On Tuesday, I woke up a married woman.
I went to bed a single one.
Some days are just like that.
So let’s backtrack about 7 years.
It was the evening of my wedding, and a good time was being had by all. We didn’t have a wedding and reception so much as we had a catered party with a boring ceremonial prologue. Beyond the marriage itself, there was little else in the way of formal events: no first dance, no speechifying (beyond some charmingly short ones offered by a couple of friends) and all that other stuff that came with.
And then there was the open wine bar. People were enjoying the wine bar, which we’d stocked with random assortments of wine we’d picked up over the course of a week or so. “It’s like being at a wine tasting,” one guest told us happily, “except we get to swallow without being yelled out.” I think she meant ‘yelled at,’ but she’d really been enjoying the aforementioned swallowing, so who knows.
In other words, the marriage was important, but we’d given a lot more thought to how we would entertain our guests. Which is why the caterer, who had gotten to know us over the past couple of months and had developed a fairly accurate assessment of our intelligence, thought to ask while he was packing up: “Did you get the paperwork done?”
“What?” I said. “What paperwork?”
“You know,” he said. “The marriage license. You need to get the minister and witnesses to sign it.”
“…oh,” I said.
I looked out over the dark garden and thought about the wine bar. “Uh oh,” I said.
So by the light of a car’s dome light, our minister — one of the Guy’s best friends — and two of our witnesses signed off on the paperwork. I would like to point out that only one of them was completely sober, and that was the one from the bride’s party.
Adding to the complexity was the fact that there was Britishness to take into account. Also the fact that we weren’t entirely sure what county Saratoga city was in. “How do you spell–” got mixed up with, “Maybe San Mateo? Or Santa Clara?” and in a burst of enthusiasm and bonhomie, our British friends cheerfully wrote in both.
“Good enough,” someone decided, and toasted our marriage.
I just have to say this. The state of California has no absolutely no sense of humor when it comes to marriage licenses. Ironic, when you consider the constantly revolving state of marriage in California.
“You can’t do that,” the clerk told us in Redwood City when we came to turn it in. “You can’t cross things out or use whiteout on the form.”
“They were British,” we said apologetically.
“Can you get it fixed?” she asked.
We looked at each other. This is the problem with British people. Eventually, they go home. Ours had gone home. Or gone traveling. Or — generally speaking, were no longer available, mostly. “Um,” we said.
Now, here’s what I will swear to my dying day happened next. The clerk accepted the form, and informed us that while she would record us as officially married, we had to submit a corrected form in order to get a certified copy of the marriage. This would be something we’d need for assorted legal reasons in the future, but was not critical at present.
Okay, we said, we’ll take care of it. And then we went away. And in subsequent months we actually did try to take care of it, but two of the witnesses were traveling all the time, and neither of them were what you’d call conveniently situated in the same country as the others at any given moment, and eventually we just sort of … gave it up as a wash.
“We’ll see them all again eventually,” the Guy said. I was fine with that.
Fast forward to this week. We are headed to England on Monday, and for the first time since 2004, we will be seeing all the guilty parties in the course of two weeks. It was a perfect opportunity to get delinquent signatures. With that praiseworthy motive, I called up the San Mateo County Clerk’s office on Tuesday to find out how to get a copy of the paperwork and a new form.
“When did you say you were married?” the clerk said after doing some investigation in their system.
I told her.
There was a long, long silence.
“And what did you say your name was?”
I told her again.
“Could you spell that? Is that your married name or your birth name?”
I repeated it all for her. Reader, I hadn’t changed my name at marriage. “–so now you’re just making me nervous,” I told her.
“Well,” she said. “Let me spell that back for you to make sure I got it right.”
And a few seconds later, she said, “I don’t have any marriage recorded for you.”
“Under that date?” I finished helpfully, in case she’d gotten something mixed up.
“At all,” she said.
I have to say, there wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in that statement.
After the not entirely unreasonable burst of hysterical laughter, I made several thoughtless statements that I will never live down with the I/T department, who sit next to me in the office. To wit:
- “Are you telling me I’m not actually married?”
- “Now I just feel cheated.”
- “Aw, my poor little bastard kid.”
- “Shit. I wonder if he’ll marry me again.”
The background hum of conversation on my entire half of the floor stopped during this admittedly ill-advised monologue. It was a little hard to hear over the subsequent gales of mirth. (For the record, it took almost two days for the I/T department to stop laughing about this. Every so often when I pass by their cubes, I still get the occasional glance and giggle.)
“What the hell?” I asked the clerk.
I stand by my version of what happened with that clerk from 7 years ago. The one I was speaking to now didn’t question my story, which I have to say was nice of her. I don’t know how often she’s had to break the news of unexpected single statehood to wives in the past, but I’m willing to bet that the usual reaction doesn’t involve laughter. Or, okay, cackling.
So this, apparently, is what that clerk 7 years ago should have told us.
- We could not submit a marriage license with errors.
- We had up to a year to fix it.
- If we didn’t fix it in time, they wouldn’t record it as a legal marriage.
- The end.
“Well, that sort of sucks,” I said. “We’ve been filing taxes and getting mortgages and stuff. What do we do now? Lose our house and get audited?”
No, apparently not.
“We’ll have to get married again,” I told the Guy that night.
He said nothing.
“So you’ll get to live up to that thing you always say when I ask you if you would do it all again if you had the chance,” I said brightly. “You know, not many guys get to put their money where their mouth is.”
He said nothing.
“Do you want to get married again?” I said, after giving him ample opportunity to step up and be a man.
“I’m thinking,” he said.
If any of you should ever get into this kind of situation in the future, rest easy. Apparently, this is something that happens often enough that the state of California has something called a “Declaration of Marriage.” This is a document that you and the (reluctant) spouse must go into the county clerk’s office to attest to together. They make you fill in your personal details, backdate to the day you were married, sign, then raise your hand and take an oath swearing the facts are as stated. Then you take the form away and have one or two witnesses who were present at your wedding sign as well.
“Of course, it’s not like we’d know the difference,” the clerk at Santa Clara County’s offices told us. “You could just go and grab any random stranger off the street.”
I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to tell us that.
“And when do we have to turn this back into you by?” I asked.
The clerk, a nice and obviously intelligent young man who’d listened to our story with every appearance of enjoyment, regarded me thoughtfully. “Let’s say … ASAP,” he said.
It was a learning opportunity, I told the clerk. “And now we know for next time,” I said cheerfully.
“Hm,” he said.
We got the form done at the clerk’s on Thursday morning. Hobbes enjoyed it tremendously; this time around, we got to have our son with us. He didn’t entirely approve of the kiss we exchanged — in jest — to commemorate the occasion. Thursday evening, the Guy dropped the paperwork off at our friends’ house. That night, she and her husband signed off on it. This morning, I dropped it off in the post office box.
So congratulate me. I’m married. Again.
Meanwhile, I’ve started an email to my son.
“Dear heart, let me tell you about the three days you were a bastard.
First of all, it wasn’t my fault….”
Needless to say, news of my marital difficulties made the rounds at work. My boss kindly gave me some time off to go get married again.
She called me later that night to ask me to file a feature request we’d been talking about earlier that day. I was on my way home, so I took the call in my car. “No problem,” I said. “I’ll do it as soon as I get home.”
Well, ‘as soon as I get home’ inevitably turned into, ‘as soon as I pick up some groceries, make dinner, feed my family, wrestle him into bed, clean up the kitchen, clean up the living room–’
She emailed me to ask me if I’d done the feature request yet. “I’m just about to,” I wrote back. “Hold on–”
And it occurred to me that technically, this was my wedding night.
And technically, my boss had knowingly called me on my wedding night to ask me to do some work. “Someone needs to talk to HR about our work/life balance here,” I wrote on the feature request, because I am very professional. “Making someone work on their wedding night is just cruel.”
“Yes, but why should I listen to you?” my boss said, when I pointed this out to her in the morning. “You were living in sin for 7 years and lying about it.”
Well, there is that.
- A Good Idea Followed by a Bad Idea
- Childrens’ Day and other things
- Stories on an afternoon drive
- Bring your kids to work day
- Tech support.
- A little daring
- I don’t know about you….
- A little bit of validation
- In which good intentions mean diddly-squat
- Things I need to remember not to forget
- Sometimes they will surprise you
- England and other errata