My Southern Jailhouse Wedding
June 21, 2011 in Personal
Today is my wedding anniversary. Ten years down the line we had to get married. Insurance purposes. Utter bullshit, I thought. We talked about it here and again, but were of the “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality and were content with our life together. After all, we had just lived through 9-11, been chased out of town by my in-laws, drove around the country with three kids living like gypsies, sold everything we owned and moved five times in the last couple of years. If that didn’t break us, a piece of paper certainly didn’t much matter.
“How about the summer solstice? That’s a powerful day. That’s a good day to get married.” I suggested.
It was less than a week away. I was sure that I had a vintage Mexican wedding dress in the attic (if I could only find it) that would do just fine: Pintucked cotton and lace with bell sleeves. I bleached it and hung it in the hot June sun until it was crisp and white. We got a ring for myself and he used one he bought on the road years before in New Mexico. It was a simple band of braided silver that was practically molded to his finger and was charmingly worn away in spots. “I like this ring, I don’t want a new one.” I liked it too. I would rub it like an old Greek woman rubs her worry stone when I held his hand. It was smooth and warm and my fingers would glide over his callouses on either side of it.
The night before, I baked: Lemon cake in the shape of a heart, white chocolate cream cheese icing with fresh raspberry sauce. The kids broke the eggs while the light shone from the west into the kitchen. We stirred and giggled as we licked our fingers. The whole house filled up with the sweet citrusy scent and the children dreamed of climbing giant white, snowy mountains of cake. As night fell, I spent so much time piping the icing with starry edges and rosettes- a masterpiece, I thought. It was the prettiest little cake.
We woke to a perfect summer day. The magnolias were bursting on the tree, fragrant and glowing, lavender lined the path dotted with coreopsis and veronica. Everything was blooming. The girls and I made bouquets from the garden wrapped in satin ribbon and off we went to the courthouse. Everyone was aflutter with excitement. When we arrived, a woman sent us down the hall where another woman said the magistrate was across the street in his office and we would have to go there to wait for him. To the county jail.
Yes. The county jail.
I walked with my three cherubic children dressed in white across the road down the block into a filthy urine soaked county jail where I stood in my wedding dress surrounded by the scum of Rutherford County. In retrospect, it really was hilarious and had I not lived through it myself, I would not have believed it. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the judge waltzed his pompous redneck ass out of his office. My neighbor, Gene, (salt of the earth, a trucker for Wise with a bad ticker) came along to be our witness. “Hi Lynn.” he said to the judge. Of course he knew him, he knew everyone in this small town. “You folks want to get married? Come on in.” For a moment I thought it was some sort of joke, but no, this was no joke.
We went in to escape the stench and I quickly blurted to him, “We are getting married, here? You want me to get married here? In a jail? A jail that smells like urine? Surrounded by these people?” I could see the holding cells , processing rooms and the fingerprinting room through the glass in his office. I looked at them and at my children. Them and my children. Over and over in disbelief. “You want me to get married here? Do I look like I want to be married in a jail, mister? I am here with my children. Do you think I am going to get married here with my babies watching? Are you out of your mind? Who the hell gets married in a jail? What the hell is this?” I couldn’t stop asking him. My voice climbed louder and higher to a shrill, in a state of disbelief, until he interrupted me. “Young lady,” he continued his bellow in his thick drawl, “I have been marrying people in this here county, in this very room for 23 years, 6 months and 18 days. If it’s good enough for all of them, it’s good enough for you.”
This man had clearly never met anyone like me. “Those people are mindless cattle,” I said. “What kind of human being would get married in a jail? What kind of man are you to marry people in a place like this? I’ll be damned if I get married to this man, in this room, with my children and friend watching, by you, sir. I didn’t dress my beautiful family for this day to come here and be married in a jail. Over my dead body. No sir. Good day.” With that I left, sobbing and sweating and swearing with my son on my hip, holding each little girl’s hand while I walked out into the Carolina June heat. I was living a bad movie.
I can only imagine that my old trucker friend and now husband managed to talk some sense into him because moments later that man appeared to me outside and asked, “All right, young lady, just where is it that you would like to be married?” I looked around and spied a garden filled with flowers and big trees across the road alongside a creek and said, “There. I will be married in that garden over there.” He obliged, and we were wed under the shade of those hundred-year oaks, in a garden with no name, by a man named Lynn.
It was the longest day of the year.