Officiating weddings has got to be one of Dr. Blackwell’s favorite parts of ministry, and although she’s probably not supposed to have preferences, if she looks deep into her jaded lesbian heart with any degree of honesty, queer weddings are by far the best.
Take, for instance, the couple she’s consulting with this afternoon, for their upcoming October ceremony. Seemingly mismatched in every respect. The plump, fair-haired one looks like a parody of an absent-minded professor, as sketched by someone who didn’t bother to do much actual research; his clothes are so outdated it teeters on costume. He’s wearing a bow tie, and not in that reinvented hipster way. This is a bow tie unacquainted with the cycles of fashion, a bow tie that has never heard the word irony.
His partner is a rangy, black-clad ginger in snakeskin boots. He has the look of a hungover rocker about him, and would somehow, even without the sunglasses he has fully committed to wearing indoors on a cloudy afternoon. He’s sprawled almost defiantly in his chair and keeps throwing dubious glances around Dr. Blackwell’s office, as though expecting a lightning bolt to strike him down for merely daring to be within spitting distance of a church.
Everything about his posture screams ‘Extremely complicated feelings about religion ahoy!’
Ex-Catholic, Dr. Blackwell thinks sagely.
Something funny about their names, too. Their names are–
(She knows they both gave her their names, but as she looks at their faces, there is a curiously name-shaped hole where the sounds should go. Every time she approaches the edges of this thought, it ripples and changes shapes, and whispers, ‘Don’t worry now, m'dear, it’s really of no consequence, is it?’
Dr. Blackwell didn’t get a degree in Unitarian Universalist theology by looking away from paradoxes. ‘Curiosity is earthly and holy and wonderful,’ she tries to tell the thought, pushing forward, ‘even to question truly is an answer–’
‘Ah yes,’ the thought says after her third attempt, ‘very nice, but in this particular case–’ and the absence where their names should be yawns, stretches, and swallows down all of her related concerns with a shrug.)
She blinks. She watches as Bow Tie casually takes Sunglasses’ hand, as Sunglasses responds with a look so gooey and sweet and private that she feels a bit awkward for intruding. How, she thinks, the fuck did you two meet?
The only thing they seem to have in common, beyond their feelings for each other, is a certain aura of personal disaster. Still, let she whose outfit doesn’t heavily feature Birkenstocks and cat hair throw the first stone. So to speak.
“So,” says Dr. Blackwell, “anything in particular I should know first? Any thoughts, or concerns?”
“The hymns,” says Bow Tie, “or. Uh. The songs, I suppose?” He coughs. “Any chance we could stick with ones that don’t, you know, prominently feature–?” He pointedly casts his eyes towards the ceiling and almost seems to mutter, “No point in asking for trouble.”
“Oh, of course,” she says, shaking off the flash of weirdness like an errant cobweb. “We have plenty of non-denominational hymns.”
“About what,” Sunglasses says with a slight sneer. “Tax forms? Penguins? Automotive repair?”
Oof. Definitely an ex-Catholic, she thinks. You can smell the baggage from here.
“Mostly about the inherent holiness of doing good, or the beauty of nature?” says Dr. Blackwell. “Sometimes, someone will sort of retrofit a classical melody to Transcendentalist poetry, but those tend not to scan so well, in my opinion.”
Somehow, without any eye contact, Sunglasses manages to give her a wary look.
“You can borrow a hymnal if you’d like,” she continues. “We tend to edit out the G-word anyway. Makes the atheists and the agnostics a bit jumpy, me included.”
Bow Tie starts.
“You don’t,” says Sunglasses, “believe in–?”
“Not really,” says Dr. Blackwell. “Suppose I’ll allow for the possibility, but in my mind, the existence of some divine Heavenly will is just not as important as other questions. Like ‘How do I do what’s right for the planet and everything on it?’”
“How do I avert the apocalypse,” Sunglasses murmurs.
“Exactly,” she says with a laugh, “although I’d settle for doing something about Brexit.”
Neither of them laugh, and after an awkward pause, she adds,
“As far as music goes, for the ceremony. If you’ve got a song that really resonates with you, no matter what it is, let me know and we can work that in.”
“No Queen,” says Sunglasses immediately.
It feels like there should be a story here, but Bow Tie only turns to him and says, “What was that band you liked? Velveteen–”
“Velvet Underground,” Sunglasses says. He lets out a long breath, sets his shoulders, then asks Dr. Blackwell, "Uh, d'you know 'I'll Be Your Mirror'?"
'A bit before my time,' she tactfully doesn't say. "I think my parents like it?" she offers instead. "We can definitely do that, I'll look it up tonight. And same thing goes for readings, too. If there’s a text that holds special meaning–”
“Hm,” says Bow Tie, “yes, about that–” He reaches to his side and heaves an antique leather briefcase onto her desk. “May I?”
Bow Tie fiddles with the latch, which clicks open to reveal a mountain of papers: wine-stained cocktail napkins and loose-leaf notebook pages, parchment-looking stuff, and everything in between. It’s a veritable avalanche of love poems, as well as quotations from various plays and books, all laboriously hand-copied in the same tidy penmanship.
“Angel,” says Sunglasses slowly. “What is this.”
Pink-cheeked, Bow Tie flutters his hands. “Just–some things I’d been setting aside!”
“For how long,” Sunglasses says, leaning forward. He sounds delighted but also deeply confused.
“So sorry,” Bow Tie tells Dr. Blackwell, “I really should’ve organized these better! Even a rudimentary system–”
“It’s fine,” she says, blankly. She really hopes it isn’t going to be her job to narrow down the options. There are literally hundreds.
“How long,” Sunglasses repeats.
“You know how long!” hisses Bow Tie.
Sunglasses plucks a sheet off the pile, rubs it between his thumb and finger. “They stopped making paper like this in the nineteenth century,” he says, sounding strangely triumphant about it.
Dr. Blackwell furrows her brow, behind which a number of facts are colliding uncomfortably, like how some of these specimens are clearly very new, some are so old she’d be uncomfortable touching them with her bare hands, and the handwriting on every one of them is identical.
“Oh!” she says with sudden bright clarity. “Are you two vintage paper enthusiasts?”
“Yes,” says Bow Tie. “Love it, love the stuff, simply cannot get enough.” And then, to Sunglasses, with a pointed look in Dr. Blackwell’s direction, “We’ll talk about it later.”
Maybe they met at a convention, she thinks. That’s nice.
“How about you pick out your top five first?” she suggests. “Or ten.” She glances down at the mound of text. “Also, we might need to get some volunteer readers for some of these, because my French isn’t exactly up to par. Or my–is that Middle English?”
“Haha, how did that get in there, couldn’t even begin to guess,” Bow Tie babbles. He has to brace most of his weight on the briefcase lid to wrench it closed again. Sunglasses watches with interest, chin resting in his hands. “Yes, I will, I will absolutely weed some of these out, not to worry–”
The rest of the conversation is standard, for the most part. It’s going to be a relatively small ceremony, no child ring bearers and thankfully no animal ones either. (They have a whiff of eccentricity that had made Dr. Blackwell nervous one of them might suddenly produce a cat on a leash, insisting it was trained. In her experience, granting your beloved calico or tabby custodianship of the rings was a quick recipe for a ringless, catless wedding.)
Only a shared stricken look at the possibility of involving any parents in the proceedings. This, sadly, is also quite standard with middle-aged queer couples.
“Between you and me,” says Dr. Blackwell, “and I know this isn’t very ministerial of me. But if the people who raised you don’t support what you have together, which is clearly a wonderful and beautiful and life-affirming thing, I say to Hell with ‘em, you know?”
Bow Tie chuckles unsteadily. “I’ll take that under advisement.”
“How long have you two been together?” she asks.
Bow Tie and Sunglasses stare at each other. There is a long beat of silence. This is normally, she thinks, not a very hard question.
“How long have we been together?” says Sunglasses at last. The shades may hide his eyes but every molecule of his being is oriented at his fiance. “Hm?”
“Six thousand–” Bow Tie starts, resolute.
“What,” says Dr. Blackwell.
“Days!” Bow Tie finishes. “Six thousand days!”
“So,” she does some fast mental math, “about sixteen years, then?”
“Yes,” says Bow Tie decisively.
“That’s great,” says Dr. Blackwell. “I’ve been with my wife for almost six years, I hope we’re still this much in love a decade from now.” There’s just something so reassuring about meeting older queer couples, she thinks. Bow Tie and Sunglasses must be at least forty. Maybe fifty?
(It’s odd; they’re clearly solid, clearly sitting in front of her, but every time she tries to clue into any specific detail about either of them, her mind sort of skitters away from it–
Her head hurts.)
“Guessing you want a short service,” she says, rubbing at her forehead. “I’ll just write out a few remarks for you two to look over first, if that’s alright? I can email something to you by the end of the week.”
“Sounds perfect!” says Bow Tie.
They shake hands. She watches them leave, watches Sunglasses mutter something in Bow Tie’s ear that makes him smile on the way out the door.
Pair of oddballs, but in a nice way, she thinks. You can’t always tell, as a minster, which couples are going to make it in the long run, but she hopes this all works out for them. Maybe it will. They’ve already stood the test of time, it seems.
Sixteen years–they’ve been together since early 2000.
Imagine, she thinks. Just imagine.