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L.A. Affairs: It was the world’s most unromantic proposal

Illustration of two longtime partners atop wedding cake getting married.
We finally married, for all the right reasons.
(Sol Cotti / For The Times)

We were still on our first cup of coffee when she gave me a long look and suddenly said: “We need to get married. Today.”

She added: “If I were to get sick with the coronavirus and die, you’d be up ...” that proverbial creek without a paddle.

I just sat there and stared. It’s not every day I hear language like that from a refined, French-born scientist.

I couldn’t decide whether to be flattered or offended. It wasn’t exactly the marriage proposal every girl dreams of.

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Let me explain. Sylviane and I have lived together for over eight years. We became a couple later in life and talked about getting married many times. But the wedding would be “someday.” Our relationship from day one has been one that makes other people jealous: We are madly in love, we are each other’s best friend, we laugh all the time, and our fights, if you can even call them fights, never last longer than a few minutes.

In other words, we are perfect marriage material. Neither of us is young, but we are still strong and healthy; and never before was our mortality thrown in our faces with such brutal force of inevitability as it was that day in mid-March, when the reality of COVID-19 and the shutdown was crashing down upon us.

But the two of us were facing different realities, I being a freelance singer losing all of my income with all my concerts canceled for the foreseeable future and she being a chief executive of her own medical dispatch company for more than 30 years. When we decided to live together, I moved into the house she already owned for many years, and legally I had nothing to do with it. So, yes, you get it, I am not the breadwinner in the family, and if she were to die, I could be out on a curb. Without that proverbial paddle, as she so exquisitely put it.

That reality — the one we had never addressed or discussed because it always seemed like we had plenty of time — settled in as I poured us a second cup of coffee.

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All these insecurities and contradicting feelings were too much for my severely under-caffeinated brain that day, a day that brought the closure of pretty much everything that brings us any joy or satisfaction. (Macy’s has always been an essential business to me, and I could see my joy of shopping disappearing over the horizon.)

There was an additional reality I needed to hang on to: Sylviane didn’t care about my annual earnings. She loved me and appreciated me just the way I was, supported me in everything, and unquestionably cared for me and about me.

“OK, Boo” I said. (We never call each other by our real names at home.) “I’ll see what I can do to get us married today,” I said. It’s usually like this between us: She comes up with an idea, and I have to figure out how to make it work.

I picked up the phone. What do I look for? Same-day weddings in Los Angeles? A whole list of places came up in Google, all in Vegas, of course. And then, lo and behold! A same-day marriage spot, just 15 minutes from our house!

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I dialed. A woman’s voice answered, with a heavy Russian accent: “Hahlo?” I am Russian and recognized this accent from the first vowel. “Oh, you are open?” “I picked up, didn’t I?” she replied. The tone of her voice suggested she was not in the best mood, to say the least, but nothing could derail me on my mission to deliver the world’s most romantic wedding after the world’s least romantic wedding proposal.

“My girlfriend and I need to get married today. It’s an emergency. Can you marry a gay couple?”

The voice on the other side softened up a little: ”Look, I don’t care if you are gay or straight, what I care about is having an actual license available. I might have one though. A couple was supposed to come in today, but I think they canceled. I’ll call you back in an hour when I find out.”

Dial tone.

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“Doesn’t sound too promising,” I told Sylviane.

The phone rang 45 minutes later. It was Maria, from Instant Marriage. “I have a license. How soon can you get here? They might close us down any time now, so hurry up.”

A half-hour later, both in black jeans and the most acceptable shirts we could find in the closet, we walked through the deserted office building greeted by a janitor holding a bottle of Lysol.

Maria turned out to be a charming woman with beautiful blue eyes and a big smile. She showed us into the office, which also served as the chapel. As we sat down to fill out the papers, her phone kept ringing. “I don’t answer,” she explained, “I am out of licenses. Your call was the only one I took, and I don’t even know why I picked up in the first place.”

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“So why do you even come to work?” I asked.

“You have no idea! My husband and my two kids are home all day long. I can’t, I just can’t; I have to get out!”

We talked, we laughed, we filled out the paperwork.

In about 15 minutes, my Boo and I were standing under the cascade of cheap plastic white flowers in a cheap plastic gazebo with my cellphone leaning against the back of the seat of a chair, recording it all. We exchanged rings that we took off our fingers just so we could put them back on.

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This surreal scene would’ve been totally comical if it wasn’t for the fact we were finally doing something we always wanted to do: marry each other. And not because she was afraid to die and had to save me from being homeless but because we truly loved each other.

And before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face as I looked at the love of my life putting the same ring back on the same finger where it has been for eight years.

Only now, it felt different in the most wonderful way possible.

The author is an award-winning classical singer and recording artist. She is online at facebook.com/VeronicaBellSoprano

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Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary: L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published, and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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