My First Wife
There is only ever one of those.
I was married once. Maybe I still am in some ways. At the moment, marriage and all that is as scary as all get out to me. But there was a time, when I was wrapped up in the idea and the sentiment of it. I decided that in the wake of all the Valentine’s Day craziness, that now was as good a time as any to reflect on a simpler, happier time. Before things in life became less fun and more complicated.
The first friend I ever remember making was a girl. We met in kindergarten. I was 4 and she was 5. I remember us always being friends that whole year. In fact, we became good friends, to the point to where our parents would talk and hang out while we played. Eventually I would be invited to birthday parties and play dates. The year I met her though, is where everything started and one of the strongest memories I have from that time has to be Class Picture day.
I can remember walking as a class in an unruly line from our classroom all the way to the cafeteria where the photos were taken. Once we got there, it was time for the students to be grouped and arranged as to where they would stand or sit. In later years, this was either the most anticipated moment of the class picture experience or the most dreaded. You either hoped you could stand next to your crush or you wished you could be far away from your enemy. On that day though, since it was my first experience taking a photo with such a large group of people, I had no frame of reference for that.
Students were being placed in one of two sections: either sitting in the front on the lower bench or standing behind the students who were sitting. My friend was sitting on the lower bench. I looked at her and she looked up at me smiling. It was a comforting smile I remember; she moved over a bit, making space for me to take a seat next to her. I was very shy, but I wanted to sit next to her, so I did. I remembered feeling so privileged. I hoped that Mrs. Hanh wouldn’t change the order of where the kids were sitting because I really enjoyed my place. We took that picture and everyone was where there they were and then right in the middle, is me and my friend sitting close to each other, hands folded, shoulder to shoulder. She has a cheesy smile, all those teeth showing, while I have a more subdued and wide smile, no teeth showing and I am hunching over slightly.
Every time I think of it now, I’m taken back to the feeling I had, the warmth I felt inside while sitting next to her and how lucky I felt that she even wanted me to sit there. I couldn’t articulate all of that at 4, but thinking back, that is exactly what it felt like. It happened relatively quickly, even with the wrangling of all the kids that took place with other classes also preparing to take photos. If I needed a happy thought to fly, that would be one to pick. It was such a simple and pure moment between two innocent kids. But we would be leveling up soon. A big step was on its way.
At some point during that year, we found ourselves playing in the Tot Lot, which was where a lot of the kids played. The tanbark-littered area had all the fun things like swings and slides, a merry go round and large concrete cylinders that you could go inside of or stand on top of. If you weren’t on the bench, recess could actually be fun sometimes. Then there were times of course, where you might get married.
One day at recess, we met outside the classroom as we often did to play and somehow marriage came up. I don’t remember either of us proposing, we just decided that we were going to do it. Some of the girls around, our classmates, were bridesmaids. I didn’t have a best man or anything like that. In fact, I think I was the only boy in the group aside from one other kid who happened to be around and came along. I remember someone picking some of the small daisy-like yellow flowers that sat outside one of the classrooms and giving them to me to give to my friend as we took our walk, hand in hand, down the concrete isle that led to the Tot Lot, where our ceremony was held. There were no vows. There was no one to marry us really. One of the other girls just asked, “Will you marry him?” to which my friend said, “I do.” I was asked the same question, and I said, “I do.”
We continued holding hands on the way to the swings where we often played together, which was mere feet away from where we said our “I do’s” and then we engaged in some swinging. That was how we celebrated. The girls in the group were happy and excited for us, it was a happy time. Then the bell rang. No! Recess was over. I remember not wanting to go back to class. I just wanted to stay on the swings and hold hands with my wife.
We left the Tot Lot together and walked back to the classroom. All the girls who were celebrating with us followed. When I went to my seat, I felt an internal, humbling happiness in a way that didn’t feel like it needed to be shared with anyone else, like sitting next to her on picture day. I was very quiet about it all. It felt as if no one could take it from me if I didn’t put it out there for others to downplay or trivialize it. I don’t even think I told my parents when they picked me up from school that day. That moment was mine.