I knew if there was any miracle involved it would be that the marriage and the baby might come before friends, before cigarettes and beer and parties. There's a miracle for you, that the marriage would plant itself in the nine-to-five world where there it's fifty bucks for a big box of diapers and twenty for the right kind of formula, and no one blows off a job with a lame call-in excuse because they lack the self-discipline to get up in the cold dark and get to work.
As I leafed through my book of cynicism, we waited for the young Asian couple who had signed in with the court first to be married. I watched them shuffle about embarrassed and discomfited throughout the ceremony, and then, when the black-robed gray-headed judge insisted twice that they exchange a kiss, they balked, shaking their heads at first time, and then once more, and finally the judge gave up and said "All right, then . . . "
As they simply continued to stand in front of him waiting for whatever was to come after, I thought about other places, other people, and about the way a whole lot of young American couples would've performed a tongue-kiss thinking that made everything real and true, and how all that brazenness might seem disrespectful to this young couple who did not touch, not hands, not arms, instead shaking their heads each time the judge spoke, but deferential all the while.
I knew they were Vietnamese, because I heard the name "Nguyen." I am old enough now that the name reminded me of all the 21-inch segments of black-and-white life in the sixties, the battles across the sea and here at home. The name also echoed the paranoia when the refugees flooded into Fort Chaffee, and finally in memory of the Vietnamese who arrived in the town where I lived twenty-five or so years ago and began to work harder than all the rest of us.
Now, in a time when Vietnam veterans are gray-headed or bald like me, I see mostly Anglo first names attached to the family names from that far-away country, and I hear local accents, accents like that of the young man in the judge's chamber, all-American in dress, in haircut, mannerisms.
But the young woman, I thought, should be wearing an ao dai—the traditional dress. She seemed shy beyond measure, tongue-tied before the brassy judge, maybe afraid that man of authority might think she's here to offer only a mumbled accented green-card-seeking "yes" in the brightly lit sterile courtroom, fearing that refusing to kiss the young man would be the sort of thing that might draw the wrong kind of questions.
The judge, I expect was far too busy and distracted to notice, but I thought perhaps her witness would understand. Vietnamese also, I guessed, all straight gray hair, unsmiling face, poplin zip-up jacket, khaki pants. Silent like the young couple, but even more still, no hugs, no handshake, only pointing a palm-size digital camera, snapping once, snapping twice, maybe to offer picture-proof for someone nine thousand miles away waiting.
In that flashing moment of uncomfortable silence, as my mind journey from the place I didn't want to be, my wife stood and asked "Would you like me to take a picture of the three of you together?" and the boy said "Yes," and smiled for the first time.
The witness silently handed over his camera, his expression unchanged, and I began wondered about the things he carried that brought him to a courtroom so far away from all that I imagined rested in his wake—refugee camps, and leaky boats, and perhaps the victor's reeducation, and I wondered about his life there, if he had dealt in the secrets of the night to save his family, or maybe he had a little shop to sell black market trinkets, or perhaps he had been one who signed up to help us prop up the domino and would've been killed if he stayed. Or maybe, yes, it could be that his quiet eyes and straight-up posture had been earned crawling tunnel-deep to brace himself against the walls as the dust shivered down from the bombs falling five miles out of the silent sky.
I wanted to ask, but I didn't go, and so it would have only been another misbegotten invasion to seek his story. And so all I could do was think about Jerry, my cousin from Tennessee, and Richard, and Carl with the new lieutenant's bars, and the kid from the next town south whose face I can see but name I cannot remember, all them dead there so far away.
My wife snapped one picture, and then another, and wished them good luck, and the old man took the camera with a nod, and the young man smiled and said thanks, and the girl still said nothing.
And then the couple we were to witness took their place before the judge as the newly married pair and their witness left, taking their story with them out of my imagination.
I was left to hear the same words said once more, and this time the young man did tongue-kiss the young woman, but at least not so brazenly that anyone might notice. And then there were lots of words from all the people there about happily every after because the young woman was clad in a princess gown.
I said nothing, but I would've liked that the witness, the Vietnamese man, to have stayed to listen, and I wondered what he might have said about such a thing, this happily ever after, and where to go to find it.
Gary Presley's work has appeared in Salon.com, the Washington Post, the New York Times, but best of all, in a previous issue of Poor Mojo's Almanac. He's an associate editor for The Internet Review of Books, but he really enjoys best writing creative nonfiction essays.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar: