Writer’s note: Some people doubt the validity of this story, but trust me, everything I talk about here honestly and truly happened.
Like many other people in this world, as I approached my thirtieth birthday, I slowly began to realize my life wasn’t anywhere close to where I wanted it to be. I was Matt Wright. I was not supposed to be in the situation I was in. I was supposed to be a well-known writer, as well as an exceptionally popular socialite who people enjoyed having at parties. I was not supposed to be a failing real estate agent who was slowly losing his house and struggling with the fact that, not only was he single but, the last girl he thought he was dating had been with someone else the entire time. (Thank you, Julie.) I was supposed to be a member of the elite. I was supposed to be better than everyone else because, let’s face it, I am better than everyone else. Struggling with all of these different aspects of my life, I also started thinking about leaving the DC area because I was tired of dealing with its fake, plastic, hypocritical demeanor. Nevertheless, I was still there and about to celebrate my thirtieth birthday.
I will tell you the lesson of my story before I begin: If you are feeling a little down on your birthday, don’t ask your best friend to marry you in a bar in Virginia. Just don’t do it. Let me tell you why.
Like I said, I was quickly losing my house due to the real estate market crash. I went out drinking every night so that part of me could forget the complete and total crap show that my life had become. I had used this coping mechanism before and would continue to use it into the future. Of course upon waking in the morning I felt all of the effects from the night before and I would remember I had become everything I always tried to avoid—the loser that the “cool” kids in high school predicted I would become.
You see I was not always the confident, well-rounded human being I am today. I was shy, awkward, and a little weird. I knew one day I would grow into my own, but kids don’t care about that. They just see you as this strange, scrawny kid who likes to write stories in class, and they try to do anything within their power to make you look foolish in front of other children so they can look better. They bury it into your head that you are worthless, and you will never be a success because you don’t have the right parents, or the right background, or because you can’t talk to girls, or you aren’t the most athletic, or the smartest, or you just aren’t as strong as they are. (Like I should have to apologize for the fact that my DNA foretold a skinny, nice kid as opposed to a muscular asshole.)
No, I did not come into my own until much later in life, after I had left behind the notion that what they told me in high school was right, and I realized I was not only just as good as every one of them but a lot better than many. That wasn’t a matter of self-realization; it was a matter of growing up and realizing that no one in the world was as important as I was. Absolutely nothing they did had anything to do with the person I turned out to be because none of them actually mattered. But that was when I was in my twenties. As I quickly approached thirty, slowly, craftily, like a ninja, those negative, distressing thoughts started creeping their way back into my subconscious, and I was beginning to realize I was a failure. I had failed. I had finally become the exact loser all of those high school assholes said I would be.
It was a very dark time in my life. One day I realized that I only had $2.00 in the bank. That decimal point is not a typo. $2.00 was all the money I had to my name, and I had no idea when I would get my next paycheck. In order to help me forget my terrible existence, my friends took me out to a bar to get me drunk. We had a good time, and everything was looking up by the end of the night. That is, until I came home to discover the fire department had kicked my door in because I had idiotically left the self-cleaning oven on, and my apartment had filled with smoke, setting off the smoke alarms. A new door would cost me a couple grand I really didn’t have, and until I figured out where to get it, my front door didn’t close. The rest of this story gets really dark so I digress, but perhaps you will be lucky enough to hear it one day in the future.
I hated my life. I felt like life had put a bunch of crap in my way, stifling my voice and defeating my dreams. I was sunk. I had given in to my destiny of being a failure. If only those kids from high school could have seen me. I’m certain some of them would have been elated that they had predicted my future, but the more normal people would probably have felt bad for me because most people don’t want to see anyone living in such darkness.
So here comes my birthday. The beginning of a new decade. I was leaving my twenties behind, and I couldn’t have been happier about that. I wanted this to be the best birthday ever. I wanted a blow out. A huge bash that all of my friends would attend. Instead I ate a Wendy’s chicken sandwich off the dollar menu. In my car. By myself. Happy birthday to me. But, just as I can embrace my greatness now, I could embrace my failures then, and by holding onto them I could make my entire life a mess instead of seeing the world the way I do now. (Remember that. I’m certain that sentence is very important).
After my amazingly memorable chicken sandwich from Wendy’s, I went to the same bar I went to every other night and sat there, waiting for someone, anyone, to show up. Or maybe I didn’t care if anyone showed up. I was happy to sit there and drink until I couldn’t see straight before driving home with my fingers crossed, unsure of what luck I was actually hoping for.
Nine days before my birthday, I celebrated my friend, Ryan’s birthday by spending the entire day with him. In return, he decided to schedule a dinner meeting with someone else and didn’t show up to my “party” until after 10. I was a few beers deep by the time he finally appeared. Incidentally, he ended up working even though he was supposed to have off, which was good for me because it meant I wasn’t going to have a tab. I’m pretty sure that was the main reason I was at that bar.
Ryan gave me a hug, wished me a happy birthday, and got me a beer. He told me some other people were on their way after dinner, and I smiled at the thought of my amazing dinner, highlighting the epitome of my own personal loneliness.
I was more than a little bitter these people had all made plans on the holiest of holy birthdays, and I didn’t understand why my best friends wouldn’t have invited me out that night. Especially since they knew about my crap life. The only person I forgave was Tess. I knew Tess had tried to get someone to cover her shift so she could come out but was unsuccessful. Her I forgave. Fuck all the others.
Tess was great. Still is. She and I met when I was working as a bartender. In the very same bar where she was working that night. When I worked there, she worked at the coffee shop next door. I popped in most days for coffee and a sandwich before my shift. Tess and I hung out at the coffee shop a lot. We bonded over music and movies, and I came to see her like a little sister. Then she went off to college, and I didn’t see her for five or six years until earlier that year when we bumped into each other at the bar where I ended up spending my thirtieth birthday.
After our reunion, she confessed she had a huge crush on me back in the day but never said anything because she was still in high school and I was in my twenties. I laughed and said she was much older now. “Yes, that’s true,” she agreed, “but I’m also a lesbian now.” I was really winning this year.
Lesbian or not, Tess and I picked up right where we left off except now we hung out at bars instead of coffee shops. We also texted and talked on the phone…a lot. In a very short period of time, Tess had become my best friend.
Slowly my friends showed up to the bar. Each one apologized for being so late and then, taking note of the glaze over my eyes, realized I probably didn’t care anymore. They were right. I was pretty drunk.
Gerry, Christopher, Marguerite, Helen, Ryan, Steve, and Kristen (all made up names) joined me with beer, shots, and a discussion about a potential birthday party the following weekend. (I had changed my mind about wanting a party and told them so, but I got one anyway. My sister insisted that I have one because she wanted to come from Philly to celebrate with me.)
Tess showed up around 10:30. She jumped into my arms and wrapped her little legs around my waist, wishing me a happy birthday and apologizing for being late. Approaching the bar, she asked me what kind of shot I wanted.
“Have you had American Honey yet?” she asked.
I shook my head.
“Ryan, can we get two American Honey shots, please.”
Ryan brought us the shots and we slammed them back.
“Wasn’t that good?” she asked.
I grimaced. Through clenched teeth, I said, “Yes.”
We went back to the table where everyone was sitting and continued to drink. As the night progressed, everything turned blurry, but I do remember key points.
At some point I looked at Tess and said, “Tess, I think we should get married.” I can’t be certain how this came up exactly, but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my desire to not feel like such a loser.
She looked at me and smiled. “Do you care if I bring women home?”
“Do you care if I do?” I responded.
“I think this could work out well,” she said.
For some reason, Ryan had become an ordained minister by getting his certification online. I called him over and asked him if he could marry us. He said he would be happy to. So while drinking in the same bar we always drank in, sitting in a booth we regularly sat in, Ryan performed a simple and eloquent service, ending with the classic: “You may now kiss the bride.”
And I did.
The first thing Tess and I did as a married couple was update our Facebook relationship statuses from our phones. (Oddly enough, Tess soon began receiving friend requests from girls I had either been “just friends” with or had previously hooked up with. I guess they wanted to know what she had that they did not).
Now comes the unbelievable bit. Ryan ran to the bar and wrote a “marriage certificate” on a bar napkin. He asked Tess and me to sign it. We did. Then he asked Gerry (my best man) and Yelena (her maid of honor) to sign it. They did.
Ryan ran over to another table and asked Liz, a friend of ours, to sign the napkin, and then he approached someone I didn’t know, asking for his signature also. Little did I know, two notaries had now signed my marriage certificate. Then Ryan walked over to Gary, another friend of ours and a regular at the bar who also happened to be a clerk of the court. Gary laughed when he looked at the napkin, and without a second thought, he signed off on our almost legal marriage. If someone turned in the paperwork and paid the fee for the marriage license, we would have been official. Thank you, Ryan, for that birthday present.
The next day I woke up, alone, with a very foggy memory of the night before. Tess texted me and asked how I was feeling. I told her I actually felt fine and should probably go into work. I was already three hours late.
While I was showering, pieces of the previous night came back to me. When I discovered icing in my ear, I remembered I had cake smashed in my face and subsequently chased my friend, Steve, around the bar. I remembered bumping into someone from high school, and I remembered my pretend wedding with Tess.
I got out of the shower and texted her. “Did we really get married last night?”
“That couldn’t have been real, right?”
“Haha, no way. You can’t get married at a bar.”
(YES, YOU CAN!)
While at work, I started getting texts from people who were with me the night before:
“How was the first night of marriage?”
“Did you consummate the marriage last night?”
“Are you going to tell your mom about getting married?”
“Do you remember marrying Tess last night?”
I had a funny feeling about the whole thing so I texted Ryan, asking him if the wedding could have possibly been legal. He informed me Gary had turned in the paperwork and Tess and I were now married.
I was married to my best friend, which I hear is the ultimate dream, but in this case my best friend just happened to be a lesbian.
I would like to say this worked out immaculately, that Tess and I spent the rest of our lives living happily in a polyamorous marriage. I would like to say she and I made it work, eventually figuring out a healthy way to have a kid together while continuing our love lives with other people. Alas, it did not work out that way.
Even though I knew I was married to a person who would never be into me because of reasons beyond her control, I still got jealous when she blatantly preferred someone else over me. So maybe the problem wasn’t with the situation—with me being straight and her being a lesbian. Maybe the problem was with me. For instance, I just saw a random stranger, whom I had never seen before in my life, walk by with another guy, and I wondered why she would ever prefer that guy to me. Because let’s be honest, I am into myself. I’m really into myself. My only real flaw is that I don’t see myself perfect in every way.
Trying to make a heterosexual marriage work when the man thinks everyone should be into him and the woman simply isn’t into guys is impossible. Eventually—sooner rather than later—we had to get the marriage annulled. Lesson learned.
Tess is still one of my best friends even though we live far from each other now. I have tried to convince her to move to Nashville, but she hasn’t bit at the offer yet (I have since moved from Nashville, so this is all a little dated). I think she is worried “her kind” won’t be accepted down here in the Bible belt. She doesn’t realize that Nashville isn’t like the rest of the south. She would probably be more accepted than a self-described sociopathic narcissist would be.
All of this is to say that yes, it is possible to get married in a bar. So if you ever happen to be in Virginia, getting hammered with your best friend, make sure you don’t blurt out the words, “I think we should get married.” You just might get what you ask for. Unless, of course, you’re of the same sex.