When I was 25, I married Jason Keys. My maiden name was a common German name that I didn’t like spelling for folks the first part of my life, so I took the opportunity to make my life a lot easier and shorten my last name spelling procedure to “Keys, spelled like car keys or house keys.” For awhile I said “like Alicia Keys,” but a lot of people think she spells it “Keyes,” so that was fairly short-lived.
Jason was English and lived in England. We met in October 1998 at a Housewarming party for a mutual friend, Tony, who had been Jason’s best friend for 12 years and had met me on the internet a year prior. Tony loved the US so much when he visited me that he moved to Minneapolis, MN with his company within a year. The Housewarming party was for his new US friends and some of his oldest UK friends. Five guys from the UK came over and spent a couple weeks there. They rented a car and figured out how to get to the Mall of America and back, and that’s about it.
Jason and I had similar taste in music and Goth clubs and hit it off as friends. He somewhat resembled Justin Hawkins of The Darkness, but with longer hair and better teeth. When out with him, people often asked what band he was in. None. They also assumed that he was a heroin addict or something, but he’d never so much as smoked a cigarette.
We emailed each other for awhile and I visited him in England in December 1998. My plane tickets were a combined birthday present from Jason and Tony. I spent a long weekend in the land of fish and chips and amazing dance clubs and didn’t really sleep till I got back home. Had a great time! Shortly after I returned, Jason called me and asked if I’d be willing to try dating him long distance. I was, and we did.
In 1999 after a few visits back and forth along with daily emails and a few phone calls a month (international long-distance calls were really expensive!), I called him expecting to break up with him. I knew I wasn’t willing to move to England (so expensive!), and I assumed he wouldn’t be willing to sell his business in England to move to Delaware, OH where I was currently living. I turned out to be wrong there. I was surprised that he wanted to come live with me in the US, but quickly started working on logistics to make that happen.
Since he was a British citizen, he could only come here and stay longer than a few weeks if we got married. I researched the different types of visas back when the Internet was still young, and most of that information was in various online forums. Easier than looking things up in the library, but not as easy as it is now. The K-1 Fiancé visa made the most sense, so that’s what I put most of my time and energy toward until he moved to Ohio in December 1999.
Despite my best efforts to make the process go as smoothly as possible, it didn’t. When he flew here on his visa, he landed at Cleveland Hopkins Airport and went through customs there. They didn’t stamp his passport with a work permit, which meant he wasn’t allowed to work here until he got far enough in his application for permanent residence to get his Social Security Number. Amazing how significantly the omission of one little press from an ink pad onto paper would affect both our lives.
He had 90 days from the date he entered the US to get married before his K-1 visa expired. We set the date for January 22, 2000. I had left my job at Harding Hospital in late November, 1999 and was out of work until February, 2000. Neither of us was working when he got here. Legally, he couldn’t. And with everybody freaking out about Y2K back then, nobody would hire me. It made a tough adjustment even tougher.
I didn’t want a wedding. We were struggling to get by as it was, and didn’t want the expense or the hassle. I really wanted to just elope at the courthouse. But I let friends and family talk me into “a small wedding” instead. I wanted it as small as possible, and definitely didn’t want people spending the money to fly here from England for it. How tiny can a wedding be if people are spending thousands of pounds just to fly out for a weekend to see it?
Thirty-eight people, it turns out. My good friends, Glenn and Kay, were like a second family for Jason and me. She hosted the wedding in the living room of her big, pink stucco house in Delaware. The reception was at a nice restaurant nearby. Seven people flew here from England despite my protests. Jason’s parents divorced when he was young, and he had lived with his maternal grandmother, Violet, for his adult life carrying on his grandfather’s business after he died. Violet came along with several of his friends and stayed at the Delaware Super 8.
One of my friends I’d known since 1994, Adam, had agreed to officiate my wedding. I was trying to keep things simple and save money. He and his friend would’ve made 40 people total, but the day before the wedding, Adam canceled on me. I hadn’t looked into getting our marriage license far enough in advance, and needed it 3 days before, when we only had 1. When I told Adam about the technicality, he freaked out and refused to make the trip to marry us.
With the marriage license not effective until a couple days after the wedding date, I couldn’t just find another official to do it. Adam had made it sound like all of us could be locked up for it, since the K-1 visa hinged on it and all that. But a bunch of Brits had flown out for our wedding on Saturday, and I wasn’t going to let them leave without seeing what they came for. And that’s when I feverishly started the search for somebody who would fake marry us the next day.
I called Kay and we started to brainstorm. After going through a few prospects, she landed on her friend Gregg who had recently gotten out of prison. Nobody including me had met him before, so he fit the bill to fill the role on short notice. I was up till 4am figuring out logistics, writing vows, fixing the printer so I could print them out for Gregg to read, fixing a broken strap on my wedding dress… FUN!
My mom had thoughtfully given me a spa visit as a wedding gift. I went after a few hours of sleep. I didn’t really enjoy it. I was still trying to figure some things out and my brain was fried. I hadn’t washed my hair in a couple days when I went, knowing that I was having somebody do my hair and makeup at the end. She said her style would work better with dirty hair, so it stayed unwashed and she put it up in tiny decorative hair clips. I felt gross and dirty with a bad paint job on top.
I had put on some weight between the time I bought my disco ball-esque wedding dress and the wedding day, which is why my strap broke and made that whole thing a challenge. The living room was decorated with lovely silver wreaths and such. Kay really enjoyed decorating for the holidays and did a wonderful job. The people from England did their best to enjoy the small wedding that wasn’t really what anybody wanted. We exchanged our vows with Gregg. He was a good sport about the whole thing. Jason’s grandma asked him all these questions about whether he was a vicar or not, and what parish he was from. Gregg had no clue what she was talking about and did his best to keep up his role of “preacher guy.” I felt bad for putting him in that position the first time I met him. I didn’t know what else to do.
It was very cold, snowy and icy that January 22. Nobody fell and hurt themselves getting from the wedding to the reception, thank goodness. We had a nice, expensive dinner that everybody seemed to enjoy. Everything was very nicely done there. I enjoyed that more than the “wedding.” At the end of the night, I was just glad it was done.
The following Monday when our marriage license became legit, Jason and I sat at the dining room table with Glenn the next room over from where we had the wedding, and his longtime friend legally married us by going through a very simplified set of vows and we said our “I do’s,” signed the papers and that was it. I would’ve been perfectly happy if that had been the only thing we did. So my official wedding date was January 24, 2000, when my engraved picture frame and other gifts had January 22, 2000 on them. A reminder of the wedding that never quite was.
He went back to England around six months later. It was a confusing and difficult time for me. And just as I had done the bulk of the INS paperwork to get him over here, I did all the divorce paperwork myself. Thus, it didn’t become official until December 19, 2001. Nearly a year and a half after he went back home.
I wasn’t so big on marriage before that, and far less so afterward. When I was a girl, I didn’t play with dolls or dream about my fairy tale wedding day. I’ve always been a bit of an odd bird. I didn’t get a fairy tale, but I got a good story. Sorry if you’re reading this now and you were one of the people at that first wedding that didn’t know what the deal was. I did my best to give people what I thought they wanted, and it wound up being pretty ridiculous.
When I started dating Shannon, he wasn’t so big on marriage, either. He hadn’t been married before or had any children. But somehow it made sense for us. There wasn’t a big proposal or anything. We just talked about it, and it made sense. And when my parents generously offered to upgrade our accommodations on an already planned family vacation to a honeymoon, we gladly accepted. They gave us the master suite with the balcony facing the ocean and a whirlpool tub. I woke up in time to watch the sunrise from that balcony every morning when we were there. So grateful for such a generous gift!
And for that to be our honeymoon, we had to get married beforehand. I picked 5/30/15 because I liked the balance of it. All divisible by 5. It turned out to also be the 17th anniversary for my friend Heather and her husband, Chris. It was the day before we were set to leave for Carolina Beach.
I had never wanted a big wedding, and Shannon hadn’t thought about his wedding at all. And when we talked about trying to figure out where to have it, who we’d invite, where the cutoff point would have to be, where the money would come from for it and all that, we both got really anxious and stressed out about it. Everybody wanted it to be bigger. We’ve both struggled a lot financially this year and gotten by with a LOT of help (especially from my Mom), and didn’t want to put our money toward a wedding, or further tax the sources of help we’ve received for a wedding.
Our good friends, Donna and Ward, generously offered to host our wedding at their beautiful home. There isn’t much that stresses me out more than event planning. I just don’t like it at all. And for this wedding, I wanted to have things the way that I wanted, not the way everybody else would want them. My first wedding was a lot of stress over trying to appease people, but I wanted my wedding with Shannon to be OURS. There’s no way to please everybody, so this time we did what felt right to US. And of course there were people who were not happy with our choices. I wish that wasn’t the case, but I’ve spent too much of my life putting the wants and needs of others above my own, and all I get from that is exhaustion on all fronts.
What we had was a lovely ceremony with just the four of us there. I chose the time of 3:33pm for it, as that’s one of my favorite numbers, but of course I ran reeeeeally late and I think we actually got married around 5:55pm (more 5’s! whee!) during a small break in a rainstorm on their back balcony. We said our vows and he cried, and it was just how we wanted it.
Donna made an incredible feast for us that included all the vegetables I’d given her from my fridge so they wouldn’t go to waste while we were on our honeymoon. She somehow whipped all that up while I was getting ready! We felt so incredibly special, blessed and loved for the beginning of our marriage. Part of what made it great is that we didn’t have anybody else waiting for us, and didn’t have to do things any kind of certain way. We just got to let it unfold. And for us, it was absolutely perfect.
Yesterday, we had Shannon’s family reunion and today we have mine. My parents organized my family reunion and booked the location exactly a year ago. They could only reserve it for the day, so we decided to have our reception in the same place later in the day. It just came together serendipitously. Much like Shannon and I have. We’ve invited both families (the capacity is 70, so 35 per family) and Donna will be there to reaffirm our vows. We’re looking forward to having our families together for the first time!
Happy Father’s Day, Solstice and everything. 🙂