Marriage Vows

by Michael Hughes, executive director Speak Easy, a Canadian organization for people who stutter, and editor of their monthly magazine, Speaking Out

Mike kept up a running dialogue with his friend, telling jokes in an effort to relax him and keep him loose. They had arrived early at the church and had spent the past half hour walking around the grounds, smoking cigarettes and checking their wristwatches. It was approaching time for the wedding ceremony to start and Jerry's nervousness had increased despite Mike's attempts to relieve the tension. As the Best Man, Jerry was worried that something might go wrong. Mike, on the other hand, seemed to be taking everything in stride - considering that he was the Groom.

The outward appearance, however, was deceiving. Mike had spent a restless night with little sleep. Getting married didn't frighten him, he was looking forward to the responsibilities of living with his bride and starting a family. They were young and in love, what else did they need? Tomorrow was the start of a new life. The future was theirs....

Except for the little matter of exchanging the marriage vows. Mike was a stutterer and could count on his speech to let him down at the most inopportune moments. Depending on the week, Mike could have trouble saying words that started with "S" and "F," or perhaps "D" and "P." That was one of the most frustrating characteristics of stuttering, the target kept moving. Sounds that were difficult one week were replaced the next week by sounds which had been relatively easy to say. The attacks on his fluency appeared to be random, coming and going as if they had a mind of their own.

Of course, there was the expected exception to the rule. Mike usually had trouble with words that began with "M," particularly when he was required to say his own name. True love never runs smooth, so it was inevitable that he would fall in love with a girl named "Maureen," just to make it difficult. In truth she was named "Joan Maureen," but actively disliked the name "Joan" and went by "Maureen."

Coming from a large family of nine children, Maureen seemed to delight in confusing her unsuspecting boyfriend. Each sibling had anywhere from 3 to 5 nicknames, almost as though it was a family law. Discussions involving family members were a maze of false trails, while introductions were meaningless. Names were used and discarded as easily as changing hats while the siblings played their inside joke on outsiders. Even Maureen was known as "Joan," "Maureen," "Nini," and "Mo." In self defense, and to avoid the dreaded "M" sound, Mike had also given her the nickname "Reen."

However, for the approaching wedding ceremony, "Reen" simply wouldn't do. Mike would have to call his bride by her rightful name. Since it was a legal ceremony, he would have to call her by her full name, "Joan Maureen" just to make the speech requirements more difficult. It was the fear of exchanging the vows which was causing Mike to feel apprehensive as the remaining minutes of his bachelorhood ticked away.

Finally, it was time for the wedding mass to begin. Invited guests and regular parishioners filed into the church pews, while Jerry and Mike took their places at the front of the alter. Maureen's entourage arranged themselves for the march down the aisle, only to be disrupted by the late arrival of the mother-of-the-groom (Being late, either fashionably or inadvertently, was a natural occurrence. True to her nature, and the prognostications of her family, she was even "late for her own funeral" as a mix-up at the hospital resulted in a delay in her attending ceremonies at her own funeral).

Once the last guest had been seated, Mike watched in awe as his bride began her slow approach. Maureen was a vision in white, dressed in a gown that had been fitted to her frame. Her right hand held a bouquet of flowers, while her left held her beaming father's arm for support that was more psychological than physical. When she was halfway down the aisle, Mike could see that Maureen was gently biting her lip in an effort to remain in control. Hoping to reassure her, he slowly and deliberately smiled at her, and winked.

The result was instantaneous and almost disastrous. Maureen's expression immediately changed from one of determined anticipation to nervous apprehension. She missed a step and quickly grasped her father's arm with both hands. Her father turned to her, reassuringly patted her clasped hands, and whispered a few soothing words of encouragement. As her bottom lip trembled and her hands shook, Maureen returned her gaze to Mike.

Knowing that he had jeopardized his bride's tenuous control, Mike lowered his eyes and turned to the alter as Maureen moved in beside him to face the priest. Gently he gathered her hand in his, accompanied by soft pressure. He dared not squeeze any harder for fear that his skittish bride would lose the last of her control and bolt from the church.

The kindly old parish priest began the wedding mass and quickly progressed to the vow exchange. As the priest read the vows for Mike to repeat, he mispronounced the bride's name, calling her "JoAnne Maureen" rather than "Joan Maureen." This momentary diversion, combined with Mike's love for Maureen and his fear for her diminishing control, left no room for negative thoughts about stuttering. With a fluency that would later amaze him, Mike strongly and emotionally pledged his troth. Maureen, seemingly enveloped in a sudden calm, softly and warmly returned his pledge.

The marriage vows, so feared as a source of supreme embarrassment, had proven to be no barrier. The new marriage would encounter the many normal hurdles to be expected; but would survive and flourish due to its solid foundation. Their love would see them through.

added with permission, December 4, 1999