March 11, 2005
I've decided that marriage court is the best place ever. I came to this realization while waiting in line to reserve a space for a quickie wedding (just six weeks to get things legal before the baby comes, after all). It was 9:15 in the morning and the waiting room was getting crowded. In one corner was a well-dressed young professional couple, nervous and joking, holding hands and glancing at their watches. In another was an old, overweight couple--neither him nor her a day under 60--dressed in T-shirts and sweats. As the receptionist called me to the window, a gangsta family walked in, the bride and groom wearing matching side-cocked baseball hats, still shiny in their newness. They had a small group of friends with them, and they went and sat on different sides of the room—the bride and her people on the far side of the room, the groom's party near the door. Just outside the doorway, I could see a large eastern European family forming, the men laughing quietly in a corner, the women surrounding a teenage girl dressed in a floor-length white gown, a crystal chocker stretched tightly around her long, slender neck.
The room itself was what you would expect in the basement of a county building--small, dark, the aesthetics of a hospital waiting room. There was a small glass-fronted window with an grumpy receptionist behind it who would spit out Congratulations, can I help you? as you approached. There was a hallway behind her window, and every now and then she would turn to yell down it at a judge in a far room, things like D'ya need some water, yer honor? or Are you ready for the next one, sir?.
When the couples were called, they would walk down that hallway and five minutes later come back out married. The receptionist would snatch the marriage certificate out of their hands, and explain how to apply for a certified copy in a different county office across the hall. And, as the couples and their families would walk out of the room, blinking under the harsh fluorescence of brightly-lit hallway and wondering what exactly just happened in that five minute span, I realized that this was how a wedding should be: fast and painless and oddly legal.
I've grown up watching people I know get married off--family, friends, co-workers, enemies--and I've see how massive an undertaking it becomes, how this one day overshadows everything in their lives, overshadows their even own relationship. And I've never wanted any part of it. To me, choosing to spend a life with someone is a private event, something chosen quietly and individually. It's not an excuse for a gaudy public ceremony, with caterers and a band; it's not a reason to get expensive kitchen supplies or a pile of money; it's not a reason to buy expensive rings or go on lavish vacations. It's love, not a parade, and it's simple and it's mysterious, and it's confusing and exhilarating, and it's yours.
And so, yeah, I'm getting married too--Illinois law doesn't grant birth fathers many rights unless you're hitched--but I'm not telling you a date and I'm not asking you to send flowers or a gift. This isn't something for you, Mr. Bush--or for friends or relatives. This is something for me and for Janice and for our tiny little family that we're building. This is something private and something personal and, yes, something oddly legal, and it's not anything more. It's something that lasts five minutes, and when you walk out, your pupils struggling to adjust to the harsh lights in the hall, you realize that nothing changed; you realize that your life is still your own and the way you choose to live it the only thing that matters.