Today is my 17th wedding anniversary.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a cold day, just like today. The sky was the kind of blue that it gets when there are no clouds and the sun is shining just so. It was perfect.
Early that morning, I snuck out of my parent's house where I happened to be living at the time in order to meet her at the Scotty's parking lot we had established as our rendezvous point. I am not sure why I was sneaking, to be honest. I was twenty-three years old at that point, and my parents didn't really care where I went. I had moved home (stated reason, anyway) because I wanted to save money for my impending marriage. My wife and I had been engaged or a month or so, and it seemed like the smart thing to do.
But when the wedding plans became too cumbersome and we grew weary of having to please everyone else, we decided to take matters into our own hands and elope.
You'd think that something like that would be easy to do--eloping. I mean, in all of the movies and short stories that you read about that sort of thing, young, hot-for-each-other couples just seem to effortlessly jump into convertibles, and ride of whooping and hollering to the nearest Love Chapel.
But eloping is actually a little more challenging than the movies and short stories make it out to be. In our case, the day we picked to elope was a Monday. You see, we had decided on the spur of the moment when we were in a motel room in Tampa, FL (long story) that we would get married the next day. In our haste to get hitched, we neglected to recall that the next day was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s holiday, and all of the government agencies that were required for our intended elopement were closed.
So we decided to get married on Tuesday instead---January 21st.
We chose the Orange County Courthouse in Ocoee, FL as the site of our marriage ceremony. It was close to the Scotty's parking lot, and seemed right. I had paid more than my fair share of fines for various moving violations there, after all, not to mention the odd fishing license and car tag. At any rate, that's where we went.
I don't remember much of the ceremony itself, to be honest. I was too smitten and too excited. I do remember that the ladies in the courthouse cried when my wife and I couldn't stop smiling and staring into each others eyes as we responded to the legal questions and exchanged the scant vows in the Orange County Courthouse marriage ceremony. It was administered by a duly appointed representative of the County Clerk, and I probably could find her name on our marriage license, if I was so inclined. I think I will just let her name remain a mystery. It's better that way.
And then we were married. We drove away marveling at the shiny gold bands on our fingers, and not really worrying or thinking at all about the future. All that mattered then was that we were together and, as far as we were concerned, everything was going to be all right forever and ever amen. We spent our wedding night in the magical Honeymoon Suite at the Grand Floridian Hotel at Walt Disney World. The day after we were married, I had to work. Before you judge me, let me explain. I was teaching a class that had been planned for months. I had special speakers coming from all Walt Disney World, where I worked as a training coordinator at the time. I had to go. I left my sleepy new bride and went on to my class, which was scheduled to last all day. About halfway through the day, my wife found her way to the Guest Relations window outside the Magic Kingdom, where my class was being held. She discovered that I had the keys to the car, and there was no way that she would be able to leave without them. I was called out of my class and told I had a phone call. The young lady on the phone from Guest Relations---who happened to be a friend---said, "Leon, your wife is here and she needs the car keys." then she paused. "I got married last night." I told her. "Tell my...wife that I will be right there." I went back to the class, which was being led at the moment by one of our guest speakers. "I'm sorry," I explained. "I have to go and give my wife the car keys."
When I got downstairs I saw Merideth standing outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom with a happy expression on her face. I took her the keys and gave her a big hug and kiss. "I just told someone that you were my husband," she said. "I just told a whole roomful of people that I had to go give my wife the car keys." We grinned together at the wonder of it all. As I watched her go, I found myself thinking that I couldn't believe I was so lucky to be able to call her my wife.
On this night we are dressed up for dinner. She smells faintly of Coco Chanel perfume and she sparkles because she's wearing a beautiful jacket that is blue and shimmers in the light. We are no longer children, and this is a long way from the gates of the Magic Kingdom all those 17 years ago. But I still can't believe how lucky I am to be able to call this beautiful, mysterious, incredible woman my wife.
But I am. And I do...