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Photo by Rebekah Greiman.

Magazine | Together in OK

Zach and Jennifer Mangialomini

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Posted 01.15.12

Zachariah Mangialomini chose a tweed jacket for that evening’s poetry reading. he sat cross-legged atop a table, surrounded by his three feet of blond hair, and was busy reciting “The Lady of Shallot” when Jennifer walked in.

“I had this deep, beatnik impression of Zach,” Jennifer remembered. “But that’s not who he really is.”

After a few moments with him, it became clear that Zach being a beatnik was as close to his personality as ice cream is to engine oil. He claims Spock for his role model, bluntly stating that “you are much more effective as a robot.”

This emotional disconnect was evident when Zach recalled the moment he saw Jennifer.

“She was new to the reading,” Zach said. “That’s why I noticed her. I had made a mental list of about 30 people that would often come to the reading and she wasn’t on it.”

No bells or whistles there—merely a simple retelling of the facts.

A few years into their marriage, the couple read the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used mainly by psychologists) for “fun,” inadvertently coming to the conclusion that Zach had a mild form of Asperger’s syndrome.

He scored more than 90 out of 100 on the survey designed to diagnose the disorder.

He admits to being blind to social clues, often not realizing when a conversation is over. He’ll remember what you wore (black shirt and jeans), what you ate (turkey bacon pizza) and what time of day it was (5:30 p.m.), but not what you talked about (your cat dying).“I have made tremendous progress, but there are times that people would say that I am an absolute idiot or have some sort of mental retardation,” he said. “I coined a term for me—I’m ‘sarcastic tone deaf.’ There are two ways that I know when someone is being sarcastic: if everyone is laughing and I don’t understand why.”

Jennifer takes Zach at face value, recognizing the strength behind his ability to disconnect emotionally.

“When we met, I was in a cult but I didn’t realize it,” she said. “Finally, I saw some red flags and asked Zach if he thought I was in a cult. He just laughed because he already knew I was.”

Zach had accompanied Jennifer to the cult, which was masquerading as a non-threatening Bible study. Immediately, he had assessed something was askew.

“It was an incredibly oppressive atmosphere bordering on hostility—and I would say that it was not entirely a natural phenomenon,” he said. “I miss a lot of social clues and have very low concern for my safety. I’ve been in a lot of stupid situations and have been just fine. But, I remember sitting there and at one point I thought, I’m pretty sure that if I got up and ran for the door, they would be shocked enough that I could get away. And if that guy tries to block my way, I could kick him in the throat and get out.”

Zach was obviously never invited back. But he and Jennifer continued being friends, rock climbing, hiking, and often debating into the wee hours of the night just what the Bible meant.

“I was trying to get him saved and he was trying to get me out of the cult,” Jennifer said. “We hung out so much that one of our friends finally said, ‘Why aren’t you guys dating?’ That opened the box for him and he walked me home that night and kissed me.”

After testing his hypothesis and “seeing a positive outcome,” Zach and Jennifer began to date. And after discussing in detail the aspects of marriage one evening, the couple became engaged.

Zach the beatnik/robot and Jennifer the cult renouncer were united in marriage in a “real church” with a surprising display of real emotions. Standing at the altar, Zach was overcome by such a flood of emotions that he “became a sap.” Jennifer had to relinquish the hankie her grandmother had given to her.

Even Zach couldn’t have predicted that outcome.

Zach and Jennifer Mangialomini were married on June 10, 2000, in Madrid, N.Y.

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