Bogey said it to Dooley Wilson about Bergman "Of all the gin joints in the world she had to walk into mine." I doubt when those words were spoken it carried the same meaning as it does for me.
11 years ago on a whim and more of a charade if I'm being honest, I took up a ridiculous wager with a close friend. After completing a grueling 300 days on the road I returned to my meager 800 square foot apartment with plans that extended no further than my couch. The only real plans for decamping from my couch, I had extended to my mountain bike (I had it in my head I was going to bike my way to a slim waistline over a two week vacation) and perhaps to the store for supplies. Other than that I had no intention of leaving what at the time I referred to as home.
When the call came in from my good pal Sean my intent was to humor his meager attempts to draw me out. However, he was not to be placated with a round of insults, jokes or wagers that no sane individual makes two days before Christmas
The winner of our wager if I recall would be supplied with a case or maybe it was two cases of bottled liquids that were amber in color and whose ingredients contained fermented barley and hops. The wager? "Find me a date and I'll come on up."
I felt safe in making this bet because what starry eyed lass wants to participate in a blind date two days before Christmas? Turns out I was not only to lose that bet, but was actually going to win it at the same time.
The first time we talked on the phone I made her cry. I would love to say her tears were the product of my dry wit and easy charm. But it was not the case. How I managed to make her cry and she still wanted to not only meet me but was willing to bring me along as plus one to Christmas dinner. A saner man would have begged off from a plus one date to a family dinner but it has been my experience that when you stand tall and issue the challenge of "Feel safe because I am your prince charming." You either follow through or shrink into oblivion. Or at least it's what I told myself.
So bundled in my trusty chariot I packed a bag and headed north. At the time I had never been to South Dakota and if you would have preferred to me I was to visit this state for the first time to see a girl well I would have happily taken your money.
The first time I saw her, she said to me "Take your glasses off. I want to see your eyes." Who says romance is dead? I obliged her request and was greeted with a radiant smile that reached all the way to her clear blue eyes. Sonya's eyes had no bottom and were vacant of guile or any cruelness. I felt vulnerable as if she could see all the way to my soul. My heart sped up just a bit, and my words came out in a rush.
The few days we had together weren't enough and soon it was time for me to head south and re-enter my world of airplanes and hotel rooms. As the days went by and we talked more and more I couldn't wait until it was time for me to return home. Our courtship was quit a mere six weeks and when I proposed it wasn't on bended knee or complicated in any way. I asked her over the phone and she said yes.
At the time I had been married and divorced three times so i knew what I was getting into but this time felt different than all the rest.
On our wedding day I wore my favorite tropical shirt and jeans. She opted for a nice sweater and jeans. We were married in, Vegas style. Except our chapel was a single wide trailer and none of us were sporting Elvis attire. But was as memorable as any large wedding with a million guests.
My best man was the guy who had set us up. Her maid of honor was her closest friend. Sean and his wife brought their two kids and Sonya brought along little Paige. Sean and I drove together in my jeep and the girls rode together with all the kids.
The ordained minister conducted his ceremonies in the living room of his single wide trailer. I had expected some sort of sign out front which tell me we had indeed arrived at the right location. But there was no sign or any other indication we had arrived at the right location. I looked at Sean and he looked back at me. We both shrugged. Picking up my cell phone I called to confirm the address. I also asked about the location. He verified both.
Stepping out of the car sean and walked to the front door. We told the girls to hang tight. The trailer had the feeling you get when watching a horror flick. And to be honest, I kinda felt like we were about to enter a Rocky Horror Picture show. I reached up and knocked on the door.
We both stood there silently waiting. After what felt like years I knocked again. This time we heard footsteps approaching the door. Without meaning to Sean and I separated slightly and backed up. When the door opened, we were greeted by a man in his late 40's or 50's. It was hard to tell, he stared back at us without speaking. His head rotated from me and then to Sean and back again.
"We're here to get married." I said. He nodded and then backed away from the door to let us in. Sean looked back at the girls and waved them in. I hesitated and then stepped inside. Our minister, though wasn't to be found. He had disappeared from view. The living room was modest in decoration there was a faux leather couch against the far wall and lazy boy recliner canted at an angle on the other wall. He had a large composite entertainment center with a nice TV in the center. Off to the left and just below he had a sound system for the TV. The carper could have been shag but to be honest, I don't remember. The shades were drawn which made it just a little more creepy. There was a kitchen back behind us that looked nice enough. Those lights were on, which was a good thing because otherwise we would have been standing in the dark and I'm not sure if we would have stayed.
By this time Sonya her maid of honor and all the kids were standing with us. All of the adults stood looking at one another, but none of speaking. Sonya whispered "Where is he?"
I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. We stood like that for what felt like a million years. At first it was awkward and then it became uncomfortable. Pretty soon we were snickering to relieve the tension and maybe a little embarrassment. The kids were great, but after a while they started to fidget and then of course the need for a potty break arose.
Paige tugged on her mother's arm and announced she had to go. Sonya looked over at me and offered me up as the designated escort to the bathroom. I hollered loudly "IS THERE A BATHROOM WE COULD USE?"
He answered back "Down the hall." I looked at her and she looked at me. I held out my hand and said "Come on Paige." She took my hand and we wandered down the hall looking for the bathroom. As we passed a makeshift office I saw him huddled over a desk. His back was to me so it wasn't entirely clear what he was working on. The good news was I didn't see any weird symbols or indications we were going to be sacrificed to the gods.
I led her to the bathroom at the end of the hall. Checking to make sure the bogey man wasn't lurking inside I moved out of the way and pulled the door shut to let her use the bathroom. When she was done, we traversed the same route back to the living room. His huddled form hadn't moved an inch.
When we got back to the living room, everyone wanted to know what he was doing I shrugged again and told them I didn't know, but I was pretty sure he wasn't working on a weapon of mass destruction. Thankfully, our minister appeared from the back office. He walked past us and said not a word. The minister continued past us and into the kitchen, we all looked at each other shrugged and followed him.
He walked through the kitchen and then towards the back of the trailer. We followed in single file behind him like obedient sheep. When he got to a back room, he knocked once opened the door and peaked his head inside. We stopped behind him and I heard him speak to someone. After that, he pulled the door shut and turned around. You could tell he was surprised to see us standing there, but he let it slide and then walked back past us and toward the living room.
All of us did an about face and followed him. When we were once again assembled in the living room, he reached down and turned off the sound system and then turning he opened the window shade near the entertainment center. The light that flooded the room didn't much make the living room looking any better than it had in the dark.
The minister then turned and stood up straight. He looked at each of us in turn, but didn't speak. I stepped forward and told him my name and then indicated which one was Sonya. He nodded and then said "Ok."
Now it was my turn to look around at everyone. Sean shrugged, but didn't offer to jump on Mandie was uncharistically quite and the kids were just kinda hanging out. Sonya's eyes sparkled with amusement and then she smiled at me and then I knew it was going to be just fine.
I reached out my hand and she stepped forward to take it. We stood side by side as he read us our vows and from that day forward she's been standing by my side every day since then.
That day was 11 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday, which is easy because 11 years later it still feels fresh and new.
She is the one who is for me now and always. Side by side from that day until our last I will love and cherish this woman until my final breath. Her strength props me up and gives me the courage to keep going even when I struggle she has always been there and I for her.
A decade plus 1 year and it might as well have been yesterday.
She is my best friend, my one true love and the one God saved for me.
I love you Sonya now and forever.