Promptly, at one forty-five Pastor Berger came into the
guy’s dressing room to pray with us. He was smiling a relaxed,
confident, heart-warming smile. I was smiling the kind of nervous smile
that left one wondering if I had gas.
“It’s nearly show time gentlemen. I trust you’ve all used
the men’s room, and are ready to witness one of the most beautiful
miracles on earth – when a man and a woman are united to become one
Phil shook his head, like he still couldn’t believe what he
was about to see.
“Let’s pray. Dear Heavenly Father…”
At ten minutes to two, we all made our way to the ante-room
door where we would make our entrance at two o’clock sharp. I stood for
a minute, and then suddenly decided that I’d better use the men’s room
one more. Phil told me when I returned, that he thought I had chickened
out, and was just getting ready to come and drag me back to the church,
even if it meant hog tying me.
He was still rubbing his arm where I punched him, as we
walked through the doorway and stood before a hundred and fifty-three
I forced a nervous smile onto my face as I watched the
bridesmaids slowly promenade down the center aisle of the church.
The song ended, and the praise band began to play Household
of Faith. That was the song Bill and Dottie Henderson had used for their
own wedding almost twenty years ago, and the one that Beth Ann and I had
chosen to make a statement about our commitment to each other.
“Here we are at the
start committing to each other…”
The sight of Beth Ann as she entered the sanctuary with
everyone in the room standing to their feet, made me feel dizzy. My dad
told me after the wedding, that when she stepped into my view, all his
doubts about us were erased in an instant. He said he had never before
seen me smile like that.
“By His word and from our hearts
We will be a family in a house that will be a home
And with faith we'll build it strong…
“We'll build a household of faith
That together we can make
And when the strong winds blow it won't fall down…”
Beth Ann, now standing in front of Pastor Berger, caught my
eye when the band sang those words. We knew there would be strong winds
that would try – in fact, if no cure was found, would knock us off our
feet, one day, but we were ready to face life together – as friends – as
life partners – as two people committed to honoring and respecting each
We had debated whether or not we would use the words “until
death do us part.” I felt like it was a morbid reminder of what lay
ahead for us. But she insisted that that was part of the package. “No
one knows when they’ll breathe their last breath,” she had said. “What
if I get cancer and you’re the one who has to take care of the baby
and me,” she emphasized. “I want to know that you’ve
committed to taking care of me to the end.
“And besides, what if your tests come back negative? You
don’t know that you even have it for sure.”
“As one in Him we'll grow and the whole world will know,
We are a household of faith”
She was every bit as stunning in her white gown as I had
imagined she would be.
“Who gives this woman,” Pastor Berger asked, looking at
Beth Ann’s dad, “to wed this man?”
“I and her mother do.”
I glanced over at Beth Ann’s mom. She was clutching her
“significant other’s” hand as her ex spoke those words. She hadn’t
wanted us to even invite him. And then when we told her that we had
asked him to give away the bride, she had threatened that she wouldn’t
even come to the wedding.
I looked at mom, sitting with Cecil, and staring at dad and
Donna, like she was jealous of her. I prayed that Beth Ann and I would
never experience the pain that our parents had felt when their marriages
fell apart. I prayed too that we would be able to raise our child
without loading him or her down with all the extra baggage that the two
of us seemed to have brought with us into this marriage.
The entire ceremony seemed surreal. At least up until the
point where Pastor Berger told me “you may now kiss the bride.”
I realized I had been nervously thinking about tonight when
everyone suddenly got quiet, like they were waiting for something.
“Alex,” he whispered again, “kiss Beth Ann.”
I think that’s when I woke up to what I had done. Beth Ann
saved the moment by reaching up, cupping her hand behind my head, and
pulling my face toward her waiting lips. They were soft and moist. I
guess I sort of got carried away, because next thing I knew, some people
began snickering, and I heard the padre whisper “save some for later,
you two,” while he turned us toward the gathered witnesses.
“Lady’s and gentlemen, I present to you, for the first
time, Mr. and Mrs. Alex Daniel Harper.
The next several hours were a whirlwind of activity.
Greeting guests, photos, a ride in a limo to a park for more photos, the
meal, more photos, more greetings, and finally we were off to a hotel
for our first time together since I fathered our child.
After a lot of discussion about what we would do if the
tests came back positive, we had decided to use urethane condoms.
Supposedly, they were more durable, as well as more dense,
reducing the chance of the virus reaching her body. Still, I was scared
– so scared in fact, that we didn’t need any protection that night. We
were both disappointed.
Miss Sally had paid for our wedding trip as her “little
gift” to us. She had been so pleased with herself when she figured out
that I actually was the “Allen” that she had been praying for. She was
sure that her prayers and hard work had saved the pervert, who had tried
to rape a fourteen year old kid right there in her church, from a life
of sin – and now that I was marrying a girl, she just had to celebrate
God’s answer to her prayers in a special way. She also gave us “a
little” spending money to go along with the trip tickets. What a
blessing she is to us.
The next day we flew to the Caribbean, and checked into our
hotel room. Let me just say that I was over my nervousness, and much
relieved that what had happened our wedding night had nothing to do with
the fact that Beth Ann was a woman. I had no idea I could enjoy being in
bed with someone of the opposite sex as much as I did that week. Her
love was totally different than any of my previous experiences – more
gentle, and surprisingly to me, very satisfying. She was a great kisser
and liked to snuggle, which is something I also loved to do. Even on the
beach, we lay next to each other and let everyone around us know that we
were in love. Amazingly, no one gave us those disgusted looks, like they
had given me and Caleb the time we went to the shore for our senior
class “outing.” That was kind of cool.
Too soon, it was time to fly back to California, and begin
the rest of our life – the one where we live happily-ever-after. Beth
Ann and I had rented a small apartment near school, so I could finish my
senior year, while she stayed home with the baby. I was told that the
first year of marriage, a couple can live on love. I certainly hope
that’s the case, because aside from some school loans, I had no idea how
my part time editing job, and any odds and ends jobs that Beth Ann could
managed to pick up, would pay our bills.
Monday, I anxiously headed for the campus mailroom to pick
up our mail. The letter from Dr. Grogan’s office felt like a leaden
weight in my hands. I waited until I got back to our apartment to open
it. Beth Ann and I prayed and asked for God’s grace before we opened the
letter. Not that he would make the results magically say what we wanted
them to, although, that’s what we were both hoping for, but rather that
we would be strong enough to do his will no matter what the results
were. The letter simply said that my test results were back, and that I
should schedule an appointment at the clinic to review them. It was
Monday, and the earliest they could see me was Thursday afternoon.
“Why can’t they just tell me the results in the letter,” I
pined to my sweetheart.
“We’ll have to be patient, sunshine. Maybe they’re
negative, so there’s no reason to rush you in.”
I wanted to believe her, but since the beginning of the
honeymoon, I had had a growing sense of uneasiness in me, like I knew
the answer to the question before it was asked. Beth Ann noticed my
angst, and took my hand in hers.
“Hey there, fella.” I looked up at her. “It’s gonna be
alright. We’re in this together – forever. Remember?”
I sighed, and went into the bedroom to get ready to go to
Thursday finally arrived. First Pastor Berger, and then
Bill Henderson called to pray with us over the phone before we went to
the infirmary. Beth Ann had scheduled her monthly check up for the same
day, and so before I got my news, we watched our baby doing summersaults
in Beth Ann’s belly. It sure looked like a girl in there. But then,
that’s what they had told mom when they were watching me twenty-one
years ago. I was so not going to make the same mistake that she had.
Our child was not going to go through the same things that I went
through, just because of an ultrasound photo. But she really did look
like a girl.
We were still smiling when we got to Dr. Grogan’s suite.
Beth Ann grabbed hold of my hand with a viselike grip when she noticed
Dr. Grogan’s dour mood.
“Have a seat Mr. and… Mrs. Harper?” he said noticing
the shiny new wedding bands we were wearing.
“Yes sir. Saturday’ll be our two week anniversary.”
His serious expression betrayed his kindly congratulations,
as he opened my chart.
“Alex, I’m afraid I have some rather bad news for the two
I felt the room begin to spin out of control as he began to
explain to us the fight that I was up against. About the only ray of
hope that he could give me, was that with proper exercise, diet, and
medication, there was a very good chance that I would see my child reach
adulthood – and that with any luck, there would be a breakthrough in the
research, and a cure would be found.
“Make no mistakes about it, though, Mr. Harper, you and
your wife are in for a tough journey.” Then turning to Beth Ann, he
asked, “I trust, you’ve been tested?”
He asked us if we attended a church, and when we told him
that we did, he said that although he himself didn’t hold to any
religious beliefs, new studies were indicating that people who pray, and
have others praying for them, seem to respond better to medical
intervention. Then he spent the next fifteen minutes discussing
treatment options, exercise regimens, healthy diets, and behaviors and
habits to avoid. Basically, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t do drugs,
and don’t have sex – for sure, at least not unprotected sex. Aside from
that we could have all the fun we wanted.
It was unfortunate that we met Phoenix as we were leaving
the infirmary. I say unfortunate, because after receiving the news that
I had just received, I didn’t need another bomb dropped in my lap. He
looked like he was half stoned. He had lost a noticeable amount of
weight over the past few months. I stopped him, to say hi, while Beth
Ann drifted across the path to chat with someone she knew.
His eyes were unfocused as he stared at me.
“Phoenix, what’s goin’ on?” I asked him.
“Nothin,’” he stated rather dreamily.
“You’re not lookin’ too well, man, you’d better take better
care of yourself,” I told him, for lack of anything better to say.
“What for? I don’t give a rip about anything anymore. After
I got the bug, Shawn got scared and left me. He was so afraid that I’d
infect him. …and then when I found out I gave it to you, I quit caring
about anything. I hate God for doin’ this to me. I may as well get
stoned, and let a wave take me out… at least I’d be happy when I go.”
“What are you talking about? What do you mean you gave it
to me? I thought you told me before, that Shawn gave it to you. …and
besides, I didn’t get it from…” but before I could finish telling him
what I thought, it dawned on me that Eddie had told me that he was
negative – and even though his words hadn’t registered in my brain
before now, I was sure that that was what he had said. I didn’t know
what to say, but finally asked him how he could possibly have given it
to me – I mean I didn’t think you were supposed to be able to get it by
just doing oral, unless you had an open sore in your mouth – which I
hadn’t, the night he and Shawn talked me into joining them.
“It wasn’t Shawn,” Phoenix meekly whispered. He’s not even
I raised my eyebrows, wondering what he would tell me next.
“Even when I was with Shawn, I used to think about the
semester we lived together. I know we never talked about it, but I
needed you. I knew all along that you didn’t want it to be happening
like that, so after you moved out, I tried to forget about you by using
Shawn. It never worked very well. We both got a little bit of what we
needed, but neither of us was happy. Over the holiday break, I got
invited to a party, and Shawn and I had a big fight. I asked one of the
guys if they had anything that could make me feel better.
“I borrowed a rig and shot up.”
“But how could you have given it to me?”
Phoenix plopped himself down onto the green grass and
buried his face in his hands.
“You were totally wasted. I knew that you didn’t know what
I was asking you, but you didn’t tell me no. I didn’t have a raincoat in
my pocket, so I barebacked you. I found out later that the guy I
borrowed the needle from was positive. I can’t live with myself knowing
what I’ve done to you.”
I turned, in a stupor, and stumbled towards where my new
bride was waiting for me.
“Alex, what? What’s wrong?”
When I didn’t answer her, she grabbed hold of me, and laid
her head on my shoulder. I felt her hands pull me tight to her body, and
begin to caress my back. She didn’t know about Phoenix – I had never
told her that Eddie wasn’t the only one. …and now, to find out that I
got the infection because I was raped by a friend while I was too drunk
to know what was happening, was too much for me to handle. I began to
weep on her shoulder as Phoenix disappeared from my view. The words from
a recent sermon ringing in my head: “Do not become drunk with much wine,
for in that, you will surely find trouble.”