Aaron Beck

Backing into Marriage

Columbus Monthly - July 01, 2010

I’ve spent lots of time wandering about and mulling over things. What I’d not envisioned in 38 years on the planet was marrying Michelle Maguire flat on my back on the 23rd floor of the Franklin County Courthouse and honeymooning at the Ohio State University Medical Center.

Marrying Michelle had crossed my mind many times in the eight years we dated–even, it should be noted, when we weren’t discussing why we hadn’t yet married. In fact, marriage was occupying my mind so much that on New Year’s Eve morning in 2009, on a road trip to take in the sites of rural Alabama, I dropped to a knee in a cotton field and asked her to marry me. She said, “Whoa. What’s happening? Really? Yes!” We set a tentative date for the nuptials: August 2010.

The months between the engagement and the marriage would allow us time to secure a ceremony site, polish our dancing shoes and draw up a guest list–and for me to injure myself severely enough that those plans would have to be scrapped in favor of a more gonzo celebration spurred by the need for me to ride the coattails of Michelle’s A-1 health insurance into back surgery.

Shortly after we returned from the home state of Hank Williams and Lionel Richie, the muscles of my left hip, leg and foot went on the fritz. As a deliveryman at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, tramping through sub-zero walk-in coolers to collect goods to deliver, I walked with a limp that progressed to an Igorlike skulk. By late January, I could barely lift my left foot, which seemed as if it weighed 30 pounds. A white-hot surge blitzed through my hamstring, thigh, calf, foot and toes. My speech grew laced with an inordinate number of vulgarities that ramped up as I awoke in the middle of the night to no-sleep-till-Percocet leg pain.

An MRI revealed a severely compressed nerve between a nastily herniated disc in my lower back. I took to the living room and cultivated a beard that Michelle reminded me to wash on the rare nights I could belly-crawl to the shower because it smelled “like butter someone had been dipping lobster claws in.” My daily routine–staring at snowfalls, enduring sleep deprivation, watching the Winter Olympics ice dancing competition and viewing “The Wire” (in six-hour stretches)–induced a kind of catatonia.

Fearful she might spend her life sponge-bathing a bearded zombie, Michelle called a neurosurgeon, who insisted we visit an emergency room. I gasped. The only thing I knew about my health insurance (COBRA) was that its coverage was not as badass as its acronym. For instance, if I had to go through a surgical knifing during an E.R. visit, COBRA, compared to Michelle’s top-shelf insurance, would have covered about as much as a skirt on a cocktail waitress at Kahoots.

So Michelle and I held a marriage meeting on our living room floor. “As a little girl, I’d always dreamed of getting married on Ash Wednesday at the Franklin County Courthouse,” Michelle said. “Let’s do this. It’s just some paperwork. We’ll have a blowout later.” What an angel.

We called friend/impromptu wedding planner Chuck Hootman. He picked us up in his storied Buick LeSabre–dude drove that thing to his ’91 prom–and took us to the courthouse. Years as a downtown bike messenger had familiarized Chuck with everyone in the building, and he knew where we needed to go and who to talk to. God bless him since I was in no condition to drag my leg around the courthouse asking questions about procedures and forms to fill out. As it was, the grueling, teeth-gnashing hike to the 23rd floor forced bystanders to avert their eyes.

After we traded 50 bucks for a marriage license, I retreated to a quiet adjacent room to lie on my back and watch February’s calming snow fall on downtown Columbus. Chuck, host that he is, had arranged for fellow messenger, ordained minister and certified rapper Tony “Envelope” Collinger to perform a brief ceremony between afternoon deliveries. As I propped myself on a sill, I heard the “Wedding March” on Chuck’s iPhone as he walked my radiant Michelle down the hallway to our invisible altar and gave her away. Tony asked us, “Do you?” and we said, “We do.” We then kissed and turned in our paperwork, made our way back to the Buick and drove–fully covered by Michelle’s insurance–to the OSU Medical Center.

It didn’t go down that night, but lumbar microdiscectomy happened soon enough when a neurosurgeon opened my back, removed a detached chunk of disc that had lodged itself on a nerve and sent me walking toward our official reception (slated for Aug. 28).

These days, my back is healing as it should, but more important, I swear, my mind has been the clearest it’s ever been since the day I woke up in the recovery room, saw Michelle and squeezed her hand.