“What do you mean, you haven’t arranged chuppah poles yet?” my friend Sarah yelled.
“Oh, there’s going to be a chuppah?” said my father. We were sitting around my dining room table discussing my upcoming wedding to my boyfriend, Mike; I’d served penne with chicken and pesto.
“Joel, how can your father not know there’s going to be a chuppah?”
“You should make sure to get everything set well in advance,” said my father in his I-grew-up-in-Iowa-so-I-know-these-things voice. “I don’t think it’ll be easy to find a chuppah at the last minute in Cedar Rapids.” He ate some chicken.
“Dad, the chuppah isn’t for Iowa. The chuppah is for Brooklyn.”
“What’s in Brooklyn?”
“Joel,” said Sarah, “you are fucking kidding me.” She put down her fork and turned to my father and stepmother. “There are going to be two weddings,” she said. “One in Iowa in a couple weeks and one in Brooklyn in October. The one in Iowa will be the legal wedding, since Joel and Mike can’t get married in the state of New York. Brooklyn will happen later, so that their friends in New York have an opportunity to participate.”
“Two weddings?” said my dad. “That’s great!”
“I told you we were having two weddings, Dad.” The penne fell off my fork.
“I don’t remember, but I’m sure I did. It was in, like, March or something.”
“I don’t remember hearing you talk about it,” offered my stepmother helpfully.
“Joel,” said Sarah, “this is worse than I realized. So the first thing you have to do when you decide to throw a wedding is tell people about it.”
“Are we invited to both of them?” said my father.
“Time for dessert!” I announced, and fled the room to get the strawberry-rhubarb pie.
When everything had calmed down and Sarah and I sat alone over Diet Cokes later, the source of the problem became clear.
Of course my disorganization contributed to the trouble — I’m the guy who loses his movie ticket between the window and the ticket taker — but there was a deeper issue, which was that a wedding was a completely foreign notion to me, and I had no idea how to deal with it. How could I, when there was no room for such an idea in my understanding?
I am a child of the ’70s and ’80s. The fantasies I began to entertain during puberty of the beefy brunet with whom I would fall in love at first sight, who would reciprocate that love, who would complete me, who would have me at hello, who would bear a striking resemblance to David Hasselhoff — these fantasies did not include marriage, not in any serious way.
“How many people are you inviting to the Brooklyn ceremony?” Sarah had wanted to know a month earlier.
“I don’t know.”
“Who’s going to officiate?”
“Oh, I have this friend who’s a cantor in Boston, and she’s going to come up and do the ceremony for us.”
“And she’s confirmed?”
“But you’ve at least asked her about the date?”
“Well ... ”
“Does she even know you’re getting married?”
When Sarah called me in April of my junior year of college to tell me she’d been dumped, I ran over to her dorm room so we could glut ourselves with ice cream and cookies, and as we ate she mourned her wedding fantasies. She would never have the dress that made her look 15 pounds lighter, never have the organ playing the St. Anne Prelude and Fugue as she floated down the aisle, never assemble the bridal party in uncomfortable tuxedos and hideous but impeccably tailored dresses. I listened sympathetically and at appropriate moments spit vile curses at the villain who had thrown her over, because I am a good friend and because it would be foolish to pass up an opportunity to glut myself with ice cream and cookies, but although I knew far too well the pain of being dumped, there was a very real way in which I just didn’t get any of the wedding-of-my-dreams stuff. These were ideas to which I had never assigned any emotional weight, because any such assignment would have been a waste of energy.
So now, when everything I said or failed to say made Sarah wince even more painfully, it’s not that I didn’t care about my wedding; in fact, I took it very seriously.
I’d just never bothered to pay attention to what to do about it.
A few weeks later, though, Sarah, my boyfriend Mike’s mother, my father, my brother, and my stepmother sat around a small table in the office of an incredibly nice Iowa magistrate. The magistrate stood at the end of the table, and Mike and I stood in front of him.
“Do you, Joel Legare Derfner, take this man, Michael David Combs, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?”
That one I knew the answer to.
Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys premieres tonight on Sundance Channel.
For more information on Joel and Sarah, click here.