Queer wedding planning at the end of the world

I notice how our rings press against each other. We watch as the zebras stroll to a hilltop above the waves

Published February 13, 2022 6:30PM (EST)

Pair of zebras staring at camera at Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. (Getty Images/Don Henderson)
Pair of zebras staring at camera at Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, CA. (Getty Images/Don Henderson)

August 12, 2021, 9:40 a.m.

Hello Michael & T,

Re: your atypical wedding menu —

  • 1 entree is Indian
  • 1 entree is Chinese
  • 1 side is Korean
  • 1 side is local California farm-to-table 

I suggest something clean and green for the last dish (asparagus???). Might cleanse the palate after all these bold flavors.


* * *

September 10, 2021, 3:56 a.m.

Hi sweetie,

See email below from Aunt Maya about Rohingya refugees displaced by hurricanes in Bangladesh. She is doing so much for these abused people (more like traumatized for generations!). Help if you can — I know you and Michael are busy with planning.

Now with climate change we must do our part.

Love you both,

* * *

September 11, 2021, 12:24 p.m.

Greetings Michael and T,

Attached please find attached the COVID addendum to our contract. The deposit for the venue is non-refundable, but we can reschedule if necessary due to coronavirus or other Acts of God.

Be well,

* * *

Sep 20, 2021, 7:12 p.m. 

"What the fuck are stone fruits?" I asked and looked around the table. Michael and I sat across from our friends Mei and Jonathan. Our monthly dinners had become a support group for wedding planning. The evening sun turned the kitchen walls a dappled orange. Catering menus and the sticky remains of Chinese takeout were spread out before us. 

"Peaches, I think." Mei said. She wiped sauce from the corner of a menu and squinted at the text, bringing her other hand to rest on her pregnant belly. "But don't quote me."

"That's right, babe." Jonathan said, adjusting his glasses and reaching for our plates. "And plums, cherries, raspberries. Probably a few more."

"Apricots, mangoes, nectarines, lychees." Michael added. "Queers know their fruits." He winked at me and rose to help Jonathan clear the table.

"Not immigrant queers," I said. "Fruits are the worst. Also, vegetables. I can't remember all the queens from 'RuPaul's Drag Race' and the names of produce in two languages." 

"Neither can I," Mei said, shaking her head. "I forget more words as I get older, too. Hopefully that's an immigrant thing and not early Alzheimer's."

"I don't think that's how Alzheimer's works. But," I said, "test me anyway." 

Mei thought for a moment. The clink and splash of dishes filled the room. Then she grinned and pointed across the table.

"Watermelon!" she said. "Say 'watermelon' in Bengali."

Time slowed. I sensed Jonathan and Michael pause their washing at the sink. I noticed the tang of soy sauce lingering in the air. I searched my memories, and the silence grew taut.

It's somewhere between your teeth and your tongue.

"Shit," I said, finally. "I can almost taste it, but I can't remember the word." 

Everyone nodded and the world sped up. Mei patted my arm and stood slowly, one hand supporting her lower back.

"Lucky for you, we have some sliced up in the fridge. Eating dessert might jog your memory."

* * *

October 2, 2021, 8:30 a.m.

Hey babe,

Drowning at work today. Can you call the caterer about the last side dish? Thinking broccolini since you hate asparagus.


* * *

October 2, 2021, 5:59 p.m.

Hi T,

Sorry to hear you'll miss therapy. Will reach out if another appointment opens up this week. Meanwhile, feel better.


* * *

October 5, 2021, 7:15 a.m.

Hi Alina,

Contract attached. Quick question: do wildfires/smoke count as Acts of God? Want to make sure our families can breathe lol.

— Michael (and T)

* * *

September 20, 2021, 10:38 p.m.

After dinner, we hugged our friends goodbye and drove home. Michael started running a bath and I walked the dimly lit rooms of our apartment, closing curtains for the night. My head was full of fruit. In the living room, I paused with my hand on a window ledge. I closed my eyes and thought back to dinner with Mei and Jonathan, and my first bite into a slice of cool watermelon. Saliva flooded my taste buds, and my tongue shaped the word.

Tormüj, I thought. 

The soft "toh" like teeth gently parting for the bite. 

The "r" which arches the soft palate open. 

The "müj" like lips and gums crunching into the delicate, pink sponge. 

I tasted the sweet dribble that meandered down my chin. My grandmother's shawl brushed the corner of my mouth. I was five years old, and we sat at her kitchen table. The evening light shone glorious through the windows, filtered by banana leaves in her courtyard. The bangles on her wrist chimed. She gestured to a fading picture on the wall. It was a photo of her younger brother wearing a marigold wreath at his own wedding's gaye holud. He'd died before I was born, rescuing civilians in his van near the end of the war, when the military shot him. My grandmother was saying something urgent. With a small start, I realized I could no longer hear the Bengali words she spoke. 

Tormüj, I thought, desperate. 


Down the hall, I heard the shower running. The rest of the apartment lay quiet as I turned off the lights and walked to the bedroom. I lay down and wiped my eyes. How many other fruits had I forgotten, I wondered? And how incalculable the loss. 

* * *

September 22, 2021, 6:48 a.m.

Good afternoon,

Your leave request was denied as it was not submitted 45 days in advance. Please adjust and resubmit.


* * *

September 28, 2021, 9:25 a.m.

Hey girl hey,

Quick question: I know Rahul's gotten way into boudoir photography (his IG is fire). Any chance he'd want to photograph our ceremony? 

Zero pressure, but T and I are trying to keep our vendors homo-exclusive ;-)


* * *

October 8, 2021, 4:00 p.m.

Hi guys,

The venue offers early access to a separate bridal suite for makeup, hair, etc. (lighting is gorgeous).

Do you need this?


* * *

October 31, 2021, 10:05 p.m.

Michael decided to stay home from the Halloween party that weekend. We'd had an intense week of discussing flowers, feelings and the merits of a drag queen at the afterparty. So, verging on burnout, I decided a solo adventure suited me just fine. I rummaged through our clothes for anything that resembled a costume.

"This one," he said, handing me a leather jacket from his side of the closet. "Go party like it's 1999."

I ran mousse through my hair, kissed him goodbye and shivered in excitement as I waited outside. A car pulled up to carry me across the Golden Gate Bridge. My boots clicked down Castro Street till I found the address. I tottered up a narrow stairwell to the warmth and noise of the third-floor apartment. 

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I paused at the top to pull off my cloth mask and catch my breath. I spotted the host across the room. Mark tossed the strands of a long, black wig over his shoulder and wound his way through the crowd. A purple bodysuit clung to his hips and rhinestones glittered with each swivel. Reaching me, he leaned over and pouted overdrawn lips.

"Hola, Selena!" I said. We laughed and hugged each other in the middle of the party. 

"You know I had to do it, bitch," he said. "Who're you supposed to be?"

"I'm Billy Idol."

"Who's she?" He asked. "Actually, tell me later." Mark's nails scraped my palm as he pulled me to the kitchen.

"I need to show you the best thing I've gotten in the mail all month." He handed me a sweating glass of champagne and pointed to the refrigerator. There, our Save-the-Date card hung from a magnet. On it, Michael and I mugged for the camera, bowties askew. I cleared my throat.

"You're coming to the wedding, right?"

"Of course." Mark said. "Is your family?"

"Some," I said. I felt briefly dizzy, like the earth had begun to tilt underfoot.

"Good enough." He pressed his cheek to mine. "Finish your drink, Ms. Billy." 

I left the kitchen and wandered the crowded apartment, feeling out of sync with the crowd. The boozy, Brownian motion of the party carried me past 30-somethings in superhero leotards and feather boas, cat ears and vampire capes. A fireman stripped to his waist for a small circle of admirers. Two Sailor Moons crooned "Like a Virgin" at the karaoke machine. A co-worker shrieked when she recognized me and leaned in for a shouted conversation. Through it all, I watched Mark's tentpole figure loom wherever he went, regal and tireless. 

Feeling neither of those things, I sought the relative quiet of a bedroom. The lights were off, but the room glowed with the candles of an ofrenda at one end. I stepped closer to examine the pictures on the wooden altar. Many were familiar — Mark's mother and father striking movie-star poses in the 1980s. His grandparents smiling in the streets of their small town. The family kneeling at the church before his baptism, serious and radiant before the priest. Colorful tarot cards and drawings of skulls hung from ribbons above the photos. The whole wall glowed in amber chiaroscuro, a monument to traditions that had stretched across continents. I couldn't help but think about my own family albums, which had gathered dust on our living room shelf for years. 

The fireman found me in the room sometime later. When I kissed him, his arms grew tight across my shoulders. But mostly I felt eyes on my back; the gaze of someone else's ancestors upon us. 

* * *

November 16, 2021, 8:50 p.m.

Hey cuties,

SO delighted to DJ your wedding! Omg!

I found this Spotify list of Bollywood remixes. Can you listen? I think it's legit but Jason Derulo is on there?

Adriana aka DJ Fuck-Around-n-Find-Out 

(I'm working on this too)

* * *

December 5, 2021, 1 a.m.

Hi cuz,

Long time no talk. Saw the news on FBook and wanted to email since you don't use WhatsApp. Congrats. We are all ok. When I see Grandma she asks about you. These days with corona she is always indoors like all of us. No vaccine here but we are praying you have gotten it.


* * *

December 9, 2021, 2:20 p.m.

Hi Michael and T,

The food servers wear masks but aren't all vaccinated. We can try to contract with a company that mandates vaccines. This will depend on your budget of course.


* * *

December 12, 2021, 4 p.m.

We breathe deep on the drive down the coast. It's Sunday afternoon, and we've left the final walkthrough of our venue. The Pacific Coast Highway is as grand as I remember, and the seaweed scent is familiar from past rides. Only this time we aren't trying to distract ourselves from wedding stress with rolling vineyards or booming surf. 

This time we're in it for the zebras.

Michael puts on a podcast about the unlikely tale. We listen to the story of how William Randolph Hearst, at the height of his megalomaniacal wealth, built Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, over a hundred years ago. How he imported a herd of wild zebras to roam the grounds with a menagerie of other non-native species. After Hearst's financial collapse, the castle closed, and many animals found themselves relocated around the country. Not so the zebras. These ran free and continue to do so. They gallop and breed on the grassy hills by the Pacific and have even evolved thick coats to better survive the frigid winters. 

At this part of the story, Michael pats my knee in excitement. "Shaggy zebras! I think we'll see them."

But we circle the small seaside town for hours to uneventful views. We pass dying palm trees and small, boarded-up stores. We scan browning hillsides with binoculars, hoping for a flash of black and white stripes. We bicker, buy coffee, and raise our binoculars once more. We inquire about the zebras' whereabouts to a gas station attendant, the cashier at a local Motel 6 and a hipster baker who sells us flaky rolls.

"Haven't seen them in about five years," the gas station attendant says.

"At sunset on that hill," the cashier says. "You can see them best from the second story windows if you want a room."

"They don't come anywhere near people or buildings," the baker laughs. "I guess I wouldn't either if I didn't work here."

Two hours later, we sit in the Motel 6 parking lot eating burgers. I am thinking of saying again how much I enjoyed the drive. Then Michael sits suddenly upright, tosses his wrappers onto the dashboard, and reaches for the binoculars. A beat of silence passes as he scans the countryside, then:

"It's them. Holy shit."

"Let me see."

Through the blurry lenses I watch two animals slowly coalesce in the distance, growing clearer as they crest the hill. Soon we see more ghostly figures emerge from the brushes, some pausing to sniff the air, or to chew at the brush, before continuing towards the coast. Soon we put down the binoculars and see their stripes unaided. We count several times. Nine, we finally agree.

"It's a mini-herd," I say.

"A dazzle," he says. "It's called a dazzle of zebras. How gay is that?"

I reach for Michael's hand and interlace our fingers. For long minutes I don't think about the Bengali words I've forgotten and the queer lexicon that seeped in like rain to fill the empty spaces. I don't fret about smoke in our lungs, or refugees in the storm, or the banal anxieties of a wedding. Instead, I notice the way our rings press against each other. We watch together as the zebras stroll to a hilltop above the crashing waves. They pause their chewing and turn their gazes west, shaggy coats glistening in the last rays of the sun.

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By Tauheed Zaman

Tauheed Zaman (he/him) is a Bengali-American writer and physician who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His prose has been featured in Foglifter Press and at LitQuake 2021. When not writing, you can find him kayaking the Pacific coast or singing with the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus. (IG: @agentmowgli)

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