Thursday, December 22, 2011

36 Years Of Contentment

So I am officially a suburban husband.

The inarguable signals are all around. My wife and I had to borrow her uncle's pickup truck because the Corolla was in the shop for a few days and neither of us can commute to work without a car. Memphis doesn't have a public transportation system as comprehensive as Chicago, not by a long shot. So getting to work from home is impossible without our own wheels. We dream of getting a second car someday soon so that we don't have to pick each other up from work when one of us has the car. The other smaller signs include the block being totally empty of cars and people when I step outside on a weekday to retrieve the mail, the monthly bills for garbage pickup and lawn care, and the fact that none of the houses on the block look different from each other. It can be described as a mundane, humdrum, dull existence. I call it The American Dream.

Hey, where I come from, a house this nice in a neighborhood this nice is something you have to work very hard to earn. And my wife has worked her ass off for over twenty years, and she bought this house not long before she met me, so it wasn't for my benefit or anyone else, it was her reward for herself. I'm just here glomming on. And I'm really soaking up all of the relaxation that comes with living in an area where you don't have to duck bullets on the way home or worry about the neighbors playing loud music or having rowdy children. Hell, we had a next-door neighbor that seemed dangerous, and that family disappeared. Yeah, just vanished. I'm not shitting you. It was an interracial couple, black dude and white chick, and they had at least one mixed toddler running around with (hopefully fake) tattoos and a diaper and nothing else. We wouldn't care less normally, but they loved to fight. I mean, late nights, loud, and consistent. The wife wanted to call the police, they got so loud. One of them ran over our cables with the lawn mower and knocked our internet and cable out for a week. Fucked up, right? Then they upped the crazy by bringing a couple of dogs into the family, and not just puppies, but pit bulls! And if that's not bad enough, one morning I was about to take out the trash through the back door, but the wife called my attention to a bedroom window, which showed our back patio being inhabited by the dogs thanks to a broken gate. They were sniffing around our grill and snooping like they owned the joint. Oh, hell to the naw, we said, and we started investigating which phone numbers we had to call to inform the city of this problem. We had to start driving the garbage around the corner to the cans because I didn't want to risk walking out there and getting consumed. I was even considering going next door and having a conversation with these people, because maybe they would be reasonable and keep those things behind their own walls. But I must admit, I wasn't sure if they would be reasonable because nothing about them suggested that they could spell reasonable, much less understand it.

Well, maybe a week, week and a half after the dogs made their first appearance, one day, we noticed that the usual buzz wasn't coming from next door. No dogs barking, no TV blaring, no loud arguing. Sure seemed like the house was empty. And we took note every day, and so far, no one has seemed to be living next door, and this empty house thing started about a week before our wedding. So that's two months now. Just vanished. Poof! Now, the wife says that these people that were living there were not the homeowners, that the actual owners lived somewhere else and were renting out the house. Her theory is that someone let the real owners know what was going down in their crib, and they cleaned it out. Whatever happened, it was kinda awesome and scary how quickly that whole family was, from our vantage point, eradicated from the face of the earth. But it fits with the vibe of this community, which is, nothing too out of the ordinary will be tolerated. The wife has received notes about her garbage can being in the driveway when it should be behind our gate, and she says that years ago, an unapproved flower pot also simply vanished, and she's convinced that someone in the homeowners association was behind the theft. That's a little much, I admit, but I'm also thrilled at the thought of aberrant behavior being policed so vigilantly. Again, I'm from the hood in the Chi, and this is all the stuff of dreams to me.

So on this, my 36th birthday and first as a married man, I'm very content with the non-professional part of my life. Make no mistake, I'm still ambitious about getting into sports media as a new career. But at the moment, it's all about working at my (hopefully) secure position with Symcor, which was purchased by Xerox, and making plans along with my spouse to save enough money to go back to school. This personal side of my life was up in the air at this time last year because I didn't know when I would be able to make my move down here to start life with my wife. But I made the move, and I'm settling in to a comfortable existence in the suburbs of Memphis. I really am a very lucky man.

And for those times when I want to rebel a little and break out of my humdrum shell, hey, the bass on the Corolla can crank up pretty high. Had to pump out some Heavy D. a few weeks ago in honor of the late rapper. Shed a tear at the beauty of the moment. Driving through a froufrou suburb, doing 40 MPH in a 30 zone, making my little Toyota vibrate with the sounds of the streets. Suburban hubby...still a nigga to the core.

Black coffee, no sugar, no cream...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tying The Knot, Part 8: The Big Day & The Day After

No matter how long I took to make this post, the details of The Big Day will always be with me. It was such a special day, and I will never forget it.

Sat. Oct. 15

The day started early, as I knew it would. My fiancee had already informed me that she had to be up early, about 5:30A or 6, in order to start working on her hair and get ready to go out to her friend's house to get the full makeup treatment. I had already made arrangements with "Drew" to pick up my uncle at his hotel and then come to get me at about 9:30. I was a little groggy at this early stage of the morning watching my fiancee run around, but I wasn't as wiped out as I feared I might be getting back from the casino as late as I did. I spoke to my dad at about 7A. He called from the airport to let me know that he was on his way to Memphis. Oh, not one of the airports in Chicago. No, he was calling from Atlanta! I didn't even ask. My guess, though, is that he wasn't able to find a decent airfare from Chicago to Memphis non-stop, so he jumped on one of the flights that go from Chicago to Atlanta and lay over before going to Memphis. He once again asked if someone would be available to pick him up from the airport and take him to his hotel to drop off his belongings before taking him to the church. I once again told him that we had no one ready to do that and that he'd have to rely on a taxi. He expressed concern about making it to the church on time, but resolved himself to taking a taxi when he got here. Truth be told, Drew was such a good guy this whole weekend, he probably would have dropped my uncle and me at the church and ran to the airport to get my dad, but I refused to put that burden on him or anyone else. After all, I didn't actually invite my dad. He was going to tag along with my aunt, who has a soft spot for him unlike my uncle and me, but there wasn't enough space in my aunt's truck after loading up her husband, their oldest son, and my playcousin and her mother. At that point, I just took the position that he was going to have to find his way here himself, and if he made it, fine, and if not, great.

There was another mystery hanging out there on the morning of the wedding. As I mentioned in the last post, my friend Cassandra was already listed on the program as one of our speakers during the ceremony. But I had not heard a word from her since I was in Chicago a couple of weeks before the wedding, when she expressed to me on the phone that she was going to do everything it took to make it to the wedding even though she didn't have travel or hotel arranged yet. I had called and texted and e-mailed, but heard nothing. I was already resigned to having to ask someone in my family to make the reading once I got to the church, but I was also kinda hoping that Cassandra would swoop in and show up in Memphis as a bit of a surprise. So I was cool and calm that morning, but still a bit anxious as to how this issue was going to work itself out.

My fiancee left the house at a little before 9A. That gave me the bathroom for a half-hour before Drew was scheduled to come get me. I decided to go for a full bath because I felt it was symbolic of washing all of the other grime and crap that I picked up in my past relationships off of me. Why shouldn't I be fully bathed before I get married? I may not have attained virgin status, as my fiancee had by never dating casually or otherwise before meeting me, but I could at least soak some of the whore impurities from lying down with pigs such as "Karen" and "Sarah" and "Torrie." I said a prayer out loud to my mother and grandmother, who I knew were going to be with me on my big day, then I scraped as much dirt off of my body as I had time to. Getting dressed in sweats and my "I'm Rick James Bitch" t-shirt wouldn't take any time after I got out of the tub; I was worried about gathering all of the last-minute items that I needed without forgetting something. I had to remember my aunt's husband's present, which I re-wrapped that morning; I had to remember toiletries, because I wasn't going to lotion up and cologne myself before getting to the church and putting on the suit; I had to remember my keys and my phone and my wallet and...

Speaking of the phone, Drew and my uncle were already sitting in the house waiting for me to run around gathering my shit, and it was past 9:30, when my phone rang. It was Cassandra. My uncle had already started to talk about how rude it was for her to not even let me know she wouldn't be there for me, and perhaps because her ears were burning, she called at that moment. The news wasn't good. She claimed to be ready to catch the nighttime Megabus Friday and make the 10-hour bus ride here, but she missed the bus. She offered lots of apologies and well wishes and promised to get down to Memphis sometime in the future and treat my wife and me to dinner. I was a little patient with her long explanation of why she didn't return my calls, but once she started in on all the things she would do to make it up to us, I had to gently tell her that I was actually on my way to the church right this moment, so I gotta go. My uncle wouldn't have been so gentle. He had some choice words for her once I hung up. I don't blame him at all, but I wasn't all that upset because Cassandra had displayed a penchant for getting wrapped up in all of the things in her life and being unavailable at times. She's not a bad person at all, just the opposite, but her big heart leads her to being occupied with her mother or her sister or her sister's kids or her boyfriend or a friend who needs her help, and she's very good at letting herself get stretched too thin. I totally believe that she intended to be here for me. I hold no grudge against her. I did feel disappointed, but moreso, I felt a little scared because I now had two and a half hours to find a new speaker, and I was going to have to do it by cold-calling the people in town for my wedding and hoping that they wouldn't say no.

After I slapped some baby oil on my head, Drew, my uncle and I finally stepped out of the house about 9:45 and loaded up in Drew's rented pickup. Drew and my uncle really like each other, having met at a sickle cell charity bowling event and then again for my bachelor party weekend, and they had some fun when they called me before coming to pick me up. My uncle joked that he and Drew had decided to drive down to Tunica and play some more blackjack, and they would have to miss the wedding. In no way did I believe him, but my incredulous "What?" provided a big laugh. Then, when they got to the door, I pranked them back by opening it, seeing that it was them, then shrieking "I can't do this!" and locking the door.

So we were definitely a loose bunch heading out on the road. It was the most perfect fucking day ever. Bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky, and it was probably about 65 or 70° that morning. I was trying to enjoy the whole atmosphere, but I was still worried about finding someone to speak at the ceremony. My uncle then let me know that he actually rode down with a couple of older cousins, Charlene and Claude, and maybe Charlene would like to speak. This was actually the first time I had known that Charlene and Claude were here. They're important in my past as well. After my mom died when I was ten, I was sulking around the house very inactive, and my fam decided that maybe if I joined a bowling league on the weekends, that would be good for me. It was Charlene who made the drive from her North Side home all the way to my West Side house to pick me up every Saturday morning for a 10A youth bowling league back out near her house at the old Marigold Bowl, which no longer exists. I became friends with her daughter Chonda, who was my age. (I sent an invite to Chonda as well, but she couldn't make it.) And I socialized with the other kids in the bowling league, and it was a big part of my life. Not only that, but one Saturday in mid-December, Charlene kept me at her house for like four or five hours after bowling just hanging out with her and her daughter, and I didn't quite know why, but then they drove me home and let me go upstairs to my house first as they followed behind, and when I opened the door...SURPRISE! My family was there with gifts and food and a cake and candles, and that little get-together when I was eleven years old remains the last time someone threw me a surprise birthday party.

My uncle got Charlene on the phone and then handed it to me, and I explained to her the situation and asked would she like to perform this speech, and she said absolutely. Whew! Problem solved. From there, Drew drove to a gas station, not for gas but because my throat was dry and I needed something to drink, and that was where I grabbed the vitamin water that I mentioned in the previous post. The cashier, a cute black girl, chuckled as I paid for the water, and I wondered what the joke was, and she said, "I'm just laughing at your shirt." I had totally forgotten that I was rocking the "I'm Rick James Bitch" shirt. Guess it's a good thing that I didn't go with the "I Have The Dick So I Make The Rules" shirt. But I decided that I couldn't really wear that to a church. The Rick James shirt was bad enough. I threw out a Chappelle-like "I'm rich, beeyotch!" as I left and cracked up the cashier some more.

From there, it was on to the church, and a bit of drama that had nothing to do with the wedding. A large white guy was standing in the basement stairwell as we entered the church, and he asked if we knew who had keys to the meeting room down there. We did not. But this wasn't good enough for our pal, and he explained that usually, the basement meeting room is open on Saturdays for the weekly Overeaters Anonymous meeting, but the door was locked, and he couldn't find anyone with a key. He wasn't exactly searching hard because this would require him to, you know, walk. He actually asked us if we could go look around for someone with a key. Stunned at this request, I believe that I told him sure, and then headed to my dressing room with no intention of looking for someone with a key. I mean, even if it wasn't my wedding day, that's not my responsibility. You wanna find someone that bad, go look for someone, bubba. Drew and my uncle and I burst out in laughter once we were safely inside the locked dressing room.

(Bubba wound up representing one more woman whom I dated in the past. I've never told this story on the blog before. But before Karen and after the one-nighter with my high school girlfriend, there was a year and a half drought where I had lots of internet prospects and no success at all. During this drought, in the summer of 2002, I started going to Overeaters Anonymous meetings. This was suggested to me by a therapist I had when I was 19 as a way to be around others like me so that I wouldn't feel like I was on my own planet. And finally, at age 26, I saw that there were meetings at a hospital a block and a half from my house on Saturday mornings and decided to check it out. It was an interesting mix of old and young, black and white, thin, medium, and obese, quiet and verbose, almost all women but a couple of guys every now and then. I never felt like I quite fit in there either, but I kept going because at least it was one hour out of my week where I was surrounded by people who I felt understood me a little. I even spoke up a few times to talk about my week of coping with food and people.

Well, one Saturday around November or so, this stunningly beautiful white girl with a U. of Michigan windbreaker sat in a meeting, saying nothing, and I definitely took notice, but I didn't want to approach her because this was not a singles bar and I didn't want to be the creepy guy trying to pick up chicks. But I did wonder why she was there. She wasn't fat at all, nor was she anorexic, which a couple of women were--OA wasn't just for fat people, it was for people with food issues one way or the other. She was a perfectly healthy looking woman, about 5'9", 150 lbs. Then she finally spoke at a meeting with a slight accent and explained that in her native Germany, she had two sisters who were much thinner than her, and they always called her fat, and that's why she thinks she needs to attend OA. Her problem wasn't so much food, it was her perception from back home that she was the fat one and didn't fit the mold. I guess if the sisters saw the others in the OA meeting, they'd faint at the sight of how big we were. I felt compelled to approach her after the meeting, as others did, and my words of encouragement were along the lines of, "Whatever your sisters think doesn't matter because you are very beautiful regardless." I will never, ever forget her response. She smiled brightly at me and said, "Aw! That warms my heart!" I could have melted right there in front of her. We exchanged phone numbers, and I bounded home with that same new-love feeling you get when you meet a hottie at a club.

She wasn't at the meeting the next Saturday, and I called her to see what was up, and she said something about having to wash her car and run some errands, and I asked if she was busy that night, and she said no, and I asked her out, and she said sure. I don't remember why she didn't pick me up, but she gave me the address of I think her cousin and told me to meet her there that night. I was so nervous because she was so out of my league, but she must have liked me a little just to say yes. I was on the phone with Drew and "Ronnie" for like three hours that afternoon trying to figure out what I should wear, how I should act, etc. I ventured out into the December snow and met her at the address she gave me. Four women were sitting around hanging out when I walked in with a rose that I bought her on the way there. "Aww!!" they all cooed. I took my date and headed out the door, not knowing where we were going or what we were going to do.

She wound up taking me a couple of blocks away to a laid-back jazzy club. The date went about as well as I could have hoped. We spent two hours sharing everything about ourselves. She turned out to be a Mormon who didn't drink or smoke, which only made her more angelic in my eyes, and she didn't get very deep into details, but I got the impression that she was either a virgin or had not dated very much. She was in college trying to get into theatre. We sipped on our bottled waters and talked about many things. Then I walked her back home. She wore my gloves because it was cold. It was a clear, crisp night, the stars were shining, and I took her to her doorstep wondering if I should go for a kiss because the date went so well. This is where things went south. She was going to turn and go into the house without giving me a kiss or anything else. Then I reached out for a hug and she actually said the words, "Oh, hug," like it was the most surprising development she'd ever seen. Then she gave me the quickest little hug and smiled and bounded into her apartment. And that was the last time I saw her!

She never picked up her phone when I called, she never answered any e-mails, and she never returned to another OA meeting. Trust me, I showed up for the next six weeks straight. I would have seen her. I have no idea why she dropped off the planet like that, but I really don't think it was anything I did because every interaction between us seemed perfect up until that awkward hug. But I found myself not caring about anything happening at the OA meetings, just showing up, waiting until the end, asking the regulars if they had seen her, and then leaving dejected. And once I realized that I wasn't caring at all about OA, I decided that indeed, I had turned into the creepy guy at the OA meetings trying to get laid, and I stopped going.)

Back to the wedding day. I had a vision of all the guys hanging out back in my dressing room before the wedding helping me stay loose by playing cards or just shooting the shit. Drew did stay back there with my uncle and me for the most part. He left for about twenty minutes and came back with donut holes from Dunkin Donuts. I may have been the only one to have some, but that was because I don't think I had breakfast. Drew also presented me with a congratulatory cigar while back in the dressing room, and I still have it, and I still haven't decided if I'm ever going to attempt to smoke it. It's not like I know how to enjoy it if I did decide to smoke it, and it's not like I know exactly how to take off the tip and light it up properly. But the point is, Drew was a mensch. He provided the transportation, he provided the necessary snacks before the ceremony because I may have passed out if I didn't have some food in my stomach, and he even had a cigar ready to light up, not to mention providing a ride out to the casino the night before, allowing me to make some honeymoon cash. And of course, he provided the cash for the bachelor party present featuring "Ambrosia" and Lavinia.

I'm not supposed to see my fiancee the morning of our wedding according to some folklore, but not only did I wake up next to her, but I saw her for a split second in her makeup about an hour before the ceremony. Her cousin, working as the wedding day assistant, came to our dressing room to drop off the boutonnieres for me and my uncle, as well as bring over an iron for us to touch up our dress shirts. I answered the door, not expecting my fiancee to be standing right there next to her cousin. I quickly accepted the boutonnieres and the iron and sent them on their way. In that haste, I forgot to have the assistant pin the boutonnieres onto our lapels because we're clumsy men and we were not going to be successful trying to perform that task. So my uncle got the idea to call my aunt and have her make her way back to the dressing room area to pin the flowers on us. But my fam wasn't yet at the church, so we were going to have to be patient. While we waited, unc imparted some stories about married life and words of wisdom, which I knew he would have for me before the wedding. His most important message? Don't let anyone else into your marriage, meaning whatever disagreements we may have, don't run to third or fourth parties trying to rally support behind us. This marriage is between us two people, and no one else.

We started putting on our suits just after 11A. I was trying to put it off as long as possible so that I wouldn't be sitting around uncomfortable in a suit forever and ever. My uncle chuckled as I struggled to bend in my suit to tie my shoes, then he bent over and tied them for me. He didn't have this problem he because he's worn suits every day for years, and he has learned to put the shoes on before putting the suit on. At about 11:15A, the officiant, the fabulous Sonia Walker, made her first appearance to check in on us. Drew took this as a sign that the shit was about to start getting serious, and he wished me luck and went to the sanctuary to take a seat. My playcousin's mother arrived not long after that, because my aunt had appointed her to go back and see what this boutonniere situation was all about. She was able to apply the boutonnieres after a few efforts. We didn't have safety pins to keep the sharp part covered, so I made her put the pin in several times until I was sure that the point wouldn't stick me accidentally. We could faintly hear the music that my fiancee chose for the pre-wedding seating. I knew that it was about a half-hour of music, so right at noon, we should hear the song that would be the cue for the family to be seated by the ushers. So I wasn't planning to be in the side hall waiting for that music until about 11:50 or 11:55. Sonia had a different plan. Literally seconds after my uncle suggested that we take off the sportcoats because we were starting to perspire, Sonia came back to the dressing room and said, "It's time." My uncle and I looked at each other wide-eyed, then shrugged and put our coats back on. One last check that everything fit right, and a last deep breath, and we went to stand in the side hall behind a door that led out to the sanctuary.

I did not see who was in the sanctuary, so I wasn't worried about who was there, who wasn't there, did my dad make it, etc. I had one thing worrying me over everything else as I stood in that side hall, and it wasn't pre-wedding jitters. It was the fact that I absolutely could not stop sweating. The side hall was warm, the outside weather was warm, the monkey suit was warm, and besides, I was about to get married, so all of those things explain why I was sweating. There was another factor--that baby oil that Sarah gave me that I felt the need to apply to my dome in order to avoid having a dry scalp. All of these things added together resulted in me just drowning in perspiration. Several paper towels were retrieved from the bathrooms by me and Sonia. They helped a little. I tried to stuff some dry ones in my pocket in case this issue followed me out to the ceremony. Sonia thought that standing back there waiting for our music cue wasn't helping, and besides, my uncle is limping, so she opened the door and calmly grabbed a couple of chairs from the sanctuary and set them up behind the door for my uncle and me. This was greatly appreciated. I did seem to control my sweating a little better as I sat there chuckling with my uncle. Sonia declined to take a chair for herself.

At about 11:55, we heard a voice. It was a male voice, and it was coming from around the corner where one of the building entrances was located. It was the entrance near our dressing room, so my first thought was, is this Bubba still looking for someone to open the basement meeting area? I heard the voice bellow a short, "Hello?" I know the voice. It's the voice of someone sorta close to me, if you count coming from his loins as close to me. It was the unmistakeable voice of my father. But when I told this to my uncle--who, remember, can't stand him almost as much as I can't--my uncle's response was, "No it isn't," and he just shook his head quickly and turned back to the sanctuary door, almost as if he was hoping to hear our song cue right then and there so that we'd have to hustle out there. He answered so definitively that I guess I believed him and started to ignore the situation. Sonia was on alert because whoever this was had some bad timing and was a threat to disrupt the ceremony if he kept poking around. Then he said a little louder, "Anybody back here?" Absolutely no doubt, it was my dad. I turned to my uncle and said, "I would have lost a lot of money betting that he wouldn't get here in time!" Sonia scurried around the corner to meet whomever this was and make sure that he didn't wander any further. I got up to see if this really was my dad. I had some emotion at this point. The timing was incredible, right when I was about ready to go out there and get hitched, and I was a combo of pissed at the timing, shocked at the fact that my dad made something on time, and sorta happy to see him, since he really should be here on my wedding day after all.

I get to the corner and look dead into the eyes of my father. It's really him. I was astonished. When I tell you that the man has never made anything on time except to beat me when I was a child, I'm not even fucking kidding. I was told that he was late for my birth! Yet here he was. Then I noticed some fashion choices that he made for the occasion. What little hair he has was slicked back like a '50s greaser, and I have never seen him try to do that. His "suit" was okay, just a sportcoat and pants and tie, nothing outlandish. His shoes...well, they were a different story. They were some kind of light brown crocodile lace fabrication. Never seen those either. Hey, no accounting for taste. He spoke for less than a minute, explaining that he wanted to see his son before he went out to get married. He wished me luck, and I told him that I was glad he was here, and he said he'd never miss his son getting married, as if he was just a mortal lock to make it here on time even though he's never been on time and several hours ago his ass was in Atlanta, GA. I'd like to think my mom facilitated him making it, because he'd have almost no chance otherwise.

He circled back around to the normal sanctuary entrance to take his seat while I sat back down next to my uncle, who was as shocked as I was that my dad was here on time. Then Sonia heard one of the songs that we're on alert to hear as cues that it's about to start. There was a jazzy-sounding song with piano that cued the seating of the family, and that was when Sonia, my uncle and I were to walk out. But with the drama of my dad playing out, Sonia got a little flustered, and she heard another jazzy song playing, which was "In A Sentimental Mood." And she rushed my uncle and me out the door and into the sanctuary as my uncle and I looked at each other a little confused. My uncle followed behind me as I slowly walked out. I was so nervous about making this first appearance that I didn't look up at the people until I got all the way to my standing spot. I adjusted my suit all the way to my spot. Only then did I feel comfortable enough to look up at the people. My fiancee had way more people on her side of the aisle, but the wedding's in her hometown, so that's to be expected. I looked at my side and tried to make eye contact with all of my peeps one at a time. My playcousin snapped pictures. I saw Jacob and Alice and waved, and said a little inside joke to Jacob, the same one he said to me at his wedding. I saw Monica, a lovely woman I used to bowl with, and her boyfriend. Monica was witness to a lot of my craziness from seven and eight years ago. She was there the weekend that I found Karen's website and was consoled by Sarah. I brought Sarah to the bowling alley with me that Sunday to bowl my regular league games, and I did that because otherwise, I would have stayed home and skipped my league. I couldn't have done that alone. I also talked to Monica about all of my drama, so she's another one that's been supportive throughout the years. I saw my older cousin and her husband, the cousin who agreed to speak during the ceremony. I saw my playcousin's mother, who's always been a little insulated and introverted, and I was surprised that she decided to come down from Chicago. But she helped raise me, and I was very happy to see her.

The ushers (who were my aunt's husband and their oldest son) started to bring the family members down the aisle to their seats because the groom was already out there, even though this wasn't the song they were supposed to go on. I became a little worried because at rehearsal, the song that the fam and maid of honor used ran a little long, and we wound up standing there waiting for the bride's song to cue up. The guy running the computer where the music was stored was a young adult interning at the church, so I wondered if he would be able to adjust and get right to the bride's song after the maid of honor came down. I reminded myself a couple of times that this was the bride's day and that after everything else is done, I needed to take in the moment when she comes down the aisle and block out anything else. The sweat started running down my face again, and I ignored it as best as I could. The family came down and smiled at me and my uncle, including my aunt and my fiancee's mother lighting candles with an electric lighter. It took them each a while to get the thing to work, so that provided brief moments of levity. Then Judy came down with her black pantsuit, looking very...unique. Then Sonia gave a hand cue to the intern, and he got right to the bride's song, which was "Pachelbel's Canon in D Major."

She walked down the aisle calmly, and everyone rose to greet her. I knew that she was going to have a flower in her hair. I had been sitting in this computer room for weeks with the dress sitting on the bed, although she put tissue paper over the front so that I couldn't see it. I had gotten a brief glimpse of the makeup job. Mentally, I thought I was ready to see my fiancee come down the aisle.

Emotionally, I wasn't anywhere near ready.

I started choking up a little just hearing her song begin, knowing the moment was finally here. Then I actually looked at her. The dress was very slightly off white, as close as you can get without it being totally white. It was cut midway and showing the girls, but in a tasteful manner. The sleeves were all light and elegant. The white flower was the perfect size for her head, not tiny but not too big. The red bouquet was a perfect accent to her entire presentation. She was stunning. She was my blushing bride. And I was her blubbering hubby. I put my hand to my mouth and started crying almost uncontrollably. My uncle didn't help, saying in my ear, "That's your woman." That just made me cry even more. I couldn't even tell if she was crying when she made it to me because my eyes were so filled with tears that I couldn't see much of anything. So the first three minutes of the ceremony were filled with me sniffling and wiping tears and trying to be discreet and pull out some Kleenex to blow my nose during the prayer.

The ceremony rolled along, and it came time for my fiancee's friends to read their reading. It was a Bible verse, 1 Corinthians 13, but it was hard to understand. Lots of thous and forsooths and whatnot. My fiancee later told me that they chose a different version of the reading than she was intending. The version they chose was a very literal translation, so it didn't come out sounding like anything resembling today's English. Plus, the readers had soft voices. The ceremony continued, and it came time for my cousin to do the reading that Cassandra was supposed to do. And she got up there and put on her glasses and belted out "Union" by Robert Fulghum, and she killed it. Think of the black police captain on Law & Order. It sounded that good. I was very proud. No pinch-hitter in history has hit a home run that far.

Then we walked to the middle of the aisle and took the candles that our families had lit and we both lit one candle in unity as a symbol of both of our families and us committing to this marriage. I was happy to do this because it gave me a chance to walk and stretch my legs. The sweat kept pouring throughout the ceremony, but I just played through it. My uncle handled the ring exchange flawlessly. I don't know how my fiancee felt, but that was a powerful moment to be able to have that wedding band put on. Sonia presided over everything wonderfully. She wrapped things up with, "You may greet your bride," and the kiss is now my Facebook profile pic. Then Sonia announced us as Mr. and Mrs., and we took each other by the hand and strutted down the aisle as "I Can See Clearly Now" played, and everyone stood and smiled and applauded. We were finally, after five and a half years of sizing each other up and imagining a life together and wondering if we were right for each other, a legally married couple.

Looking into my wife's eyes after it was all over, I got the sense that she was feeling what I was feeling--glad that it's finally all over. There's such a build-up to that big day that no matter how much you love your spouse, there's a big sigh of relief when it's done. The work of being a married couple immediately takes precedent, and the wedding planning and worrying is now an afterthought. As we stood in the corridor in the receiving line, I didn't even pay attention to our songs playing. I just wanted to get through and take some pics and go eat with my wife. My hurting mouth wasn't even in my mind all day. It didn't matter that I had two teeth removed only three days prior. The receiving line was memorable because some of my wife's family members, specifically her uncle's daughter, decided to make it a picture-taking occasion and held up the line for quite a while. It got a little uncomfortable. But eventually that was over, and despite both me and my wife being ready to have a seat and get off our feet for a moment, it was now time to make our way back into the sanctuary for pics. The camera girl was my wife's uncle's stepson's daughter, if you can keep all that straight. She did an awesome job, but she's a college student, so she had the energy to stand up there and make us pose for several minutes at a time while she found the right angle. It was torture for us, as well as my uncle on his bad knee. It took about an hour, and it felt like a day. The most interesting part of the picture session was how many other people stood behind the camera girl taking pics with their own cameras and camera phones for their personal pleasure. I felt like Tom Cruise posing for the paparazzi. Just a sea of folks with cameras snapping away and yelling, "Hold that pose!" And the whole time, I'm dripping all over the fucking place. They couldn't provide me with enough paper towels for all the sweating I was doing. And it had nothing to do with being married! It was all the standing, the humidity of the sanctuary, and the monkey suit. But everyone had a joke for me after the ceremony--"Sweating bullets there, eh?"

My dad veered off course a little during the pictures. One pose was my wife leaning over the end of a piano while I sat at the keys and pretended to play misty for her as I looked into her eyes. It's a very sweet pic. It's also misleading because I can't play piano for shit. So my dad decided that this would be a good time to play a musical piece for us as a tribute, I guess. I wasn't in the mood for his showboating, so I told him no, and he was relentless. He must have asked me around a dozen times! And he was taking it personal, too. "You don't think I can play, is that it, son?" No, dad, that's not it, it's that it's my fucking wedding day, not your gig at Kingston Mines. By the time the pics were over, he and I were the last few stragglers out of the sanctuary, and he was still asking me. I kept saying no. However, I've since seen a pic someone took of him at the piano by himself, so he must have skipped coming straight to the reception in order to tickle the keys. Like a moth to light, my dad saw a musical instrument and couldn't resist the urge to make the day partially about him. SMH.

From there, it was upstairs and on to the reception. I enlisted Jacob to be our announcer and introduce the wedding party. There was a little commotion as we nervously looked around trying to find Judy, who had disappeared. But someone located her, and Jacob handled the introductions with a personal flair, saying our last names twice as if he were auditioning for the Yankees P.A. gig. "Now getting married, the shortstop, #2, Derek Jeter. Jeter. #2." I'm sure I was the only one in the room who understood the gag. The wife and I entered the room to a standing O with big smiles on our faces, and our ironic joke song cued up on the computer--"The Thrill Is Gone." As most of the room raised eyebrows in confusion, we headed straight to our tables and got ready to eat. But first, my wife's uncle was going to bless the meal. No problem, except his daughter insisted that Jacob formally announce him by name. A little unusual, but okay.

I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful food provided by Chef Erik Waldkirch of Maximilian's Catering, even with the mouth issues. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it, too. Not long after finishing, my uncle started to act weird. He said out loud as he sat next to me, "Oh, um, okay, guess it's about that time for the speech," as if he was all of a sudden very nervous about giving the best man speech. I was surprised by this because my uncle is very smooth and polished and has had a management position for many years, so giving a speech is nothing new for him. I would be informed later that this was also the doing of my wife's uncle's daughter, as well as the "wedding day organizer." They directed my uncle to get up and do the speech, as if we were on a strict time schedule. I never saw them do this. But his speech was great, very heartfelt and touching. He briefly addressed the number of frogs I had to kiss before finding my princess, and he let my wife know how proud he was to welcome such a classy woman into the family. I said, "My man!" and gave him a big hug. I knew he wouldn't let me down. Judy spoke next about the times she and my wife talked about finding that right guy, and how happy she was that it finally happened. My new mother-in-law said some very nice words, and so did my dad, though I must say that I held my breath when he stood up in anticipation of him saying something totally inappropriate.

The music didn't go exactly the way we planned. My wife had three playlists for the reception--dinner, cake-cutting, and dancing--but no one bothered to change playlists when we cut the cake, so at some point we heard "The Thrill Is Gone" playing for a second time, and my aunt asked if I could do something about the music because it seemed to be repeating, and I got up and changed the playlist to dance. I was kinda shaking my head as I did this because I had fended off the urge to say that I would handle the music at my own reception. I felt that was a little too controlling and I needed to let go and let someone else worry about it. But the intern who did the music at the wedding wasn't at the reception, so in the end, my wife and I wound up being in charge of the music. Not long after I changed the music, the "wedding day organizer" struck again and said that we needed to say a speech to our guests, and it had to be right now. Fine. I took the mic and had my wife stand next to me as I thanked everyone for coming out, especially my out-of-town people. I said that they helped make this the greatest day of our lives. I didn't know that my wife would break her shyness and say anything, but she took the mic and thanked everyone who helped set up the big day. I then turned the dance playlist back on.

I battled with my wife in the weeks leading up to the wedding about having a first dance. I was all up for it even though I can't dance, and she was totally against it because she "hates to be the center of attention." Um, it's your wedding day. We even practiced a slow dance once, but we were so clumsy and tired afterwards that we never got around to practicing again. So our one dance at the reception was the following: I spontaneously shook my tailfeather when Heatwave's "Groove Line" came on, and I raised the roof a little, and everyone laughed and hooted and hollered, and I grabbed my wife and held her hand while she did one twirl. And that was that. I was sweating too much to keep going, and she wasn't interested. Not long after that, I went to the restroom and had a couple of minutes of alone time to take in the day's activities, then I went to drop the marriage license back in the dressing room, and when I made it back to the reception, my wife was missing, tables were being cleaned off, and people were getting ready to leave. "Come Go With Me" by Teddy Pendergrass was playing when the computer was turned off, so at least my mother's favorite singer made an appearance, but most of the other songs that we fought and argued over never wound up being played. My wife returned dressed in regular clothes, so she was anxious to get out of that dress and those shoes, but not in the honeymoon suite to get busy with me. She just wanted to be comfortable. Can't blame her. I kept the suit on the whole day despite losing weight in perspiration and having to towel off before every single picture. One last bit of drama came when I went back to the dressing room and found it locked up and the lights turned off, meaning whoever shut it down was in there with my wallet and other valuable items. But nothing came up missing.

From there, it was off to our room at the Doubletree Hotel mere minutes away, where we already knew no action would be happening thanks to our weariness as well as Aunt Flo. But I still treasure those minutes lying in the king-size bed with my wife, looking into her eyes and reliving our wonderful day before nodding off for an early evening nap. Then we woke up and got some drive-thru Chick-Fil-A.

Sun. Oct. 16

I remember this day as being so perfect because our families met at my wife's uncle's house and we had a big brunch together. And it was just awesome to see my people together with her people hanging out and having a great time. My dad became our responsibility on this day. He was able to hitch a ride back to the Doubletree after the wedding with I believe my aunt and her family. But they claimed to not have the space for him to go out to the brunch, so my wife and I put him in our back seat. And afterwards, we took him downtown to the Amtrak station, where he caught a train back to Chicago instead of flying back to Atlanta or something. At the brunch, my uncle gave me another big hug and just looked at me with a huge smile on his face. I think he was seeing me through the prism of being there when I was first born and watching me through all of life's phases, and seeing how I've become the man I am today. And I made sure to tell him all weekend that he's the reason I am the man that I am. I needed a strong male figure because my mother made an unfortunate choice to father her baby, and my uncle has always stepped in to be that man and show me how things are done by real men. I didn't always apply those lessons, but eventually, I got it together. I hugged everyone in my family individually and thanked them for making the long trip, and they all hit the road directly from the brunch. My wife and I hung around until after 3P because as we were pulling out to leave at 1P, the couple who spoke at the ceremony pulled in, and the wife stopped the car to give them some conversation time. I watched football while they chatted. In the evening, we had a very nice dinner at Carrabba's and enjoyed the Bears whooping the Vikings on Sunday Night Football.

The honeymoon consisted of us visiting Graceland and getting the big bus tour of Elvis's estate; eating breakfast at Memphis's most revered breakfast restaurants, Bryant's and Brother Juniper's (both awesome!); dinner at Rendezvous and Gus's Fried Chicken (Rendezvous ribs were great to me and average to the wife, Gus's chicken was great for both of us, but be warned, it's spicy); and a night at Roadhouse Casino & Hotel back in Tunica, MS (room was tremendous, complete with in-room whirlpool, but I lost back the money I won the night before the wedding). The wife believes she got food poisoning somewhere in the middle of all this, but she wasn't vomiting or in the bathroom nonstop, so it was mild. Maybe it was just realizing that she was married to me.

And one more funny story of drama: We knew we had received many cards from our wedding guests, but when Judy and my mother-in-law took the gifts back to our house, we had a hell of a time locating the cards. And we were quite panicked about this because, of course, those cards didn't contain just cards, they contained money. I even called my aunt while they were driving back to Chicago to ask if she left a gift, as tacky as that sounded. She wasn't happy about that, and then she was almost furious when I told her that we seem to have misplaced all of the cards. She confirmed that the $250 she was going to chip in for the rehearsal dinner was inside her card, so between Sunday and Monday, it became a scramble inside our home to find these cards or else drive back to the church and hope that someone there found them. Monday morning, we were at our wit's end searching through bags and boxes two, three, four times, and my wife was submitting to the possibility of someone walking through the unsecured reception area and taking the cards, which I refused to believe. Finally, finally, we opened the guest book and found the cards shoved inside. Crisis averted, cash saved, mass murder of innocent churchgoers thwarted.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Tying The Knot, Part 7: The Day Before

I'm determined to remember the important parts of this wonderful wedding weekend even though it happened over five weeks ago. So without further adieu, let's start with the day before the wedding.

Fri. Oct. 14

On this beautiful morning, I found myself in my fiancee's car trying to find a jeweler whose coupon I have in hand. It's a coupon to take two bucks off a watch battery replacement procedure, and this was important to me because in my warped way, I felt the need to have the women that I previously dated or screwed represented as part of my wedding day, and the watch that "Shelley" bought for my 30th birthday with the money from the student loan for which I co-signed had a dead battery.

(Quickly, the other women represented were as follows: "Giselle," my high school sweetheart, and "Karen," as well as a co-worker I dated, had songs in our reception playlist that reminded me of them. Tammi, my 8th-grade crush, who I thought for years that I would end up marrying one day, also was repped by a song or two, although we never dated. "Sarah" gave me baby oil for my shiny bald head while we were dating, and I still have that very same bottle, and I splashed some on my head before I left the house Saturday morning. Also, I still carry in my wallet the ticket stub from the comedy improv show Sarah and I attended the day after I found Karen's swingers website and Sarah drove three hours just to console me. The stub is totally blank because the ink has rubbed off after seven years, but I carry it anyway. The Co-Worker Who Shall Not Be Named made a big deal of wanting cheap costume jewelry for her birthday, and I bought something for her thinking she would reciprocate for my birthday, and she did nothing. So the cheap wedding band I bought for myself was sort of a tribute to her. "Torrie" was represented by the fact that I wore one of the dirty T-shirts that I bought while shopping with her in Minnesota to the church the morning of the wedding, the "I'm Rick James Bitch" shirt. And it's very weak, but I tried to rep "Grace" by buying some vitamin water before the wedding that was branded XXX, which made me think of the nature of our one-night stand. No romance, no holds barred, just straight fuck. There was even a tenuous connection to "Adrienne," a woman I dated a couple of times but never got to first base. She was a smoker, and "Drew" gave me a congratulatory cigar before the wedding, although I didn't smoke it. And the most important women in my life, my late mother and grandmother, got a shout-out in the privacy of my home before the wedding, just a holler to let them know that I knew they were proud of me on such an important day.)

Anyway, my mouth was still very sore from the teeth removal, but I needed to eat. I was planning on picking up something soft while I was out after I got the watch fixed. So I'm driving towards Germantown Parkway, which is where most of the restaurants and businesses are here in the sleepy suburb where I now live. My mind is relaxed and enjoying the sunny weather and taking in all the feelings of anticipation that I'm having. I'm just feeling really good and blessed that I'm in this position at this point in my life. I go to Walgreens and grab a bottle of sparkling cider for the toast, since I'm not supposed to be boozing it so soon after the teeth surgery. Then I arrive at the jeweler, and dampening my pride at getting out and doing this early and arriving at about quarter past nine is the sign saying that the jeweler doesn't open until ten.

Not a big deal, I figure, because this gives me time to find something to eat and relax while eating, not just scarf it down. The first thought when I contemplated soft food was mashed potatoes, and that leads me to the KFC, which also is not open until ten. What the hell? Are we in Amish country and nothing gets opened before noon? I eventually settle on Sonic, and the softest thing I could find on that menu was the French toast sticks, which were delightful. I was thrilled to get a text while eating that said one of my guests from Chicago, my mom's best friend Barbara, wouldn't make it but was sending cash to my Paypal account. Sweet. But that knocked out a potential speaker at the wedding. My fiancee has two speeches for the ceremony, one read by friends of hers, and the other by someone I wanted to stand up for me. My first choice is Cassandra, who worked with me at CBOE during those Karen and Sarah years when I ran around chasing ass and wondering why the world hated me, and she was always supportive and helpful with advice while gently reminding me that I had no shot with her because I wasn't man enough. The woman trusted me enough to sleep with me when we attended the Kentucky Derby, and by sleep I do mean sleep, because we were never intimate. No first base with her, either. But she means a lot to me because she was telling me truths about myself that I didn't hear at the time but remembered and realized that she was right later in life. The problem with having her speak is, Cassandra had not been available for a couple of weeks. No matter how much I call or text, she wasn't responding, and I had no idea if she would be able to make it, and her name's already on the program, and I was starting to feel a little panicky. If Cass won't make it and Barb is already out, who the hell am I going to have speak?

I put that drama on the back burner and hoped that it would work itself out, and I made it back to the jeweler who took notice of my shirt that said something about Chicago and prompted him to ramble on about a hellacious flight to Chicago he once took, and yada yada yada, and finally the watch was fixed and I was back home. My fiancee's maid of honor, Judy, was now at home, and they took off to pick up some last-minute items, and I chilled by myself for thirty minutes or so after showering until my fiancee's mother showed up. Once my fiancee and Judy got back, it was time to load up the cars and head out to the church and get ready for the rehearsal. Everything's going smoothly thus far, but at this point a glitch would occur that we wouldn't realize until later.

My dad (he's not the glitch) called during all of this scrambling, trying to convince me to pick him up at the airport two hours before the wedding or find someone who will. No can do, I told him. No matter what, he was not going to mess up my wedding morning. I'm not trying to take time out to do that, and my fiancee certainly wasn't, and we didn't have time to call around to find someone to drive him like he's a foreign dignitary. He was going to have to cab it like a normal person, and if he didn't make the wedding before noon, too bad. I was willing to take bets that between finding his bags after the flight and his general state of mental and physical dishevelment, there wasn't a chance in hell that he would make it in time.

We arrived at the church a little after noon, giving us three hours to set tables in the reception area and get ready for my family, who were driving up from Chicago and would arrive sometime around the 4P rehearsal start time. Judy, my fiancee, and her mother worked on the tablecloth arrangement for a few of the tables just to see what worked and what didn't, and I took orders and drove out to Lenny's, a sub shop. I was so scatterbrained wondering what should I order for me and my bleeding mouth that I drove past the place, but I found it eventually and got everyone's order and a huge tuna salad for myself. After I got back with the food, "Jacob" and "Alice" started calling and letting us know that they were coming to the church, and once they showed up, we let them in. Jacob and I started moving tables around while the ladies continued setting tables. Somewhere in this hubbub, we started talking about all the things that my fiancee and I brought to the church in advance so that we wouldn't be bothered the day of the wedding. She brought her dress, and an iron, and other items she would need, and I brought my suit and hung it up in my dressing room already, along with my shoes, and I grabbed the presents that I would give to my family, and she has her gift for her mom, and of course we remembered the computer with all the songs because we're going to need that for this rehearsal...and my fiancee exclaims that in all of her haste that morning, she forgot the computer! So this is after two o'clock, and we've eaten, and I'm stuffed, and I'm hanging out with Jacob shooting the shit, and my fiancee lets me know that because she forgot the computer, I would now have to get in the car, drive back home, and grab the computer, and be back before four, which is when the rehearsal begins. Really? Me? Oh, and I'm still a relatively new driver, and I've never made this twenty-minute drive from the church to home, so she has to hastily scribble out some instructions for me to do this. I'm still not sure why she felt that I had to make this trip to cover for her mistake, but out I head, getting in much more driving experience on this day than I could have possibly anticipated.

This gave me an opportunity to pump some more bad '90s music on the cassette player because I'm toting a couple of my homemade tapes in the car, so that part was fun, but the trip back to the church once I retrieved the laptop was torture. It was about 3:15P when I left the house, so I was going to be cutting it close anyway, but I got on the expressway for about thirty seconds before traffic came to a complete stop. I mean, complete stop. No pumping brakes, no gas a little and then stop, I mean we were standing totally still. And it was for quite a while. Then we'd move like a foot and stop again for another three minutes. And it went like this for about a half-hour. Seriously, I had been on that expressway for about thirty minutes and wasn't even a half-mile away from my initial entrance ramp. I was so mad, but I was about to get madder. My aunt, who has always been my harshest critic (and if you read this blog from the beginning, you know that my criticism of myself is scathing and hurtful, and she's always been worse), called me on my cell, and she explained that they all had arrived at the church and were at a back entrance and were waiting for me to come out and let them in. I had to tell her that I wasn't at the church, that I was stuck in horrible traffic, and she should call my fiancee and have her let them in. Now, in no way is any of this my fault. I'm getting the laptop that my fiancee forgot, and I'm totally, helplessly stuck in a major traffic jam, but I was hoping that everyone would understand. Well, as my aunt hangs up the phone, I hear her say in a distant voice to someone right before the click, "The groom ain't even here!" I fumed for the next ten minutes. It just took me back mentally to every other time that I did something wrong and my aunt leveled every criticism she could conjure at me. I have never, ever been good enough in her eyes, and by extension, neither has anyone close to me. She responded to my long phone calls with Jacob when we were kids with the accusation that I must have been afraid of him and that's why I wouldn't get off the phone. Not that he would find me interesting enough to talk to, but I must have been a bully victim. What? And she rarely called my girlfriends by their names, always something derivative like "Chickie" or "Sweetie." They couldn't have her respect because they were with me, you see. My fiancee was no different; she was known as "Chickie" most of the time we dated before I moved down here to Memphis. Honestly, I was this close to ruining the weekend by the time I finally made it to the church, because I was ready to explode on my aunt for that little "Groom ain't even here!" comment. I took it so personal because I knew that she was chalking it up to me being irresponsible and not good enough before she knew any fucking details.

Fortunately, I had cooled off by the time I drove past the two accident scenes on the expressway and made it to the church at about a quarter past four. As I rushed into the sanctuary, sweating and stressed, I was greeted by my family and my future mother-in-law and Jacob and Alice sitting there together taking up three rows of seats, and my fiancee and the officiant standing in the aisle, and they all exploded in applause at the sight of me. How could I be mad after that? I smiled wide and greeted my family members with hugs and handshakes, and I remember how good it felt to see all of those familiar faces, people I grew up with and shared so many life experiences, and here they all were sitting in a church in Memphis, TN, all in support of me. The officiant, the great Sonia Walker, explained that they could have done the rehearsal without me or the music if I would have been even more delayed, so I was lucky to get there when I did. We did the walk-through, and I kept trying to crack jokes and dance and keep things light. I remembered that about Jacob and Alice's rehearsal. They were in such a great mood and laughing and having a good time, and I wanted to recreate that. Sonia showed my best man--who is my uncle--and me where we would be standing before the ceremony, and she would lead us out during a song cue right before the fam would be ushered to their seats. My uncle had me worried because he was having a hard time standing up just during the rehearsal. He recently had knee surgery, and it hasn't healed up well for him, so he's gimping around these days despite remaining on his bowling team. I was concerned about all the standing we would do the day of the wedding, because it's not just the ceremony, it's also the standing around taking pictures afterwards. But he said he'd gut it out. The gift-giving after the rehearsal was memorable because I ordered blackjack cufflinks for my uncle (he loves his gambling, and blackjack is his game) and steering wheel cufflinks for my aunt's husband, but I ordered them both gift-wrapped, so I couldn't tell which was which. (He drives a bus for a living, plus he's the one who took me out to practice driving, leading to me getting my license right before I left Chicago.) My aunt's husband wasn't even at the church, choosing to head to the hotel after the long drive to Memphis, so I figured I would open one of the cufflink sets and if it was the set for my uncle, I could give them to him right there a little beat-up on the wrapping but not destroyed, and that would keep my aunt's husband's gift pristine. But I picked the wrong one to open. So I gave my uncle his pristine gift while I took the other gift back home in an attempt to re-wrap it. He hung his suit in our dressing room and put our rings and his shoes in there as well.

This brought us to the moment I had been worrying about--the post-rehearsal. We canceled the dinner because both my uncle and my aunt, who were splitting the cost, were not totally on board at the concept. We're clearly not rich, we're doing so much of this wedding on the cheap, we're barely having a honeymoon, and they're being asked to cough up $500 between them for this rehearsal dinner. So we canceled that, hoping they would gift that cash to us for the wedding. But this now left the rest of the evening for me to either hang out with family, hang out with friends, or go home and spend the night before my wedding watching TV or surfing the net or something. And for some reason, I really didn't want to do that. I guess I would have felt like a big loser if I wound up sitting on my ass watching Friday Night Smackdown or something the night before I got married. So I was up for any suggestions from anyone. My fiancee jumped in Judy's car, and they headed to FedEx Forum to watch Memphis Madness, the name for the first official practice session for the U. of Memphis basketball team. This didn't really interest me, so I kept my fiancee's car and was ready to follow anyone who wanted to hang with me. Before I could ask my family what interested them, Jacob and Alice raved about those incredible ribs from Corky's that my fiancee gave Jacob the night he helped me move. He said he couldn't move a muscle in the hotel room because he was so sore, and the ribs were cold from being in the fridge, but he ate them anyway and loved them. So he and Alice were headed straight to Corky's, and then down to Tunica, MS, where their casino hotel was located. They asked if any of this interested me. Hmmm, ribs and gambling? Yeah. Hell yeah. I invited anyone from my family to come along for the ribs, but they were so wiped from the travel that they all headed back to the hotel. So it was me in my fiancee's Toyota following Jacob and Alice to a place in my city, but I had to follow them because I didn't know where it was. But Jacob did. He's the Human Atlas.

I called Drew while I drove because I knew he was in town and I figured a night at the casino would interest him. He got the address of the restaurant and exclaimed, "That's five minutes from my hotel!" So he eventually met us at the restaurant, although it took him a while because he needed a shower after getting to his hotel and immediately hitting the sack. I was still full from the tuna salad, plus the thought of a bone from the ribs hitting that part of my mouth where the teeth were pulled scared me, so I wound up eating a BBQ sandwich with a fork. Jacob and Alice ordered a banana pudding for dessert, and they let me have a forkful, and it was so good that I made an "O" face without intending to. I ordered a pudding to go intending to take it home to the fiancee but knowing deep down that it would never make it back to her. Jacob and Alice had to check in to the hotel, so they went ahead and made the half-hour drive to Tunica while Drew and I stayed a little longer in Memphis. He had to gas up the rental and then get me to a SunTrust ATM so I could get some cash. And oh, what a rental! The agency didn't have the economy car that Drew reserved, so they told him, either wait a half-hour for an economy to come back to the lot, or take this other ride at no extra cost to you. That replacement ride? A big-ass white pickup truck! I couldn't stop laughing when we went outside the restaurant and I saw this monstrosity. Drew needed a stepladder to get in the damn thing. And the interior was so roomy that I literally couldn't touch the seat behind me by reaching back. It was a nice bit of good fortune to make up for the horrible trip Drew had from Chicago to Memphis on Megabus. The woman he sat next to was very ill, and at one point she hurled into a paper bag. And it was a packed trip, so he couldn't switch seats. "I'm never taking Megabus again!" he said. That's a shame. My fiancee had a trip interrupted because the driver got arrested, and this happened to Drew, but I still maintain that I've had nothing but pleasant experiences with Megabus. I still couldn't recommend Megabus higher. They should pay me for the great advertisement.

Anyway, Drew got me to an ATM and then I parked the Toyota at his hotel and he made the drive to Tunica, where he got gas on the outskirts of the large casino grounds. I would describe it as like a tiny city in and of itself. Drew, having been to Vegas unlike me, said it reminded him of Vegas. Just street after street with casino names waiting for you to turn down that street and drive another couple of miles to the casino of your choice. Nothing out there but casinos once you drive past the businesses on the outskirts. Lots of free land waiting for more casinos and hotels to be built. The smell of money all around you. It was quite the scene. Drew and I stood out front of Horseshoe Casino waiting for Jacob and Alice. They told us to go to Horseshoe because the best slots were there. I just wanted to go somewhere I could play poker. I haven't played live poker at a casino in years, and I made money when I did because I wasn't the biggest fish at those tables. I was very interested in hitting the poker tables again, and Horseshoe does have poker tables. So after standing out front for a long time, Jacob called and said they were here, and sure enough, there they were inside the casino looking for us. Guess there was more than one entrance.

Alice hit the slots while the fellas wandered around. Jacob's not a poker player at all, so I don't know if he would have sat down at a table, but Drew and I headed right to the poker room, where we fully intended to play if the blinds were low enough. They weren't. There was a $1/$3 table that was no limit, and there was a $6/$12 limit table, and we weren't interested in either because one can lose his shirt easily in a $6/$12 game or in any no-limit game. I only took $60 out of the ATM, and I could play a while at a blackjack table if the minimum bet was something like $5 or $10. But not a high-limit poker game nor a no-limit poker game. We staggered out of the poker room and headed for the blackjack tables. Most of the tables had minimums of $15 or $25. One table in this very crowded place had a $10 minimum and no one playing. This was very odd. I've never seen a casino where the higher minimum blackjack tables had folks playing, but a lower minimum table had no one. The dealer, a middle-aged black woman, was standing there with a blank expression and the cards in one hand, in position to deal if someone, anyone would come sit down. And we three guys must have stood around that table waiting for one of us to make a decision for a good three or four minutes. Other people actually came up to the table and looked at it for a few seconds, wondering why no one was playing, and then they would walk away. It's probably one of those gambler superstitions--never start a blackjack table fresh, always come in when others are playing so you can make sure the table's on the up and up. Well, I'm not a smart gambler, so finally I told the guys "Let's sit down and play," and we took out our cash and got chipped up and started playing, and sure enough, someone else then decided to come sit down between Drew and Jacob and start playing with us. And he lost his money within two minutes, and cussed, and walked away. Unbelievable. I hope that old man feels better now that he lost his money at a table where others were playing and possibly taking his cards. But at least he didn't play by himself!

We played for about 45 minutes, all three of us staying above water but barely. Other players came and went, and some stayed for a long time. Jacob stopped at one point after winning a lucky hand and finding himself up about $100. Drew and I kept going. Then I won a hand where the dealer was showing 10 and I hit to get to 16 and decided that I had to hit again and got a 5. I immediately stood up and said, "I think that's a sign!" I cashed out up $85 and tipped the dealer $5. Drew was up about $20 at this point, and he joined me and Jacob in leaving the table all smiles to search for Alice. She was hammering away at the Wheel Of Fortune slots. It was a little past 11 at this point, so, not wanting to spend my wedding day droopy-eyed and yawning, I made the call for Drew and me to head back to Memphis. We left Jacob and Alice at Horseshoe and laughed our way back into Tennessee. I then jumped in my Toyota and drove home.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Getting Hitched Went Off Without A Hitch!

Of course I'll have a big post (or two) chronicling my wedding weekend, but it won't be soon. We're on our in-town honeymoon, and when that's over, it's right back to work. So I'll have all the details next week sometime at the soonest. Just wanted to check in and let those wondering know that everything came off great, the whole weekend was as awesome as it gets, and I am officially a married man. Kinda weird to say it, but feels good. I guess I'll always be in debt to Blogger for creating the forum that allowed two people with no other methods of meeting to meet each other and eventually marry each other. And of course, always a debt of gratitude to SunShyn, the blogger who worked the same job that I did for a few years. She told me of her blogging efforts, and that led to me starting a blog, and my wife saw it and left a comment, and the rest is history. Or her story, if the wife can find the time to sit down and blog about it as well. I'd love to read her thoughts. Anyway, off to Tunica, MS, for a little gambling action before returning home. Catch y'all in my next post!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tying The Knot, Part 6: Pre-Wedding Jitters

Selfishly, I have been blogging away the past three days, trying to calm the OCD in me by chronicling things that I feel must be chronicled before I say "I do," such as the debauchery that was my bachelor party weekend and the emotional roller coaster that was my first love in 8th grade. My fiancee has been cleaning house and getting ready for our big day tomorrow. And when she has some free time, she's requested that I come spend it with her in this, our wedding week. And I've said I can't, I have to finish blogging. And what happens when one keeps getting ignored? One starts wondering where she stands and why she doesn't feel excited about the big day approaching and where is our spark. So I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw her get out of bed last night and go into the living room with the lights off. I found her sitting on the couch crying. When I asked what was wrong, she said that it wasn't something she felt she could talk to me about. When I pressed, she admitted that she was worried that she wasn't getting excited about the wedding. I took the responsibility for that because I truly think that she would be more excited had I given her more time this week, not to mention the past five weeks that I've spent watching and writing about football. I've been a dick, plain and simple. I have done a horrible job of balancing my fiancee and my other interests. I don't have experience balancing these things because I've never lived with a woman before. But I've got to do a better job.

I left her on the couch with her emotions because I didn't want to smother her. She obviously left the bed because she needed to be alone. She returned to bed 20 minutes later and announced that she had actually been contemplating life without me. But fear not, she decided that she couldn't stand it if I weren't around. She'd miss everything about me, the football, the wrestling, the OCD...everything but the farting. I breathed a sigh of relief that she didn't come back to the bed declaring that she didn't think we should get married. Hey, I have a fear of rejection, and combine that with the way I've been neglecting her, and you can see why I'd be afraid of her calling the whole thing off. Can't say I wouldn't deserve it, either.

How are my jitters, you ask? I'm a little numb. Of course, numb in the mouth from getting my teeth pulled yesterday, but numb emotionally as well. I just want the whole thing to go off without a hitch, and I want to do my part to not fuck up anything by forgetting to pack something for the honeymoon or splitting my pants or something like that. I'm trying to stay calm in that respect. But I don't have any fears as far as the actual marriage. She's the right woman, we're doing it for the right reasons, and I'm very happy to make our union official. I was proud to sign the big book at the city office when we picked up our marriage license. And I'm just proud of my fiancee in general. She's been under so much stress, looking for work while planning a wedding, and now working while planning a wedding, which takes more time away from her. But she's been a trooper.

And now, it's almost here. Family and friends are on their way into town, we're cleaning up the house getting ready for visitors, and I'm about to groom myself in anticipation of the big day. I'm getting very excited. I'm going to wrap up my blogging here and devote my attention to my wife-to-be and the wedding. We may not be perfect, but we're perfect for each other. And most important, we're committed to working on our imperfections and making our union better and better all the time. We're gonna make it if we try, just the two of us. You and I.

I love you, Grizzbabe.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My History (9th In A Series)

And my marathon blogging continues. I'm actually sitting here very uncomfortable after having two teeth pulled. The pain hasn't hit yet, but the swelling is there, and the local anesthetic is wearing off. I've already taken oxycodone and ibuprofen, so if I fall off to sleep during this typing and things look even weirder than usual, blame the drugs. And yes, I wanted to have this surgical procedure done sooner than two days before my fucking wedding, but this was the soonest I could do it. So while my fiancee eats pizza and I can only smell it, let's go back in time to another situation featuring something I could only wish for but never have. It's the story of my 7th and 8th grade crush, the most intense feeling I've had for any woman outside of the woman I'm marrying on Saturday. Her name is Tammi Todd.

I don't usually do real names on the blog, but I do it for people who I determine are as real as it gets. We all come across many phony people in our lives, but the ones who aren't phony tend to stand out. Tammi was too shy and lacking self-confidence to be phony. Really, no one should be phony at that adolescent age of 12 and 13, but peer pressure builds around junior high and makes some kids think they have to start being something they're not. No one knows this as well as me. I had built an entire phony sexual history by the time I was 12, and I parroted it to anyone who would listen as I attempted to gain some measure of popularity.

I didn't go to the storage unit and get my diaries from back then, so I have to do this from pure memory. It's 1988, my first day of 7th grade at a new grade school, Ogden Elementary in the Gold Coast area of Chicago. The Gold Coast is what it sounds like, a section of rich and affluent folks, so this school was full of rich and affluent kids. But because there was a gifted program called International Baccalaureate at this school, there were kids bused in from all over the city to attend this program. So the grades 6th through 8th were split into regular classrooms and I.B. classrooms. Basically, if you were just a rich kid and weren't deemed "gifted," you were in a regular class, and if you passed these stringent tests to get into the I.B. program, you were in that class. I would never have been in Ogden if not for the I.B. program because I didn't reside anywhere near there. But Tammi resided there because she and her sister Traci were daughters of Thomas N. Todd, a civil rights activist whose speeches have been sampled on Public Enemy tracks. I had never heard of Thomas Todd. I just knew what I liked. And on that first day at the new school, at the end of that day, I was sitting in the lunchroom awaiting our school bus when I happened to look up at the lunchroom entrance. This light-skinned black girl was standing there looking confused and helpless. It was instant puppy love for me. I had never had my world stop upon my first sighting of a girl. Not quite like that. Oh, I can still list all of my crushes from pre-school through 6th grade, but none of them struck me like she did. There was her raw beauty, plain and simple just like I preferred, no makeup, wide light brown eyes, straight light brown hair, tall and straight posture, a tasty little amount of baby fat. But all of that was combined with this helpless look as she searched for something, maybe her bus driver or teacher or friend, that melted my heart instantly. I wanted to help her with whatever she wanted, but I was totally frozen, plus I was just a new kid in a new place and wasn't in a position to help anyone with anything. But after staring at her for what seemed like hours, I had learned one thing on my first day of school--I wanted to get into that girl's world in the worst way.

The pieces slowly fell into place over the next month as I asked kids about her. I got her name, I got her grade which was 6th grade in the regular class and not I.B., I got a sense of her personality which was she didn't seem to have much of one, I got to observe how she got special treatment because she wasn't on a school bus with other kids. She had a yellow station wagon pull up for her after school, and it dropped her off in the morning. Was it an official school bus? Was it her personal driver with an agreement to pick her up in front of the school? I never found that out, but she sat in the auditorium with all of us waiting for her ride every day after school. But while we were grouped in the auditorium by school bus number, she sat all by herself in the front row, where you had to walk by her as you entered every single day. And if you had a crush on her, this could either be glorious if she had her head down in a book and didn't notice you staring, or terrifying if your eyes met. But this torture was starting to get to me. I was shy, she was shy, she certainly had been put on notice by her classmates that I had been asking about her because she made sure to see me every day when I entered the auditorium, and I could do nothing but quickly avert my eyes. I had to do something, but I didn't have the balls to say hi. Remember, I was completely unsuccessful with girls at this stage in my life. No fooling around, no lunch date, no nothing. So I came up with a way to introduce myself and let Tammi know how I felt without stepping to her face. I wrote several of the sappiest, most sickening love letters ever written.

And I signed them "Your Secret Admirer."

And I slipped them into her locker during class when no one else could see me.

What a huge, throbbing pussy I was.

I may still be slipping her notes to this day about how I just wanted to be her friend even though I couldn't bear to reveal myself if not for one of her classmates catching me slip one of these notes into her locker. So now that Tammi was going to be informed that I was her secret admirer, as if she didn't already know that the fat guy asking about her could be the secret admirer, the next move would be on Tammi to approach me and either shut my "game" down or reciprocate the interest. But she was as bashful as I was. So we went around and around each other for days, catching each other looking and quickly turning away. One day, while at recess, we finally spoke, but I think it was only because our respective classmates dragged us towards each other. They were sick of us beating around the bush, understandably. We didn't say much of anything, but we did say something, so at least we knew what each other's voice sounded like. I fell even harder for her because her voice was so soft, and she had some sort of slight speech impediment that only made her sound British to me. She occupied my every thought.

Fate would give me an opportunity at the annual school carnival to be there for Tammi in a time of need. As I walked upstairs to the 3rd floor, my eyes came upon Tammi playing some game that required hand-eye coordination, and she was playing it hard. I could see her frustration, so I asked what was the deal, and she said she was aiming to win this plush doll, like a green frog or something like that. I wasn't a great athlete at all, but I knew I could win this game, so I played it, won, selected the doll as a prize, and promptly gave it to Tammi. Those light brown eyes lit up like constellations. "Thank you," she said in that soft voice, and she hugged me and bounded away down the steps. I was absolutely floating the rest of the night. I'm telling you, I couldn't have been higher if I had Nate Newton's marijuana stash.

But as crazy as I was about Tammi, I just could not pull the trigger on making a definitive move. We kept walking around each other throughout that school year, making googly eyes at each other, but nothing real came of it. I did present her with a rose on Valentine's Day, and she thanked me, but I had no follow-up. I stared in her direction during that year's sock hop, but I never went over and asked for a dance. I had never felt like this about a girl. I was walking around the Gold Coast on my lunch breaks, playing "Can You Stand The Rain" by New Edition on my headphones, trying to figure out how to take my fantasies about Tammi and make them a reality. And by fantasies, I don't mean sexual. I mean white picket fence and white wedding dress and red rose petals on the bed. I actually couldn't think about her sexually. Yes, you read that right. As hot as she made me every single day that I saw her, I could not even fantasize about the girl. Everyone else was a dirty, nasty potential sex story, every other girl had a role in my fantasy world, but not Tammi. She was just too pure. I mean, I tried to force sexual thoughts about her, and I just could not do it. It was so damn weird. I actually got my first sexual contact with a girl that summer while I stayed at my uncle's house. But I even told that girl about Tammi, how I felt about her, how bad I wanted her. Yep. I had a girl there literally begging me to fuck her. And I would say yes, but then I couldn't make a move with her partially because I felt like I would be cheating on Tammi even though Tammi had not given me any indication that she was interested in me. We wound up not having sex, which is good because considering I got my next sexual contact pregnant twice four years later, I'm sure I would have knocked up this girl too.

Tammi even affected how I viewed other potential conquests. I was sitting at the March 1989 science fair with my project, bored out of my mind, when someone a year older, in 8th grade, told me that there was someone who claimed to know more about pro wrestling than me. I was angry that some mere mortal would challenge my rasslin' knowledge, so I demanded to be introduced. And over to my table sauntered damn near the hottest girl I had ever seen in my life, Margaret Brown. She had short brown hair and hazel eyes that would rival Jennifer Aniston if I knew who Jennifer Aniston was back then. And her body was just killer. We chatted for the next couple of days, but it was always short chats because we were in the science fair and we had to stay very close to our respective projects, lest a judge decide to drop in. So we wound up sending wrestling quizzes back and forth to each other by messenger. And she was right there with me in wrestling knowledge, although her area of expertise clearly was Sting. Boy, Margaret had the hots for Sting something fierce. But anyway, one of our messengers was a buddy of mine, and he asked me what was going on between me and Margaret because he couldn't believe that my fat ugly ass could have anything to say to such a smoking hot babe. I told him that we were just having wrestling quizzes, nothing more. He said that was the point, why wasn't I trying to talk about something more? Why wasn't I going after this hottie? Simple, I said. I don't like her in that way. I like Tammi. He rolled his eyes and grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to look at Margaret and then look at Tammi and tell him why the hell would I pursue Tammi and not Margaret? I couldn't tell him anything that would convince him that my choice was the better one. And from the outside, the choice would have been Margaret by a mile. But my decision was based on what my gut was feeling on the inside, and Tammi was the girl that I couldn't stop daydreaming about. Tammi had my heart. It was just that simple.

So 1989 into 1990 was a stressful year because it was my last year at Ogden before I had to move on to high school. Tammi, being a year younger, would be there after I left, so even if I tried to get into a high school near the Gold Coast, I'd have to hope she enrolled there as well, and I'd have to wait a year to find out. So in that context, in a world where this girl was on a pedestal and seemed unattainable, no e-mail to keep track with her, no cell phones to have a chance privately to let her know how I felt, I thought this year would be the most important evah. I had to let this girl know how much I wanted her, shyness be damned, fear of rejection be damned. So the events that happened could probably fill up a few seasons of a TV pilot about grade-school love unrequited. We played out our version of Winnie and Kevin on The Wonder Years. And looking back, it may have put me through a shitload of moods on a daily basis, the ups and downs of a daily skirt chase, but boy, was it a hell of a lot of fun.

I'm sure I'll forget a lot of occurrences, but here's what I remember: There was a day where I was spreading lies about getting some pussy the night before, and I told some kids on the school bus that I bet the chick I was with would be a much better fuck than Tammi, and Tammi upon being told this hunted me down in the playground and confronted me about the quote. She was actually upset that I was with another woman, even though she had not given me a clue that my interest in her was something she wanted. There was another day where she decided to knock me down a notch by making fun of my boobs, and that was a rather painful day. I took it as a signal that she would never be interested in me just from a physical standpoint. Never mind that no other boys seemed to be interested in her. She just wouldn't give me the satisfaction of pretending that she was interested in me. Sometime during the winter, I decided to become a playleader, which was a fancy name for class monitor for the little kids. Tammi was a playleader too, but I wasn't doing it just to be near her. I was doing it because my grades were shitty and I thought I had a better chance to be accepted to the high school of my choice if I had some community service on my record. During this time, I saw Tammi running after kids from her class and towards kids from my class, and she slipped and crashed right in front of me. She had to be taken to the nurse's office crying and bruised up, and I was the one who grabbed her glasses off the ground and took them to her. So I got to hear another "Thank you," but it was a sobbing one, and sad to hear. There was another time where the kids from her class dragged her over to me and dared her to hug me, and she gave me a quick little hug and ran away while the kids oohed and aahed. Another time, again encouraged by the kids she was monitoring, she walked over and started kicking snow at my feet as if it were just a normal thing to do, and I kicked snow back at her, and for thirty seconds we kicked snow at each other's feet, smiling and carefree and communicating in that socially awkward way that boys and girls at that age sometimes communicate. I actually recall that as a very sweet moment. I promise you she doesn't even remember that.

There was Valentine's Day 1990, where I went out in the rain to get a couple of roses for her before class began. We were all in the auditorium because we couldn't have morning recess, so this was going to have to be done in front of the whole school. I didn't just have flowers, though. I had a small white teddy bear that I played $10 worth of Skee-Ball at Great America to win for her a few months ago. Problem was, while working up the nerve to give her this bear, it sat in my locker along with my smelly gym shorts and shoes, and when I finally gave it to her with the roses, she replied, "You're giving me the bear that's been in your smelly locker?" I guess everyone knew that it was sitting there for many weeks, and she knew it too. But she still thanked me for the flowers and the bear. There was the time where I finally worked up the nerve to ask Tammi out to lunch, which was all I could possibly ask as far as a date. It's not like my folks were going to allow me to get on public transportation and come all the way to a part of the city that I didn't know that well and take her out on a weekend, and it's not like I had the money to take her anywhere really fancy, and it's not like her parents were going to let her go somewhere with me, not when she's only 12 and hadn't been allowed to date at all. And sure enough, I convinced her to ask her parents if I could have an innocent lunch date, only for her to come back the next day and tell me that the parents considered that a date and she wasn't allowed to date yet. So much for that. There was the time Tammi convinced her nerdy friend, Shani, to ask me out on a date, as a test of my commitment to her even though we weren't together. I rejected Shani's advances for three reasons--not just because I liked Tammi, but because I didn't think Shani was attractive and I thought Shani was clearly making a move on me on behalf of Tammi. Shani thought I was a pig thanks to my rep as Dr. Pervert, and out of nowhere, she wants to see a movie with me? Come on. I was young and dumb, but I wasn't that stupid. A guidance counselor actually advised me to invite Tammi down to Tribune Tower to watch me in the Chicagoland Spelling Bee, which I thought was an incredibly geeky move, but I was desperate, so I asked. Of course, she said no.

There was the play "Annie Get Your Gun" that we produced that year, the tryouts for which I referenced in this post. That tryout wasn't the most unusual thing about the play that involved Tammi and me. During a practice, Shani pulled out a piece of Play-Doh and pressed it against my arm without warning, then announced to me that my skin and Tammi's skin can now become one while she put the Play-Doh together with a different piece. I glanced over in Tammi's direction, and she was actually watching this happen before she quickly turned away. Shani would explain to me later that she did that at Tammi's request, so Tammi may not have been attracted to me, but she did appreciate the attention from me. I was a part of her world, a small part to be sure, but as probably the first guy to express a serious desire for her, she did consider me as a part of her. As flattered as I was by the Play-Doh incident, I must say that I was also a bit weirded out. Then there was the Big Penis incident. My role in "Annie Get Your Gun" was a bit part as a train conductor, and I was using my aunt's husband's bus driver jacket as part of my uniform. But I was using old light blue pants of my own that were a couple of sizes too small. So during a dress rehearsal, I'm sitting in the gym, which doubled as sort of a lounge for the cast members, and Tammi and her friends walked by, and I was totally unaware that the position I was in pulled my already small pants closer to my body and really accentuated the boner that I was sporting for no other reason than I was 14 and popped boners at odd times. The girls pointed at me and laughed, and when I shrugged and wondered what was so funny, Tammi pointed between my legs and giggled, "Big penis!" Now, understand, this was when she and her friends were like 12. Big penises were something to laugh at, not to be in awe of. I was embarrassed. I mean, I couldn't even fantasize about the girl, so my dick was not something I was proud to show her under these circumstances. And the event actually mortified me for a few days, until I explained what happened to my dad, who gave me some perspective by telling me, "You should be very proud that she's calling you Big Penis. Better than being called Little Penis!" Ah, dad. Always choosing the high-minded side.

The main event of this whole "courtship," if you'd like to call it that, occurred at the 1990 carnival. My friends and I were planning all these major moves on girls that we liked considering it was our last shot at some kind of score. Graduation was approaching very fast. So my friend Dan and I were sitting on the stairs about an hour before the carnival would begin, just shooting the shit, plotting moves on girls, when someone said "Excuse me" and bounded down the steps and split Dan and me. It was someone in a gray skirt that came up just above the knee. She had milky skin and smooth, shiny legs that made my heart stop, not to mention a perfect little ass. Yes, Tammi had stopped the show, and I didn't even see her face. And I saw her earlier in the day, so she changed for this. Dan and I looked at each other with eyes wide and mouths agape. "This may be a big, big night!" I said with a huge smile.

And yet, I was still being a chickenshit and didn't speak to her all evening. Songs played in the gym, couples awkwardly slow-danced, and I stayed glued to a bench chatting with my uncle, who was there just to be my driver once I was ready to leave. I bounced in and out of the gym, playing games, trying to psych myself up to ask Tammi for one dance. Just one dance. But fear paralyzed me every time I even thought about it. Other classmates were even trying to pump me up to do it. But I just couldn't. The night was winding down, and my opportunity was being wasted.

So some slow song is coming to an end, and the way the DJ has spun, another slow song is coming next because he was playing the slow ones two at a time. And I'm sitting there on the bench still trying to work up the nerve...and I look up, and there's this lovely light brown girl in a gray mini skirt standing over me, and she grabs my hand and says, "Come on, you big chicken," and she leads me to the dance floor as "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You" by Milli Vanilli starts to play, and no shit, the entire gym erupts in applause at the sight of us two finally getting together after two full years of me lusting after her. I mean, even little kids who I monitored who knew how I felt about Tammi were running up and slapping me on the butt and congratulating me. My mind was spinning in my head. We smiled at each other and had a very tentative slow dance, not very close to each other, lots of distance between us, yet hand in hand, my right hand around her waist, our eyes locked together. I was in heaven. Tammi had one thing to say to me in the middle of this dance, and it was very telling of her mental state: "I still don't know why you like me." I tried to babble some stuff about her beauty and poise and whatnot, but I figured I was ruining the moment and shut it down and just kept dancing. The song ended, I thanked her, and I ran out of the gym and off of that level down to the basement lunchroom, sweating profusely and in need of a soda. My uncle and I left not long after that. Why stay? I just had my moment of glory.

The school year wound down, and I got up the nerve to ask Tammi to pose for a picture for me, and I'd still treasure that pic if I hadn't lost the camera before I could get the film developed. I asked Tammi to sign the first page of my autograph book, and she wrote: "Have a nice summer, and I think I'm going to miss you." Hey, I'll take it! Of course, I had to write another long letter telling her how I felt, except I didn't have to sign this one Secret Admirer. And I ended this letter with the words "I love you" and my phone number. Yeah, "I love you" was over the top for a girl who I never went on a date with or kissed, but it's how I felt at the time. New Edition had another song out at the time that said, "If it isn't love/Why do I feel this way/Why does she stay on my mind?" And when you hear that a few dozen times over and over, you can convince yourself that this is love that you're feeling. What the hell else could it be? Can't sleep, can't think, can't enjoy the things I usually enjoy without the thought of her popping into my head. I felt that I was justified putting "I love you" into that goodbye letter. Besides, it was my last hurrah. What were the odds that I'd ever see or hear from her again? I had left my phone number on previous notes, so it's not like she would ever call me...

So I'm chatting with "Jacob" the day after my graduation, and the phone I was using beeped indicating that I had another call, and I click over, and this soft trembling voice said "May I please speak to Andre?" And I almost fainted once I realized who that voice belonged to. It was Tammi! I told her to hold on, then I clicked back over and stammered out the sentence, "I have to call you back, Tammi is on the other line." Neither Jacob or I could believe what I just said. But when I got back to Tammi, she had to get off the phone but said she'd call back. And she did a little while later, accompanied on another line by her older sister Traci. They basically interrogated me on why I thought I loved Tammi. I got to run down the list of how I felt live over the phone, although I laid everything out in my letter, I'm sure. Traci played the role of hardcore skeptic while Tammi played the background. But I was rather cool and calm during this line of questioning. I knew how I felt, I said what I said, and I had no regrets. They let me go after maybe a half hour. Tammi then called me back by herself later that day, and that last conversation will always have to be a mystery because one of her parents caught her using the phone almost immediately and made her hang up. She never called me again.

How long was I hung up on Tammi? Well, fast forward to 1995. Now I'm a man, baby, a 19-year-old coming off a 3-year relationship with my high school sweetheart "Giselle," much more experienced with women, dating a co-worker, confident, relatively secure in myself, a whole world in front of me. It took a long time, but I was finally at a point where I didn't wonder about Tammi every day, ponder where she was or if she was dating or how she was developing as a woman. So "Ronnie" and "Drew" have mutual friends they went to high school with, and those friends have a girl crashing at their house that they knew from somewhere, and the girl is named Heidi. Now, Heidi is a unique name. I knew of only one Heidi in my life, and she was a thin blonde chick who was in the same class as Tammi at Ogden. I asked Ronnie and Dave to ask their friends if this Heidi girl's last name was Vienup, and they got back to me that why yes, it sure is! How did I know? Well, my emotions launched like a rocket. If I can meet up with Heidi, maybe she still knows Tammi, and maybe she can give me Tammi's number, and maybe I can reconnect with Tammi, and maybe now, out of that elementary school atmosphere, we can build an actual relationship and really get to know each other, and who knows, from there, she may fall for me as hard as I fell for brain couldn't calculate all the possibilities fast enough. Ronnie and Drew and I went to their friends' house on a Friday night, and I was so excited that I dressed up for the occasion, as if I was going to go see Tammi herself. Alas, things didn't work out because Heidi had lost contact with Tammi, and as an aside, Heidi informed me that I wouldn't want to be around Tammi now because she'd become stuck-up and full of herself. Of course, I would have loved to meet Tammi and judge that for myself. But it wasn't meant to be.

On the eve of my first and last marriage, I felt the need to reflect back and remember how I felt about Tammi. This represents some closure. Not that I was hoping Tammi and I would meet and fall in love someday like a fairy tale, but...okay, maybe a part of me has always wished that would happen. It's an unreasonable thought because Tammi and I are certainly vastly different people than we were twenty years ago. So many things have happened to us that have shaped who we are and how we view others. But I think all of us hold on to someone from years past that represent that pure, unbridled passion that occurs when it's love at first sight. I know Jacob has his from that same time period, because we would sit on the phone for hours with the lights off talking about our respective obsessions. I bet you, dear reader, have yours as well. As much as my stomach grumbled and my heart raced and my emotions got put through the ringer on a daily basis, I wouldn't change anything about my two years with Tammi. I use her as a guiding post on how to treat my fiancee. Because of Tammi, I know that when I put my fiancee on a pedestal and worship her like Athena, I need to savor every moment. I never know when my love or obsession could go unreturned and leave me alone with nothing but hopes and dreams.