My mother and father were married by a judge in a Philadelphia courthouse. They were together for 12 years.
Years later, my mother and stepfather were married by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas. As of this writing, they've been together more than 35 years. I attribute their longevity in part to my stepfather's hearing loss.
Clearly, when it comes to weddings, there's no correlation between what you spend and what you get. My mother has enjoyed almost 50 years of wedded bliss as the result of two ceremonies that probably cost less than $200 combined. The woman got her money's worth.
There's only been one big wedding in my family, and I still don't know what the hell everyone was thinking. My parents, who were both atheists, booked a Beverly Hills synagogue so a rabbi could marry my Italian sister to an Irishman. Faith and the hora, you may now kiss the shiksa.
To be fair, choosing the venue is probably the hardest part of this whole exercise. I know it's been almost impossible for my fiancé and me. For one thing, our families live on opposite coasts, so someone's going to have to travel. But who? The only fair thing to do is get married in Lebanon, Kansas—the geographical center of the 48 states. Then everyone can suffer, including us.
But that's just one idea that isn't going to happen. I've had dozens. For a while, I seriously considered getting married in Yankee Stadium, in a pinstriped wedding gown.
Let me back up.
I like to tell people that I met John in rehab, because it's less embarrassing than admitting we met on MySpace. But that's where we met, five years ago, at the height of baseball season. I'd never been exposed to baseball growing up, but John's been a fan his whole life. And I soon discovered that I liked it, too.
But very early in our relationship—after only a few dates, really—I was diagnosed with cancer. I told John that we should stop seeing each other, but he refused to go away. He spent that whole summer in my little apartment by the beach, watching over me like a superhero. He kept vigil in the living room, while the sounds of baseball drifted into my bedroom on the ocean breeze. It was incredibly comforting. And now, whenever I think of baseball, I feel like nothing bad can happen to me.
Okay, it's a nice story. But unless I can personally tell it to everyone who receives a wedding invitation to a stadium, I'm going to seem like the sad superfan who paints himself blue and passes out drunk in the parking lot.
So, the Yankee wedding was out. And the only idea I liked after that one involved getting married in the morning, so we could have pancakes. But I lost interest in that when I realized how early I'd have to get up.
While all this brainstorming was going on, John and I found ourselves house-hunting. This was its own brand of misery, and we were really at the end of our patience when we happened across a modest house in the San Fernando Valley. It was a small, old-fashioned place, but the back door led directly to Narnia—there was a secret enchanted park out there, ringed by flowering trees and whispering pines. I'd never seen such a big yard in Los Angeles; there was even a small pond. I was already starting to feel a little misty when the owner of the house appeared, and told me he'd married his late wife on that very spot.
I couldn't write a check fast enough. We'd found it: not just a place to get married, but a place to build a life. We were overjoyed, even though buying it would take every cent we had.
We talked about it constantly. We planned every detail. We arranged the furniture in our heads countless times. We fell asleep talking about how cute the dogs would look playing in the pond and eating the koi.
And then, out of nowhere, the house fell out of escrow, and everything went to hell.
I became very depressed after that. I stopped looking for a venue. I stopped thinking about the wedding at all, to be honest. We both grew quiet, like we were mourning something. The loss and frustration had really taken their toll.
Finally, we pulled ourselves together and decided to get away for a few days. We learned about a beautiful Newport Beach hotel we'd never heard of, and just got in the car and drove. No wedding talk, no decisions, no figuring anything out. The only thing we were planning was to get drunk as soon as possible.
That evening, as we sat in the bar and watched the sun set over the ocean, we noticed an enormous structure in the middle of the golf course. It was probably 20 feet tall and open on all sides, with a round, glittering roof. We decided to go take a look at it, but couldn't figure out how to get there.
I summoned the bartender, who'd just introduced me to Long Island iced teas and was now one of my closest friends.
"How do I get over there to that building thing?" I asked.
"What building thing?"
"That round-looking thing out on the golf course."
"Oh," he said, "you mean the wedding rotunda."
It took us about two minutes to make our way through the beautiful grounds, over the hilly golf course, and to the rotunda, which was now taking on shades of pink and gold from the darkening sky. We stood beneath its dome wordlessly, looking out across the water and beyond.
"So, what do you think?" I asked.
John thought a moment. "I like it."
It seemed so ridiculous that, after so much thinking and worrying, we could have just accidentally wandered into the perfect spot. But then, the idea that we find anything by looking for it is pretty ridiculous all by itself.
We sat inside the rotunda, and I laid my head on John's shoulder. Suddenly, small gray bunnies began to appear in the grass. They hopped out onto the walkway and froze, waiting to see if we were going to do something scary.
And in a way, we were.
NEXT MONTH: Wait, how much?
- April Winchell has been a talk radio host, a sitcom writer, an advertising executive and the voice of hundreds of animated Disney characters. In October of 2009, she created the hit website Regretsy.com, which led to the publication of "Regretsy: Where DIY meets WTF" in April of 2010. Even though she has been writing professionally since 1989, she still finds talking about herself in the third person really uncomfortable.*