I’ve lived in the UK for five years now and as an American I’ve learned a few things: when using the words, fag, fanny, spunky, bum or pants always ensure they are in the correct context. Stand on the right when riding an escalator or the natives may get truly restless – the English are not always as polite as they appear on TV. Don’t worry about stopping to look at the tube map – everyone has to and no one will think you look stupid for doing so. Don’t expect good service at bars, but at the same time don’t expect to tip. Carry an umbrella at all times. And there is nothing wrong with spending a Sunday in the pub with a couple of pints and a newspaper. The last one is by far my favourite lesson. 
 
Did I ever think it would be so different than the beaches of Santa Monica? I suppose not, but then I’m not sure what I was expecting, it sort of happened so fast. I didn’t really have time to think.
 
Let me explain that what I mean by that: he was English and I was naïve. His name was James. We met at an English themed bar named the Britannia in Santa Monica. Really this should have been my first clue – a brit on holiday in a British bar! Admittedly, I went into McDonald’s in Paris once, but I was really homesick! Anyway, back to my story… I was out with a friend having a drink and trying to block out the terrible karaoke – so not the most authentic of British pubs, but LA will be LA, when the gentleman comes over to ‘chat me up’. I was flattered, but not really interested – in my youth this was not such an uncommon occurrence. Under the insistence of my friend we ended up talking to James and his friends for a while. They had won a holiday in Los Angeles and this was their first night in town.   The evening didn’t have any real sparks or anything, think Love Actually scene in Wisconsin: “How do you say ‘bottle’?”
“Bottle”
“Wow…” 
I’m sure the accent had something to do with it and I’m sure the alcohol wasn’t totally innocent, but eventually I was charmed enough to give him my number. Well, he would need a tour guide while in town, would he not? 
 
Thursday night at Brennen’s in Marina Del Rey. Turtle racing! This is an event not to be missed on a trip to LA so I arranged to meet up with James and friends with my roommate Taylor in tow. Now, I had been at work all day and, well, the boys were on holiday so Taylor so they were a lot closer to the third sheet in the wind than we were. The evening didn’t leave a big impression on me I’m sure I was more interested in the turtles than James. But I remember removing James’s hand from my backside a number of times and saving him from some rather angry bouncers when he lit his cigarette in the bar. After the night finished my roommate decided the party should continue at ours. She’d had her eye on one of the friends for most of the evening and I think he was happy to oblige. So as the two of them paired off and the rest of the group left James stranded at mine – in some sad attempt to get him laid – I awkwardly declined his advances until he finally passed out. 
 
I awoke the next morning leaving my roommate to deal with the collective hangovers and made my way to work. I certainly didn’t expect or want to ever hear from James again. To my surprise I received a call from him later that day to apologies for his behaviour. Being, well, sort of a bitch at times, I led on that we had actually had sex the night before and was really insulted that he didn’t remember. Cruel, I know, but he’d been rather annoying and I felt it was deserved. I eventually told him the truth and we called it even. He promised to make a better impression if I allowed him another shot. I figured I didn’t have much to lose and could use some free drinks so agreed to meet up again that night. 
 
Now, this night was totally different from our previous experiences, I suspect that he was keeping an eye on how much he was drinking this time. We spent most of the evening talking, you know those evenings where you just connect with someone and you feel you could talk to them forever? It was one of those nights. We talked about our childhoods and the differences in our lives. He came across as quite well travelled, having spent some time in India and much of the Mediterranean. Again maybe it was the accent and the booze, but by Saturday night I blew off my other date (hot Swede) and took him to a party thrown by my Iranian boss. He charmed everyone there, including my boss and that is quite a feat. I believe the moment I knew he was a real catch is when he was summoned to the dance floor and actually attempted to dance like all the Iranians there, twirling with his arms in the air! That night I went back to his hotel room for the first time. It was passionate and intense, not awkward like so many first times. That week his holiday was taking him to Big Bear Lake in the mountains outside of Los Angeles – a good 4 hour drive. Although he invited me I had to work so couldn’t go up with him at first. However, Memorial Day was that week making the following weekend a long one and I said I would join him then. The only trouble was I still no longer had a car (having lost it in Vegas). I tried desperately to find a way to get myself there, on the metro, train, bus, anything! The shortest journey I could find was about 8 hours and that would only take me to the base of the mountain. Then I was struck with a bit of luck, a friend of mine from back home was driving into LA and onto Redding (a town near Big Bear). He agreed to give me a lift up the mountain to meet James. 
 
My friend, Jake, arrived in the biggest truck I had ever seen – it was a bit embarrassing. Me, living in posh Marina Del Ray jumping into what was so obviously a hick truck. It’s not like this was an old junker, it was just huge. So large in fact that there was a camera mounted near the rear licence plate to allow the driver to see as they reversed! You also had to climb into this monster, much like mounting a horse. Not like I was going to complain, I was off for a dirty weekend in the mountains.
 
We arrived Friday afternoon (I believe I called in sick that day – I did that a lot when James was around). The boys were blown away by the size of Jake’s truck, it was a nice distraction for them and allowed James and I a little private time to reacquaint ourselves.  We had such an amazing time that weekend. We continued our conversation (the one that was meant to last forever). It was a weekend out of a U rated movie, we ate ice cream strolling through the town holding hands. We even tried our luck at the arcade. One day we went fishing and I got so excited as I thought felt a tug on the line, you can imagine my beguile as I pull up a large chunk of carpet! I guess it wasn’t all U rated as we shagged every chance we got with such passion. I remember him looking at me with his chocolate brown eyes, they burrowed into me. I had never felt this kind of connection with anyone before especially not in such a short time. 
 
One evening on the deck overlooking the lake, I told him that I felt like I’d known him forever. That I couldn’t believe we had only met. I held my breath for a response. He walked over to me, looked me in the eyes and said he been wanting to say the same thing for sometime, but didn’t want to frighten me off. We both laughed. 
 
Eventually our perfect weekend was over, James and his friends had to fly back to England and I had to go back to work in Los Angeles. We exchanged phone numbers and electronic and postal addresses, but I didn’t have much faith that this could go any further that we had taken it. I didn’t get paid holidays and had only just enough money to survive on. How could we continue this long distance relationship? But to my surprise we did keep in contact, constant emails, phone calls (usually on my way to work as he was on his way home) and letters. He would send letters telling me how much he cared for me and how he had never met anyone like me in his life. Really, how was I not supposed to fall for that? Every moment that he wasn’t there my heart felt like it was breaking. Here I had met the man of my dreams and he lived thousands of miles away – and really more annoyingly 8 hours ahead! 
 
James’s job was pretty flexible and about six weeks after his first visit he was able to fly to LA again to see me. I skived from work as much as I could and we had a blast. Spending days on the beach and wandering around town hand in hand.   Towards the end of his vacation there we started to talk about the elephant that had been in the room since his arrival. When would we next see each other? There was no way I could afford a holiday in England and he had used all his holiday for the year. We both knew the reasonable thing to do would to call this what it was, a great summer romance, and leave it at that. But neither of us were thinking clear enough to do that. As we stood at the bar of my local watering hole I looked at him and said “If you asked me I would” and then waited. 
“Will you move to England for me?”
I nodded. “It’s not that easy, you know, I’d need a Visa. And you know what that means”
“I do” he said – not for the last time.
 
Three days later we’re in my new car driving to Las Vegas. It was Friday night and we were hoping to get married that day as he was on a flight home on Sunday morning. But the traffic was bumper to bumper all the way to Vegas. What should have been a three hour drive turned into six. So instead of calling my father for permission from the hotel room he had to make the call with me sitting next to him in the car. 
“Dad?”
“Hey, honey, how’s it going?”
“Good. And you?”
“Well, hot actually. Marge and I are here in Phoenix.”
“Funny, I’m in a desert as well…”
“Yeah? Where?”
“On the way to Vegas with James”
“Doing some gambling?”
“Well… you could call it that…”
He yells out of the phone, “Marge, I think our girl has something to tell us!”
He was actually pretty cool about the whole think. I thought he was going to freak out, but gave me this lecture about how he raised his children to make their own choices and as long as I was happy, blah, blah, blah. My stepmother’s reaction was actually more shocking. She grabbed the phone from Dad and says, “Oh, you know, when I was about your age I eloped in Reno – in hot pants!” I may have nearly crashed the car when I heard that!
 
I’ll never forget that night. It was hot and windy. A heat like I had never before experienced. Ten o’clock at night and when I put my hand on the window of my car it felt warm as if it had been in the sun, but the sun had been down for hours. When I stood outside, the wind made it feel as if I was standing behind a large bus and the exhaust was blowing past me – warm and dry. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Vegas it was too late or we were too tired – I don’t remember – to get married that night, it would have to wait until Saturday.  
 
Getting married in Vegas is not as easy as they make it look in the movies. First you have to go to the courthouse (which is open 24 hrs!) to get a marriage licence. Not much needed; name, id, parents’ names and birth places (there was a lot of guessing here, come on who really knows where their parents were born?!) Then as you leave the courthouse you have to fight your way through the crowd of sales reps for the millions of chapels in Vegas offering free photo packages, or free limos. We went for The Garden of Love that offered both. 
 
Our white stretch limo picked us up at the hotel that evening. I was dressed in a little black Dolce and Gabbana cocktail dress and James was in white shirt and black trousers. As you can imagine The Garden of Love was not the most romantic of venues. The Garden was really just Astroturf with and indoor waterfall with numerous plastic plants draped along its edges. We were offered a choice of fake bouquets – I went with the white roses delicately detailed with glue drops to simulate dew. When in Rome… We borrowed rings to use during the service – we didn’t feel like buying any there, but at least they were made from metal. When our turn came we walked down the aisle together, stood looked at each other and said our vows. I know when we said our vows it was more wishful thinking. We were well aware that we still had a lot to learn about each other, but we still wanted the sentiment to be real. 
 
After the “I pronounce you…” part we were whisked off to the reception area while another family hurried in for their turn in the Garden. Our certificate was witnessed by the receptionist and the DJ (I think). Again, not the most romantic. So. We’d done it. We were officially married. I was now a wife.
 
Regrettably we had little time to celebrate as James’s flight was leaving LAX the next morning. By the time we got on the road it was late in the day and I was getting tired. James wasn’t on my insurance so I couldn’t let me drive and I was starting to fall asleep.  So we started to search for a hotel to catch a few hours of sleep before driving the rest of the way. I don’t know what was going on that weekend, but every hotel we came across was booked. We eventually found a roadside motel near the California border that smelled vaguely of Indian food and looked like it was more used to the ‘by the hour’ clientele than travellers. Regardless of its lack of charm we checked in. And that is how we spent our honeymoon. As he said good night to me he for the first and only time referred to me as his wife. 
“Good night, my wife.”
 
As the sun rose, so did we and finished our journey to Los Angeles. I dropped him at the airport and returned to my apartment. His flight left at 11.05 that morning, at that exact time I was standing in front of the sink washing dishes and crying.

 

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