Today is Katie and I's anniversary. We would have been married for four years.
Katie was an exceptional spit player. I know this because the first week we arrived to Dhaka, in 2000, I lost several consecutive games of spit to Katie. We were winding down a long day of Peace Corps training, drinking beer and playing cards at a guest house. I know that during one hand she played with one hand behind her back, and still won, well, handily. The story goes that I then accused her of cheating at this card game that involves, essentially, picking up and putting down cards as fast as you can. I’m a little fuzzy on the details. Finally, I stormed out of the room. Not that I wasn't making much of an impression. Katie had long before made up her mind that I was a little too loud, maybe just a tad arrogant, worth knocking down a peg or two.
Off to site, we ran into each other a good amount in Dhaka: at in-services, around the bus junctions, on a quick weekend break for some steak and beer at the American Club. I remember thinking at the time that Katie and I sure hugged it out a lot. That summer, to get away from her site, Katie jumped on a bus and made a day-trip to Tangail. At my PTI, we sang “It’s A Small World” and worked out some choreography that was a big hit. We walked into town and went to lunch at the Chinese restaurant, one of only two air-conditioned buildings in the district. Our performance and long walk set off the rumor at my school and in town that I was married. My superintendent at the time was from Munshiganj district, Katie’s site, and that fall I made a visit with her to Katie’s digs, witnessing firsthand the challenging circumstances of her site, where a protracted gang war eventually forced Katie’s relocation to the much nicer Rangpur.
About a year later, we all came to Dhaka to attend the post-swearing-in festivities for the new crop of volunteers. Our country director threw a big party that night at his house, and amid a lot of revelry, Katie and I danced a few songs together. She asked me, “John Evans, how come we don’t spend more time together?” and I, aloof, said, “Gosh, Katie, I think it’s because you can’t stand being around me for more than a few hours.” That June, on a fifteen-hour bus ride back from a training at Cox’s Bazaar, we sat together and embarked upon an epic conversation about family, home, college—the sort of early-twenties debriefing that makes quite an impression. The next night, we went to a screening of “What Lies Beneath” at someone’s house, then dinner at the top of the Iqval Tower (tallest building in Dhaka!), which shows how I still had a lot to learn about what did and did not impress Katie.
I offer all of this because maybe, in retrospect, certain moments were big, flashing “don’t you see what’s coming!” sign-posts to our eventual relationship. I’m not so sure. It reminds me of that idea, from Kierkegaard, how at the end of a life you look back and the events seem arranged in a sequence like a well-plotted novel. I have so many good memories of our time in Bangladesh together, and they all have a kind of halcyon almost-summer-camp glow in my mind that is pretty typical of Peace Corps romances. I don’t know that either of us took things too seriously, initially; knowing Katie now—and maybe you can back me up here—that very come-what-may attitude was probably what kept me in the picture those first few months. Whatever the context, by the time we had been evacuated from Bangladesh and relocated to Bangkok, in October 2001, we were making plans to travel throughout Asia together, and to eventually, tentatively, settle in Chicago.
We held our wedding at an apple orchard in Hobart, Indiana, in a newly-renovated barn with a big finished loft. We chose May 8th because the apple blossoms would be in full-bloom, and sure enough, they were. We designed a ceremony that relied heavily on the musical and reading-selection talents of family and friends. Our wedding party was comprised of the nieces, Jeff, Ed, and Wayne Botz. Sarah and Jason (who now does the KMF website) made our invitations and set up the sound system. There were fresh-baked cookies and hay rides after the ceremony, and our photographer circulated and took a bunch of random shots that still make for a nice non-sequential chronicle of the day’s events. The meal was buffet-style, a do-it-yourself burritos gig with homemade guacamole and salsa, a keg of Leinenkugel’s, and a giant vat of sangria. Among several favorite memories, I remember Bill Briggs shaking everyone’s hand and generally ingratiating himself to a bunch of friends and family he’d never seen before; Eric Greene, just before midnight, filling up a Seven-Up two-liter bottle with sangria, then running out onto the dance floor because Sir Mix-A-Lot was starting up; the LaPlante family band adapting “Sweet Violets” for a mid-reception performance.
For our first dance, Katie and I went back and forth between Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Blue Jeans,” and Shonen Knife’s cover of “On Top of the World,” settling, finally, on Willie Nelson’s “Valentine,” as a kind of post-ironic nod to our mutual suspicion of February 14th. When I hear “Valentine” now, I think of our wedding; a mix that Katie and I made a couple of months before the wedding, for when we drove out to Oregon to visit graduate schools; teaching in North Carolina the summer before I went to the Peace Corps, when I first heard the whole “Across the Borderline” album. Recently, I heard this NPR interview with Willie Nelson, where he said that mid-career he had mostly stopped writing songs because “so many of them were so damned sad.” I like Willie because you always get the feelings he’s not completely bought into some of his hokum, that he’s holding back a little in his red bandana, aerated guitar, and white sneakers.
So we danced to Willie. We wanted to keep the Dylan, so our closing song was “Forever Young.” We printed the lyrics on the program and encouraged everyone to sing along. I try to think back now and remember what it was that made me want to include a sing-along (it definitely wasn’t Katie’s decision), beyond the fact that, hey, I like sing-alongs. Fortunately, it worked. At the time, though, I just remember thinking, “I hope everyone sings and it’s not weird, I hope everyone sings and it’s not weird…”