“We have to get married,” she’d said. “My father’s dying.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t rush this,” I’d said (or something like that).
“We have to. He’s dying now.”
”Well,” I’d said.
“No one else can give me away.”
I’d thought about it for a few minutes, I remember.
“Okay,” I’d said.
The wedding took place at the hospital. It was late in the treatments, as the doctors had called them, and the old man was well past the point of walking. Her family had wanted to use the hospital cafeteria, but it wasn’t possible. Instead, they’d moved the old man to a bigger room, the largest they said, and her family had put up flowers everywhere, and a path leading right up to the bed, where they had the old man plugged in.
What we did, you see, was we stood in the hallway, all the doctors and nurses rushing past, folks in wheelchairs, her in her gown. And when the music started we walked into the room, where everyone (mostly her family) stood near the walls, and we walked through the flowers and around the small corner to the bed, where the old man lay in his tux. I found out later that the doctors didn’t really want to be moving him around much, during these last treatments, so her mother had, it turns out, cut open the back of the tux and sort of, well, draped it over him and tucked it under, which actually didn’t look so bad.
So when we got to the bed we turned and faced the same direction as the old man, her closest to him—she held his hand throughout—and the preacher came around from by the wall and read the vows with his back to the audience (or whatever you’d call them). It was hard for me to concentrate, I remember, with the old man laying there, that air compressor thing sighing every few seconds, a steady beep (was there I beep? I imagine a beep) keeping time. You see, he was in pretty bad shape at that point, as I said before, and so a couple times, and once even during the ring exchange, he’d give these big coughs that sounded just awful. I figured it was because he’d smoked so long, but the doctors said it was his way of cleaning himself out, or something along those lines. And then when it was time to kiss….
Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I forgot to mention that when we came in at first that he was supposed to “give her away” to me, which is why we were getting married right that moment, and in that hospital room. But when we came around the corner, and I saw him lying there, tubes in his hand and tubes in his nose, the old man was fast asleep, snoring even. I remember a couple folks in the room even tried waking him up, making polite sounds like clearing their throats or “accidentally” elbowing the wall. But it didn’t work, you know. I mean, he was out of it at that point.
So what happened was that I guess the preacher figured maybe if he spoke for a bit, you know, quoted from the good book, the sound of his voice might wake the old man up. So he started in with something from Luke or John, if I recall (I’m not too good with that kind of stuff), something Jesus had said about loving each other and family and whatnot, but the old man still wasn’t waking up. I’m a bit ashamed to admit it but for a moment there I couldn’t help but worrying that he’d just died right then, you know, as we walked into the room. And I also remember wondering just why in the hell no one bothered waking him up before we came in the room, since he couldn’t have just fallen asleep that second.
But anyway so the preacher kept getting louder and louder, you know, but he was sort of doing it, well, incrementally I guess, or in time or something, because it was kind of going along with what he was saying, getting more passionate I guess. And what happened was the preacher just kept getting louder, I think he was nervous or something, and soon he was practically shouting these words Jesus said about loving each other, which is pretty funny if you think about it, at least to me.
And finally the old man woke up, just as the poor preacher looked about out of hope, since he’d already read something like half a page or so. Everyone in the room sighed. And then, probably worried the old man might pass back out, the preacher guided the old man into “giving her away,” and of course a lot of people got teary-eyed, you know. It was actually pretty touching.
Then he’d read through the vows and all that, and we did the ring exchange thing, and it came time to end the ceremony and do the kiss. I remember we looked over at the old man during this, because what they’d had us do for the final part was move over to where the preacher had been, so everyone could see us clear and get their cameras and camcorders and all that ready. And so we looked over at the old man and he was staring at us, you see, staring as though he knew just what was going on. It was the first time he’d looked alright in a few weeks, and that just about broke everyone’s heart. My girl started crying a bit, and if you look at some of the pictures of us kissing you can kind of see her makeup running down a bit, if you look for it.
Then the ceremony ended and we all hung out for a couple hours in the hospital room, since that’s where we were doing the reception, too. We drank cider (the hospital wouldn’t let us bring alcohol, not even wine, inside, since it was supposedly it was against the law) and had cake and all that, and my wife looked real happy about it, and though it’s not really how I’d expected everything to go down, I guess I was pretty happy with it, too.
It would sound better if the old man died the next day or so, but it didn’t happen that way. Truth is, he actually hung on for a while after that. Everyone kept expecting it to happen, you know, any day, but he actually turned around quite a bit. They even let him out for a while, and he got to go back home one last time, though he still had to stay in bed. We’d go by and visit a lot and then one day he wasn’t taking his pills so they had to bring him back and give them to him through an IV or whatever. And he got worse and then better and then worse again and then finally he died, about a month or so after the wedding.