I was watching the storm Jonas in the Eastern United States last week when someone mentioned how the storm impacted their wedding. This reminded me of my own wedding at the age of 18 in January 1972, during one of the worst snow storms on record.
My wedding was a last minute decision of my parents because I was pregnant. It was a family scandal that had to be addressed immediately and marriage seemed like the logical solution for my parents. They were very concerned about what family and neighbours would say about the prospect of their daughter being "an unwed mother."
I later had an inkling that perhaps they saw this as a solution for their problem daughter who, to put it mildly, was a royal pain in the ass, causing them grief at any given opportunity. Transfer the problem to someone else - or maybe marriage would force me to shape up and behave responsibly for a change. My husband to be was very young too; his parents were exhausted with his shenanigans and they may have been of the same mind as my parents.
The preparations for the wedding were done quickly and because I was pregnant it was considered scandalous to wear white.. I opted for a light blue dress which my friend's mother made for me on short notice at a cost of $13. We invited 50 people to the wedding, most of them family members.
The snow started the day before the wedding and by the day of the ceremony we couldn't see out the windows and the snow drifts were getting deeper and the wind stronger. Everyone was concerned and we weren't sure if we could make it to the church a few blocks away.
We decided to go ahead. Everyone got dressed up and my father got out the old station wagon. As he drove with my mother in the front seat, me and my best friend and maid of honour in the back, she made jokes about how I could call the whole thing off and say “to hell with it”. Little did she know that as I laughed along with her I was seriously thinking about doing just that. What stopped me was the fear of making my parents angry.
It took forever to get to the church. Everyone had to walk through huge snow drifts up to their thighs and my sister, wearing a long gown, put her foot through her dress and tore a hole in it. About 15 guests eventually made their way into the church, all of them soaked and covered in snow.
The ceremony went on. All the while I experienced a sense of dread and realization that I was too young for such responsibilities. When we tried to leave to head over to the hotel for the reception, the storm had picked up force and we could not get out of the church. The minister was very kind and served us tea and cookies.
After what seemed a long while, perhaps two hours, the minister decided to get out his snow blower and cleared a path to the road so we could find our cars. We did a lot of shovelling, brushed off cars and started a procession to the hotel.
We arrived at the hotel and had to make our way through more snow drifts. By that point I was soaked and my hair, which was carefully done earlier in the day, was blown, tangled and wet. When I walked into the hotel the staff were rushing around rather stressed as we were very late. The manager approached me in a frantic state and asked - "Could you please tell me when the bride will be arriving?" At that moment I realized just how bad I looked on my wedding day. With the stress of it all I burst into laughter and managed to tell the manager -"I am the bride." He looked horrified. which made me laugh even more. The laughter replaced tears as the day was a disaster and there was no point in dwelling on it. Although my mother kept repeating - "This is an omen", as if the storm was trying to tell us the writing was on the wall with this wedding.
We eventually got seated and carried on with the reception. My father had been adamant about no alcohol at the wedding until he caved into pressure and threats to boycott the event if drinks weren't served. The compromise was a watered down bowl of rum punch. My brother in law, the designated photographer for the day. drank a bit too much of the concoction and informed me later the camera had "acted up" and there were only about ten slides that turned out. Another surprise was the fact that my father had been kept in the dark about my pregnancy. Leave it to one of the guests to approach my father and congratulate him on becoming a grandfather!
A few years into the marriage I did grow up and become more responsible and in the process realized I had very little in common with my husband. I contemplated divorce but didn’t want to do shared parenting as I felt I was the primary care giver. Staying in the marriage until the kids were older outweighed the trauma of divorce and shared custody, which I knew wouldn’t go well. Looking back I surprised myself with how I took my parenting responsibilities seriously and managed to raise three rather well-adjusted kids.
Now what does this story have to do with HIV?
I learned about my HIV status after the marriage ended. I have since met many women living with HIV who shared similar stories to my own (minus the snow storm). They got married at a very young age and contracted HIV during their marriage. This led me to think about the link between early marriages and HIV transmission.
Although there needs to be extensive research done to substantiate my thoughts and hypothesis, I question whether men who suspect they may be gay or bisexual decide either consciously or not to get married at a young age as a mean of denying their sexuality, by playing into the "straight" married lifestyle.
When asked why I got married at such a young age I initially responded and truly believed "because my mother told me I had to." I have since examined the complex reasons for my decision to get married, as I could have called it off at the last minute as my friend and maid of honour suggested in jest.
I also question how I played a role in becoming a person living with HIV.