Say Yes to the Best

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John Paschal’s ideal best man has evolved over time to reflect his maturing values.

I have often wondered, over the jagged course of my life, what kind of best man I would have. Early on, in those years when marriage seemed far away and patently unappealing, I envisioned a suitably loyal but seriously crazy party animal, a best man who, to put it mildly, displayed some truly childish qualities, and who, like me, had seen Bachelor Party enough to know that only a night of “drugs to the right, hookers to the left,” transgender trollops who double as BMW mechanics and exotic dancers who perform with Max the Magical Sexual Mule could usher in the miracle of impending marriage.

Essentially, I saw matrimony as a way to have a really kick-ass stag party, just as some women—hey, you know who you are, you’re the ones whose honeymoons, shall we say, are over—get married less for the marriage and more for the wedding, an overblown Say Yes to the Dress-inspired princess pageant that’s not so much about “us” as it is about “me,” and by “me” I mean an immature egocentric who’d agree to a life of shared bank accounts, car pools and Pictionary nights simply as a means to one stupendous event.

A little later, in the years when bachelorhood had settled into a bumpy series of abortive loves and irrational lusts, I mentally exchanged my right-hand Dionysus for a more well-rounded best man, the sort of growing-up-but-not-growing-old twentysomething you now see on Volkswagen Jetta commercials: the deeper, less impulsive but nonetheless fun-loving companion who can still get you into trouble—Go ahead, man, run out there naked, no one’s gonna care—but who can now get you out of it, too. Marriage seemed more imaginable at this point, a dreamy salvation from the vicissitudes of living singly—the uncertainties of sex and commitment, the pondering of forks in the road—if only I could find a real-life woman who possessed the same assortment of traits as my imaginary best man.

The traits? An unabashed jokester with a weakness for fart noises and shameless dancing, not to mention a gift for unmitigated kindness and unselfish acts, the new and improved best man would still throw me a kick-ass bachelor party—handmade mojitos and a call from Willie Nelson? Suhhhhhh-weet!—but would also make sure I didn’t wake up in a puddle of someone else’s vomit, and that I’d get to the church fully clothed and mostly operational. And though severely hung over and deeply contemplative about the fate of the deposit money, this best man would still honor the position by performing with utmost aplomb and singular pizazz.

Does the best man have the ring?

Yes, as a matter of fact, Your Excellency, I totally do.

In later years, after I’d gone off grid and into a life at the fringes, I imagined a best man on a new evolutionary path. Older, wiser, but still a bon vivant, the latest best man would retain the traits most suitable to the established role—loyalty, camaraderie, the dual capacities for goofiness and reliability—but would also have adapted to a strange new environment, in this case a land of craggy mountains and fluent streams, a land where love seemed possible but relationships improbable because we showered with garden hoses and pooped in outhouses and cooked on outdoor fires. The best man and woman—each would have to know this. Each would have to accept it, no, embrace it, celebrate it, and when the time at last arrived my best man would offer a toast that perfectly expressed this improbable convergence: my best friend, my true love, and me, all together in free and chosen space.

Here’s to finding what you only dreamed was real.

Alas, I never got the toast, per se, because I never had a best man, per se.

And I never had a best man, per se, because I never had a wedding.

I am married, though, and therein lies the heart of the thing.

♦◊♦

Most people get married in lovely churches full of smiling friends and happy family, or at least in gaudy chapels full of shit-faced snowbirds they met at Circus Circus, but the fact remains that no matter the venue, a formalized ritual has officially sealed the deal. A few, like the friendly couple my wife and I met in Belize, get married on soft white sands beneath the breeze-blown palms, but even then, by the power vested in someone, a ritualized ceremony has established a legal union, whereupon the best man can cue the steel drummers and hand out the Belikins to those who dance by the waves.

My wife and I? We got married on a bridge above the Sabine River, between a Volkswagen Beetle and an 18-wheeler at the Louisiana-Texas state line.

Hoooooooonk!

Well, OK, it wasn’t as simple as that. Upon settling into Austin we had to fill out the necessary paperwork for a common-law marriage, which the state legally recognizes under Section 2.401 of the Texas Family Code, but once we crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s—I wanted to put hearts above them but the soon-to-be missus said no—we were officially man and wife. Salud!

I know what you’re thinking. I, like you, had always thought of common-law marriage as one that accommodates 26 chickens in the grassless front yard, a ’78 Nova on stolen blocks and five, no, six, wait, seven kids in burlap diapers beating the fleas off the dogs with rolled-up TV Guides, just prior to a meal of beans n’ weenies heated in a scavenged Easy-Bake Oven.

But no, it isn’t like that at all. It’s just marriage, if in fact marriage is the chance to spend the best part of your time with the person you absolutely love, the person you still can’t believe you met, the person you still can’t believe loves you back, even if you didn’t tie the knot the traditional way.

 Unlike those yes-to-the-dress divas and televised bridezillas who make Narcissus look like Mother freakin’ Teresa, my wife had never really wanted, or at least needed, a magnificent formal wedding, a glittering spectacle in which she was the star attraction. She had never needed to feel like the princess du jour, because life in her eyes is bigger than a day and because marriage is so much more than the formalities of having done it.

For my part, sure, I still wonder what our wedding might have looked like. And I still wonder what kind of best man I’d have had. What I know beyond pondering is that my best man would’ve been loyal and fun and cool and funny and adventurous and kind and generous and without reservation my best friend. My best man would have showered with a garden hose and pooped in an outhouse. My best man would have laughed at the silliest things but would also have been beside me, or even in front of me, during the most challenging times. More than anything, my best man would not have been imaginary. My best man would have been totally, 100 percent real.

It feels weird to say it to myself, and weirder to say it in public, but I realize now that my best man would have been, and is, my wife. My best man, as it turns out, is my favorite woman. And here we are now and certainly always: my best friend, my true love, and me, all together in free and chosen space.

A toast! Here’s to finding what you only dreamed was real.

Read more on Best Men on The Good Life.

Image credit:  jorgemejia/Flickr

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About John Paschal

A former river guide, ranch hand, farm hand, oyster shucker and sportswriter, John Paschal now spends his time at work on a book while fending off the advances of mixed metaphors and run-on sentences. You can reach him at [email protected]

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