Punching My Way Through Teenage Bridehood
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Love is a many-fisted thing.
By Gemma Hartley
I went to my first teenage wedding my senior year of high school. A few weeks shy of homecoming.
It felt like playing dress-up when I picked out a waffle iron from a Target gift registry, signing the gift from myself and my high school sweetheart. We drove in his parents’ truck, make-believing we were grownups before heading back to our respective homes to finish our homework for AP government. The breakfast appliance loomed between us as I made guesses about the style of dress the teenage bride might wear and whether or not she was pregnant. “I can’t believe they’re getting married,” I must have said 10 times.
While teenage weddings weren’t uncommon in our small desert township of Dayton, Nevada, it was still uncommon to me. I had spent most of my life in Northern California, with more people living within a one-mile radius of me than in the whole of Dayton. So I couldn’t wait to tell my Californian friends about the wedding — and the spectacle did not disappoint.
By the time we reached my uncle’s Wild West–themed party … I was sick to death of being hassled about my engagement and my age.
The football-playing groom enlisted a shirtless teammate to light tiki torches along the backyard aisle, the groomsmen boogied through the processional to disco music and we feasted on a Chinese food buffet set out on folding tables. There was a bounce house, but few children, unless you counted the throngs of teens — bride and groom included. I left on a dizzying high, swept up in the romance, while my date spent the ride home proclaiming he never wanted to get married and railing on the establishment nature of the whole ritual.
“Just be happy for them,” I said. “This isn’t about us.” We were engaged a year later.
We returned to Dayton High School, where I showed off my new ring and talked wedding plans with former classmates. We were planning a two-year engagement and a classy wedding at a real venue. I wasn’t going to be another teenage bride with a backyard bash or blow through Reno’s drive-through chapel like other classmates had done. Besides, I was 18. I was an adult.
I reveled in my maturity as I took off for England that summer to visit family. Being 18 there felt even more adult as I pub-hopped with cousins and drank Smirnoff Ice in my aunt’s backyard. I figured my relatives would delight in my wedding news just as my classmates had, but I was wrong. Instead, nearly everyone warned I was too young to be making a lifelong commitment: You haven’t even lived yet! You’re still a child! You can’t be serious!
By the time we reached my uncle’s Wild West–themed party at the end of the trip, I was sick of being hassled about my engagement and my age. I fretted that the cowboy hat I was planning to wear made me look even younger. And my mom had decided to tell men at the party I was single. Most were not interested after getting a quick flash of my ring, but late that night, one guy was too drunk to care.
His name was Curly, and when I said, “Like one of the Three Stooges?” he acted like he’d never heard of them. Not interested in small talk, he seemed eager to start a fight. He said my marriage was going to be a waste, flashing a jeering smile. “Those high school romances never work out,” he taunted. “You Americans are so stupid. What’s his name? Your boyfriend?”
The mix of adrenaline and alcohol in my system was something I hadn’t felt before. “Rob,” I said. “That’s a stupid fucking name,” he responded, spitting through laughter.
Later it would dawn on me that I was at an outdoor party and could have walked away in any direction. But in the moment, I realized nothing until the words, “And you’re a stupid fucking cunt!” flew from my mouth, and my fist made contact with his face. Reeling from the shock of being punched by a Yankee teenage bride, Curly stumbled away as some of my cousins gathered by my side, one clapping me on the back, another moseying up to the hay-bale bar to get me something to drink.
I faded back into the party, just another drunk cowgirl in the crowd. Later I’d take off my 10-gallon hat and makeup and pretend it never happened. I’d go back to the real West and continue my wedding planning. I’d go back to being a goddamn adult, and that would be that.
- Gemma Hartley, OZY Author Contact Gemma Hartley