Two interesting pieces of information about myself, each of which is 100 percent true: 1) My first Holy Communion was at the second wedding ceremony of my only marriage, and 2) My only religious confession was delivered to a priest who couldn't understand a word I said.
I was married in English, in the eyes of the law, before the eyes of my parents, in the Cuvier Park "Wedding Bowl" in La Jolla on June 14, 2003. I was married in French, in the eyes of the Lord, before the eyes of my wife's parents, in the town church in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica, France, on September 23 of that same year.
(As an aside, and to put this story into perspective, I should tell you that the marriage was a complete disaster: a year and a half of deafening strife between two people whose differences -- cultural and personal -- would have taken decades of harmonizing therapy to work through. I was 33, and my wife -- soon to be ex-wife -- was 21.)
My ex, who's Corsican, and I had a whirlwind romance, a relatively hasty stateside wedding, and we were three months into our escalating difficulties when we flew to her hometown on L'Ile de Beauté (the Island of Beauty) to fulfill her grandmother's requirement that we experience a traditional Catholic wedding.
I was raised nondenominational, and happily so, and as a result I had never received the Eucharist, nor confessed, nor bought into the Good Book as anything other than a good book. It was almost the same for my ex, despite her grandmother's promptings: she'd been to church a few times growing up, but her faith wasn't in the teachings of any religion.
But, by God, if any granddaughter of Mina Lorenzoni was going to get married, it had better be a Catholic wedding!
We met the priest who was to marry us, an older Corsican fellow, three days before the scheduled ceremony. He spoke very little English, and I speak very little French. I thought we were meeting him to discuss what we were supposed to say, and where we were going to stand, and how things were scheduled to go on our wedding day. Instead, we were introduced (in French), the priest and my ex began discussing details (in French), and this Corsican holy man became incensed with the fact that I had never been recognized in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I assured him, through my ex, that I had in fact been baptized. He assured us, through my ex, that I would have to prove as much, and then I would have to confess my sins to him, or else we couldn't be married in his church in three days.
Needless to say, reaching my parents in Connecticut, so they could reach my grandmother in upstate New York, so that my grandmother could drive out to the tiny church in the countryside where I'd been baptized and find a priest who could visit the archives of that church and dig out an official paper that proved my baptism, which would then, in turn, be faxed to this Corsican priest — all in a day or two, no less! — was no easy task. I felt like putting my face menacingly close to the face of this priest and mustering my best gangster accent and whispering, "Hey. Hey, buddy. Do I look like I have original sin to you?"
In the end, the proof arrived, and I delivered my first (and, as yet, only) confession to a priest — a priest who couldn't understand a word out of my mouth. It occurred to me more than once as I offered up my sins that I could say literally anything I wanted to, including, "I confess that I'd like to wring the neck of this priest who's hearing my confession, O Lord," but instead I decided to take the sacrament of confession more or less seriously.
The next day, we were married before dozens of Corsicans during a Catholic Mass in a stone church that was built in the 1700s. I didn't understand more than a few words of what was going on. Three or four times, I was required to say, "Oui, je le veux" (vaguely, "I do").
And then we exited onto the cobblestones and were showered with rice and whisked off to a reception where one of my ex's relatives gave a karate demonstration, the band sang bad '80s American pop tunes with terrible accents, and no one but my ex and one or two others could carry on a conversation with yours truly.
It's ironic, now, in light of the failure of my marriage, but when I'd said "I do" in English, in June, in La Jolla, I'd felt a sort of rightness in my soul, as though love had inspired me to accept my end of one of the highest possible human responsibilities.
The peculiarities in Corsica, in September — going through the motions of a faith neither my ex nor I believe in, in a language I hardly speak, and redoing the vows for a marriage that was already beginning to collapse — filled me with a feeling of grim foreboding and ironic amusement as I said, "Oui, je le veux," in my best (very bad) French. The second time around, it was all I could do not to laugh till I cried, or cry till I could laugh.