The following are two honorable mentions from the GonzoFest Literary Competition. Read the winner, The Bridges Are Burning in Dub-V, here.
by Aramie Louisville Vas
I leave the house on the morning of March 14. I’ve got a bag packed. Contents: liquid antacid for tear gas in the eyes. Mineral oil for pepper spray on the skin. Vinegar and a bandanna to combat fumes. A blend-in outfit: 101st Airborne t-shirt and military satchel. Makeup on, like I meant to look nice. I didn’t shave. Didn’t want the pepper spray to seep into nicks. Pen. Paper. Cell phone, fully charged. Free paper ticket.
I’m ready for the rally. Donald Trump is in town.
Now we’re down on a green at the Lenoir-Rhyne University courtyard in Hickory, North Carolina. We didn’t get into the rally: 4,000 tickets were issued for 1,500 seats. Thousands were turned away. The protesters are surrounded by glaring Trump supporters, and an old white man begins hollering. “You want to push me? You’re all so fucking stupid!” The crowd ripples, frightened. I start to back away. There is nowhere to go. I’m pinned. All of a sudden a young man is down on the ground just ahead of the people in front of me. I don’t need to state that he is black — this is a Trump rally. Cops tackle the youth, and pull him up with a bloodied face. There is no breeze. The white man is escorted away. Not tackled — escorted. The crowd momentarily churns in a sea of confusion. To the left of the chaos, church members begin to sing in the March noonday sun. They sing hymns, strong songs of protest, old Irish ballads. Even for an atheist like me, the sound brings waves of peace and stability to the vibrating, hostile air. The molecules start to settle; the crowd begins to breathe.
Still, there’s a middle-aged, bleached-blond hell-cat who cannot help herself. “Truumpp!!” she screeches, her arms up like goal posts. “We want Trump!” she chants. “We! Want! Trump! We want Donald! Donald Truumpp!!” She appears apoplectic rage, eyes bulging, mouth bellowing.
The protesters start chanting over her fury, “No Trump!” they yell. “No KKK! No Fascist USA!” Over and over, and the cops lead the bleeding youth away in handcuffs as the chants turn to calls of solidarity.
Everyone, including me, puts one fist in the air.
At this point I am probably supposed to state that I attended the Trump rally as a journalist. But if that is supposed to mean I wasn’t also there as a protestor, then consider all lines crossed, because I was on the side of the “troublemakers, jobless and losers” all day long.
“Jobless” is the Trump followers’ favorite word to fling at protesters.
Get a job!”
You jobless losers!”
“They don’t got no jobs. That’s why they’re here!”
This last one nearly makes my new friend, Angel, turn around and yell that this doesn’t make sense when we’re all attending the exact same rally. Angel and I met in line together. I knew she was a protester by her tie-dyed shirt. She doesn’t bite back though, just marks one impatient gesture then faces forward and mumbles through gritted teeth.
We hear “You all lazy! Get jobs.” That accusation came from a very large man leaning sluggishly on a low stone wall. It’s a bit rich coming from him.
A guy with a red bandana over his face suddenly kneels down and dynamically pulls a seemingly endless wad of cash from his pocket. He flips through the bills like playing cards, right out in the open.
“I got three jobs, ‘mutherfucker!” he shoots straight at the accuser. “I’m all but paying for yo’ ass.” This is definitely not his first rodeo, I realize. He’s spent time preparing for these people and their ill-defined allegations.
Throughout the day, far too many people echo that they work two jobs, three jobs even, on top of school and, sometimes, children and chronic illness. I myself work one full- and two part-time jobs. It’s nothing short of miraculous that any of us made it here on a Monday afternoon to protest the hate-filled speeches and white-power posturing of Mr. Donald Trump and his sea of smirking followers.
We’re witnessing the United States of America that Donald Trump wants to “make great again.” Trouble is, nothing his followers say about how he is going to do this makes any sense. I make it a point throughout the day to listen and talk to Trump followers. I’ll even avoid the easy targets: the crazy ones, the ones that seem dangerous. I’ll talk to normal (“normal”) people choosing to follow a man that encourages them to salute like Nazis.
Angel and I walk into a large courtyard filled with protesters and ringed by Trump supporters. A woman near me sniffs loudly and hollers.
“Them people ain’t got no jobs,” she announces in a loud, Hickory accent, pointing at a group with ‘Bless Your Heart Donald! Love, The South’ picket signs. “They doin’ this just to get on ‘teevee.”
Since I’ve ruled out talking to obvious crazies, I decide against asking her any questions. She sounds and acts like a character from South Park.
On the steps of the university I find a woman called Brenda with a pin stuck on her t-shirt, right on her heart. The pin reads “Build the Wall.” A sleepy-looking man stands next to her. So what is there to like about Donald Trump? “Well he’s helping all the drug addicts, and the immigrants too.” How? “Well he has got ideas to get the heroin addicts to stop using drugs so they can have a life again. Because right now,” she stops and looks at me like I’m not even going to believe what she’s about to say, “right now?” she continues. “They ain’t got NO lives!”
It’s so hard to talk to these people.
Brenda goes on at length about immigration, turning from side to side like a human bullhorn. She hits all the predictable points that racist people make (“’They’ don’t belong here” and “’They’ take our jobs”), and I have nearly lost her completely on almost every topic. The sun is getting fierce and her meandering points go up, under and all around the bushes. People are milling about on the stairs. Some listening to Brenda, others muttering and rolling their eyes.
“What about the immigrants addicted to heroin?” a soft-spoken man asks her, pointedly. “Should they ‘go back home’ too?” Everyone pauses.
“Yes,” declares Brenda loudly. “Of course. They don’t belong here. Never did.”
“Is that mercy?” asks the quiet man, among background cries of “We’re ALL immigrants!”
The sleepy-looking guy beside Brenda lurches awake. “It’s mercy for the rest of us.”
His response makes me feel ill. I walk away. I follow a narrow sidewalk around the brick auditorium where 15 police and S.W.A.T. team officers stand with their hands on cell phones or thumbs hooked into belt loops. At least 200 protestors stand behind moveable, white barriers erected beside the auditorium’s exit doors where Trump and his entourage will eventually exit the building. The rest of the protesters voice their piece on the other side of the auditorium. The cries of “No justice, no peace” can be heard through the air. The rally was two hours late in starting due to a dense, gray fog that descended that morning, delaying Trump’s plane. It’s delicious to think that nature herself gave us such an apt metaphor for the arrival of the Donald. Donald Trump: bringing a fog of confusion wherever he goes.
But the gray mist has burned away in the sun, and the protesters gather not only behind the barriers but also into the patches of shade thrown by the buildings. We can’t see anything inside, of course, but a loudspeaker projecting into the crowd announces that Gov. Chris Christie is about to take the mic to introduce Trump. Trump’s supporters flank the protesters everywhere they go. They form a thin but ever-present band of faces — white faces — disapproving expressions and Trump 2016 hats.
I go down into the thick of the protester circle. It feels safe here, chummy. Everyone is talking, laughing. Jokes fly, and spirits are up. Good protests are always like this. It’s what happens when justice lovers and freedom fighters come together with their own. For so often we feel as though we all hold it down alone in a bitter, hate-filled world. I reflect that Trump supporters also might describe themselves as justice lovers and freedom fighters. But their words ring empty and hollow when the actions they wish to employ include banishing humans from a land they helped build and pay taxes on, and turning blind eyes to those in need in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind fashion. A couple guys are taking turns carrying each other on their shoulders and holding their nation’s flag. The sidewalk nearly trips the walker, and as he rights himself quickly, a Trump supporter spits and says “Aw, didn’t fall and crack his head open – that’s a damn shame.” This same Trump supporter will later pace the end of the rally shouting that Trump is “a loving, caring man — he’s man who loves all people.” Now, I just think these people are crazy. I think they’re fucking nuts, and that there are simply a lot of them. Enough to vote for Trump.
A guy in a green shirt and Mexican flag ball cap begins hollering country-proud slogans to the Trump supporters. All day, the pro-Trump people have been taunting folks with “Go back to Mexico!” since every brown person seems to be a Mexican person in their eyes. Well, this dude really IS from Mexico, and now he’s not going to let them forget it. Some of the things he yells are downright hilarious. Far from dividing the protest crowd, or making anyone uncomfortable, his ferocious fight-backs draw the group together.
I, like most progressives, like so many revolutionaries, rarely feel like I truly belong anywhere on this Earth. Suddenly, here we are: a group in the hundreds who love instead of hate, think with strategy and poise, and have come back from bad experiences determined to grow beautifully instead of withering on the vine. I keep looking, but the Trump supporters all seem ignore one another. Anger twists their mouths and mean lines crease their faces.
“My fiancé didn’t want me to come today,” says Dior Scott, a strong and passionate woman who’s kept the energy up in protest center all day long. “He knows my feelings, but he also knows if there’s trouble, they gonna shoot me.” I ask how Dior chooses to define herself. A student? A wife or mother, as so many in Hickory do after giving me their name? Dior defines herself solely, completely as “A black woman in America.” When she talks about her fiancé’s fear of violence, a chorus follows with “Yeah, they gonna shoot me, too.” “Uh-huh.” “And me.”
I begin to feel deep frustration and anger at the scowling white Trump supporters. All of them. Not just the obvious jerks. I’d somehow been hoping the supporters were confused and curious, not hateful. But the reality is that black and brown people are risking their lives and safety to spread love and encouragement for a better world, yet all Trump’s supporters can do is tell us all to “go get jobs,” and instigate violence. A person such as myself, who benefits from white privilege, often needs a reality check to remember how seriously consequences can differ based on skin color. I know this, but have the luxury of often being able to forget about it. I ask Dior if I may take her photograph.
“Yes ma’am, use me baby! Take my picture, make me as your canvass!” she runs her hand up her body and flourishes like a diva. The crowd cracks up. Dior is completely charismatic. The face of revolution.
Next to Dior is Demetra, who was the first person I saw in the early morning line-up to get inside Trump’s auditorium. As we stood waiting, Demetra had come along and plucked a Trump 2016 sign from the lawn, toppling it without breaking stride. Police headed over, and I worried for the black of Demetra’s skin. But they ignored her and another woman replaced the sign, frown lines emanating from her leathery face. Demetra had continued to sass down the line. She didn’t even topple another lawn sign — once was enough, and she had made her point. I’m thrilled to catch back up with her.
Like Dior, Demetra is captivating. She’s completely in control, shouting with absolute rage and conviction, holding back nothing when the Trump followers egg her on. “Go back to Africa!” yells someone, and Demetra goes from laughing and hugging to a snapped back, forward-facing, straight-flying arrow.
“You! You say that to my face!” she yelled, pointing. “You COME HERE and you SAY THAT to MY FACE!” I’ve rarely seen such raw power flow so easily from anyone. No one comes up to Demetra’s face, and the slur is not repeated.
“I’m here to support my people and my sister,” she says with a big smile, when I ask why she came. “That’s my sister, “ she said, indicating Dior. Then a man in a red t-shirt appears quietly behind her. “Hey D, put your sign down and come on, let’s go.” Demetra and Dior follow him. They are needed elsewhere. I turn and follow. They seem like they know when and where to be.
On the way back around the auditorium, back down the narrow sidewalk, I pass a Trump supporter huffing around yelling for the cops to make a protester move because he’s blocking her view.
“I just HATE these people!” she spits.
“Ma’am,” the cop has probably never sounded so bored in his life. “Ma’am there is no need to fight. There’s nothing to see. Trump is inside, he’s not even out here.” She continues to argue the world’s most boring argument.
All of a sudden, a quick scuffle breaks out by the moveable barriers. I can’t see what’s happened, but lose sight of Dior and Demetra and see a young white guy dragged out of the crowd and pinned face down on the concrete, surrounded by cops. They slap handcuffs on him and briskly haul him away. I snap photos. Another two men are also cuffed and removed. People begin to join hands, showing they stand together.
“Did you see what happened?” I ask a young woman who says her name is Charity. She’s a full-time mom who loves Bernie Sanders. Her hero is FDR. She didn’t see the fight, but keeps repeating that she “just doesn’t want bloodshed.” The way things have gone at Trump rallies, her wording doesn’t seem dramatic. I’ve yet to read an account of Trump making an appearance where someone didn’t get punched in the face.
There is smoke rising from the centermost point of the protest. People are bending down, but I can’t see what they’re doing. I snake in closer. “Aw, shit!” I hear an excited laugh. “They’re burning a Trump shirt!”
I can’t say why, but this seems downright hilarious. Maybe because it’s brazen and a little bit lively-juvenile, a cheeky sort of act. I am delighted. I turn to the person behind me and we begin laughing together. Everyone is straining for photos, their arms and phones reaching over the center like strange limb art. I drop to the ground and, through all the legs, snap the coveted shot.
Shaylon Springs later models the scorched shirt for photographs. He holds it proudly, with his chin up. Shaylon doesn’t want Trump’s hate-filled USA any more than most folks. I keep trying to remind myself that we are at a Trump rally in the rural part of the country. Most people would never vote Trump … right? I try forgetting the “Trump Wins XxxxX state” headlines from weeks past.
Shaylon’s cousin, Mario, tells me about his sons, 11 and 14. His 11 year old is going through a phase, acting like a bit of a bully. “He’s been putting others down at school. It’s a defense mechanism because he’s scared they’re going to do it to him first. When it happens, we sit down and talk about it. But what am I supposed to say if the president of the United States stands there and acts like that, like a bully?”
It’s an excellent point. Little kids always say they want to be “the president” when they grow up. Will little kids in Trump’s U.S. be clamoring to give the Nazi salute?
Mario and I are momentarily interrupted by a zealous Trumper.
“You ain’t gonna ‘feel no Bern’ until you all go to Hell!!”
It occurs to me that hellfire and brimstone could cater to a specific mental illness, but it’s been a long day and I’m probably just tired.
“My wife is Republican,” continues Mario, smiling at my surprise. “I’m an Independent. But that don’t mean we can’t have conversations.
And she doesn’t support Trump. We’re both gonna vote. Black men and women got too many reasons already not to vote. It’s disrespectful for us not to go and vote on something like this. Trump … I mean … how can he relate? He can’t relate to poor people. He’s never been one!” Well said. In my opinion, no politician can relate to the people they claim to serve, but this is Mario’s conversation and mine can be shelved for another day.
After the arrests, we all walk back around the auditorium. Dior and Demetra are chanting slogans of love standing in front of Trump lovers screaming the usual hate-filled tirades. This is when things turned ugly. This brings us to the scene of the very beginning, where a white man is angry, hollering, and a black man is tackled and bloodied.
Back and forth bickering has gone on all day, and at first no one pays the angry white guy much mind. His body leans forward as he yells until he is practically lunging at the group of young black men, who are telling him to shut up. Another white man, dressed in denim and orange, comes out of the crowd and holds the angry older man back. It seems like just another move in the system of checks and balances. All day long: Someone gets too heated, and friends and fellow attendees remind them to pull back. But then the “voice of reason” suddenly snaps. He whips around in front of my face.
“Who touched me?! Who pushed me? Don’t FUCKING touch me! You wanna fucking touch me?” He’s not looking at anyone in particular, but still I jump. “Who wants to touch me?”
“Goddamn,” I’m thinking. “No one!”
A cop leads the ersatz voice of reason away from the crowd, but it’s not over. The angry older man still points and shouts. He screams and stabs the air with a vicious fist to make his points.
The air is absolutely electrified. “Whoa … what the fuck?” is all I hear, in echo, but now I’m pinned into the crowd, experiencing the sudden panic that makes concert goers trample one another in the dark. I start backing up like a startled racehorse, going “sorry, sorry,” to everyone I’m pushing. It’s an involuntary reaction. When I force myself to stop moving is when the black man in front me gets tackled by police.
My friend from the morning line, Angel, is on a nearby hill and I fight my way to her. “They had the tear gas out!” she says, stunned. “I got knocked down; they said they were gonna spray us all. I’m OK.”
The churchgoers begin singing Siyahamba. I feel like crying.
This is “Trump’s America”: unpredictable, chaotic, punctuated by moments of love and understanding underneath waves of violence, anger and threats made good. Helping drugs addicts, mixed with tear gas. Declaring the need for walls to keep out brown folk and punishments for abortions alongside the stamping out of civil liberties and worthwhile causes all to the tune of “Marching in the light.” Side against side, with one group making no concessions and the other group making as many as possible, leaning on each other before anyone snaps in the storm.
Police lead the young man away after tackling him. When they pulled him up, his face was bloodied
The last thing I witness before leaving the rally is a white Trump supporter (do we even need to specify?) talking to a black man and woman. Microphones are everywhere, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They’re talking things out. Both sides trying to understand and be understood. It’s a discussion that’s passionate, but not punctuated by low blows or cheap shots. Those moments had their place, but we’re wrapping it all up now. “You know your life matters, you’re told every day that white lives are valued, you already know it,” say the man and woman, over and over. “That’s why we got to stand up and say ‘Black Lives Matter. Our lives matter.” The white women shakes her head, confused. She nods slowly, like she gets it.
“This all feels so violent!” the white woman insists. “When I go to a rally just to hear a speech and then I walk out the door and see all you people here, it just feels so violent.”
“Lady,” the black woman is laughing now, “you don’t know what violence is.”
The Shotgun Wedding
by Brittany Howard
The narrow church pew rocked back and forth each time I leaned forward to take a sip from the straw protruding out the top of my knee-high boots. How does one find themselves in this situation, awaiting an assembly of American love and devotion to march down the aisle? Very simple actually. If a writer is invited to a shotgun wedding, a writer goes to a shotgun wedding … to write about it.
And I don’t think I need to explain the definition of a shotgun wedding. America is full of them, just like they are full of divorces and homicides. It shows that we Americans think ahead, creating jobs, wasting money and people’s time.
We are lovers. We cannot help ourselves, believing that holy matrimony will save us from bastard children, damnation and dirty looks from grandma. Which brings me back to the wedding. I’ll start with the ride in.
The dirty Malibu sputters North up I-75. I sit shotgun, listening to the crackle of the terrible radio reception while the bride’s sister drives and chain-smokes Black and Milds. “There’s going to be food right? I mean, this is the dinner rehearsal.”
“Dear god.” Kati exhales a cloud of sweet smelling smoke. “If there’s not food here I may murder someone.”
She inhales another puff and puts both hands back on the steering wheel like the excellent Louisville driver she is. I’m fumbling for any ounce of food I may have in my purse and end up with a Five Hour Energy. This will have to do for now.
As I would only expect arriving into the scrawny town of Mt. Orab, Ohio for the first time, our GPS lands us in the middle of a road surrounded by gloomy forgotten
houses exclaiming, “YOU HAVE ARRIVED AT YOUR DESTINATION.” Bullshit. I may have not been inside one for a while, but I think I know what a church looks like and there’s no steeple, cross or Jesus in this depressing excuse for a town.
We drive up and down the one main road from a Walmart at one end to a gang- bang of propane tanks at the other, searching for our savior — this damn church, hopefully full of food. Interestingly once we do find the church, due to a gathering of people in the parking lot: There is still no steeple, cross or Jesus. This building looks like someone made The Human Centipede out of motel offices. What does this town have against churches?
I’m not shocked, just appalled when we walk inside. Well part of me was shocked that I made it through the door — I tested my left arm over the threshold first. I figured it was the limb I could most do without incase anything happened.
But once inside, my ears are raped with the sound of screaming children. It smells of shit, and these tiny humans are just running around, smelling up the whole room. My eyes frantically search for food, but I only see apple juice. “God damn it,” I whisper under my breath. “Oh shit!” I duck my head, looking around for sprouting flames or tiny angels. Deep breathes, I tell myself, get it together.
I search for Kati. The only thing stronger than the smell of shit, besides bourbon, is smoke. She’s propped up on the bathroom sink, puffing on a Black and Mild, staring at the wall. “I’m trying not to murder anyone,” she says.
I let her be and go find a seat in the corner pew. I have no part in the wedding, just merely an observer with the most hopeful intentions. I’m mostly hopeful that something
exciting will happen, isn’t that why most people go to weddings? This one is special though. This is a shotgun wedding and the reason just walked through the door.
The bellies come first, then the swollen feet and lastly the forced smile that says, I probably have to pee. Yep, you have got it right. This is the bride and the matron of honor, both knocked up and only one married — at least for now. They rub their bellies and walk in such a way that reminds me of a steamroller. I hope they smell the shit and realize it will consume their lives soon.
But on with the dinner rehearsal, minus the dinner part. I guess when you only take three months to plan a wedding; these parts of the planning are minuscule to the overall goal of the wedding. We all understand, except for her parents, and the groom’s parents, the siblings, etc. But of course this is why they took out the, “If anyone objects to this union, speak now or forever hold your peace,” part of the wedding. They knew better.
I’ve not been to many of these rehearsals, but I can tell you this one is pointless. They start two hours late, a groomsman is missing and one of the moms showed up five minutes ago, high as a church steeple — if only there were any around. I try to soothe the monster in my stomach while the wedding party stumbles up and down the isle, dodging tiny children.
When it’s time to leave, I can’t think about anything but food. I’m not even sad that there’s not a bachelorette party, which makes sense considering the bride and matron of honor are out of service. Kati makes a plan quickly and before I know it, we are in her underage brother’s car, headed for Walmart engulfed in a more stinky cloud of smoke.
Walmart is a blur. We head straight for the wine isle. Weddings call for a classy kind of drunk. “Is it still classy if we get a box?” Kati asks.
But no one cares, so we grab the box and a bag of jalapeño chips because classy and spicy belong together. On the way out we swipe two cups from the small Starbucks and haul ass to the stinky car to get our class and spice on. I am in heaven, or hell — I haven’t decided yet, but I love it here.
We spend the rest of the night at the bride’s new trailer. Most of my time is used admiring the emerald-green kitchen cabinets, all while sipping from the box and eating whatever I can find, which is mostly pregnant food: jelly-filled donuts, more chips and waffles.
When I said there is no bachelorette party, I mostly meant it. But we do the cliché ritual of most bridal parties by wrapping ourselves in toilet paper and pretending to have balls; both very feminine hobbies all women love.
The day of the wedding. Sunlight is pouring in from the one kitchen window onto the hand-me-down floral print couch I awake from. I need water ASAP, or more wine. “What time is it?” I mumble.
Kati is standing in the middle of the living room with her arms fashioned into the form of a long-barrel shotgun, finger on the trigger. “It’s wedding time!” She yells into the ceiling.
It is only 11 in the morning, but the wedding is at 2:30, so in wedding time it’s actually about one o’clock. The real question is, who has a wedding at 2:30 on a Saturday anyways? The answer is, the people who are about to get married, who love religion and apparently hate drinking and dancing. That actually sums up the whole wedding.
So the morning before the wedding goes like so: Me, the observer gets decently ready, then hangs out with the box of wine. You’re probably wondering how big this box is — pretty big. So I watch as Kati, another bride’s sister and the groom’s sister get ready.
There’s some Luke Bryan jamming in the kitchen, so many curling iron and flat irons going that the whole trailer has heated 10 degrees and not to mention the solid glaze of hairspray that is now covering the floor. I’m back to the floral print couch with a pink Dixie cup and the box wondering: Where is the bride?
It’s about 1:30 when the van pulls into the driveway. I’m a few cups in: The box is feeling almost empty. I’m feeling almost sad. The bride and matron of honor burst their bellies through the back door. And I’m quite shocked at the level of ease the bride is handling herself.
Her hair is done. It only took all morning even though it’s shorter than her shoulders. Looks wonderful. It’s makeup time, which takes about 30 minutes to draw on brows, paint on the perfect shade of complexion and glue on some fake lashes. The funny thing is, are you not getting married? I mean, if he doesn’t already love the way you look, well it’s almost already too late. But it’s definitely not my wedding, so I just sit back and sip my wine.
It is now two o’clock. The wedding is in 30 minutes. We are 10 minutes away from the church. I am instructed to carry 10 gallons of white and chocolate milk to the van. Why? Well because the only thing being served at this wedding will apparently be milk, cheesecake and cupcakes. What else do you serve at a 2:30 wedding?
My 3-inch boot heels are struggling in the gravel as I carry out the milk, as well as the wedding dress and marriage certificate. Why am I being trusted with these such valuable things? I have no idea. But it is now 2:10, and it is go time.
We are in the van, driving over railroad tracks, pulling into the church parking lot.
The bride looks around for any sight of the groom, declares it is safe to get out and instructs her matron of honor to grab her dress. A groomsman comes out to carry the milk, it seems like everything will carry out smoothly until the bride stops right before going in the back door and yells, “Damn it!”
She turns around and walks right up to me. I’m thinking: Shit what did I do? She hands me her 10-pound key ring. “You’re the only one not in the wedding. I need you to drive back to my house and grab the ceremony ropes, please.” Kati is looking at me from over her shoulder, panic-eyed. She knows how much wine I’ve had and probably fears my terrible sense of direction.
I have no time to decide. Her keys are in my hand, and she is through the back door. I turn to face the beast of a van. Disclaimer — I have never driven a van before or anything much bigger than a normal-size sedan. But I’m ready to sail this boat.
I tell myself I got this, hopping in the driver seat. But I have to adjust the seat because I’m short as fuck. And wait a minute: Why is the gear shifter behind the wheel? I figure it out and burn rubber out of the church parking lot. The drive wasn’t all that far. I’m trying to remember, turn left at this parked red car, turn right at the swarm of propane tanks and pass the blue water tower, and then they live behind a gas station.
I throw the van into park in the driveway, pull up the tops of my boots and dig my heels into the gravel. Once inside, I try to find the damn ropes. How hard could they be to miss?
After rummaging through the kitchen counter, piles of make-up and nail polish I spot the white bag on the living room table. Inside lay three ropes of gold and green. In my victory, I decide to celebrate.
I rummage through my overnight bag and pull out my tiny emergency flask that stays stocked with The Captain. Glancing down at my boots, I decide I need a straw.
Luckily, I am able to find one at the sketchy gas station and get back on the road, ropes riding shotgun.
It is exactly 2:38 when I swing open the back door to the church. My heels are clacking against the tile as I round a corner and almost head but the bride. She is dressed, lips red and veil flowing, but it is only her father and her in the hallway, everyone else is waiting at the alter.
I can really tell how important these ropes are, with the whole “tying the knot” and braiding shit. But she decides to take them up to the alter with her, wrapping them around her bouquet. I respectfully wait until after her grand entrance and then sneak into my seat, where I started this story- sipping from my boot.
I’ve always thought weddings should be a celebration. I figured that if you make it to standing at some sort of alter with someone and promising your life away — you usually already know what you’re signing up for and are ready to go eat cake, drink,
dance and consummate the marriage. But as I’ve already mentioned- this is a different type of wedding.
For starters, the ceremony is dreadfully long. Why? Well because we are in a church and when you get married in a church you have to make room for Jesus in your marriage. It’s kind of like having a three-way marriage, in the non-Las Vegas style, aka boring, with a bunch of rules and Bible verses. But the entertaining part is that we all get to witness their first marriage counseling session, right here during the ceremony.
Maybe they don’t mean for it to appear this way, but it’s pretty obvious that this pastor has some hesitations about their three-month engagement. He goes on and on about the seriousness of marriage — like we’re all about to graduate high school again and “go out into the real world.” But what he’s actually saying is…
“Marriage is not 50/50. It’s not 100/100. Marriage is 150/150, and sometimes it will feel like 100/50, but that is what marriage is. That is through sickness, health, bad days and good days. As long as you make Jesus the center of your marriage …”
He continues for a while, even making a reference to the movie where the guy is stranded in the wilderness for 100 hours or so and ends up cutting his arm off. I think I missed the part where it had to do with the wedding, but I’m sure it was something like, “There’s going to be times when it feels like you are stuck in this marriage and you want out so badly that you would cut your own arm off just to be free …” I’m actually sure that is not the reference he made, but I think it’s honest advice.
At this point, my emergency flask is empty, and the happy couple is about to kiss and say, “I do.” I want out of this pew, and since there is no more alcohol, I want some damn cheesecake. Yes, cheesecake because in case you forgot, this is the traditional shotgun wedding, so there is no actual food- just desserts (mostly homemade) and milk.
It kind of feels like Sunday school again in the church basement, watching people pour themselves chocolate milk and peel the papers off large pink cupcakes. There may not be many drunken people stumbling around but you can guarantee a sugar high from the large variety of edible options. The saddest part about this wedding: There’s no outlet for our sugar highs, or drunkenness, meaning there is no dancing.
Yes, as if having a 2:30 wedding on a Saturday with no alcohol and no real food isn’t bad enough, there’s no dancing. Actually, we get to watch the happy couple’s first dance, and the dance with the parents and then we get nothing. So I sit with my cheesecake at a small folding table, listen to “My Girl” and a couple sappy country love songs and then the music is over.
I play with the bottles of bubbles on the table watching everyone else linger. You can see it on their faces, “What do we do now?” The happy couple walks around to meet and greet. I overhear them thanking relatives and friends for the wedding gifts piled on a corner table. I’m not sure if you’ve seen one before but there is a legit money tree also, just hanging out on the gift table, folds of money tucked into it’s metal branches. I chuckle, because in all honesty, with the wedding happening so quickly most people probably didn’t have time to buy a gift or look at the registry, if there was one.
It’s time now. Someone decides that the wedding is over. I am instructed to grab a bottle of bubbles and wait outside for the grand exit. I had been curious if they would drive the van home, but my question is answered when I walk outside. Already running is a big black Chevrolet truck, freshly washed and waiting in the parking lot. I hear someone mention that the truck belongs to the groom’s uncle.
Quite frankly, I am a little disappointed. There is no writing on the windows, no string cans hanging from the tailgate. Instead, the matron of honor comes by and slaps a “Just Married” magnet on the back of the truck. And that is it.
I can sum up my whole wedding experience in this one single gesture: A quick fix, a symbol, a last resort. And that is what our American idea of love and marriage has come to. A no alcohol, baby induced Band-Aid wedding. Everything is okay as long as you’re married, right?