A Transatlantic Love Story, Part IX: A Shotgun Affair
Continued from A Transatlantic Love Story: Part VIII.
Six months was not sufficient planning time for the happily ever after I’d been dreaming of since the age of five. I needed big. I needed white. I needed at least a year, and that’s where the family got involved.
His family asked us to move in with them, so we could save money for the wedding, which we did. Everyone agreed that we needed a quick civil service ceremony to meet the legal requirements, but our parents’ idea of simple was not ours. My mom wanted to fly in and his parents wanted to invite close friends. They wanted to throw a dinner party afterward and toast our union. We wanted no one to know. The thought of having a civil service that people remembered as our wedding terrified us. We didn’t want to marry in a legal office. We wanted the right to marry the way everyone else does—a year of planning hell, followed by a day of anxiety where we look better than we ever would again in our lives.
So we decided to do something bold. We booked the ceremony without telling anyone, with the exception of one friend that would be our witness. Secret Thirty-Five, Revealed. We had a shotgun wedding. I’ve kept that secret from most family and friends for almost seven years. And here are the pages from my diary, at twenty-three-year-old, on the day I legally got married:
I got married today at a registry office in Burnt Oak, London. It didn’t feel like a wedding, but I guess that was the point. I haven’t bought my big white dress yet, my engagement party is still four weeks away, I don’t have my ring and I haven’t been formally proposed to. What stupid things governments put us through.
We got up early and began laying out our outfits. I tried on my dress from H&M, earrings, and makeup. [Mr. Levine] turned the music up, dancing around the room while pulling out his suit, shoes, and everything he needed. We then changed into our workout clothes and packed everything into our gym bags.
His mom was in the kitchen when we left, and we yelled out to her that we’d see her when we got back from the gym. We couldn’t stop giggling. Who sneaks out of their parents’ house to get married?
We drove up the road to a local lovers’ lane to change. There wasn’t time to waste. We stripped down to our underwear in the bare morning sunshine. [Mr. Levine] left the car running as we pulled on our wedding attire. “We could be arrested for this,” he said. It was like being teenagers again. Out we jumped into the gravely drive, squinting into the glare of the car to get a look at ourselves. I ran around to the other side of the car. He looked so nice in his crumpled white shirt and crooked tie. He tucked in my bra straps, I straightened his tie, and we were on our way.
As we were walking into the registry office, we saw one bride standing outside, one bride going into the side garden, and another one leaving the garden. All of them wore big white dresses. It was so strange. We looked at each other and busted up with laughter. What the hell were we doing?
We walked into the foyer. The Principal’s Daughter handed me a bouquet that she bought in the train station a block away. We walked down the aisle unceremoniously, taking a seat in the first row of empty chairs. The registrar said that she needed another registrar to be present during the ceremony, and it would just be a moment while she called in her colleague. An elevator version of The Best of the Bangles played in the background. No one really knew what to say. I reached out for [Mr. Levine]’s hand.
Then suddenly an entirely different woman appeared before us. She was short with leathery skin and big hair. If she had teeth, I couldn’t see them. It must have been her first time because she paused and stammered and scrunched her face just to remember the words, “Welcome to this registration office. We are brought here together today …”
She was more nervous than we were by far. I don’t think she looked at us the whole time, which made the whole situation more comical. We only had to repeat two lines, something about solemnly swearing something. She asked us to a sign a book, but the pen didn’t work. My signature was little more than an indention on paper, and then we were done. She handed [Mr. Levine] an envelope that said, “Marriage Certificate.” The [Principal’s Daughter] took a serious of funny pictures with us recreating the ceremony we’d just had for the camera then we were ushered out into the garden. I call it a garden but really it was just some trees, gravel, and a sea of ditched boutonnieres with the pins still stuck in them.
As we walked through to the exit I felt a drop, drop, drop of rain. The car was ten minutes walk away and within seconds t was pouring down on us. I looked at my man and I loved him. I was glad that we had done it. The noises swelled around me, but I retracted into my own little world remembering how amazing it was looking into his eyes, his big, amazing green eyes, when he said, “my lawfully wedded wife.”
I so wanted to be his wife, his bride. That’s what I’m looking forward to being, next year, when I hear it all over again and for keeps.
We drove back to that lovers’ lane and changed back into our gym clothes. He turned up the stereo loud, us singing at the top of our lungs to the Rolling Stones. It was a real shotgun wedding. And before we headed back into his parents’ house, he tugged on the sleeve of my T-shirt.
“You might want to take out the pearl earrings.” I looked in the rear view mirror. A Nike T-shirt and pearls. And then he kissed me.