Marriage, Butchery… and Joy

It has been two months now since Madeline Ashby and I tied the knot. We had our wedding at a place in Toronto called The Forth — a restaurant and event space that opened up not too long ago at Pape Avenue and Danforth Avenue in the east end of Toronto. 

We picked the venue first because it was irresistibly lovely, but second for sentimental reasons: we had spent a year living just around the corner from it, in a tiny, perfect apartment on top of the Ellas Meat Market–itself, a very fine butcher shop on Pape just a few steps south of Danforth. We’d bonded well with the guys who ran Ellas, and also learned to appreciate well-marbled prime rib, properly-raised chicken, good bacon. But mostly, we bonded with those guys at Ellas. We charmed each other, and became like family. Enough like family that we connived our way into their spotless, gleaming meat locker for some wedding photos (by Kayleigh Shawn McCollum). Here are three of the best ones.

That’s us. Just married,  crazy in love, whooping it up in the chilly fridge over which we once slept and ate and lived, really on top of one another, for a year before we found a bigger place, and through it all continued to build a life and love together that might also be a marriage.

The guys at Ellas have the middle picture hanging over their cash register. They’re delighted for several reasons: first, that as it turns out their meat locker has enough light to take pictures like this (they were sure that it didn’t), and second, that their friends and former neighbours thought they were a big enough deal to include them in a wedding (of course they are).

They are also delighted at the weirdness of it all.

The weirdness of it all is something that Madeline and I have been living for years, and one of the genuine joys of our life together. We came to one another at inconvenient times, later on in life when it might have been easier for both of us to continue in directions that would have been well-enough functional, but not nearly sufficiently joyful.

We didn’t take the easy course. We took the course together–as collaborators in life and art, and again, life.  It was worth it.

Oh yes, it was worth it.

We’re writers, which meant that we couldn’t go in for those stock, generic vows you find on the internet or in some dog-eared volume of the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting Hitched. Of course we were going to write our own vows.

We were a little competitive about it. I had mine figured out early on, and lorded that over her. Madeline, realizing it was on, wiped the floor with my little missive and wrote this stunning, tear-jerking, set of vows.

This is going to happen, writers out there, when you marry so far above your writerly station.  It is okay. When your partner wins, it doesn’t mean you lose. The vows that you wrote and then spoke are still maybe the truest and best things you have written, and ever said.

Here then is what I wrote, and what I said on October 17 at the Forth:

Madeline, my love, here we are—at a major way-point in our improbable journey to one another. I say improbable, in the way one describes magical coincidences, miraculous discoveries. We have come from different countries, different generations, and from very different lives. Of course, the only improbabity was in our meeting: everything after that was clear before us and took only courage of heart to make manifest. Madeline, in this and so many other things, you have inspired me and through that prodded me to courage, and growth, and of course great love.

 And here we are. Today. Making vows.

Here are mine. 

I vow many of the things one vows in a marriage: to love you first and always, to honour you, to stand by you through thick and through thin, to if not obey, then consider, and co-operate, and concede, to … to do all of that through as long a life as we have. I vow these now. 

But I want to add to that, and vow something else. 


Madeline, I vow to wed you in joy, and to sustain that joy through all of the matters of a marriage. Some of that will be easy. Days like today? Joy is a breeze. The October Festival of Horror Films; the launch of books together and on our own; prizes; parties; happy surprises. Joy comes with that. 

There are times where joy doesn’t come easily, though, and that’s where the vow comes in. 

I vow that when circumstance tempts us to despondency, or grief, or disappointment: I will do all in my power to kindle the flame of joy and build it into a roaring fire. I will do that if we ourselves are on fire. Although I also vow to clean out the lint trap in the drier and turn off the stove when I’m done and mind the barbecue, so fires will be very unlikely to occur in any house where we are living. 

Now that was a cheesy joke in the midst of solemn vows, but it is also an example of one way I will strive to keep joy in our lives and our marriage, so no apologies.

There are other ways to keep joy alive for us both, some of which I have figured out (like Horror Film Festivals, trips to strange places, cats, talking about our writing, Korean barbecue and the perfect steak) and a great deal, I think, yet to be discovered. I vow to be on the lookout for those ways, to a joyful life. I vow to bring them out when gloom encroaches, and drive it back.

I vow joy. 

I want nothing less for us, nothing less for you. We are off to a very good start of it: And I vow to you, Madeline my love, to take that joy through all of it, and leave nothing but joy in our wake.

And that was that, on October 17, two months ago today.  It made for a good, easy party afterward. It will make for a very good life.

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