How to Get Married in Twelve Easy Steps

Step One: Get Engaged

I don’t know how your story goes, but mine is a little something like this:

I’d threatened him long ago that if he ever proposed at a sporting event that I would say no, but if we wound up on the JumboTron I would not only refuse but also be forced to kill him and bury the body in a shallow grave, which is really more work than I’m up to on any given day. It wasn’t something I worried much about, considering the fact that I once had him 85% convinced that Quidditch was a real sport, but still. Better safe than sorry.

When it happened, it was in our living room. There were no candles, no rose petals. He didn’t get down on one knee. The cat, involved as she was by having the ring box nestled between her paws, looked at us contemptuously as I somehow breathed in the affirmative that yes, I would, of course I would.

We spent a blissful hour as an engaged couple. And then we told people.

Step Two: Tell People

Congratulations! This part is so much fun. Everybody was thrilled for us, and they will be for you too. We’d already decided what we wanted to do. A simple morning ceremony, followed by dinner with our parents and a casual party later in the evening with assorted family and friends. What could be more charming?

Step Three: Have People Tell You All the Ways In Which You Are Doing It Wrong

“What do you mean, no dance? Where are you having this, a Russian gulag?”
“Your grandmother will throw a fit if there isn’t a proper reception. She’s already making noise about haunting you once she’s dead.”
“You’re not legally married in this country if someone isn’t crying with frustration by the end of the day. You’re marrying a lawyer, you should know that.”

Step Four: Eat a Pillow Out of Anxiety

Wash it down with a nice bottle of wine. I personally chose a cabernet sauvignon, but I don’t want to tell you how to live.

Step Five: Give In Compromise

Okay. So G’s dad only asks that his (seven) brothers be invited. Great. And yeah, maybe the morning wedding isn’t convenient for getting ready. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to get all the family together for a happy occasion instead of a sad one, and who doesn’t love dancing?

This is how it starts. If this isn’t how you want it to go, I suggest you shut down your computer right now and run to the nearest city hall. No, faster than that.

Step Six: Ask Your Bridesmaids

You will find out that it is popular to find cute ways to do this, including keepsake handkerchiefs and handmade paper dolls. What actually happens is a little closer to pouring a shot for your oldest friend and saying “SO YA WANNA BE MY MAID OF HONOUR OR WHA?”

Like the trouper she is, she pounds the shot back and gives you a hug. “I FUCKIN’ LOVES YOU AND I WILL DESTROY ANYONE WHO GETS IN THE WAY OF YOUR HAPPINESS SO LET’S DO THIS, BITCH.” Later, at the wedding, she will give a speech that makes all your aunts sniffle, but this one, just between the two of you, is the one closest to your heart. You might not be sisters by blood, but sisters by blood alcohol count must mean something.

Step Seven: Get Vendor Quotes

Bridal etiquette books will tell you that it is not polite to laugh until you cough blood when you receive a catering quote of roughly the GDP of a small country. I say etiquette books lack imagination and must come from old money because seriously, fuuuuuuuuuck that. BBQ buffet it is.

Book a great photographer. The rest will come together later, once you start running out of pillows.

Step Eight: Say Yes to the Dress (and Various Accessories)

Here’s your chance to be the fairytale princess you’ve always wanted to be, if you were the owlish kid whose parents read you all the German versions. Some of the shoes they try to sell you on will put you in Aschenputtel territory quick-smart.

You’ll promise yourself not to get caught up in the whole thing, but the look on your mother’s face when you step up onto the pedestal make you think there’s something special about it, underneath all the ridiculous fuss. Once the veil goes on, it’s all over. You’re a vision in lace and there’s no turning back.

Step Nine: Pinteresting

You’ll find many beautiful wedding ideas on Pinterest. You will, however, have to wade through people who think carving a lace pattern into a watermelon is a perfectly valid use of one’s time.


Tread wisely. Gaze too long into the abyss, and the abyss will hand you a glue gun.

Step Ten: Be Our Guest

I will say this now: there is literally no way to do this without a) going way over budget or b) mortally offending a family member. My advice is to cut something inconsequential and pony up the dough for an extra chicken dinner for that great aunt nobody ever sees. She’s not starting the Seven Years’ War with your mother-in-law, you get a nice card out of it, everyone feels good. Life is too short.

Have pillows on hand for snacking when you do your seating chart, because some relatives won’t sit with other ones on account of the whole feud started at the last goddamn wedding. Thanks a bunch, Cousin With Strong Feelings About Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays That You “Accidentally” Unfriended on Facebook. Thanks a fucking bunch.


Before you know it, the day will be upon you. You’ve hunted people down for their RSVPs, you’ve sold a kidney (not your kidney, but a kidney) to pay for everything, and you’ve buffed your skin to that new car shine. It’s time to get married.

Of course, the morning of the wedding you will be so nervous that you inform your maid of honour that you are about to hork. She will pitilessly throw you, fully clothed, into a cold shower. You will be reminded of why you chose her for the job.

Your hair will be kind of awful. One of your bridesmaids will hand you scissors to fix the raggedy bits. Your photographer will note that not many brides can be found cutting their bangs an hour before the ceremony.

Your dad will cry when he sees you in your dress. Your mom’s hands will shake as she fixes your veil.

You will be late to the ceremony. Your husband-to-be will check his pocket watch at the altar, but you won’t know until later when your father-in-law confides that he had a moment of panic. Just a little one.

You will see him at the end of the aisle and wonder how you ever lived without him, this man with the green eyes who knows your heart like no other. When you say your vows, you will feel an invisible thread that connects you not only to him, but to everyone who’s ever stood in front of their loved ones and said these words, this covenant of something so much older and more sacred than you have ever imagined before this moment.

You will laugh during all your photos, toasting with chicken nuggets procured from Wendy’s by the best man’s brilliant wife. You will laugh harder still at the toasts and jokes and Bill Cosby impressions at the reception. You and your entire bridal party will rap the entire theme from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

You will cry during your first dance. It will only get worse when you dance with your father.

You will dance until the lights come on and they kick you out, guests partying all the way out the door in their glowstick bracelets and crowns.

Step Twelve: Happily Ever After


Step Thirteen: “So When Are You Gonna Have a Baby?”

Buy more pillows.

The Black Velvet Band

St. Patrick’s Day isn’t really a holiday I celebrate. I do have Irish heritage; the O’Sullivans came over from Kilkenny several generations ago and dropped the O somewhere along the way to become just Sullivan, my last name at birth before my parents’ marriage. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when they arrived here. Despite the fact that it’s become trendy to be Irish, it’s not something I think about much, and I certainly don’t connect it with green beer or fake accents that sound like they came wrapped in cellophane at the bottom of the Lucky Charms box. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone else’s fun, it’s just not for me. It’s not my story.

Well, not quite. St. Paddy’s Day seven years ago is an exception. I remember that there was a little house full of people rattling the rafters with booming voices singing about pretty colleens. That was the day my grandmother was buried.

You’d think us awful if you’re used to the more sombre affairs that funerals generally are. There was no real talk of how it was a lovely service or that the flowers were beautiful. Instead, we sent our matriarch off with songs and laughter and not a little irreverence. Wallowing and sniffling was not her way, nor was it ours.


There’s no right way to write about her. I’ve tried so many times. I couldn’t speak at her funeral for the tears, but even with dry eyes, what can I say? What words do I have in my vocabulary to make you understand what she meant to me, to all of us?

I could start by telling you about her faith, all the mornings with whispered hail Marys and prayer cards to St. Anne. How the last time I ever spoke with her she ran calloused fingers over her prayer beads and explained to me the Mysteries of the Rosary, glorious and joyful and luminous and sorrowful, and how that moment standing by her hospital bed could be described as any of those things. I could tell you about her little quirks, the shirts stained with food and socks full of holes, the way she called her doctor Fuck-Knuckles when she disagreed with any diagnosis he offered, or the way she was almost as faithful to The Young & The Restless (and Victor Newman) as she was to God himself. I could tell you that her eyes were tired from a life not always kind to her, but that the way they crinkled up when she laughed made you think of what she must have been like when her face was unlined and her fingers held neither knots nor rings.

But children are selfish about their caretakers, because the only way we’ve ever known them is in relation to us. I can’t speculate about what her hopes and dreams must have been, because I have no idea. To me, she’s a branch on the family tree too high to see clearly.


I remember it snowed on St. Paddy’s Day that year, with big fat flakes fluttering down as we left the graveside service. I thought that it must have been her way of saying goodbye, or reminding us to wear gloves.

Before long, her tiny house was full of people, neighbours and friends and so, so many people she’d had a hand in bringing into the world. I remember thinking about how she’d given birth in that very same house with her own mother as the midwife. It’s no wonder that even in the face of death, all we could do was think about how so much life had come from her, the joyful mysteries overtaking the sorrowful.

It was a kitchen party, so of course guitars appeared as though out of thin air. We sang songs about Paper Rosie and Mary of the wild moor and Sarah, Sarah, won’t you come out tonight, when someone mentioned an old Irish ballad my grandmother had used to sing. Stories started pouring out then, the older children remembering her singing it to the younger, the younger children remembering her singing it to the grandchildren. Little by little, the voices started to chime together and sing The Black Velvet Band, the words coming out in unison like a muscle memory of something we’d all forgotten we knew. We sang as loudly as we could as if she would somehow hear us, babies singing a lullaby to a mother already sound asleep.

It’s the only St. Patrick’s Day I really have any memory of, because it’s the only one with a real connection. Who I am has nothing to do with shamrocks. Where I come from has more to do with a woman whose eyes, they shone like the diamonds, so you’d think she was queen of the land.


As my mother so delicately put it, our ragtag little family came together because of “a beautiful, drunken mistake.”

I know what she means. My parents were barely out of their teens when their casual relationship resulted in yours truly. The year surrounding my birth is a story in and of itself, involving wacky misunderstandings, dramatic reveals, bar brawls, and a vengeful ex-girlfriend, but it’s not my story to tell. Somehow they managed to scrape together whatever bits of maturity they had and make a home, but it’s a hardscrabble sort of life for two overgrown kids with a baby. There was never enough money, never enough time to catch up. They did what they could to keep the plates spinning.

When I was seven, our tiny tin-roofed trailer took in a boarder. Craig was the guitarist in my dad’s band and a professional couch nomad. He explained to me once that he didn’t have a permanent address and just floated around wherever he felt like it. I asked him once if he was like The Littlest Hobo.

“Well, shit,” he said thoughtfully. “I guess I am that fuckin’ dog. Just goin’ around the road and shit. Except I guess I never saved someone from no goddamn train car or whatever it is he fuckin’ does. I just kill the locals with sick guitar solos and fuck off out of it.”

He always talked like that. He didn’t mean anything by it, but his speech was peppered with as many “fuck”s and “shit”s as there were nouns. Every sentence was a work of art in the medium of sheer profanity. My mother furrowed her brow at the way he spoke, but studiously ignored it in exchange for rent and the fact that he was willing to engage me in rambling conversation so she could get dinner on the table.

Once you got past the language, Craig had a strange way with children. At a somewhat brainy seven, I was used to being condescended to or treated as an adorable sideshow, but he treated me like a well-admired peer who just happened to be really short and obsessed with ponies.

“Whatcha readin’ today, li’l mama?”

I looked up from the ancient copy of National Geographic. “I’m learning about Burkina Faso.”

“You know most girlies your age are readin’ about unicorns and magic fuckin’ kittens and shit? That’s pretty supremely fuckin’ cool. Who the shit is Burkina Faso?”

“It’s a country,” I said. “Not a person.”

“That’s good enough for me. I bet you can tell me all the fuck about it now, so let’s hear it.”

And so it went. I’d go off excitedly about whatever new information I’d just picked up, and he’d actually listen. I don’t think he retained any of it, just like I forgot all the chords he tried to show me, but like any two people who aren’t used to being heard, we had an understanding.

“I tell you, mama, you’re fuckin’ goin’ places.” He’d say this all the time, but on this particular day, there was a note of melancholy in it. I peered owlishly at him through my glasses as he pulled a cigarette from behind his ear and lit it.

After a beat, he spoke again. “You listen to me, kiddo. You’re special. A real diamond. Don’t become no cocksuckin’ washout like me.”

“You’re not a washout.” I said it because I believed it rather than out of any sense of loyalty. Craig played a bluesy Lohengrin on his electric guitar for my Barbie weddings. Sometimes he would play it with his teeth and play it well. How could he not be magic?

“Li’l mama, I sleep on your fuckin’ couch and play guitar for a living. That ain’t nothin’ anyone needs to be proud of.”

“Dad does that. I’m proud of my dad.”

He puffed on his cigarette. “That’s different. For one, your daddy don’t sleep on no couch, he sleeps in a bed with one of the hottest pieces of ass I’ve ever seen, if you’ll excuse me saying so about your mom.”

I nodded, mostly because I had no idea what he was talking about.

“Second of all, that ain’t all your daddy is. He does it for you. He loves his tunes, but he loves you more. Me, I do this shit because there’s fuckall else I wanna do, which ain’t no way to live your life. You listen to me. You gotta have something to do it for.”

“Do what?”

“Anything. Fuckin’ anything. You make goddamn sure you have a reason.”

He moved out that Sunday.

It’s been a lot of years since that trailer and a whole lot of life since that little girl. I haven’t gone to any of the places in National Geographic or the ones I was supposed to go in Craig’s head. Lately, I’ve been having a crisis of wondering why I bother with writing. I fall asleep on my own couch after hours of trying to produce something readable and it’s so, so frustrating. I don’t know that I’ll ever do much of anything with it, but it’s enough to have a reason. See, I finally decided that I’m going to push on with it regardless in search of maybe someday finding and making something special.

A real fuckin’ diamond.

A Very Special Episode

“Good night, honey,” Mom said, tucking the blankets close around me. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Night, Mom,” I replied sleepily. “Have a good night at work.”

Mom worked as a bartender at the local pub. I knew it wasn’t a job she loved, but it was a necessity at the moment, since it paid well in tips and we needed the money. She would put me to bed before her shift started. It was important to her to go through our usual routine; read a book (though it had turned to me reading the books to her — for practice, she said, but I think she just liked it), brush my teeth, and braid my hair. I loved when she would brush my hair gently, as I yawned and breathed in a mouthful of her perfume. Dad tried his best, but he always pulled too hard and it looked messy afterwards.

It was that way for a few years, up until I was nine or so. It was the same year I started to realize that all those insipid family shows I watched were telling me that my family wasn’t normal. Other mothers stayed at home, or worked nine to five at nondescript office jobs. Other dads didn’t play in bands, or let their bassists sleep on their couches for months at a time. Other families had big houses for their happy middle-class families, and would have been shocked at us, the Three Musketeers, this merry trio living in a tin-roofed trailer.

Most of the time, it didn’t occur to me to be upset by this. I loved our family, and the way we all had fun together in that little trailer. I loved the way the kitchen was slightly downhill and the way the rain sounded like maracas on the roof. I didn’t think to be ashamed of the fact that all my clothes had belonged to my older cousin, or that we had a makeshift ping-pong table made from a card table with a board in the middle and copies of “The Pokey Little Puppy” for paddles. Around Grade 3, I became aware that this wasn’t quite the norm. I felt like Adam and Eve after eating from the Tree of Knowledge, and wished I could go back.

That Halloween, I came in from trick-or-treating with a threadbare pillow case full of loot. My face was sticky from the rain on my vampire makeup and traces of caramel on my lips. Dad was leaning back on our couch, playing a beat-up electric guitar.

“Hi, angel,” he smiled through notes of Tom Petty, “I hope you’re going to share some of that.”

“I will, but there’s not much left. I ate some of it on the way. I kind of have a stomach-ache now.”

Dad wasn’t the fuss-over-you type. He expressed concern, but not in a worried way like Mom would. She was at work again, this time at a double shift.

“Go have a glass of water. I’ll help take care of some of this candy,” Dad said.

I would have had some water, if I had not been struck with an immediate urge to go to the bathroom. It was there that I was met with a sight that was not uncommon for Halloween — blood. Unfortunately, this blood was not fake, and it was in a place where I was not expecting it.

I wasn’t ignorant. I knew full well what it was, since my parents were always very open and honest, and never minded me looking through the more diagram-y parts of the encyclopedia. This was a beautiful moment in a young girl’s life, and I was blossoming like a flower into womanhood. I never got why monthly bleeding was supposed to be beautiful, and I certainly didn’t see any beauty right then, with my running pancake makeup in that tiny bathroom lit by a single bulb. My mother wasn’t around to offer any answers. For the first time in my life, I found myself wishing for a different family, one where a smiling matronly type (Meredith Baxter Birney, maybe) would pat my back and hand me a product-placed pad and tell me that this was very special, right before taking me out for ice cream sundaes. Instead, my mother was in some seedy bar, serving up Labatt’s Blue to drunks who wore their hair “business in the front, party in the back.”

My father, bless his heart, tried his best. Upon my dispassionate declaration that I had begun to menstruate, he paused mid-song and blinked at me, before stuttering out a congratulations and asking if I, you know, needed anything. I replied that no, the good manufacturers at Always pretty much had that in the bag, but that I was going to bed and I would be taking the remainder of my chocolate with me, thanks ever so much.

I was stirred awake a few hours later by Mom pushing my unbrushed hair away from my face and smiling at me. Her perfume was mingling with cigarette smoke, and that mother smell that she always had no matter what.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she whispered softly, “I just wanted to see how you were doing. Dad told me.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled sleepily, “Being grown-up isn’t much fun so far.”

“It gets better,” she lied, kissing me on the forehead and tucking me in again. She turned to leave, and paused on her way out the door. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here, baby. You know I would have if I could have.”

She didn’t stay at the bartending job forever. Things got better financially for us over time, and I learned to grudgingly accept the monthly reminder that if there is a God, he’s either a misogynist or a sadist or both. That tiny, poorly-lit bathroom is long gone now, but I still remember the stickiness of the makeup on my face and the muffled sounds of my dad’s guitar from the living room. I still remember how unfair it felt that my introduction to womanhood made me feel helpless and angry about circumstances that neither I nor my mother could control.

Every Halloween, I think that I’d like to meet up at that bar with Eve and my mom. I’d buy them apple martinis and we’d share the laugh of war buddies. We get it, the three of us.


Hypothesis: Any relationship between any two people lasting longer than a month will have at least one long-running argument that spans the entire course of said relationship.

Corollary: Said argument will be over something absolutely bone-fuck stupid. The level of viciousness of said argument will be directly proportional to the stupidity of the topic at hand.

Example 1: The parking lot outside my office does not have delineated parking spaces. A co-worker of mine (I will call him Patrick, as that is his name) showed up one morning at the same time as me. I pulled into a spot next to the one he was backing into at a glacial pace. At halfway in the spot, I saw him mutter something and pull out to move several spaces down. I shrugged and gathered my stuff to go inside, but he caught up with me.

“You cut me off,” he pouted. “I was backing into that spot.”

“Er, no,” I said, “You were backing into the spot next to mine.”

He pointed back at the space between my car and the next one, asking testily how he was expected to fit his car in there. I looked at the sizable empty space.  I looked back at him. I looked at his car, a Ford Focus. I asked him which breakfast cereal he’d gotten his driver’s license out of, hazarding a guess that he was a Cocoa Pebbles kind of guy. Things only escalated from there, with a day-long argument involving impartial observers being pulled away from their desks to look at how I’d somehow prevented him from putting a mid-sized car into a space spanning roughly the size of Iceland. (Alright, maybe not Iceland. Equatorial Guinea, then.)

That was roughly two months ago. Now as we get coffee from the break room, he narrates his every movement to make sure I don’t cut him off. I tell him that his car, like so many other things in his life, is not as big as he thinks it is. I anticipate that this will continue until one of is fired or killed.

Example 2: My parents, desperately in love as they are, come close to divorce at least once a year over one of the following things:

  • Tinsel on the Christmas tree (my father says it’s festive, my mother argues that it looks like robot diarrhea)
  • Bubble wrap (my father says it’s fun to pop for hours, my mother has started to get a twitch whenever it’s nearby)
  • The video camera (my mother says it’s important to document important moments in our family, my father quite reasonably says that him drinking his morning coffee in a robe that leaves little to the imagination is NOT an important family moment)

Example 3: I have not even the words to get into the debacle from my relationship with J, but I assure you that if you ever play the word “za” in Scrabble for 24 points and triple word score, it’s probably best if you leave before the cops show up because shit is about to get very real indeed.

Conclusion: Long-running arguments provide a sense of comfort and familiarity in a relationship, a home base to return to when other conflicts get too hard to deal with. It can be about nostalgia, foreplay, or just plain fun, but the fact is that a relationship needs at least one good conflict to be able to survive.

Alternate conclusion: People are sort of dumb and za is NOT A WORD.