My wife and I got married at City Hall in the company of people paying for parking permits, renewing dog licences and applying for building permits. It was magical.
The biggest worries: Would the ceremony be finished before our parking meter used up the hour? And when the attendees were asked, "If anyone here knows why these two should not be wed, they should speak now," what would our children say?
I make light of the parking issue now, but - just like when you really, really have to pee - the pressure was mounting. Should we leave to pump a few more loonies into the meter and risk losing our appointment, or should we stay and risk having to pay the city a premium for the benefit about to be bestowed on us?
Nancy enquired at the information desk several times: "Are you sure they know we're here?" After the third visit, the receptionist, who could see that Nancy was anxious, replied: "Don't worry about a thing, dear! Sit back and enjoy this, your special day." And then she went on to help the next person, directing him to the counter that served up hot-dog-stand licences.
We could see this event was not going to be like the ceremony we conducted two decades ago.
When our first child was on her way, our families started to grumble: We had obviously formed a union but had escaped our duty of hosting the feast they thought they deserved. So feast we did. We booked a 12-course dinner for 25 people at a Chinese restaurant, where we formally introduced each other:
"This is Nancy."
"This is Keith."
"We are together now."
After the meal, we performed the stunts that my sisters-in-law declared mandatory for all newlyweds. Nancy passed an uncooked egg up one of my pant legs and manoeuvred it unbroken down the other, proving she was capable of navigating a marriage.
I smeared flour on my eyebrows and then rubbed them on Nancy's until hers were whitened too, a gesture that symbolized my commitment to grow old with her. But that - along with raising two daughters to adulthood, guiding a son into his teenage years, and filing 23 joint tax returns - counts for nothing.
If we wanted to move to China, we needed this piece of paper. Nancy had taken a job at a multinational telecom company in Beijing and was leaving in June. Since China did not recognize our union, either we married or I stayed behind.
The presiding officer of our May ceremony, the Solemnizer, wore a garish royal blue graduation gown. Though commanding in height and authoritative in voice and manner, he seemed far too young to properly expound upon the gravity of the journey that Nancy and I had embarked on many years ago.
He led us from the seating area we shared with the parking-permit supplicants to an elevator that would take us to the marriagizing room. As we boarded the lift, we encountered some of his older female colleagues who were impressed to see him, such a young man, dressed in such garb: "Do you do that job, too? It must be wonderful to be able to marry people," they gushed.
Nancy had many opinions about the procedure, which she shared throughout the event. She thought that Solemnizer was a dubious job title for the civil servant employed to confer the ponderous, life-changing pronouncement upon his fellow citizens. I said: "It could be worse. At least he's not called the Sodomizer."
"I understand there is to be no exchange of rings," the Solemnizer said, as he prepared to begin. Nancy and I held up our hands to show that rings were already in place, and that deep grooves were permanently etched on our ring fingers, making it difficult for us to troll for one-night stands when on business trips.
The process ended almost as soon it began: "Sign here, here and here." We were relieved that we still had 17 minutes showing on the parking meter.
The most memorable event: When the assembled witnesses - our spawn - were asked if there might be a reason why we should not be wed, they looked at each other for some time, exchanging quizzical glances and casting their eyes upward and to the right, indicating that they were going through every memory they had about us to search for just such a reason. Ah, the young. They don't understand the concept of the rhetorical question.
The other memorable event: When I was to issue my vows, I would look at the Solemnizer as he instructed me about what I was to say, and then I would turn to my audience of three and repeat the same words in my best public speaking voice. The only thing missing was PowerPoint slides. However, when Nancy had to say her vows, she looked at me and - knowing me as only she does - she almost burst out laughing.
I may not be much of a catch, but given a do-over, I would willingly swim into Nancy's net - a net that I hope would be cast in my direction.
It was Nancy who signalled that the ceremony was over. After her final "I do," and while the Solemnizer was peering at his checklist to identify the next step, she stuck out her tongue.
Our marriage of convenience was inconvenient but unforgettable.
Now that I think about it, at 11 o'clock that evening, after spending quite some time packing for the move, I had to ask Nancy: "Did we just get married today?"
Keith Hadley is a Canadian living in Beijing.
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