December 1, 1984 was my wedding day. I was a completely lost 19 years old groom.
Early drafts of the book shed little light on the years I was married. It was hard to write about this part of my life. I didn’t want to hurt my ex-wife anymore than she has already been hurt from our three year marriage. Still, I had to tell my story.
Jessica discussed on more than one occasion that she never thought she would ever have the opportunity to have a wedding. Likewise, I felt she would be my only chance in life to have relationship with anyone. Neither of us had ever dated anyone before we met each other. We each brought extremely low-self esteem to our union. We both wanted to prove to the world we were loved and lovable. For me, especially, the wedding ceremony was more important than the actual marriage.
Despite it being December and a Christmas-inspired wedding, it was sunny and almost 65 degrees out that day. Maybe the unseasonable weather was a sign that we were facing an out of sync marriage.
I remember how uncomfortable the photographer made me. There was an odd, staged photo taken of my dad shaking my hand; something that would have never happened in real life. My best man (my new brother in law) pretended to help me with my bow tie in another hokey shot. Yet, in the shots of me sitting at the altar with all the bridesmaids seated around me, I looked at ease and was smiling. Perhaps it was all that taffeta.
I also remember hugging everyone in sight that day. I was not a handshake kind of groom. I HUGGED everyone like I had just won a contest. I remember a couple of the male guests looked at me like I was nuts. I doubt a grown man had ever hugged them like I hugged them.
Did I know I was gay that day?
Then why did I get married?
Because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I was doing exactly what was expected of a small-town man. I was “two kids and a factory job” away from the what I was taught was the American Dream, ala Robinson, Illinois.
Had a poll been taken of my wedding guests, I am sure that every single one of them suspected I was gay. I had tearfully come out to my parents less than a year before the wedding. Jessica (years later) admitted I came out to her when we first met. Yet no one had a serious talk with me about marrying a woman … or even getting married so young. Instead, I felt pressured by my upbringing to take a female prisoner, willing or not, in front of 60 guests.
The wedding and the wife were veiling a lot of secrets. Secrets bigger than just being attracted to men. My big secret was anger and shame. My Aunt Rosie called it correctly: she said I looked mad when I walked out to the altar to marry my bride.
I brought the anger and shame with me to the church that day from events many years before the wedding. What no one in the church knew was that I almost changed the course of my life when my anger and a frying pan got the best of me two weeks before the wedding. Even I couldn’t predict as I said my vows that I would carry that anger with me for many more years … long after I would divorce Jessica. I would re-live the traumatic events of my life over and over as I acted out my pain with shady strangers in dangerous situations.
I would like to think now, 26 years later, that my maniacal, inappropriate hugging after the ceremony was either a cry for help or a way to make the guests at my wedding as uncomfortable as I felt.
I should have loved and honored myself sooner.