When Levi proposed to Damien, it wasn’t the first time Levi had proposed marriage to someone. Levi had been proposing marriage to everyone from childhood friends to total strangers almost all his life. His first proposal of matrimony had been positively received by, of all things, a young woman of five, Nannette Deal, who he had proposed to when they were both kindergarten students at Morningside Elementary School. He quickly became the fiance of choice at the elementary school; by the time he was in fifth grade, he had no less than fourteen broken engagements behind him and a few scars from broken-hearted females who scratched or bit him when he broke off with them to ask someone else to be his wife.
His teen years saw this odd pattern come to an end, only to be replaced by a casual plea of, “Marry me” uttered whenever anyone did anything that pleased him. Whether it was a host at a restaurant seating him at a favorite booth, a clerk in a bookstore who tracked down a copy of a book he wanted to read, or a friend who made him laugh hard on a day when his moods begged for a laugh, “Marry me” had become Levi’s trademark answer to any kind act.
Responses ranged from people regretfully flashing wedding bands at him to playful, “Name the date” dares and “Oh, if you were serious. . .” flirtations. If someone brought him a coffee, they got a marriage proposal. Male, female, sometimes even a strange animal that came up to him in a park. Police officers who helped him find an address in the age before smartphones and GPS, mechanics who gave him a deal on an oil change, and, when he used to smoke, anyone who would give him a cigarette if he found himself without.
It made people laugh, brought a smile to their face, and gave them an opportunity to play along while giving their ego a boost. Who didn’t want to be proposed to by a handsome blond guy with green eyes and, at the time, a slight Southern drawl as was typified by his upbringing in Ansley Park?
But, one day—June 26, 2015, to be exact—Levi stopped asking anyone and everyone to marry him because, on that day, it became a possibility someone might take him up on his offer. Obergefell vs. Hodges resulted in Levi being able to actually marry another man. So, while no woman seriously stood a chance of him actually bonding matrimonially, now, for the first time, a man could hold him to his marriage proposal. And Levi viewed marriage as a matrimonial bomb. As much as he treasured monogamy, he had no interest in ever marrying—at least, not in 2015. And so, realizing his flippant pleas of, “Marry me” could actually land him in a situation he’d rather not have to extricate himself from, he stopped saying that particular line. He learned how dangerous it was the very night of the Obergefell decision: Leaving a celebratory rally at Piedmont and 10th, a stranger next to him picked up his car keys after he dropped them.
“Marry me,” Levi had said, smiling at the stranger.
“Mmmm,” the mustached hunk had replied, “Well, now that we can. . .let’s elope right now, baby.”
It hit him like a punch in the mouth. All those things he hadn’t even ever thought would be possible in his lifetime now were. He could elope. He could have a big wedding. He could have one of those tacky “destination weddings” which bankrupted all his friends just so they could see him marry the man of his momentary dreams in some far-away location. He could get married barefoot on a beach, in tuxedos at Disney World, in a tiny chapel in Las Vegas, or in an Atlanta park. He could have an engagement, an engagement party, a bachelor party. He could have a wedding registry at a department store. He could have a long engagement stretching into years. . .or he could elope.
He looked at the man who had proposed a quickie marriage with a keyring, apologized bluntly with an “I was just kidding”, grabbed his keys and, shocked at this new realization of unforeseen possibilities, walked for a dizzying hour in a mental fog of amazement– until he got home and realized he had left his car eleven blocks away.
So, when Levi, years later and in the throes of a manic episode, proposed marriage to Damien Lanchester, it wasn’t the first time he had ever proposed marriage.
It was just the first time he had ever meant it.