This week we celebrate fifteen years of marriage. Sometimes when I look at the photo on our bookshelf, it’s hard to believe we’re so far removed from that momentous day. (Then a kid screams at his brother and the harsh jolt makes it seem like an alternate lifetime. *sigh*)
Our honeymoon didn’t start off at all the way we’d planned. After a perfectly smooth ceremony and a delightful reception filled with family and friends, we were whisked away by a chauffeur in a classy car. It was supposed to be a quick little drive to Nashville–less than an hour from my hometown to the hotel–but shortly after we got on the interstate things came to an abrupt halt.
A fatal wreck happened between our classy car and the next exit, trapping us on the interstate for an hour and a half. All of a sudden our lovely ride seemed a poor choice for July. We got out of the stuffy, un-air-conditioned car and walked around for a bit in our wedding garments, trying to get some fresh air. Other drivers and passengers were doing the same. It was a miserable place to be stuck on a humid summer afternoon. Thankfully a semi truck allowed our chauffeur to back into his shade, but in our unseasonably fine clothes we felt little relief. We were incredibly thirsty, too, but we had no water–and the bubbly drink our chauffeur offered had grown quite warm.
By the time we reached the hotel, we were both drenched with sweat and caked with the bird-friendly white hearts our guests had thrown instead of rice. It was completely un-romantic, but we did what we’ve always done–made the most of the situation. At least we were together. And married. Looking back, it seems like an appropriate start for our journey. It’s not always been picture-perfect, but at least we’re doing this together.
In all the times I’ve told this story over the years, I’ve thought only of our own place in it and how the events that occurred that day affected us personally. But somewhere, another family marked that day for a different reason, and they probably observe it every year like we do.
So here’s a poem to observe both–a death and a wedding.
Someone died—I don’t know who—July 5, 2003.
I know because his story impacted mine,
Even though our lives never touched.
That day was the most important of my life to date—
And his, too, though he couldn’t have known it.
I wed my love that afternoon,
And we sped along the interstate
In an all-original Rolls Royce bridal coach
(Which is to say, it had no A/C)
When all of a sudden everything stopped,
Like someone paused the romantic comedy,
And all the actors climbed out
And walked up and down the rumble strip:
The lady with her dog,
The man with his cigarette,
I in my bustled white dress,
My groom in his tux,
And our chauffeur in his cap
(With a bottle of sparkly something no longer cold).
We waited in that place for an hour and a half,
In that liminal space designed not for staying,
But for passing through,
Until the tragedy had been cleared
To make way for the comedy to resume.
I don’t know his name,
But his impact on my story
Is a small memento mori
Even fifteen years removed.