Inspired by a recent Elephant post, Cutest Damn Wedding Video Ever, I’ve been reflecting on my own wedding… which was the Best. Ever.
I’m not saying that in a keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s kind of way, oh no. I think the whole culture of competitive weddings is depressing. My wedding was so flawed and so weird, it ended up being perfect.
It all started in the shower. I’d been on the phone for hours with bakeries, caterers and florists. Every person I spoke to seemed to be tacking on thousands and thousands of dollars for the simplest things. I’d already blown through my budget and I wasn’t even halfway home.
I got off the phone, jumped in the shower and promptly started weeping. Months of stress and worry poured out with those tears, and before I’d managed to wash my hair, I knew the wedding was off. I refused to get trapped in to the monstrous machine which is the wedding industry. I may be many things, but I like to imagine “sucker” isn’t one of them.
I got out of the shower, found my fiance’ and said, “Let’s elope.”
Then I bought a book called “Let’s Elope.”
With the help of this handy book, I planned a trip for two to St. Lucia where we would be staying at an odd little resort named Anse Chastanet.
Our room at Anse Chastanet was like a fantastic treehouse. It was perched on the top of a hill and had only two walls. Where the other two walls should’ve been, there was merely open air and the whole thing faced the twin volcanic peaks of the Pitons across a blue inlet of the sea. Birds flew casually through the room. The smells of hibiscus and salt water saturated the air. There was a languid humidity which gave the impression that this was a timeless place, and we stretched out on the bed and sighed happily.
It was perfect.
The day before our wedding, my husband realized he hadn’t brought the divorce papers from his prior marriage—without which we could not be married. It was July 3rd. I have an obsession with the number four. “If we can’t get married on the fourth,” I wailed,”let’s just forget the whole thing!!” Of course, I was posturing. But I was pissed.
He left multiple messages for his lawyer, who seemed to be MIA and was the only person who could help. In the meantime, he suggested, maybe we should distract ourselves with an outing to a local volcano in the village of Soufriere. We went, and as we were driven through the village, we were overwhelmed by a terrible stench. This smell was so bad it made our eyes water. It was like being trapped beneath a mountain of rotten eggs. It got worse as we passed the village and went through the gates of the national volcanic park.
By the time the driver stopped it was all I could do not to vomit. The driver turned around with a big smile on his face and announced that we were there. He breathed deeply as if inhaling the most exotic perfume. Then he told us what we were smelling was the massive cloud of sulphur which the volcano emitted.
The town was even named after it—soufriere means sulphur in French. And sulphur is what makes rotten eggs (and farts) smell rotten. We were trapped in a giant fart cloud. Gagging, we begged the driver to take us back to the hotel.
Once there, we discovered the lawyer had miraculously faxed my fiancés divorce papers. But there was another problem. The hotel manager knocked on our door with the rest of our paperwork in hand.
“This isn’t complete,” he said nervously in his island accent.
He was a reed thin black man with a substantial overbite and a sweat drenched white collared shirt plastered to his skin.
“You have to have this signed by the mayor. Didn’t anyone tell you? The mayor has to sign.”
The mayor? What mayor? Seriously? How could we have known this? The only person we’d been talking to was the hotel manager himself, and he most certainly hadn’t mentioned it.
He begged to differ, but offered to help nonetheless. Evidently, this mayor was all the way back in town, but would only be in his office for another hour or so. He just worked one day a week and if we didn’t catch him, we might not get him at all.
Panicked, the hotel manager hustled us down to the beach and called for a boat. It was the fastest way to go. He instructed the driver of the boat to take us to the mayor’s office once we got there, which was reputed to be in a bad area of town. (From what I had observed, even the good areas of town were bad.)
“Good luck!” he said, pushing us into the boat as sweat poured down his gaunt face.
We sped across the bay, hearts racing. When we got to town, the driver, whose English sounded more like French, gave us directions to the mayor’s office. “We thought you were supposed to take us there,” we said. “No…no,” he lit a cigarette, “You’ll find it. No problem.”
After circling through countless unnamed streets littered with beggars and young men I can only describe as “ruffians,” we did find it. At least we thought we had. It was the right address, but seemed to be a defunct drugstore. The lights were out, and the windows were empty and covered with filth.
We looked at each other for a minute, and then I shoved open the door.
Inside, there were several aisles of empty shelves lurking in the darkness. We crept in, frightened, but not knowing what else to do. At the back of the store was a weak light illuminating the edges of another door. We pushed that door open, and immediately stumbled backward. There was a snarling dog standing in the entrance of the little room, which looked exactly like a bomb shelter. Overhead, a single bare bulb hung from the ceiling. Behind the dog was a lopsided desk, and behind the desk was one of the oldest people I have ever seen.
We were in the mayor’s office.
We edged around the dog, who, though growling, didn’t do anything additionally hostile. We set the document we needed signed on the desk and said, “Sir. If it wouldn’t be any trouble, could you sign this for us?”
Then we placed the $50 next to it that the hotel manager had instructed us to. The mayor looked at us blankly through eyes muddied with cataracts. His left hand trembled as he tightened his grasp on his cane.
“Sir?” I said.
I pushed the paper and the money closer to him and tapped it with my finger.
The dog laid down, but continued grumbling. The mayor took a huge breath and exhaled noisily. He picked up the pen without a word, his right hand trembling even more than his left, and scrawled something illegible on the paper. Then he leaned back and closed his eyes, as if the effort of signing had done him in for the day. “Thank you, sir,” we both said, easing the document off the desk and tip toeing back past the dog. The mayor was silent. Outside, we looked at each other and began laughing madly. What the hell had just happened?
That night we had a lovely dinner outside on the cliff, secure in the knowledge that the next day, our wedding day, would proceed as planned. We were getting married in our room, as that was the nicest spot in the resort, I had a girl coming up to do my hair in the afternoon, the hotel manager was delivering an arch woven with local flowers, and the officiant—a soulful black woman from the island, was confirmed.
We awoke at 5:00 a.m. on the 4th to what sounded like helicopters flying into our room. Suddenly, we were enveloped in a strange mist, and we began coughing as chemicals filled our throats. “Mosquito abatement,” my fiancé choked. He was right. They were spraying for mosquitos directly into our room with a super powered machine that took two men to hold. We ran out the front door gasping, trying to find a pocket of fresh air.
At 9:00 a.m., the hotel manager appeared at our door to make sure we were all set. We went over the details one last time.
He smiled as he bobbed his head, “Yes, yes. Everything will be good.”
As he was leaving he turned and said, “Just tell me… who are your witnesses?”
Really? How could no one have thought of this?
“We’re here alone,” I said. “We don’t have anyone.”
“Oh,” he scratched his head, “maybe you can ask another guest to help?”
Great. Exactly what I wanted to spend my wedding day doing. Talking to strangers and asking for this extra personal favor.
We argued over breakfast about which of us would go around asking for witnesses. “Can’t we just have the staff there or something,” I whined. I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked up. A lovely brunette was standing next to me with a little smile on her face. “We just got married yesterday” she said, pointing a thumb at her new husband who gave us a little wave. “We had the same problem. We’ll be there with you if you like.”
At 3:00 p.m., a girl came to do my hair. My fiancé stubbornly refused to leave the room, though I wanted some small amount of privacy to prepare for this momentous event. When the girl finished, I tipped her and she left. I felt my hair. It seemed strange. I ran to the bathroom and saw to my horror, she’d erected a beehive on top of my head, circa 1962. I ripped out the bobby pins and untangled the back combing she’d done, saving nothing but the two white flowers she had used to decorate her hideous construction. I put my hair in a simple braid, and stuck the flowers in the top and bottom of it.
That will have to do, I thought.
It was now less than half an hour until the beginning of our wedding.
From the bathroom, I heard the couple who’d agreed to be our witnesses come in, as well as the officiant and the hotel manager. This was it. I pulled the $40 dollar cotton sheath I’d bought from Marshall’s over my head, put on the turquoise necklace my mother had helped me pick out and braced myself.
As I exited the bathroom, there was no music, no crowds of people round eyed, hoping for a glimpse of the bride. And yet, I felt like I was walking out before adoring masses. There was just my finance’, the officiant, the hotel manager, and two handsome strangers.
My smile was so wide, my face should’ve cracked in two. When I looked into my fiancés eyes, and set my hand in his, I was dizzy with the beauty of it.
The mountains, the air, our love.
In the middle of the night, fat and happy from our wedding feast, I heard a sound. I turned on the bedside lamp to investigate. And there I saw, as casual as an old friend, a monkey eating the remnants of our humble wedding cake. I woke up my now-husband. “Look!” I said, and we held each other and softly laughed as our wild friend bit off the letters on the cake one by one which spelled, “True Love Forever.”
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Ed: Sara Crolick