By Nancy Townsley
I was in the third grade the first time I got married in 1966. The reluctant groom was a lanky boy named Randy who wore a turtleneck to our nuptials on the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, which is now a public airport. Specifically, we got hitched in a horse pasture on the eastern end of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. In our hurry to get there and back before dinner we forgot to bring flowers.
It was hot and humid the day of our wedding as it almost always is on the island, and Randy kept reaching up and scratching a bothersome spot underneath his chin as we stammered out staccato vows under the insufficient shade of a Tamarind tree.
As if preternaturally timed to do so, our mares’ tails swished flies away from their sweat-caked flanks as we muttered a few awkward monosyllabic words that should have been to each other but weren’t.
“I do,” I said.
“I do too,” he repeated, and looked at the ground. My older sister said that was it, we were married. Our lips kissed a peck of a kiss and suddenly we were a miniature husband and wife about the size of the plastic figurines on a proper wedding cake who didn’t know what to do with each other except to mount up and ride away from the clearing, shy and embarrassed and feeling slightly guilty about what had gone on even though we weren’t sure what actually had gone on, except that we had been curious about how it felt to be married so we conjured up a secret ceremony and all four of us in attendance swore no one would ever tell our parents, who were none the wiser for years and years, long after we all grew up and got really, truly married to other people and had kids of our own.
As we fled the scene I tripped on a rock, skinned my knee and tore my homemade veil. My sister the officiant and my other sister the witness laughed and laughed and after I joined in it took us a while to stop guffawing and regain our composure. Randy was long gone by then, which was too bad, even though I had chosen him as my intended for dubious reasons: he had wavy dark hair and piercing blue eyes and he was good at Spanish. I stood next to him in choir and when we learned the words to De Colores his pitch was admirable and his enunciation was perfect and I admired those things, but mostly he was handsome, which was what mattered most to me back then.
I didn’t ask Randy why he always wore turtlenecks and I’ve often wondered about that, but I was aware even at the age of nine that people tend to don masks much more subtle and sinister, invisible get-ups that keep others from unobstructed panoramic views inside their hearts, which sometimes beat to snare-drum rhythms and other times offer kettle-drum tones and occasionally emit erratic chaotic confusing cymbal strikes that dash to pieces lives that looked as though they were on a seamless smooth trajectory, impossible though that is.
Maybe Randy was afflicted with an unsightly rash, or perhaps another third-grader had married him the week before me and given him a hickey. He could have told me. I would have understood. I could have saved myself for someone else and stood in a different grove of trees at another much later time in my life, promising to love, honor and open my heart as wide as most of us dare, exposing its bruised rugged wild excitable essence and pledging to try, try, try.
Nancy Townsley runs and writes in Scappoose, Oregon, where she lives on a floating home. She no longer rides horses but remembers when she did, especially the feeling of being wild and free.