We first met in Madagascar in 1998.
There was no way it could work—or so I’d decided over a decade ago.
But now we had a second chance.
It was spring of 2012, and two divorced 30-somethings—me, an NGO Director, and he, a French Special Forces Operator in a long-distance relationship—planned a road trip to Las Vegas.
A few weeks before, he flew into Denver for our trip to Vegas, my assistant said to me, “You know Alison, people get married in Vegas. And that’s the kind of thing that he would do.”
At first, I panicked. My gut told me my assistant was right because one of the things I loved about this guy was that he always acted with intention. He’s also the type that likes a good surprise.
There was no way I could get married so soon after my divorce. What would people think? What if it just ended in another divorce?
I’d recently made a deep dive into the waters of self-awareness and healing, reflecting, and working on figuring out who I needed to be so I could be happy on my own. It seemed counterintuitive to get married again so soon.
At the same time, the accompanying butterflies in my stomach, the racing of my heart, and the hope in my bones told me that if he asked, I’d say yes.
What scared me more than getting married was letting the relationship escape a second time.
I packed a new dress, sexy blue lingerie, and a pearl necklace my assistant lent me that belonged to her grandmother.
He rented a Mustang—his favorite United States road trip car—and we headed off from Boulder with plans to overnight outside of Zion National Park so that we could wake up to the wide-open sky of the southwest for my 35th birthday.
After stretching our legs with a day hike through Zion, we arrived in Vegas in the early evening. Since it was my birthday, I thought he might propose over dinner. I’d set my sights on a tapas restaurant with a line out the door.
We finally ate, but there was nothing in terms of a proposal—not even a hint.
After dinner, we walked the strip, played a little poker, and made some moves in a nightclub. Sometime before dawn, we headed back to our condo while enjoying our ride in the Mustang with the top down under the Vegas skyline and stars.
The following day we got up late and headed out to the Gun Store (that’s its name). For anyone with a healthy respect for guns, it’s an eye-opening experience to watch someone walk into a store, hand over his drivers’ license, and buy a handgun.
We didn’t buy a gun that day, but we saw a guy who did just that. Yves did find a holster and a few other accessories that are hard to buy, even for a soldier in France.
He didn’t propose to me in the Gun Store. Ha, so more waiting.
We’d rented a condo with a kitchen and pool for daytime relaxing while visiting the Vegas scene at night.
Our next stop was Whole Foods to buy supplies.
Not Your Average Proposal.
Back at the condo, he launched into cooking a full Malagasy meal of sausage in a caramelized sauce of tomatoes, onions, garlic, and ginger served over white rice.
I set the table on our little balcony and brought out the wine.
One hundred percent casual, wearing just a pair of basketball shorts (no shirt), he sat down and opened the wine, filling our glasses.
He then took a deep breath and said, “Don’t eat yet, I have a question:”
(Long-drawn out pause for effect.)
It would be best if you didn’t answer now. Just listen and then reflect.
I want to marry you.
I’ve talked to my father, and I picked these dates for our trip because my dad said that tomorrow is the most auspicious day for us to marry this month according to the Malagasy calendar.
Again, I don’t want an answer now.
Let’s eat; let’s enjoy our day.
Let’s go out tonight, and if you wake up tomorrow and want to get married to me, we’ll do it.
If you don’t want to, we’ll get up and have a good trip. And that’s that.
So we ate.
Around dusk, we headed to the strip and took a walk, ending up at The Rhumbar. We sat down on the terrace next to two men, one with a shiny bald head. He turned out to be a friendly and talkative professional poker player who’d never met anyone from Madagascar before.
They invited us to sit with them, and we ended up talking, smoking cigars, and drinking mojitos until I couldn’t see straight any longer.
On the way home, I embarrassingly threw up in the car. He cleaned both of us up (the car and me) and put me to bed—that’s love.
The next day we woke up and got married.
I woke up around 10 a.m., surprisingly, without a hangover. He brought me a coffee in bed, and I told him, “Yes, let’s get married,” at which point he swung into action.
By 11 a.m., we were out the door and on the way to the clerk’s office, and by 1 p.m., we were married.
I decided to wear my flip-flops (gold and bejeweled) for the first part, which entailed visiting the Clark County clerk for a marriage license.
Outside the clerk’s office, we got hit up by several “chapel” reps. One of them was an older Black man named Charles, who caught my husband’s attention with a handshake and his name (my husband and his brothers share the first name of Charles).
Charles gave us the offer of a non-denominational chapel and a free limo for the night for an even $300. We liked Charles, and it felt right, so we followed him around the block and down the street to the chapel.
When we got there, the pastor asked us a few questions about how we met and or our lives. She showed us her script and it looked all right, except the Christian religious references, which we asked her to take out.
It was at this point I realized I’d forgotten my shoes back at the condo (a good 20-minute drive away), so I got married in sparkly flip-flops.
The pastor went off script and ad-libbed our ceremony. She’d described herself as Dine, Mexican, and of Christian faith, and from what I know of southwestern cultures, her words that day took a bit more inspiration from their teachings.
The words that flowed off of her tongue met us exactly where we were; one line I remember so distinctly to this day is:
“Your people are now my people, and my people are now your people.”
After the ceremony, we were so pleased that we found Charles, and gave him a generous tip. Our families were disappointed that we eloped, but for us I think of it more as a connective spark that keeps the fire alive.
The trip and our memory of it remain the foundation of the family we’ve built together.
There is something special about a marriage ceremony being just between the two souls who have decided to join together with just the right words at the most auspicious moment.
At the time, we didn’t know that we’d end up back in Madagascar, wearing flip-flops day in and day out, but that happened too.
In the last years, we’ve had our challenges and our joys. We’ve lived across three continents and added two healthy children to our family for a total of four (we each brought a kid with us into the marriage).
We’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be in a relationship. We’ve both learned to be better people and better communicators.
We’ve learned to manage PTSD, working from home, long-distance learning, and now a pandemic; that has brought us together even more.
Ultimately and fittingly, for a marriage officiated in Vegas, we’ve learned that life is like a deck of cards—it’s what you make it. Or as Kenny Roger’s sang:
“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser.”
And, as far as shoes go, a good pair of flip-flops is golden.