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 I am struck by the feeling, for the second time in my life, that everyone around me is getting married. Iíve been through this wave once before, when one of the people about to get married was me. You know how that turned out; I appear to be in a bit less danger this time.

My friend MDS called the other day. MDS - which is not some writerly pseudonym; thatís actually what we call him - is one of the few geniuses Iíve ever met, a mad poet with wild, intense eyes, unruly and sprawling long black hair and a mind that never met a problem it couldnít deconstruct, dissolve and destroy within 10 to 15 seconds.

In college, I realized that MDS was the smartest person Iíd ever met, and that thought hasnít faded in the slightest. He was also crazed; he once, after a particularly late evening of both legal and illegal revelry, began speaking fluent Spanish to me, even though he, in fact, didnít actually speak anything but English.

He was my Neal Cassady, a blisteringly alive muse who always had a beautifully different take on everything I mindlessly watched pass by. I hoped Iíd chronicle his doings for many years, because if I couldnít be like MDS, Iíd be more than honored to tell others about him. He was a true American original, and I always figured heíd either become president or die a glorious, romantically gruesome death at the age of 25.

MDS was two years behind me in school, and when I graduated and moved to Los Angeles, we talked less often. But we still stayed in relatively close touch, and anytime I made it back to the Midwest, I made sure to visit. It was amazing, really; everyone who had met him since I left treated him as the same strange type of god I always had. Heís the type of guy youíd storm a bunker for, blindfolded and naked, with no weapons. He was born to be a leader of men.

Right before he graduated in May 1999, he met a lovely senior named Sarah, a pillar of the campus community who spent her after-class hours as a volunteer who worked with children suffering from Downís Syndrome. I met her once, and she was as advertised: sweet, wholesome, almost preposterously nice. I liked her instantly, but I couldnít help wonder about the long-term prospects. Not that MDS was some kind of jerk. Itís just, well, it seemed the man would be too busy scaling mountains, writing cosmic manifestos and inspiring the masses out of their complacent sloth and into planning a revolution to have time to get too serious.

That said, upon graduation, MDS and Sarah moved to Los Angeles - which I had long since departed - where they both worked as teachers in the Compton school district. I still talked with MDS, but I had plenty going on myself, as youíve heard enough about already, so correspondence dwindled.

And then he called the other day. Usually, weíll chat about football, mock people we went to college with for a while, shoot the proverbial shit. But there was no screwing around this time.

ďHey, Will, I got married.Ē Sarah and MDS had headed to a Vegas chapel, where they tied the knot amidst countless couples in various stages of gestation (which they were not, I hasten to add). Stunned, I congratulated him and then stumbled through various conversation topics, including our amusement at the fact that the mystic MDS was now somebodyís uncle. Then we hung up, and, as I am wont to do, I got to thinking and got to freaking out.

You see, dear readers, something has happened to me recently that I havenít let you in on, and I apologize.

No, no, no, Iím not getting married; heavens no. My feelings on the idea of someone spending the rest of their life with me were summed up succinctly by a reader last week, who told me, ďIf I had only read a couple of (your columns), Iíd probably be in love with you. But since I slacked off pretty much all day and read them from beginning to end - Iím gonna say letís just be friends.Ē Thatís me: nice place to visit; wouldnít want to live there.

Right before I left The New York Times, I, on a particularly odd whim, ripped off a brief and mundane e-mail to the ex-fiancťe, with whom I hadnít had any contact for about, oh, two years. It was quite flaccid, actually; it was just a ďhey there, I was working at the Times, Iím not now, writing a lot more now, whaddya say, hey, hey, hope youíre not dead or anything.Ē No big deal.

Then she wrote back. Because Iím an insolent prick, Iíll reprint the main part (Iíll edit it a bit because she never was a very good writer):

Speaking of relationships, I have some news.

Iím getting married June 24. Iíve been dating (guyís name; I figure if Iíve never printed her name, itís not exactly fair to print his) for a couple years. Weíve known each other since the seventh grade. Basically Iím marrying my best friend. Iím very excited. And believe me, this is the right decision. Iíve thought of you and I and everything we went through on occasion lately - well, actually, a lot lately. Very good memories - I hope the same is for you.

There are things I wish could have gone differently, but Iím sure youíll agree with me when I say that Iím glad we didnít go through with it.

Ahem, cough, gasp, chortle, ack (in that order).

It was a stunning e-mail to receive while otherwise innocently preoccupied with baseball stats, nude Woody Allen pictures and dropcaps. Upon reading it, I printed it out, went downstairs, smoked about 16 cigarettes (at once!) and read it again and again.

Getting married? The ex-fiancťe?

Remember that scene in When Harry Met Sally ... (Iíve always hated having to put the ellipses in that title, by the way) when Meg Ryan calls Billy Crystal in tears because she has learned that her former fiancť has gotten married? She says, (Iím paraphrasing because the goddamned IMDB doesnít have the quote) ďItís not that he didnít want to get married ... itís that he didnít want to get married to me.Ē

Well, I didnít feel like that. Because fuck that, Iím not one of those weasels who quotes from When Harry Met Sally .... Itís just strange. I mean, Iíve done everything that my ex-fiancťeís fiancť has. Heís gotten her a ring; done that. Heís helped pick out the invitations and the location; done that. Heís got a happy life with plenty of joy ahead of him; Iíve ... well, Iíve helped pick out invitations.

Please, please, friends, donít have the impression that I am still hung up on the ex-fiancťe. Sheís right; if we would have actually gotten married (at 21! Eeek!), she would have murdered me by now. Sheíd have wanted to go play with the trees and stuff, and I wouldnít have wanted to leave the computer or the movie theater. Iím glad it didnít happen.

Itís just, well, thatís pretty much the most tragic thing that has ever happened to me (which, I recognize, makes me somewhat fortunate); my mom once said my life would be divided into what happened before that, and what happened after, and this is one of the more newsworthy things after.

But good luck to her. She deserves it. Itís just that thereís a lot of marriage going around. Iím 24 years old, and Iíve got a bit of whiplash. In Mattoon, if youíre 24 and not married, youíre probably gay (my parents were married at, what, 15?). Here in New York, if youíre 24 and are, youíre probably desperate for that green card. And my idea of marriage has been twisted by the whole situation. I mean, Iíve screwed up so many times with women ... letís just say Iíll never be a particularly good horse to bet on.

Itís going around, though. Marriage is all around me, and it will be more so as I creep dangerously toward 30. MDS is married, the ex-fiancťe is getting married, plenty more exes are on their way. And here I am, muddling through the muck, head in my ass, just trying to figure out if I have any matching socks. Am I supposed to be that grown up already? And am I supposed to be such a moronic clichť? And, seriously, do I have any matching socks?

Itís not that Iím opposed to marriage; jeez, though, does it have to involve me? Iíve learned that lesson, though a little too late.

But more power to them. Let Ďem have their happiness, MDS and the ex-fiancťe. Iíll just sit here, alone on a dark Friday night, tapping my thoughts into a computer that doesnít smile, happy to be alone, alone in my own head. Itís not very comfortable in here, but it certainly is roomy.



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