The Golden Hour
Just after our first anniversary, my wife and I ran into the young lady who signed our marriage certificate, at Shoppers Drug Mart: the girl was working the cosmetics counter.
We knew her as Mary; at Shoppers Drug Mart, she wore a nametag labelled "Charlotte".
"I'm telling you, that's her: the minister's assistant. I always thought it was suspicious, the assistant having the same last name and first initials as the minister herself. Especially when the minister didn't show up for our wedding, and her assistant swooped in to save the day."
“The minister’s assistant was her daughter-in-law, I thought.”
“What are the odds that both mother and daughter-in-law are ordained ministers, with the name M. M. Kraft? And we never even met the assistant, when we went for our meeting with the minister: the minister’s assistant just showed up at the Four Seasons, and performed the wedding for us, filling in at the last moment: that should have raised a red flag.”
“Well, to be fair, our ceremony was a little hectic.”
With my side of the family from Northwestern Ontario, and Coco’s side of the family from Quebec, the wedding rehearsal dinner was a bigger event than the ceremony itself: just as many people in attendance, even without the photographer or the minister at the rehearsal. And with hindsight, I could have told you, never hire a woman from the dog park named Crazy Liz to take your wedding photos, no matter how much she needs the work.
The day of our wedding, Coco and I were so focussed trying to track down Crazy Liz, we didn’t notice the minister was a no-show as well. So when the hotel management team brought in the minister’s assistant to perform the service for us, we were just grateful to get married.
“Should I say something to her?” Coco asked me.
“Do you really want to find out our wedding ceremony was bogus? OK: that’s the girl who married us, and maybe she wasn’t an ordained minister. So what? Let’s just get re-married.”
“I was thinking, this would actually be a good opportunity to take a walk.”
“Ha-ha. Very funny. That’s hilarious. But you’re the one who’s always going on about Mick Jagger being a dirtbag, for faking his wedding to Jerry Hall.”
“You’re right: I shouldn’t joke. Let’s get re-married, as soon as possible. It will be nice, to have some photos of the wedding, before we are too old.”
Five years later, Valentine’s Day 2007, she popped the question again, while we were planning a July trip to Quebec City, so Coco and I booked the presidential suite at the Chateau Frontenac for the first Saturday of the month, and decided to invite just family to witness our do-over wedding in Quebec: the beauty of it was, as a reaffirmation of our vows, we got to invite a few family members who hadn’t even been around, the first time Coco and I got married.
We asked my five-year-old nephew to be the best man, and my four-year-old niece to be the flower girl: Coco’s nieces Maddy and Alicia got upgraded to the status of bridesmaids, while Coco’s mother served as maid-of-honour, our second time getting married.
“We should go down to the dog park, line up Crazy Liz before she’s gets overbooked for the summer. See if she’s still interested in taking the job of wedding photographer.”
Coco laughed: “That’s not even funny.”
Coco had a spinster friend who booked her wedding date at the Chateau Frontenac for July 7, 2007, in 1999. We took over the deposit, when that didn’t work out for her.
As Coco and I were both lapsed Catholics, a justice of the peace was our best option for making the ceremony legally-binding. We still celebrate our anniversary on May 19, but if we’re being honest, we weren’t actually married until July 7, 2007, 4:15 PM, in Quebec City, Quebec, by a government official who had my father sign the wedding certificate, in place of my nephew, as witness to the grand event at the Chateau Frontenac.
Long before I met Coco, when my father remarried, he had me stand as best man at his wedding. After the ceremony, I asked him what he was going to do with his wedding band from my mother: he gave it to me, for safekeeping: it is the wedding band I wear today. You could say I carry the weight of two marriages on my shoulders, in the back of my mind. Like in textbooks.
Now, I’ve been married twice (both times to the same woman), but I still haven’t had a bachelor party, and since marrying Coco, never even been to a bachelor party. (It’s not that none of my friends are married, it’s just, that I don’t have a lot of friends, since leaving Northwestern Ontario.) I’m not middle-aged (my dad is middle-aged; I’m not middle-aged) but there comes a time in your life when you outgrow drinking, and strip clubs, and getting up to trouble.
In the lobby of the Chateau Frontenac, they have a photograph of Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney standing together at the Shamrock Summit. Coco and I booked the presidential suite at the Chateau Frontenac for our second wedding, because I liked the idea of sleeping in the same bed as Reagan, but it turned out, the Chateau Frontenac didn’t make that big a deal of their connection to the Gipper, despite his three-day visit to Quebec City, in 1985.
My mom walked into the lobby of the Chateau Frontenac wearing her big red hat, and immediately got lost. She thought we were back at the Four Seasons, in Toronto.
“Nothing looks familiar. I don’t recognize anything. I don’t remember any of this: are you sure this is the right hotel? Holy cow! I really think we’re in the wrong hotel. What does that sign say? There should be a sign that says, Calypso Waterpark: that would help a lot of people in finding the hotel, out on the highway. Because none of this looks familiar to me.”
“You’ve never been here before. We stayed at the Hotel Manoir Victoria, last summer.”
“Are you sure? Is this it here? I think next time I come down here, I should remember coming down here. But this would be so much easier, if I had Emily helping me with directions: she could watch for the exit ramp. You’d think I’d remember a four-lane highway, right through the heart of Quebec City, but I don’t remember any of this. I think Emily is a better driver than I am, no kidding. From the highway, she would have found the hotel, before I did.”
The notary public did his job; the hotel photographer got some great pictures; everything went off without a hitch: unlike our first wedding, at the Four Seasons in Yorkville, my wife and I actually tied the knot, six years into our marriage. (OK: there was a hitch that afternoon!)
Between dinner and the first dance, Coco and I went up to our room, to fool around a little bit. When Coco stepped into the bathroom to freshen up, I had a panic attack, and almost hit the mini-bar, to steady my nerves: I don’t know what came over me…but Coco helped me figure it out, watching the sun set over Old Quebec City, standing together at the window.
In some ways, she knew the ins-and-outs of my mind better than I did. For example:
At the wedding dinner, my dad was sitting with my mom, having a nice chat; both of them were single, so there were no hard feelings: my sister and her husband were sitting with the kids, Finnegan and Emily, Maddy and Alicia, Maddy and Alicia not so much kids anymore, but becoming fine young ladies in their own right, willing and able to keep my nephew and my niece entertained while their parents, my sister Jackie and my brother-in-law Brad, enjoyed the party as adults, laughing and drinking with my sister-in-law Daisy and her husband, at the next table; my mother-in-law was doting over Coco, brushing Coco’s shoulder pads, rearranging the flowers in Coco’s hair; Coco shot me a wink; and I was the luckiest man alive, at that moment.
I stood up, and made a speech. It was a short speech, but I talked about all the guests at the wedding, those who were there, and those who couldn’t be, like my grandparents, and Coco’s father. You’d have to go to the videotape to get the exact words of the toast I made, but I’d rather not spoil my memory of standing up beside Coco, and speaking at the wedding.
Sometimes I go into these fugue states, and can’t remember what I was talking about.
Looking around the room, I thought about the photograph of Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney in the lobby of the Chateau Frontenac: seeing that photograph had left me unsettled. It took me the rest of the evening to figure out why: for both men, that meeting was a high-point of their political careers, the best weekend of Brian Mulroney’s life.
After the speech, I sat down, and didn’t say anything else until Coco and I left the room to change our clothes for the evening: we had a flight to Northern Ireland early the next morning, and didn’t plan on getting much sleep that night, after partying until dawn.
(Not that it mattered: Emily stole the show when she stood up and delivered a half-hour set of knock-knock jokes, welcoming Coco to the family no less than eight times, each welcome throwing a bouquet of flowers on the ground like dropping a microphone from the podium: “We welcome Auntie Coco to the family (Uggh!)…We’d like to welcome Auntie Coco to the family (Uggh!)…Welcome to the family, Auntie Coco (Uggh!)” until Maddy of all people finally had to lead Emily off the stage, and march the girl back over to her parents for dessert.)
Having knotted a jaunty scarf around her neck, Coco slipped out of the bathroom to find me bawling like Tony Soprano at the edge of his swimming pool, after the baby ducks flew away from their family. It wasn’t my best moment as a married man, to be honest.
“Hey buddy: what’s going on? Why are you blubbering like a 12-year-old girl?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you going soft on me?” she joked.
“What are you scared of? Being happily married to a beautiful wife?”
I felt like an idiot, unable to explain my sudden anxiety.
There’s a feeling, probably the only people who have a word for it are the Germans.
You can be going along in life, riding the top of the rollercoaster, and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, the ground drops from underneath your feet: your wife leaves you; one of your parents dies, or you lose your dog; and then everything goes to shit, in the space of six months: in the space of six months, any six months in any man’s life, he can be ruined, and to me, that realization is terrifying...but the anticipation of the inevitable is what makes it so much worse.
Before I met Coco, I lived in the hour between the dog and the wolf, not knowing which animal I was, chasing my own shadow at dusk.
I spent many years, making a beast of myself to unburden the pain.
“Baby? Talk to me: what’s going on?”
Bottling my fear, I pointed out the window, wiping snot from my eyes.
“Look outside, along the St. Lawrence River: it’s just so beautiful.”
“So what’s got you worried?”
“What if this is as good as it gets?”
“After night falls, it’s another day, and then another day, and then another day after that. Life goes on. You can’t worry about the future.”
“I think I’m more worried about the past.”
“Golden hours become golden days, and golden days become a golden year. Golden years become a life well-lived. And there’s no shame in good work. You did good work with the families today at dinner, speaking from your heart: I was proud of you for keeping it all together when you mentioned the grandparents, Winston Smith, and Ladybug: it was a nice touch, letting people know how much we still miss the animals,” Coco put her hand on my shoulder, “We have never been a better team, than we are right now. I love you, sweetie.”
“I love you too, buddy,” I told her, “If you weren’t here, I don’t know what I’d be doing, either getting drunk, or – I don’t know. Thanks for talking me back from the edge of the abyss. I worry about my brain, sometimes. I’m sorry for everything.”
“The only thing I regret is, Murray not being here today,” Coco changed the subject, “Do you remember what he wrote in our first wedding album, six years ago?”
“Ha! Yeah, that fucker: Oh my God, I can’t believe this is really happening.”
“What do you think he meant by that?”
“He was infatuated by you. He thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me. Murray lost all interest in everybody else, whenever you walked into a room.”
My friend Murray was a consummate people person: he’d been a war hero, a politician, and a business leader, but the secret to his success in life was caring about other people, and their problems: he enjoyed the vast variety of people he encountered, from all walks of life.
“I’m sorry your friend isn’t here. But I’m glad everybody else made it to Quebec City.”
As Coco put her arms around my chest, I turned away from the window, and pulled her close. “So, what’s it like, getting married four times? You know, you’ve lapped Marilyn Monroe, and I hear Elizabeth Taylor is starting to worry about her spot in the record books.”
“Well, even Liz married the same guy twice, so I’m in good company.”
“Was that Richard Burton, or one of the other guys?”
“It’s hard to say: she had just as many divorces as Zsa Zsa Gabor.”
“Ah: well, if they couldn’t handle her at her worst, they didn’t deserve her at her best.”
“I’ve trained you well,” my wife slapped me on the ass, then pulled me toward the door, tugging on my sleeve, “Now, let’s go give our guests a first dance to remember. We can’t let the night go to waste: it’s already Sunday morning in Europe! We can sleep on the flight to Belfast.”