THE TRADITIONS OF “I DO”

She lost her name in marriage. An experience that still left the tart bitter taste of aged lime rinds in her mouth every time someone called her Mrs. Fortuné. Actually, Mrs. Fortuné is not her name, nor are any of the other names in this narrative the names of the people involved. Arielle was a waify one hundred pounds by now, with purple stamped dark circles inked underneath her twenty-nine years old eyelids. She was a year into holy matrimony and already felt her and Jean-Maxime were one hundred years in. She didn’t know their relationship would be so taxing on her. That was not what her family had promised her. That was not what Jean-Maxime had promised her. She had believed in the sacredness of the traditional marriage her and her family prayed on. She was a Catholic after all. However, nothing had prepared her for the post-wedding clichés that were omitted from the traditional Haitian marriage narrative after she said: “I do.”


A year ago, Arielle was walking down that plushily carpeted aisle of Eglise Saint-Pierre for the first time, her satin heels sinking into the blood-colored lush satin runner so that she wobbled a little on her daddy’s arm. She could see through the laced mosquito netting of her veil the pewter pipes of the organ, flat against the back wall like a display of rifles in a gun rack. She saw the looming, gilded cross hanging in front, illuminated just right so the carved Roman Catholic depiction of Christ —the slumping, half-naked, bleeding, suffering Savior—got most of the glory. Suspended on wires that made Him dance, not unlike a puppet, in gusts from the wall nailed swinging ceiling ventilators that seemed to churn the sweltering hot tropical evening air. The Son of God waited with His arms outstretched as if He was planning to grab her when she got there. Arielle turned her head left and right towards the perfectly manicured pews dressed in hundreds of pastel pink, snow white and flashes of crimson red roses. She nodded slightly at the glitterati of Haitian high society in their Oscar worthy attires – including the President of the Republic of Haiti – at some friends from high school, at some faces as foreign to her as this thing she was about to become: married.


It seemed just a few months ago, Arielle and Jean-Maxime’s engagement announcement had made Haitian high society front page news – or as is now custom in the past two decades – flooded social media feeds in Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital. Gossiping speculations of the match filled every congregating beauty salons, grocery store aisles, office water cooler meet queues and family play dates. Everyone was weighing in and waging on how long they would last.


Arielle was a statuesque 5’9”, light-brown skinned young woman, with waist long, permed light brown hair with freckles of gold highlights that seemed to sparkle in the sun every time her hair undulated on her back as she walked. Her Coca-Cola bottle shaped curves, thinly pointed nose and veiling lips hit all the right proportion checklist of a Caribbean man’s fantasies. She epitomized the beauty standards of post-colonial Haiti.


Jean-Maxime was a 5’6”, skin black brown of old polished wood, wide shouldered, evenly perched full lipped, broad nose young man with pebbled curled, short kinky hair that framed a handsome face that no one seemed to notice because no one was trained to see past his skin color. All they saw was African. An undiluted lineage of slavery. An image of Albert Mangonès’s sculpture “Le Nègre Marron” and black men depictions of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin. Jean-Maxime was self-conscious of that. Even more poignantly – ironically – because of his family’s fortune and new social position.


Arielle was excited to plan her “happily ever after” wedding. She often times had to pinch herself to make sure it was all real. She felt like a famed protagonist in a Danielle Steel novel, marrying one of the wealthiest eligible bachelors in Haiti. Jean-Maxime’s family had climbed the social latter from the depths of poverty, building a clothing manufacturing company franchise from the ground up, one sewing kit at a time. Arielle, at first, had been nervous to announce her engagement to her parents. She was unsure her parents would be able to overlook Jean-Maxime’s family’s humble beginnings. Arielle’s family was part of the old Haitian bourgeoisie that adhered to strict social norms that didn’t accept coloring outside the box. They would proudly claim their ability to trace their French, Italian, German, and even when appropriate, their Lebanese, lineage all the way to 1492. A true cocktail of exasperated confusion. However, to Arielle’s pleasant surprise, her parents were overwhelmingly receptive to the news. “Ah! Chérie we are going to get a taste of the good life again,” said her father. A poignant statement that the ancienne gloire was returning to the family. Times had been financially hard for their family for a few years. But none of them dared to talk about it. In no time, with a strong hand and manipulative will, her mother walked her through the traditions of planning a religious, high society wedding.


She epitomized the beauty standards of post-colonial Haiti.

Clinching a good match to solidify their position in society was all that Jean-Maxime’s father would obsess about. “They didn’t think we could get the pretty girls too, uh?!” his father teasingly nudged him, his laughter reverberating like a horn on the concrete walls. “Let’s see who will try to ignore us now!”


“Arielle seems to be genuine, Dad,” said Jean-Maxime. “Unlike the other ones.”

“Is she?” said his father mockingly. “All these entitled light-skinned pretty dolls walk around like we are the ones who should be grateful to be by their sides. They think their disposition grants them special access to all we have, because they can’t help being helplessly pretty. But no pretty face is going to make me forget what they are really after!”

“Our good looks?” Jean-Maxime joked.


“You think they like you because your hunged?” his father adds maliciously, each word cutting like a cold steel blade. “I’m sure they appreciate it. But it’s the smell of green printed bills that really tickles them into a frenzy.”


The laughs that were previously in the air turned into thick slices of greasy tension, the swelling was overwhelming. His father had uttered some truths that they both continued to toil with as black men in Haitian ‘high society.’


Jean-Maxime had attended the best private schools in the country and perused all the highest social circles in the capital, nevertheless, there was always an unspoken invisible barrier that made him feel he didn’t belong, that he was an inconvenient, unwelcomed guest whose stay people in the élite class hoped was temporary. Although he had made friends of all colour shades and social stature, his hypersensitive paranoia grew along with his family’s growing wealth, as more and more unfamiliar, and once unflinching foes’ faces begin to surround him claiming their “loyalty” and “friendship” towards him. Jean-Maxime did not hate light-skinned, caramel, café-au-lait, mixed black people, but he could not depend on his light-skinned black friends to do what was right, to correct their friends and family in his defense. Over time, Jean-Maxime’s expectations would become so low, he didn’t even expect them to. A stark contrast to his boyhood wonder years, where he had often reproached his father – who was never one to hold back his tongue – for his boisterous attitude that always played on the edges of vulgarity as he walked through life screaming “I’m Black and I’m Proud. And I will get ma revanche,” compared to his own demurred introspective stance. However, life and his upcoming marriage, were going to teach Jean-Maxime some hard lessons on how to hold his own hand, to never let it go, in fear that his fingers would outline the creases of repetition.


“I sure like those pretty faces though, uh son?” the father adds shoving his son’s shoulder to break the silence. “You and Arielle getting together is a good look for the family and our business. So, no expenses will be spared on my son’s wedding! We are going to make a statement.”


“You only get married once, right?” said Jean-Maxime.


“Right…” his father added dismissively. “But don’t let that pretty face distract you from who they really are and what they are really after. Women will flock to you in direct proportion to your wallet, pledge their allegiances to you, even though you are a Black Man. Money is colorless like that. So, always remember you are a Fortuné, first and foremost. They need you and not the other way around.”


Arielle and Jean-Maxime did everything by the Book and “social standards,” spending lavishly for their luxurious nuptials. They wrote to Bishop Magloire for permission to hold their wedding and attend Pre-Cana courses at Eglise Saint-Pierre, the towering fading yellow 1800 structure whose spire shadow peak overlooked Pétion-Ville’s large public square like praying hands. They hired the premiere wedding planner du jour, Mme Balladère to help them manage the expectations of their 500+ wedding guest list. Arielle had her off-white, hand embroidered designer gown with its seventeen layers of lace she purchased months prior in a bridal salon in Miami’s famed Miracle Mile. Her something blue Carrie Bradshaw satin heels. Her something borrowed starch white heirloom grandmother pearl earrings from her mother. Her something new gold Cartier “Love” bracelet from her husband to be. And her sixpence in her shoes 1989 tarnished five Haitian Gourdes copper coin from the year she was born from her father.


On May 29th, 2017, they had a full Mass and communion, that lasted more than hour. Their Catholic wedding ceremony included a lavender and navy-blue sea of twenty bridesmaids and groomsmen. Hymns and psalms readings from the Old and New Testament. A liturgy of the Word read by Jean-Maxime’s mother, more specifically Corinthians 13:4:


Love is patient,

love is kind.

It does not envy,

it does not boast,

it is not proud…


A traditional exchange of vows pre-written since the nascence of Catholic rites of marriage "I Arielle, take you Jean-Maxime to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in good times, in sickness and in health. I will love and honor you all the days of my life." 


Bishop Magloire then blessed them, joining their hands together, and asked, "Do you take Jean-Maxime as your lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish until death do you part?" She held precariously to the grateful tears that gathered behind her lids. "I do," Arielle responded.


Dominique, Jean-Maxime’s best man handed the bride's ring to Bishop Magloire, who blessed it and handed it to the groom to place on the bride's finger. Then Raphaelle, Arielle’s maid of honor hands the groom's ring to the Bishop, who blessed it and handed it to the bride to place on the groom's finger. Each saying, "I take this ring as a sign of my love and faithfulness in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."


“Because they have exchanged their vows before God and these witnesses, have pledged their commitment each to the other, and have declared the same by joining hands and by exchanging rings, I now pronounce that they are husband and wife. Those whom God hath joined together, let no one put asunder. You may now kiss the bride!” uttered Bishop Magloire. Holding Arielle as if she were made of feather, Jean-Maxime folded his arms around her waist drawing her near his body as he leaned forward to kiss her. The tears Arielle had held in the exchange of rings came unfastened amidst the clamoring cheers of the guests standing in the pews piercing the air like toiling bells.


The Mass proceeded with communion, also called the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Bishop Magloire delivered the Eucharistic Prayers over the bread and wine for communion. Arielle placed flowers on the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary as musicians played "Ave Maria." The vetted guests participated in reciting the Lord’s Prayer beginning with “Our Father…” The couple then kneeled before the altar, and the Bishop offered the couple a blessing. He invited the wedding party and the guests to handshake as a sign of peace with the words, “Peace be with you” with the people standing nearest them. Bishop Magloire broke the bread while the guests sung, and communion was distributed to the newlyweds, then the guests, with the help of altar servers.


...clamoring cheers of the guests standing in the pews piercing the air like toiling bells.

Bishop Magloire offered a final blessing to the married couple and the guests, and everyone got dismissed with “Go in peace with Christ” while guests responded “Thanks be to God.” Arielle and Jean-Maxime led the recessional out of the church, followed by the bridal party, then the altar servers and, finally, Bishop Magloire, standing like an exhibition of Haitian success for all – rich and poor – to behold at the Place Saint-Pierre.


The reception that followed was legendary. People still talk about today. But, all that Arielle could remember from it was “No one told me what happened after a wedding.” No one told her a wedding was just for one day, but a marriage, no matter its duration, left its mark for a lifetime. No one told her how she would feel when she would receive her wedding certificate with her maiden name completely erased along with who she was. No one told her, traditionally in Haiti, when two people marry, “Husband” means the master of the house, the head of a household, a manager. No one told her “Wife” means a woman who is joined to man in marriage, a hostess of a household. No one told her marriage was a transaction between two families, like it was for her and Jean-Maxime’s family. Nothing had prepared her for the post-wedding clichés that were omitted from the traditional marriage narrative: You no longer have an identity as a woman separate from your husband. Your husband begins having sex with a woman who isn’t you and he doesn’t even care to hide it well. It’s nothing more than a Haitian rich man’s pastime within a Haitian high society love story with no love, and if the love is there, it’s based on too many conditions. Remnants of undimmed burning ashes of colonial Haiti. That can also be traced back to 1492.



Artwork by Alexa Masucci