I suppose we were happy on my wedding day, though it’s hard for me to imagine now. I can’t quite fathom how, in an era of such bitterness, any sort of happiness was possible. This was September of 2000, fourteen years ago, which is a long time: one hundred and sixty-eight months, more than five thousand days.
The party was memorable, that’s for sure, especially after that soulless, torturous ceremony in our apartment. We’d done a thorough cleaning the night before, but I think our relatives still whispered about us as they left, because there’s no denying that those threadbare armchairs and the wine-stained walls and carpets didn’t come together to give the impression of a place fit for a wedding.
The bride – of course I remember her name, though I think eventually I’ll forget it: someday I will even forget her name – looked lovely, but my parents just couldn’t understand why she would wear a black dress. I wore a gray suit so shiny and shabby that an uncle of the bride’s said I looked more like an office gofer than a groom. It was a classist and stupid comment, but it was also true, because that was precisely the suit I’d worn when I worked as an office gofer. I still associate it, more than with the wedding, with those endless days I spent walking around downtown or waiting in line at some bank, my hair cut humiliatingly short and wearing a cornflower-blue tie that could never be loosened enough.
Luckily, the official from the civil registry left straight away, and after the champagne and modest hors d’oeuvres – I remember with shame that the potato chips were all crushed – we had a long lunch, and we even had time to take a nap and change our clothes before our friends began to arrive, bringing, as we’d requested, generous alcoholic contributions instead of gifts. There was so much booze that soon we were sure we wouldn’t be able to drink it all, and because we were high, that seemed like a problem. We debated the issue for a long time, although (since we were high) maybe it wasn’t really that long.
Then Farra carried in an enormous, empty twenty-five-liter drum – I don’t know why he had it in his house – and we started to fill it up, emptying bottles in at random while we half-danced, half-shouted. It was a risky undertaking, but the concoction – that’s what we called it, we thought the word was funny – turned out to be delectable. How I would love to go back to the year 2000 and record the exact combination that led to that unexpected and delicious drink. I’d like to know just how many bottles or boxes of red and how many of white went in, what was the dosage of pisco, of vodka, of whiskey, tequila, gin, whatever. I remember there was also Campari, anise, mint and gold liqueurs, some scoops of ice cream and even some powdered juice in that unrepeatable jug.
The next thing I remember is waking up stretched out in the living room, not just the bride and me but a ton of other people, some of whom I’d never even met, though I don’t know if they were crashing the party or if they were distant cousins of the bride, who had – as I discovered that night – an astonishing number of distant cousins. It was maybe ten in the morning, we were all having trouble stringing words together, but I wanted to try out the ultra-modern coffee maker my sister had given us, so I brewed several liters of coffee and little by little we shook off our sleep. I went to the big bathroom – the little bathroom was covered in vomit – and saw my friend Maite sleeping in the tub, sprawled in an unlikely position, though she looked pretty comfortable, her right cheek pressed against the ceramic tile as if it were an enviable feather pillow. I woke her up and offered her a cup of coffee, but she went for a beer instead to keep the hangover at bay.
Later, at around one in the afternoon, Farra switched on a camera he’d brought to film the party but had only just remembered. I was flopped in a corner of the room, drinking my zillionth coffee while the bride dozed against my chest. ‘How does it feel, man?’ Farra questioned me, imitating the tone of an overenthusiastic small-town reporter.
‘To be married?’ I asked him.
‘No: to be married in a country where you can’t get divorced.’ I told him not to be an ass, but he insisted. He told me his interest was genuine. I didn’t want to look at him, but he went on filming me. ‘Why celebrate so much,’ he went on, relentlessly, ‘when you’re just going to separate in a couple of years? You’ll call me yourself. You’re going to come to my office desperate for me to process your annulment.’
‘No,’ I answered, uncomfortable.
Then the bride sat up and rubbed her immense green eyes, caressed my hair, smiled at Farra and said, lightly, as if she’d spent some time thinking about the matter, that as long as divorce wasn’t legal in Chile, we wouldn’t separate. And then I added, looking defiantly into the camera: ‘We will stay married in protest, even if we hate each other.’ She hugged me, we kissed, and she said that we wanted to go down in Chile’s history, we wanted to be the first Chilean couple to get divorced. ‘It’s a stupendous law. We recommend that everyone get divorced now,’ I said, playing along. And she, looking at the camera too, with unanimous laughter in the background, seconded the sentiment: ‘Yes, it’s an absolutely commendable law.’
‘Chile is one of the few countries in the world where divorce isn’t legal,’ someone said.
‘The only one,’ someone else clarified.
‘No, there are still a few,’ said another.
‘In Chile,’ Farra said, ‘the divorce law will never pass. They’ve been arguing over it for years and nothing’s happened, with the whole rotten Catholic lobby against it. They even threatened to excommunicate any representatives on the right who voted for it. The world will go on laughing at us.’ Someone said that the divorce law wasn’t the most urgent thing to be fixed in the country, and then the sluggish conversation turned into a collective debate. As if we were filling up another drum, this time with our complaints or our wishes, almost all of us had something to contribute: the urgent thing is for Pinochet to go to jail, to go to trial, to go to hell; the urgent thing is to find the bodies of the disappeared; the urgent thing is education. The urgent thing is health care, said someone else, and then came another, others: the urgent thing is to fight capitalism; the urgent thing is for Colo-Colo to win the Copa Libertadores again; the urgent thing is to fuck over Opus Dei; the urgent thing is to kick Iván Moreira’s ass. The urgent thing is the war on drugs, added one of the bride’s distant cousins, getting everyone’s attention, but right away he clarified that it was a joke.
‘We live in the country of waiting,’ the poet said then. There were several poets at the party, but he was the only one who deserved the title, because he tended to talk like a poet. More precisely, he spoke in the unmistakable tone of a drunk poet, of a drunk Chilean poet, of a young, drunk, Chilean poet: ‘We live in the country of waiting, we live in wait for something. Chile is one giant waiting room, and we will all die waiting for our number to be called.’
‘What number?’ someone asked.
‘The number they give you in waiting rooms, dumbass,’ someone said. Then there was complete silence and I took the opportunity to close my eyes, but I opened them again right away, everything was spinning.
‘Goddamn, you talk nice,’ Maite told the poet, then: ‘I could really be into you, if it weren’t for how small your dick is.’
‘And how do you know that?’ asked the poet, and she confessed she had spent hours hidden in the bathtub, looking at the penises of the men who went to piss. The poet said, with a slight but convincing scientific intonation, that the size of the penis when pissing was not representative of the penis in an erect state, and there was a general murmur of approval.
‘Let’s see then, show it to me erect,’ said Maite, all in.
‘I can’t,’ said the poet. ‘I’m too drunk to get it up. You can try going down on me if you want, but I’m sure I won’t get hard.’ They went to the bathroom or to the poet’s house, I don’t remember.
‘I’m sorry,’ Farra said to us later, I suppose regretfully, the camera turned off: ‘I don’t want you to separate. But if one day you do, you know you can count on me, both of you: I’ll separate you for free.’ I don’t know if we smiled at him, now I think we did, but it must have been a bitter smile. The guests left one by one, and it was night by the time we were alone. We collapsed into bed and slept about twelve hours straight, our arms around each other. We always slept in an embrace. We loved each other, of course we did. We loved each other.
Two years later, just as Farra had predicted, we went to see him in his office. The divorce law was still stalled in Congress; it was said that its approval was imminent, but Farra told us that in no way was it worth waiting for. He even thought that afterward, once it passed, divorce would be more expensive than annulment. He explained the process to us: we’d already known that the judgment of nullity was ridiculous, but when we found out the details, it also struck us as immoral. We had to declare that neither she nor I had lived at the addresses that appeared on our marriage contract, and we had to find some witnesses who would attest to it.
‘How idiotic,’ I told the bride that afternoon, at a cafe on calle Agustinas: ‘How pathetic, how shameful to be a judge who listens to someone lie and pretends not to know they’re lying.’
‘Chile is idiotic,’ she said, and I think that was the last time the two of us were in total agreement. We didn’t want to get an annulment, but it was fitting, in some sense. Now that I think about it, the best way to summarize our story together would be that I gradually annulled her and she me, until finally we were both entirely annulled.
In May 2004, Chile became the penultimate country in the world to legalize divorce, but the bride and I had already gotten an annulment. Maite and the poet, who by then were a couple, were going to be our witnesses, but at the last minute the poet backed out and I had to ask the favor of the woman whom, a few years later, I married. I’m not going to tell that story here; it’s enough to say that with her, things were completely different. With her, things worked out: she and I were able, finally, to divorce.
1. The general tone of this story is:
2. What is the worst title for this story – the one that, it goes without saying, would appeal to the widest possible audience?
a) ‘Five Thousand and One Nights’
b) ‘Two Years of Solitude’
c) ‘Fourteen Years of Solitude’
d) ‘Two Weddings and No Funeral’
e) ‘The Labyrinth of Nullity’
3. In your opinion, who are the victim and the victimizer, respectively, in this story?
a) The bride / The groom
b) The poet / Maite
c) Chile / Chile
d) Liver / Concoction
e) Liquor / Beer
4. According to the text, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the nation of Chile was:
a) Conservative in its morality and liberal in its economy
b) Conservative in its insobriety and artificial in all things holy
c) Innovative in its levity and literal in its tragedy
d) Aggressive in its religiosity and conjugal in its wizardry
e) Exhaustive in its chicanery and indecisive in its celerity
5. The narrator doesn’t mention the bride’s name because:
a) He wants to protect her. Moreover, he knows that he doesn’t have the right to name her, to expose her. That fear of naming her, in any case, is so 90s.
b) He wants to protect the woman’s identity because he’s afraid she might sue him.
c) Although he says he will even forget her name, maybe he’s already forgotten it. Or maybe he’s still in love with her. He swears he no longer remembers her name, but he knows just what to call her: Maria.
d) He’s a no-good heartbreaker. He’s a liar and a cheat. And a misogynist. And sexist.
e) If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
6. According to the text, the divorce law wasn’t passed earlier in Chile because:
a) The Catholic Church lobbied intensely, even threatening to excommunicate the Congress people who supported the bill.
b) There were other priorities in the areas of health, education and justice.
c) The priority was to put off indefinitely any reform that might put the country’s stability at risk.
d) The priority was to put off indefinitely any reform that might put at risk the interests of corporations and the impunity of those responsible for crimes during the dictatorship, including, of course, Pinochet. In this context, the divorce law was hardly a question of values, and even the right-wing leaders – many of them ‘annulled’ and remarried – knew it was disgraceful that Chile still hadn’t legalized divorce, but they put the matter off until they needed a powerful distraction that would neutralize the public outcry for justice and radical reforms.
e) A much better system existed: annulment. Because when a couple separates, what we really want is to believe that we were never married, that the person with whom we wanted to share our lives never existed. Nullity was the best way to erase the un-erasable.
7. Which of the following famous phrases best reflects the meaning of the text?
a) ‘Marriage is the chief cause of divorce.’ (Groucho Marx)
b) ‘Love opens the parentheses, marriage closes it.’ ( Victor Hugo)
c) ‘A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.’ (Samuel Johnson)
d) ‘Unable to suppress love, the Church wanted at least to disinfect it, and it created marriage.’ (Charles Baudelaire)
e) ‘Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly.’ ( Voltaire)
8. The end of this story is, without a doubt:
i ) Sad
xii) It’s a happy ending, in a way
a) i, ii and iv
c) All of the above
d) viii and xi
Illustration © Sunra Thompson