Previously on Nayrotica…
Soon after darkness fell, the music started (voice and ukulele) and the wedding congregation marched in with lit candles in their hands. The song ended, and we stood in darkness, surrounded my candlelight. Overcome with feelings of glee and incredible appreciation for those around me, I was once again underwater trying to focus on what was happening around me, but only seeing glimpses of reality. Our officiant’s phone screen glowed in her face as she pulled up the ceremony.
“Friends, Scholars, Comrades. We are gathered here this evening…” The ceremony began. There were mentions of the problematized institution of marriage, of the injustices in the world, or the irony of two men getting married in a forest in conservative Poland, where there were genuine safety concerns should anyone find out about the subversive act in which we were partaking. I dismissed these concerns with a cavalier flick of the wrist– it was going to be fine (and I had grander concerns). The candlelight, the rings, the sounds of nature… all put together, made for a rather ambient and gorgeous moment– there was a level of romance and magic that only seemed possible in fiction. After the ceremony one of the professors commented briefly on marriage, the ceremony, and the world. She made note of the large, ancient oak trees that flanked the ceremony and spoke of stability, history, memory, and wished for nothing more than those ideas exist as the framework for our marriage. It was a lovely moment—one I cherish and hold near to my heart. But unlike the oak, we were human– and therefore all would not be fine.
At the conclusion of the wedding, we kissed (obviously), there was laughter and cheering, and then everyone rushed back to the hotel lobby where we would be welcomed by florescent lighting and entrance music. The fella and I waited outside as the congregation readied the lobby for the grand entrance. As we prepared for our premiere entrance as a couple, we checked in with each other—I was feeling a bit out of sorts.
Secure? No. (But I would never say that aloud in the moment. At least, I wouldn’t have said it then. Now? That’s a whole different story. If I knew then what I know now…)
We stood there outside the doors of the lobby and chatted about something, anything… and I was doing everything in my power to simply stay present. Wanting so badly to enjoy every moment of the evening, I was suddenly obsessed with the idea of having a good time and therefore made it impossible for me to actually stay focused on what was happening. Instead, I thought of all the ways I could be disappointed with the night. More than just the night, I was thinking about the plethora of ways I could be disappointed with the rest of my life with this fella! a) It won’t work because… [insert every and any reason I could think of] b) He doesn’t get me! c) I sold out to the marriage machine! I was a lost cause, but do you think that stopped me from trying so damn hard to appear like I was having fun? No. It didn’t. I smiled the fuck out of my face and at him– beaming with “joy.” I am certain he saw through it, but I pretended that NOTHING was real, including his ability to interpret a person’s micro-mannerisms.
I was working my ass off: laughing, smiling, dancing, watching others be so delighted that they got to be a part of this really special evening… but to me, it was a disaster. These wonderful people came together as a community and put forth so much effort in order to make the evening magical with the perfect impromptu Polish gay wedding– and I was nothing more than an ungrateful schmuck. They deserved more than my doubts and my inability to relax, so I pushed through. For them. For the fella? I could not disappoint them.
We entered the reception to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough. Oh, the irony. I wanted to stop right there because I had more than enough, but like a selfless martyr (just kidding, in this situation I was the farthest thing from a martyr and instead just a despicable fraud.) I carried on for the sake of the pageantry of it all. The fella and I danced our way through the crowd and with each twirl and pop of the hip, I was slowly dying on the inside: my soul shriveling to a raisin-like black amoeba. I was beyond uncomfortable and I wanted to
hide die… but at your own wedding, it turns out that is not the acceptable to hide (I don’t think the revised etiquette manual with the social rules of dying at one’s wedding has been released yet) —so you dance even when it sucks your will to live. Soon after we entered and the music faded, I breathed a great sigh and then once again, all eyes were on us. The couple. Everyone stared and I was unsure as to why all seeing orbs were on us. Turns out, this was the part where we were to say something: to welcome everyone to a party that we didn’t plan. And so we did.
I started, “Thank you everyone for coming to the event that I didn’t want!”
Just kidding. I didn’t say that– but I felt it. And to be honest, I thought I had wanted the wedding and the party. But I just had no idea how quickly I would become a joy vacuum. And so, we greeted everyone, his beer and my seltzer raised. We welcomed and we thanked. I did my best to remain gracious, still secretly vomiting (on the inside). It wasn’t the thought of the fella, or the idea of being with the fella, that made me symbolically vomit, but it was the pomp that was thrust at us… and it was the circumstance of this private affair turned international scandal. I would have gladly married him privately—I wished I hadn’t mentioned anything of him or the idea of marriage to my colleagues, but I was stuck in the trap of my own making.
When we were finished with our welcome, there was a surprise for us—mostly for me, but it was positioned as a ‘toast’ to the happy couple from the entire gathering of attendees. In the days leading up to the wedding, the best man wanted to spend some time with me in order to learn about me and the story of how the fella and I met. We set aside some time, had coffee, lunch, breakfast… whatever we could find in order for him to thoroughly get me to divulge the information he needed. Unbeknownst to me, the discussion was also a reconnaissance mission. For what, you ask? For a short film that the filmmaker in the group produced. It told the story of the newlyweds and was collectively told by the participants in the program on film. The movie was a gift to us, as if the wedding and reception were not gift enough. Each participant added his or her own flair when they were onscreen, sharing the story of ‘us’—they told a story about two bears who found each other in the woods and got married. Entitled Bear Romance, the film was probably the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me. For us. As it played, I was in shock; I was sweating, mouth agape. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and what I was hearing. Most of all, I couldn’t believe what I was feeling. The people who surrounded me, who barely knew me, cared more than I can even begin to imagine or quantify. The warmth in the room and the community that was built while we argued in class with each other over issues of nationalism and terror and torture and the law… the passion was on display in each guest’s face at the reception.
The whole thing became greater than I had ever imagined, and while I was thankful, I was wounded and not ready to publicly acknowledge those open sores on my heart. I am not certain that there was any one incident that inflicted the trauma, but it was there—perhaps my heart was under-developed and not ready for the amount of love that was showered upon us that day. As the night progressed, I became more and more closed off. With the exception of one moment of dancing, oddly enough to Rhianna’s Diamonds, I felt distanced from everyone, especially my groom. For one moment, while Rhianna throatily serenaded us, “when you hold me I fly, like diamonds in the sky.” For that moment, I felt like everything was going to be okay. I forgot about my anxiety and as I held my groom tightly and danced, I told him that I loved him and that I was happy.
But that was a moment.
And moments pass.
Soon after, I was back in my head, wanting to return to Rhianna and seal that moment in a cryogenic chamber, existing in that moment alone for an eternity, never allowing myself an opportunity to leave it—I couldn’t stop thinking about that short, beautiful flash of content, but time was not my friend and as it whisked me forward, the distance between content and now was widening. Soon after, there was cake-cutting and the ridiculous tradition of feeding each other bites of cake, after which I served everyone their own slices of sweet confection with my groom next to me. As I sat there and slice, handing out the cake, the fella eventually left my side—it was there, in that moment, that my head really started to spin. He abandoned me. That was the thought I remember, rational or not, that is what I felt. I know now that it was an unfounded thought, but still… that is the feeling I took away with me. As the party carried on, we retired to the honeymoon suite, exhausted from our day of concentration camp and wedding. The connection we were previously feeling, one that seemed greater via FaceTime, was no longer there. We were miles away in the same room, in the same bed. My husband was suddenly a stranger to me—or had he been a stranger the whole time?
After a restless night of sleep, we awoke and spent a day doing not much—we puttered around Poland and had stilted conversation. I knew his departure was looming, and I couldn’t remember where I misplaced my heart. As we laid in bed after a day I cannot remember for the life of me and an evening of seeing Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck with Polish subtitles, I remember taking our picture… a selfie. And I remember him saying to me after, questioning my intent for taking the photo, “this has taken a turn and I am not sure I like it.” Of course I don’t actually remember the words he chose that night, but there is one thing I do remember. I recall feeling my chest tightening, and it was as if a shard of glass had been waiting in one of my atria, and it was now being slowly twisted. At that moment, I no longer could even pretend to understand where and when I had made such a fatal turn. I know that I let things get out of control, and even though I felt like hiding at my own wedding, I still wanted it to work. I thought about the ache in my heart after he said that, and I could no longer silence the screams of my body.
“What do you mean?! We just got married! What are you talking about?!” I had let it build up and was lashing out. “You want to take it back?! You don’t want to marry me?!”
He never said any of those things, but I was processing all of the information through my special filter of fucked-up-ness. I had no idea what was going on, and I didn’t know how to maintain a healthy relationship with anyone or anything other than my own right hand. And on a good day, that was tenuous at best. I repeated my questions, but the conversation didn’t go well that night. Nothing was decided, much less needed decision. We slept next to each other, and the next morning we readied for his departure. I had a couple more days in Poland, and then I was scheduled to join him in Berlin for a week. We had a bit of an uncomfortable goodbye after a brief walk that morning, and I headed back to the school hotel, checking out of the real hotel I shared with my fiancé-turned-husband. I had been spoiled by a real hotel with real amenities and the thought of going back to the dank hole that was called a hotel pulverized my heart even more than it already was. (Note: Turned out it was a Polish government hostel that the entire class had been staying in, not a hotel at all. LIES!)
Over the final couple of days in Poland, the fella and I chatted occasionally, but not nearly as much as we had leading up to the wedding. I was convinced that Poland was hard on us, and Berlin would bring back the joy. Once in Berlin, we would have less of an oppressive and conservative country breathing down our necks and we could relax a bit more. So, with that in my head, I proceeded to wrap up the loose ends at the government hostel, finally calling it what it was… and I was moving on to my next mission… Operation: Polish Extraction. With a colleague I met while in Poland, the wedding officiant, I was working on getting the hell out of the motherland. Our plan was to use the cover of darkness for our escape. We met privately over the last couple of days in order to maintain the clandestine nature of our mission, and we intended to leave in the middle of the farewell party without so much as an uttered “adieu.”
We each attended the farewell dinner separately, exchanging looks across the room indicating that the time was near. After dinner, there were a few words shared by the professors, and then there was the traditional Polish partner dance. We played along as long as we needed to, laughing and stepping in lines in order to now draw any suspicious looks, nor leave the dance floor for too long so that they noticed our absence.
Night fell over the government facility and it was go time. We left the party, the mingling, one at a time ensuring that a scene was not made. Gathering our belongings in our respective rooms, we exchanged a few texts that confirmed our exit strategy: we were to meet outside the front doors, in the shadows of the government prison.