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2004-02-23 | 1:29 a.m.

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout…

Sometimes I feel as if I am the oldest person in the world. I know it isn’t true, yet somehow I am the only person I know who remembers certain things. Does Nancy Sinatra exist, or did I make her up?

It was Friday the 13th. I had decided to be brisk and a little grim. I wore my favorite black cotton sweater, black cotton skirt, black tights, black boots. No jewelry. Nothing borrowed, nothing blue.

At the gas station, a radio news program reported that people were still flocking to City Hall by the hundreds. I asked Duff if we couldn’t put it off. Twice. I wasn’t thrilled to be doing this at all, and I certainly didn’t want to be part of a circus. He said no, he didn’t want to lose his registration fee.

We had the kids and my mother in the car, but we hadn’t told them why. We just said we needed to fill out some paperwork. Which was true.

The steps were crowded with people and there was a CNN truck among the TV trucks parked on the plaza.

“Oh, no,” I groaned.

Inside was crowded, yet orderly. I went in alone, while Duff parked, and because I had an appointment I was allowed to pass all the same-sex couples who had been waiting for hours. Years.

I felt guilty. I felt weird. I felt sort of… proud, and amused, and embarrassed, and glad I had picked this place, where the focus was not on me, and my little family could be a part of history, even if it was accidental.

My mother was quietly thrilled. She hardly ever gets to go anywhere, and now here she was, not only at San Francisco City Hall, where she had never been before, but right in the middle of Tonight’s Top Story! And if she had ever before wavered on the subject of gay marriage (and I honestly don’t know if she had), you would never have guessed it. She was genuinely happy. Everybody in the whole damn building was happy. My gaydar is none too sharp, but I swear everybody who was working in the clerk’s office that day, with the exception of the Assessor-Recorder, Mabel Teng (whom I believe spoke to us personally, though why I find that so impressive I cannot say), was gay or lesbian. Imagine what a party it must have been for them, after years of handing out marriage licenses to nothing but straight couples (and maybe placing the occasional bet on which ones wouldn’t last, and who was secretly a closet case, oh, definitely.)

“Is this the busiest day ever?” I asked the charming, gorgeous young clerk who helped us.

“Oh, definitely,” he said with a laugh. “It’s fun, though.”

I couldn’t sustain a snit in this atmosphere, though I never crossed over into genuine happiness, either. My mother finally figured out what was going on, and she said, “If I had known why we were coming here, we could have gotten some flowers.”

“Nah,” I said. “As it was, we were forty minutes late without any of that stuff.”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said. Then she twisted off a thin diamond band and insisted that I wear it on my pinky finger. She said I should wear something of hers, since I was wearing my father’s watch. I said I didn’t need to wear something of hers to remind me of her, since I actually had her with me, but she kept at me until I put it on.

As one pair of tall white men passed through the doors of the clerk’s office, carrying a pair of dark-skinned toddler twins in their Baby Bjorns, my mother whispered, “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen them on TV.” Another gay couple, older, passed us as they were leaving. One of them was gaunt, with sunken cheekbones, and I assumed the worst. He held up his new marriage license and, as the people in line cheered, said, “We made it.”

The straight couples turned out to be worth watching, too. There was one Japanese pair who had brought their parents and other relatives, and all the older women were wearing traditional kimonos. And bear in mind that all of these people are walking around and sitting in an area smaller than my bedroom. Only in San Francisco, as they say.

Eventually they called our names and we went into a private chamber with a woman wearing one of those black graduation robes, a commissioner, whose name I never did hear all the way through. She recited the without-a-ring vows and we said our “I dos,” took a couple of pictures, and left. As we walked down the hall, Felony asked me why nobody had cheered for us, as they had for the others. I said they probably didn’t realize we had gotten married, but must have thought we came for someone else’s. After all, we had no rings, no flowers, no fancy clothes on; just three kids, one white-haired old lady, and a red file folder. We weren’t even walking out together.

Felony said “oh” and I could tell she was a little disappointed, but for once I didn’t want to make her happier. This was a bureaucratic adjustment, not a fairy tale ending. I hope someday she will understand.

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