As his wedding day approached, Concord’s Curtis McGill began to navigate the gamut of emotions one typically experiences ahead of a traditional ceremony.
Of course, traditional ceremonies don’t usually take place at an altar in the shadow of metal race car hoods emblazoned with beer company logos, or with a wedding party flanked by the green felt of pool tables. Traditional wedding ceremonies may feature an open bar, but few take place inside of one.
And traditional wedding ceremonies tend to feature the union of more than one person.
In fact, aside from the butterflies, there was nothing at all traditional about McGill’s ceremony – and the same goes for the path he took to get there.
Surrounded by close friends and family, including a wedding party of 11, McGill married himself at the Pit Road Lounge last Saturday afternoon. It was a celebration with all the usual conventions – a licensed justice of the peace, a ring and a wedding cake – and none of that pesky legal binding. It was simply McGill pledging his love to himself and those he holds closest.
Why the pomp and circumstance? Because a little more than a year earlier he was 40 pounds lighter, battling grueling treatments for inoperable tonsil cancer and wondering what his future would look like.
Now cancer-free, that future is much brighter. And everyone’s invited.
“I was going to ask my friends if they would come to a party, but I thought, make it bigger, go all the way with it,” McGill said. “Because I have a message I want to get to them: Live your life, love as hard as you can, because we don’t know when our time is coming. It’s cliche, and people have heard these things before, but I’ve never said them. These are things on little placards and billboards, but I’ve never said them. This is my turn to say them to my friends and family. Because I love them. Without them, I am nothing. Emotion is my fuel for this; happiness is my fuel for this.”
To say the celebration went off the beaten path implies too close a proximity to accepted practices; this was off the beaten map. At the very least, McGill has given opponents of same-sex marriage enough to make their heads explode. Same-self marriage? The 2016 Presidential debate topics are endless!
The decision to hold such an event also prompted the expected sarcastic line of questions.
Was there an official proposal? Not quite, but McGill did make it Facebook official.
“I didn’t go to the mirror and all that, but I thought about it in my head, do I want to this?” McGill said. “Then I went on Facebook and changed my status to say ‘engaged.’”
And will there be a honeymoon?
“No honeymoon,” McGill, who admitted his wedding party did throw him a shower, said. “But I’ll probably go see my mom in New Jersey soon. Maybe that’ll be the honeymoon.”
But McGill wasn’t seeking attention or trying to be a trail-blazer. He was announcing a rebirth of sorts. Gone were the times when he would wake up on the floor because he had passed out from a rapid drop in blood pressure. Gone were the months of being unable to exercise or eat solid food, the time spent learning how to talk again. Instead, here are the days when he never stops telling the world how much he loves himself and his friends and family.
“Going from that darkness and that feeling of dread to being fully recovered, it’s such an amazing thing. I’m the same person, I just have more zest,” McGill said. “I just want to be alive. I want to write a book, I want to have an art show; I just want to do so many things. And I am going to do them. And the wedding is the first of those things. When I say I love someone, that’s complete. I’m never reckless with that. When I use that word, I don’t use it irresponsibly. That’s a very important thing to me.”
McGill’s unusual nuptials proved at least one thing: Wedding planning, no matter how unique, is wedding planning. And the emotions that come with it are inescapable.
McGill spent the better part of six months putting the party together, and still had to battle hard-to-beat elements like Mother Nature, which ultimately forced the wedding from its original location at White Park to the Pit Road Lounge because of the threat of thunderstorms. He coordinated every detail of the day, securing a cake, purchasing himself a ring at Zales and finding a justice of the peace.
“I went through all the emotions that people go through with a real wedding – the jitters, the doubts, the cold feet, am I doing the right thing?” McGill said.
Those doubts were officially laid to rest Saturday, when a collection of about 30 people gathered to celebrate McGill. It was a decidedly more casually-clad crowd than you’d see at a traditional ceremony, with flip-flops and shorts, numerous sleeveless shirts and at least one wolf T-shirt spotted in the audience. A few patrons already seated at the bar became additional spectators.
McGill and the wedding party arrived in a limousine and were escorted out onto a red carpet, with another leading the way to the altar, which was set up in front of a wall lined with the aforementioned race car hoods. The wedding party had to march past a metal pole in the center of the dance floor – McGill took advantage of the opportunity and did a twirl on his way by – and stood between two rows of pool tables.
The visceral impact of the surroundings was quickly replaced with the impact McGill has had on people once the ceremony began. Ann Josselyn, McGill’s “best person,” got choked up describing McGill’s upbeat attitude through his cancer treatment, which she played a major supportive role in. Months later, he would help her through the deaths of two close family members.
“This is about love and a recommitment to his life,” Josselyn said. “There’s no better man that I know alive that I’m more privileged to be a friend to. Curtis was my strength to get through (my sadness). He gave me the will to live.”
Ziggy Connell, another member of the wedding party, also had tears streaming down his face while describing McGill’s impact on him, noting that McGill “helped me to be a better version of myself.”
But the comments that drew the loudest applause came from McGill’s daughter, Raven. It was she who Curtis called when he first conceived the idea, promising he would cancel the whole thing if she were embarrassed in any way.
“He said I won’t do this if it embarrasses you, and my reaction was, that’s the best, you’re the best, please do it,” Raven said. “He’s a really good person, and everyone likes him. I don’t think that anyone else deserves him, so this makes sense.”
The ceremony was brief and ended with Justice of the Peace Lisa DeSantis-Tarbassian putting McGill’s ring around his neck on a chain. She ended it by introducing “the new and improved Curtis McGill.”
There was more humorous interpretation of tradition when McGill had to not only slice the cake himself but also stuff the first piece in his own face, and more brevity when a close friend performed an original rap to Will Smith’s Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song. But there were also countless hugs and handshakes that ended with flowing celebratory tears as everyone greeted McGill through the receiving line.
It was that kind of day – hilarious and heartwarming and totally unique, all at the same time.
None of which was lost on McGill, who is trying to share both his message and his unwavering positive outlook with as many people as will listen.
“Just love people, let people be who they are. Enjoy life, live your life, be good to each other,” McGill said. “Just find out what’s important and what really matters. There’s all these little battles we can fight, but what makes you happy?
“I don’t have any bad days,” he continued. “My days are pretty good. I’m pretty unremarkable in every day life, but how I feel inside, I’m trying to shine that light.”
There is at least one additional perk of marrying yourself – you can have the party and remain on the market.
“Curtis is available, ladies,” Josselyn announced.