10 years ago

by Brian Clarey

Ten years ago we picked the date — Oct. 21, well after summer had ended but before the busy holiday season kicked in. We scheduled around other people’s jobs and lives as best we could so we could share the day with the people we loved, who loved us in return. Ten years ago we fretted about the recent terrorist attack, wondering if any of our friends would be willing to fly so soon after 9-11. We told everybody that we understood.

Ten years ago we called Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas to reserve the chapel and the preacher. We placed another call to a friend in the casino business who got us a batch of rooms at Sam’s Town, outside the city, for a friendly house rate. Then we set about letting our people know the deal. It was fun: “Hey, we’re getting married in Vegas in a couple months, and we have rooms for about $35 a night. You in?” Ten years ago, a lot of them were.

Ten years ago we packed our bags and our baby boy for Vegas and moved into a hotel suite for a week. It was bigger than our apartment in Greensboro, with a Jacuzzi at the foot of the bed and a view of the atrium bar down below.

Ten years ago my mother bonded with my son for the very first time, wheeling him around the casino floor while we made preparations for the ceremony and reception that would follow. He liked throwing pennies into the fountain in the lobby. My father brought me to the warehouse store where we filled two shopping carts with booze, mixers, wine and beers.

Ten years ago they trickled into Vegas — family from Long Island and Greensboro, friends from New Orleans and San Francisco, a few tagalongs and stragglers. Atom wore a gold jacket that looked like cheesy wallpaper. Big Tiny stuffed a padded Pooh Bear suit into his luggage. It took up pretty much the whole thing.

Ten years ago we waited at City Hall in Las Vegas to obtain our marriage license with perhaps a dozen other aspiring couples. We couldn’t believe what we were doing.

Ten years ago we met at the hotel bar and the bridal parties went our separate ways — different clubs in different parts of town, and we reconnoitered at the Double Down Lounge off the Strip, which though it is sort of a dive will always be to me one of the more romantic spots on earth. A college roommate of mine, dressed incongruously in a blue, double-breasted blazer with brass buttons, told some young, leatherclad toughs that his name was Thurston Howell. They thought it was so funny they decided not to kick his ass.

Ten years ago I put on a Western tuxedo, complete with a duster and a length of chain looped down one hip. My sister put my hair in a braid and tied it with a white ribbon. Ten years ago we stopped at the casino bar to have my last drink as a single man. It was, I believe, a gin and tonic. My insides roiled like Mardi Gras as we walked down the long hall to the chapel.

Ten years ago a violinist played Pachelbel’s Canon as I stood on the altar, waiting for my bride. I gasped when I saw her there at the door, in the dress she found in the window of a Magazine Street shop.

Ten years ago I cried when she said, “I do.” Ten years ago I walked with my new wife through a crowded casino, we in our wedding clothes and the gamblers, some of them anyway, looking up from their slot machines and card tables to toast our happiness.

Ten years ago we partied in the hotel suite with a soundtrack of ripped CDs; we all took shifts behind the bar. Then we made our way to the casino lounge, where we commandeered the karaoke machine.

Ten years ago I sang a version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” in my wedding tuxedo. Afterwards another college roommate belted out Madonna’s “Holiday.” He used every inch of the dance floor.

Ten years ago Big Tiny played blackjack in the Pooh Bear suit, drinking Jack Daniels and smoking a big cigar. Ten years ago we declared our love for each other to the people who love us. We smiled and danced and sang to celebrate our partnership. Then, together, we came home.

Ten years later, nothing has changed. I loved her then. I love her still. Ten years later we are still together. We keep the house running, get homework done and the kids off to school. We run errands and keep appointments. Sometimes we stand in the kitchen, surrounded by dirty dishes, and we hold each other, dancing slowly to music only we can hear.