took photos outside in -20 temperatures, not including the wind chill.
We had the time of our lives. And we got married.
I got married as a full-time student. I got married without the wisdom of an expensive wedding planner, or even the help of a guidebook that would now be retailing for $8.35 at Half Price Books. It wasn’t a fairytale. That’s why there was no pressure.
I married someone who approved of my decorating. (Picture Frank Sinatra’s mugshot above the fireplace.)
I married someone who lets me wash antique clothing in our bathtub even when it turns the water brown. (OK, he asks me to stop, but nicely.) I married someone who lets me sing opera inside the parking garage of our apartment building. (Same.)
I married someone who encourages me to do my homework and return library books. Those things he’ll only have to do for a few more months until I get out of school.
After that, he just has to be my friend.