It all started with a dare, a dare made five years ago.

“We could do it today,” he said.

“You think I won’t?” I said.

He grinned at me. I dare you.

“I don’t back down. You dare me and I won’t back down.”

He kept grinning. Yeah, right.

“I will. I can do it,” I said. And to prove it, I walked across to a phone book on a shelf and opened it to the blue pages which list city services. I walked back to the table where he sat and laid it open. Then I picked up the phone and held it my right hand.

“I can do it,” I said. “I can do it right now.”

He looked away, feigning amusement.

On the outside, he looked calmer than me — less dared. On the inside, I learned a few years later, he was terrified.

“Did you think we would make it?” I asked him this morning over a bagel and lox at a restaurant called, appropriately enough, The Bagel. He was eating matzo ball soup and was breaking the softball-sized ball into smaller pieces with his spoon.

“No,” he said.

“Neither did I.”

We didn’t think we would make it. Some rational part of our brains, or at least mine, thought it would be crazy to do it like this, but there I was doing it.

On December 2, 2o02, on a day that snowed like it did today, we stood in front of a judge in the Cook County Courthouse on Dearborn Street in Chicago and said — and I still can’t believe it now — “I do.”

I was wearing a red jacket, one I used to teach in all the time, and he was wearing a brown check jacket he used to teach in. And in less than three minutes, without really knowing how or why, we said, “I do.”

The moment after we said it, we both stared at each other and instead of dread, there was a sense, for me, at least, of relief. Finally.

We got married on a dare one Thanksgiving weekend five years ago, and even now, I marvel at our guts. We got married even though we had only spent, at most, three months together at one time, and that was three years before. We were still discovering each other. Still figuring it out. And there we were standing in front of judge, who just seconds before had been leaning back in a chair with his feet on the desk reading the newspaper. His black robe hung around the back of the chair, a pair of limp black wings. His cup of coffee stood on the desk next to his feet. Brian and I had entered the empty waiting room, slightly nervous. Tacked on the wall above a row of gray plastic chairs was a garland of white plastic flowers. We sat beneath it. While we waited, I heard the receptionist behind the window speaking into the phone. “He needs to bring forty dollars, the license and his bride.”

Forty dollars, the license, and the bride.

Brian and I had split the forty dollars. Two days before, the day after Thanksgiving, we came to a near empty courthouse and applied for the marriage license. The room to purchase marriage licenses was deserted because of the holiday and we walked past the ropes to a clerk at the counter. It took ten minutes to fill out the paperwork, and when he asked for forty dollars, Brian and I each gave him twenty.

Then we had a day to think about it.

We planned to return the next morning, to appear before the judge which would seal the marriage, and that morning, Brian got sick. Nervous sick. I saw him doubled over on the edge of the bed and thought, “This ain’t happening today.”

And it didn’t. And I let it it go. We had planned on a long engagement and that was okay with me too. So we enjoyed our weekend in a city emptied of its people because of the Thanksgiving holiday. On Monday, the day Brian was to fly back to Connecticut, I watched him pack and thought about what we would do on the last day of his stay in Chicago.

“Why did you change your mind?” I asked him years later.

We were eating breakfast. Brian hovered over his cereal bowl and the newspaper. “When we didn’t get married the day we were supposed to go back, I felt sad. I felt like we should have gotten married. So, the next day, I thought we should go back and get married.”

I have a picture of him of that day, standing in front of my apartment, with the snow falling in thick flakes around him. He was slightly hunched as if the snowflakes hurt when they landed. We walked to the El station and from the train we watched the snow fall over the city.

“Isn’t it pretty?” I said.

And when we emerged from the subway tunnel onto Dearborn Street the snow had already begun to accumulate downtown and there was at least three or four inches on the sidewalks as we walked back to the courthouse. When we entered the building, we brushed snowflakes from our shoulders and our hats.

And, eventually, there we were in front of the Judge. He words seemed to float quickly above my head and I said, “I do,” in the pause of his words, and I heard Brian say, “I do,” in the second pause. I remember hearing the Judge say, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” as he bent over to sign the license.

Brian and I looked at each other, and without prompt, kissed. The whole ceremony lasted three minutes. Within another minute we were being ushered out of the office, before they could move us out, I asked the receptionist to take one picture of us in the Judge’s office. And then we were in the hallway, moving up the escalator, and out on the street.

We were married.

We had lunch at Italian Village downtown and by four o’clock that afternoon he was on a plane back to Connecticut.

That first year we didn’t think we would make it. I tell people now that eloping when you don’t know much about each other is a tough way to go. When we got married, it was all about faith. Underneath it all, I just knew that we were supposed to be married. That despite not knowing much about each other we had to be married. Somewhere, somehow, something meaningful would come of our being married. I remember a story I read once about a psychic who was about to get on a plane and as he was boarding he realized that the plane was going to crash and — this is the part that gets me — he knew he still had to get on it. If the plane was going to crash, he knew he had to take that journey. The plane did have a problem in the air, and miraculously, it landed safely. Eloping, in retrospect, felt like getting on a plane that I knew could crash. I had to do it anyway, because I still had to take that journey. In the first year and even a little bit beyond that faith was tested more than once. But, here we are, still married. Playing music, raising our three little animals, writing songs.

We did all right, considering it all started with a dare.

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