Greyhound killed our college romance.
She was finishing her B.A. at UVM, I was beginning a Ph.D. at NYU, and the nine-hour bus trip between Vermont and New York slowly eroded love, commitment, and finally, even passion. She graduated, found a job, and got involved with an English literature student. I learned my clinical psychology, tasted the pleasures of New York, and struggled through a dissertation.
But when her literary affair ended badly, she called, and I invited her down to my Greenwich Village apartment for a weekend reunion.
Farmer's daughter that she was, she'd never seen a ship of any size, so we walked down Houston Street to the waterfront. Good fortune — a cruise ship was about to embark. On the decks stood a flock of blue-haired ladies in borrowed mink stoles and a clutch of grey-haired men in new camelhair overcoats, all throwing streamers to those below. Catching the streamers were grown-up sons and daughters, waving and calling to the departing vessel.
“Don't worry!” they shouted. “Don't worry!”
I started to worry.
I worried that I'd be grey-haired before I went anywhere. I worried that by the time I left I'd be too old to enjoy wherever I was going. I worried that when I finally embarked from the Houston Street dock, the last words I'd hear from loved ones would be, “Donnnnn't worrrrryyyyyyy...”
She took the bus back to Vermont. I began asking everyone I knew about exotic vacations on a graduate student's stipend. By week's end, I'd found a little-known campground on St. John in the Virgin Islands and had booked a tent for us as husband and wife.
[Historic note: Long ago, say 1965, people planning to, uh, go away together routinely pretended to be married. At the time, it seemed the right thing to do. I forget why.]
So. During my spring break and her vacation, she Greyhounded yet again to New York, and together we took the D Train to the airport, boarded her first and my second airplane, and flew, flew, flew! south to St. John.
Just before our great adventure, I had been musing on the relative merits of bachelorhood and marriage. In fact, I'd made a list of the advantages of each. The bachelorhood list was rather long; the marriage list, decidedly short. These unbalanced columns simply confirmed my intention to remain, now and for the foreseeable future, conjugally unjoined.
(Although deeply immersed in clinical psychology, not once did I connect my musings with the impending journey. Never be your own shrink.)
But I'd failed to add one item to my list, an item that proved the crucial factor in the equation. I'd neglected the one thing that would outweigh all the other bits and pieces on the scale. I'd forgotten True Love.
The Virgin Islands reminded me. The exotic/erotic mix of constant sunshine, warm sand, emerald-perfect water and a tent in a palm grove awoke me to something I hadn't thought to include on my Advantages of Marriage list — the realization that I wanted to travel with this woman for the rest of my life.
I wrestled with the intrusive thought for days. Was I feverish? Was it just the tropical sunsets? The water? The palms? Was it a passing whim? Or was it... The Real Thing?
Our conversations began to sound like a Samuel Beckett play.
“Will you...” (pause)
Will you look at that sunset!”
“I am looking at it.”
“Oh. Yes. Nice, isn't it?”
On the fifth morning I awoke early. I wasn't sick. The sun wasn't setting. I couldn't see the water. I was accustomed to palm trees. And I still knew I wanted to travel with her for the rest of my life.
I did what I had to.
I knelt on the tent floor, looked earnestly at my true love and asked, “Will you marry me?”
My true love smiled, gazed fondly into my eyes, and answered, “No.”
Jeezum crow! She'd said no when I'd asked her on our first date, said no when I'd asked her to Homecoming, said no when I'd asked her to be my long-distance girlfriend, and now she was saying no to my proposal of marriage.
That's what you get for courting a Vermont farmer's daughter.
On the other hand... She had gone on that first date, had come with me to Homecoming, had put up with Greyhound for over a year, and was now smiling very prettily at the young man kneeling beside her army cot.
I asked again.
She said no again. But her smile was even more radiant.
After my third attempt, we opened negotiations. When did I want to marry, she wanted to know. Where did I want to marry? How did I want to marry? Her rural Congregational family would feel as awkward at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation as my urban Jewish family would at Brownington Congregational Church.
“I've thought of that. It's no problem. Not if we get married here on St. John, right now, today, by a justice of the peace instead of a minister or rabbi.”
“But I have a job in Vermont. You have roommates in New York.”
“You quit. I'll move. We'll move. Let's do it. Let's get married.”
Negotiations continued through the morning. I talked her out of a “Let's give ourselves time to think about this calmly” period. I talked her out of a “Let's get engaged now and marry in six months” phase. I talked her out of a “We could have a ceremony on the Staten Island ferry” delaying tactic. By noon, she'd let herself be persuaded to hitchhike to town to at least enquire about marrying on St. John.
We discovered it couldn't be done.
No one on the island had enough official status to perform the ceremony. And besides, there was an eight-day waiting (cooling off?) period, blood tests, posting banns, all that. It just couldn't be done.
On the other hand... the government people seemed nearly as caught up in the romance of it all as we were (well, as I was). There was a judge over on St. Thomas, and rules — particularly on tropical islands — are made to be bent.
A series of crackly radio-telephone messages confirmed that the blood tests could be skipped, the banns waved, and that Judge Cyril Michael would be holding court at Fort Christian, Charlotte Amalie's combined courtroom and jail, tomorrow afternoon.
The next day we caught the ferry to St. Thomas, bought a two-dollar expandable silver ring (When we told the saleswoman what it was for, she said, “You can't get married in a two-dollar ring! I don't think it's legal.”), and in a courtroom with chickens running around the aisles, stood before a stern judge who soon pronounced us Mon and Wife.
We sent telegrams to our relatives, her boss, my roommates. “Married today. Love, Jules and Effin.”
Next, we developed a sudden and simultaneous need for a milkshake. We slurped down two apiece. Next, I took a picture of Effin gazing at her ring. Next, a storeowner took a picture of us gazing at each other. Next, we missed the last ferry back to St. John.
So we thumbed a ride on the evening iceboat. As we stood at the stern, arms around each other, we watched flying fish leap and dive before the setting sun.
It felt like a good start for a traveling marriage.
For more of Jules Older’s travel adventures and misadventures, hitch yourself into his ebook, DEATH BY TARTAR SAUCE: A Travel Writer Encounters Gargantuan Gators, Irksome Offspring, Murderous Mayonnaise & True Love. It’s available on all platforms, including the YourLifeIsATrip.com Trip Shop powered by Amazon.