The woman behind the counter looked intimidating even before I approached the window. She looked at me over the edge of her bifocals and waved me forward impatiently as the bracelets on her wrist jingled and the flowery blue pattern of her blouse tried to lull me from thinking of her as the first gate – guarded and barred – standing between myself and a marriage.
“May I help you?”
“Um… yes I-”
“Please speak up!”
“I’m here for a marriage license?”
The piece of paper was slapped on the counter and woman used the tip of her pen to point to various boxes, lines and statements. “You fill this section out; your fiance has to fill this section. Don’t leave any blanks. You both have to sign here. Read these instructions, check this box and both initial here to indicate you have read and understood them-”
“What if we don’t understand them?” She gave me a look that said volumes: if I didn’t understand them, I had no business getting this piece of paper. I swallowed hard and said, “Just wondering.”
She ignored the interruption and turned the page over. “Here is where your two witnesses sign – they can be of any gender – here is for the person officiating, and here is for the notary public. The notary must witness the signings. Bring the completed form and a check made out to the City of Colville in the amount of two-hundred and fifty dollars.” She thrust the paper toward me. “Any questions?”
I shook my head and she looked around me. “Next!”
Slinking back from the window, I put the paper in a folder and tucked it into my bag, leaving quickly. I knew what assumptions the woman had made just by looking at me, and it bothered me. It bothered me that she thought she knew who I was going to marry. It bothered me that if she had really known, she’d have refused to give me the paper. Even knowing the opposition to it being made legal, even knowing what to expect, it still bothered me.
I walked home, mind too filled with thinking to subject myself to the crowd and clamor of the bus. I walked passed old married couples rocking on front porches and young married couples with children in tow and all I could think of was wanting to look just like them, wanting that pure, sweet love to be mine.
In my mind, I chastised myself saying I already had it. I had that love; I just couldn’t show it like they did. I wasn’t allowed to. Most might just look the other way, but it was those few who wouldn’t just be angry, they’d get violent – those were the ones you always had to look out for.
It wasn’t enough that they had their wives, they had their 2.3 kids and house with white picket fence and 40-hr per week jobs and a car in the driveway. It wasn’t enough that they had everything they wanted, they still had to keep it from me. Through their speeches of “You can love whoever you want, but don’t make me agree with it. Don’t let my kids see it! They might grow up to do the same thing; you’re corrupting our youth with your unnatural ways! You can’t call it marriage, it’s an abomination!” they tried to shame me, threaten me, prevent me from living my life just as they lived theirs. I still didn’t understand how they could feel so threatened.
Was it only my imagination that I felt their eyes on me, judging me even now as I walked faster to get home? My heart throbbed in my ears until I had shut the door, leaning back against it to shut out the invisible assailants. And there he was, my David. Everything in the world I wanted, everything that made my eyes light up and my life worth living.
He scooped me into his arms and kissed me and for that moment, the world was right and nothing else mattered. But as always, moments pass, as did this one, and I took the folder out of my bag and took the paper out of the folder.
“Are you still sure about this?”
“I love you.”
And that made it enough. We filled out the paper, checking all the boxes and filling in all the blanks. Tomorrow it would be legal. Tomorrow we’d go to the courthouse.
Nothing could ever have prepared me for being in the middle of that angry mob. I had seen it on TV in other places, but nothing can really make you understand what it feels like to be in the middle it; like standing in the midst of a dry forest that hasn’t seen rain in years, and you can feel the torches closing in around you, a breath from setting you ablaze and nowhere to run.
I had worn a new dress, done up my hair, put on a little makeup and polish, and looking in that mirror, I felt beautiful. It wasn’t to last.
The crowd was already there when we got out of the car, walking toward the courthouse doors. There were two police officers by the doors, but it was clear they had no intention of breaking up the mob. My eyes were fixed on those doors, though, and I gripped his hand as we started to walk.
There were signs telling us how much God hated us, how we’d burn in hell. Signs saying we were abominations. Women screaming insults tried to block our path but I just kept walking forward. Someone spit on me, someone poured a drink over my head, someone hit me with an apple. I kept walking. Someone ripped the veil off my head, someone tried to hit me. I knew the whole time he was getting it worse, sheltering me as much as he could. I kept walking.
By the time we reached the doors, I looked more like a victim than a bride. The crowd stayed just at the edge of the steps; seemingly they had been warned ahead they could abuse us as much as they wanted outside, but if we went inside they had to stop. Looking back at the crowd, I couldn’t help the tears that formed as David urged me inside.
The police stayed at their positions, but I could see the contempt in their eyes as we passed. It was hard knowing that if I had been marrying another woman, they wouldn’t have cared one way or the other, but because I was marrying a white man, I might as well have been the devil himself, and then remembering that only sixty short years ago, they were where I was. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t support us now, why they had forgotten already how hard they struggled for their own equality, only to help in denying us ours.
I prayed that my children would be raised in a nation where it didn’t matter the color of your skin, it only mattered how much you loved one another.