In a matter of hours, he would be my husband.
Late that morning, on the way back from the bank of porta-potties at 8:30 & Dandelion, I looked up to see a black ring of smoke, rising slowly above the dusty horizon. I got off of my bike, dismounted with the clunk of my silver combat boots against the hard-packed playa, and leaned it against pink, fur-covered PVC pipe.
I was too distracted by the sky to notice him — a barefoot boy in orange Thai fisherman pants and no shirt. He was lanky, lean, with a mess of brown hair and full, chapped lips. He stood next to me, shoulders touching.
“Crazy, isn’t it?”
I wondered if he was talking about this place — where mornings blend into evenings into afternoons and midnights, or about those strange smoke rings.
He pointed, “I think they’re coming from an art car. Or that tiny movie theater way out there in deep playa. I went out there last night, watched Singing in the Rain and found a box of Red Vines under the seat.”
We sat down on the couch in the middle of the road. It was a road with no cars, but rather a procession of bicycles, tricycles, unicycles, steampunk octopus-mobiles, girls with furry boots and top hats, scarves, and hula-hoops. Fire dancers lit themselves up as they passed, a couple held hands and skipped backwards.
He told me his philosophy on life, on death, on happiness, about his childhood in New York and his move to Dallas, before he told me his name. Jamie. Three hours passed, then four. I kissed him. This would be our playground to explore, and as night approached, we ventured out onto the playa together.
At Opulent Temple, we danced to deep bass music, fire eruptions, and hundreds of ecstatic bodies covered in glitter, sweat, fur, sticky spilled rum, and whatever else. He borrowed juggling balls from a freckled blond boy in a tiger suit, spinning and tossing them in the air. I laughed, free and easy.
We found a trampoline off the esplanade. My legs were shaking, but we jumped anyway. Jamie took my hand and we just kept jumping, until we both collapsed under the weight of the heat and the long day. I straddled him right there on the trampoline, nestled my head into his neck and breathed in his smell. He wrapped both of his arms around my waist. We lay there, slept until the sun began to rise.
Next door, a margarita bar turned on Jimmy Buffet. Zed, the bartender, had purple hair and a broken coconut bra. I unclipped my cup from its backpack carabineer and he poured me a strawberry daiquiri. Jamie had a shot of straight tequila. We sat in the hammock next to the margarita bar and yelled compliments at passers-by.
A couple holding hands ran by, dressed all in white. We shouted, “You make a beautiful couple!” They smiled and turned back.
“Would you like to come with us to the Elvis chapel down the way? We’re on our honeymoon out here and want to get remarried on the playa! Come witness our wedding!”
The ceremony was brief, and lovely. We gathered in the tiny canvas and wood-walled chapel as Elvis had them recite their vows, all “Blue Suede Shoes” and dusty tears. I held Jamie’s hand tight, sticky palms and all. We cheered as the man kissed his already-bride.
They asked us, “Why don’t you get married? You make a beautiful couple, too. It seems you’ve been together a lifetime.”
It felt like we had. We signed our names in the guestbook; I saw he had written “Jamie Blietz.”
I poked him with a side-smile, “Hey Jamie, that’s very sweet of you to take my name already, but you spelled it wrong!”
He looked at me, confused. It dawned on me that there was no way for him to know my last name; I hadn’t told him. I looked back at him, leaned over, and wrote slowly, deliberately, “Carly Blitz.”
If there was ever a time to trust fate, it seemed to me, here at Burning Man, with this mysterious boy whose name was almost mine, with the smiling Elvis, and the love of the beaming strangers’ ceremony still fresh — this was it.
Two drag queens pulled me into the back, where hangers with dresses, hats, and veils were hanging on a pop-up rack, and began pulling a rough pink tulle ballgown over my head. They spun me around; the dress was missing a sleeve and my breath became shallow. Unzip. One of them had me step into another dress, while the other held up an old wrought-iron mirror.
It was cream, fully lace, with cap sleeves and a mermaid tail, and fit perfectly over my hips, cinching at my waist, dipping off my shoulders. I brushed off the dust, and they hovered a long shredded veil over my hair. A moment to fix my feather earring and smudged turquoise war paint from when I had left camp 20 hours ago.
I came around and walked into the chapel from the front, a drag queen on each arm. The keyboardist began to play “Only Fools Rush In.” We laughed. Jamie was standing at the far end of the chapel next to Burning Man Elvis. I took three steps and was at his side.
“We are gathered here today…”
The room was cloaked in a thin layer of ethereal dust. I wondered if this was a dream, lowered my eyes under the veil.
“Do you, Carly, take this cool cat, Jamie, as your hubby husband (uh huh-uh huh)?”
I glimpsed Jamie’s hazy eyes through the tulle, kept my gaze steady. He looked back at me with his tilted top hat and never-ending grin. Is this where my love story would begin? How strange.
He did. We kissed, and my hands were shaking again.
We all danced, piling out of the chapel into the early morning light of the playa, laughing and hugging.
Jamie and I returned to his camp with the hopeful enthusiasm of real newlyweds, we crept into his tent and fumbled with leather vests and boots. He was unsure, gentle, so I pulled him down to me with clenched fists and pressed my lips onto his, hard.
Two days later, we broke down camp, began to say our goodbyes. Exchanging numbers seemed strange, as if neither of us had thought about this moment. And in truth, we hadn’t. Each moment out there in the desert seems to last forever, the future constantly hazy with playa dust.
Back in the default world, we pretended, at first, to go through the motions of a long-distance relationship. I lived by the phone, waited for the melodic bell of my text messages. “Hubby,” I would joke — “Wife,” he would respond. We played a version of across-the-country-house, but there were no trampolines and margarita bars, no fire-breathing octopus or impromptu Elvis chapels.
I booked a flight to visit him in Dallas.
He had to work most of the weekend. I packed lingerie he wasn’t interested in, had visions of days talking, playing in bed, cooking him chocolate chip pancakes and mixing Bloody Mary’s in the morning. There was no food in the fridge, two lone Red Bulls and various jars of pickles. A frozen deep-dish pepperoni pizza from Chicago he was saving.
I went out that day while he was at work, brought home steaks, giant peaches, and burrata cheese from the farmers market. I explored Dallas, felt disoriented and sticky. He sat at the computer, distracted, while I made us dinner. I sat on his lap, arm draped across his neck and back, “I’m glad you’re home, Hubby,” I said to his ear, with a coy smile.
“Let’s go out to the bars and drink,” he jumped up abruptly, knocking me to the floor.
We held hands walking to the bar, Jamie halfheartedly swatted my ass after a few beers. I giggled, but it caught in my throat. We got drunk and fell asleep on the couch that night.
I went home early the next morning. The texts and late-night phone calls began to taper and dreams of the playa began to fade, until they were so faint I began to wonder if they ever really happened at all.