“You may kiss the bride,” I said in my preacher voice just like I always did. This time the groom actually paused as if seeking permission—but not from me. He looked hesitantly at the jailer standing over his right shoulder. She nodded. So he dove in!

“Alright kids,” the jailer intoned after a few moments. Maybe that’s how jailers always talk. But this one had been smiling the whole ceremony.


I am a pastor’s kid, which affords insider’s perspective. So I have known for as long as I have been aware of such ceremonies that my dad would rather preside over funerals than weddings. You would never admit this to just anyone. But in most weddings more thought is lavished upon the parting gifts for guests than the liturgy. You robe and stand in the sanctuary like a stage prop.


She confessed that she had been calling churches in the phone book. Ours was the fifth or sixth she had tried. I happened to be in the office that Friday afternoon working on a sermon. Usually, my polite yet firm requirement for a minimum of three meetings beforehand scares people away. She replied that she would be happy to meet, but her fiancé would not be able to attend. I heard a long deep breath on the other end of line.

“Pastor, you’ll have to go to him.”

He was a vet. Iraq. Twirling the phone cord in my finger as I watched him on the monitor, I always asked about his safety. He just shrugged. Been through worse. Kept his head down. Stayed out of trouble. Not as bad as the last place, you know. I did not, but I let it go. An Iraqi veteran that took the religion course I taught at the local community college once told me that, if you ain’t been in it, then you got no right to ask.

Our conversations regarded his future. Cradling the phone against my ear, I watched him lean into the video camera. He had a wide grin, crooked teeth, and his forehead broke out into beads of sweat visible on the monitor as he described how a friend of his second cousin’s ex (“ex-girlfriend, Pastor, not ex-con”) had a job for him. Detailing cars. Good money. Pay them bills. Gonna stay clean. Get right with the Lord, he added.

In subsequent visits, he spoke of their child. Elijah was five. She had shown me pictures in the office. His red hair disheveled, his smile crooked like his daddy’s. Freckles dotted his nose like paint splatter. Elijah worshipped Jesus but was devoted to Spiderman. Spidey on his lunchbox, Spidey on his underwear—he’d even show you, his daddy laughed. Got to get him to stop that, right?

The jailers interrupted over the line with a one minute warning. We only had twenty minutes each time and then I’d have to sneak in a quick prayer for his safety and for his family. The screen would go blank before I could Amen.


She was the most diligent pre-wedding student I have ever had. We met six times and, by the end of our preparation, her dark blue, spiral bound notebook had been filled with pages and pages of pink ink. Actually, she had run out of pink. So the final assignment titled “Why I Want to Get Married” was written in bright Valentine’s Day red. She wrote in looping cursive, which I eventually learned to decipher. They had met outside the Waffle House where she worked on the weekends:

Here come this greasy looking guy from the garage down the street! You could tell he need a shave and haircut. Lord knows a bath! But he set down and order an orange juice. I come over to take his order and he say he not able to make up his mind right yet. Could I sit a spell? I never, ever had some customer invite me to sit! I’d been invite out back more times than I could count. Especially by the drunk ones. He had smelled of it. But there was something in his eyes and he ask all about where was I from and all. He drink three orange juices and I give him the third refill for free. He leave a twenty dollar bill with his phone number scribbled on the napkin. Something in his eyes.

She told me once that Love is a scary word because people toss it around so much. Like how come they say war all the time now. The more you say it, the more you don’t think about it and what it really means.


You know how, when the organ or piano hits the famous chord, everyone’s head swivels to the back, right? The bride appears in the doorway. Truth is that, once you do enough of them, they start to run together. Except for that look on the groom’s face. Dad is the one who taught me to look at him.


As I pressed the button to enter, the heavy double doors swung open revealing her a white lace shirt over bright blue jeans. The pearls encircling her neck matched the ones in her ears. She wore a million dollar smile.

As I approached, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again, tottering precariously on her red high heels gleaming in the florescent light.


With her index finger, she pushed her purple rhinestone glasses back onto the bridge of her nose.

“S-o,” she drew out the little word. “Ready?”

She led the way toward the large metal detector in the far corner of the lobby. I said something stupid, like wasn’t it a big day, as we approached a guard’s black shoes propped up on the registration desk. I’d seen him on previous visits—his name’s Noah, I think. He waved us through impatiently before returning his attention to his football magazine. My black shoes clacked over the officially licensed image of the Commonwealth of Virginia emblazoned upon the dirty floor and echoed off the bare white walls. But I still heard her whispering.

“This is really happening.”

We halted before imposing metal doors. I tried in vain to think of anything to say. A red light blinked overhead. The doors swung open and out stepped another guard, an unfamiliar older woman. A dozen keys jangled from a ring attached to her shiny belt. As we dutifully held our arms in the air, she waved the metal detector over us.

“They call this a wand,” she intoned. With a wink, she added, “But it’s not really magic at all.”

I chuckled. The bride’s brow furrowed like an unmade bed.

“It’s just a joke, honey.” The jailer laid a hand on her shoulder. “Now, you’re ready.”

Passing through another sterile hallway, we once again stopped before locked doors. The jailer inserted one of the keys at her waist. There was no knob. Cranking the key in the lock, she put her shoulder against the door and the heavy metal creaked open like in a movie.


Later that afternoon, I gave my wife the play-by-play. Our nine month son was asleep in his crib. We were lying under a blanket of warm afternoon sunshine spread across our bedroom. I told her how they had solemnly recited the traditional vows and had the usual reading from 1 Corinthians 13—love is patient, love is kind, and all that beauty. How I had pronounced them, like always, and then the jailer’s part about “Alright kids.”

Soon she was snoring in that soft way of hers. So I didn’t get to tell her how I had given the bride our usual side hug afterward, just like if we had been meeting in the church. She had mumbled a word of gratitude toward the asphalt. Said she would remember this day. Always. Her voice sounded like she was speaking to me from the other end of a long hallway. I promised to pray for her and for him and for Elijah. She lit a cigarette. As I walked from the smoke, I heard a stranger’s raspy voice from a nearby parked car.

“Hey you. Did ya just get married?”

“Yeah, what’s it to ya?”

Turning at the sound of her voice, I saw her back stiffen.

“Well now, take it easy, girl! I ‘bout to get married myself here. Tell me, now, what it like?”

I bent down to feign tying my shoe. My dress shoes do not have laces.

“They let you hold hands,” she began. “Then you get to kiss and we kissed long! It was, well, it was . . .”

I couldn’t hear the rest of what she said.


After the heavy metal doors had been pushed opened, he immediately ran his right hand over his buzz cut. He was dressed in a white, green-striped shirt and matching pants with Velcro-laced shoes. His leg was shackled by a chain bolted to the wall. He rubbed his whiskered face with his right hand.

“I ain’t have no way to shave,” he mumbled.

“And I didn’t get no veil.”

“Never you mind that. You sure pretty.”