The last few months before the wedding were about treading water. What needs to be done right now? Okay, we’ll focus on that.
The week before the wedding took this approach and amplified it to 150 decibels. The beau and I were runaway trains hurtling off the trestle, hanging suspended inside the deep blue sky for one long moment before plummeting down to the rock. You know, if you’re into using divergent metaphors at will like that. But that’s kind of what it felt like for me: free fall. A very loud, disconcerting free fall.
I’m going to tell you all about my free fall. And, you know, I’m not particularly well-known for my brevity, but this is a long one even by my standards. Which is to say: you may not be ready for an essay of this proportion.
Or? Maybe you are.
The real descent into insanity began when our parents and one of my brigadiers arrived on Thursday before the wedding. At the time I likened it to the sensation of walking out of a darkened movie theater into the blinding light of day. I mean, I’d known all along our family and friends were coming, but I thought that was all happening at some later, unspecified date. Why were they here now? Huh? Did wedding planning really destroy so many of my IQ points that I was suddenly unable to grasp the basic concept of cause and effect?
I’d just begun coming to terms with the fact that our guests were actually on their way when the real world kicked in the door on Friday morning. Whether I was ready or not, the wedding was practically here, and I couldn’t just stand around sorting out my emotions. It was go time.
We kicked off our last day of singlehood with an early-morning trip to the farmer’s market to pick up the flowers, and then we headed to a park. The beau had packed a battery-powered MP3 player, and the plan was to finally practice our first dance — we hadn’t yet, because there was no room in the house. We found an empty tennis court in one corner of the park and commenced stumbling around awkwardly. It wasn’t as peaceful as it sounds — we often found ourselves fighting off the urge to throttle each other — but in retrospect I’m glad we had that time. Outside of the occasional intrusion by gawking blue-haired old ladies walking their poodles, that was the only quiet time we had to ourselves that day. Then, my dad interrupted our reverie with a phone call and oh shit, it was already 9:45? Holy crap, we had to move.
By the time I got out of the shower, some of our friends had shown up at our house. Then more, and then more. There were people in the kitchen making guacamole. There were people on our porch arranging flowers in vases. Don’t get me wrong: I loved that our friends came over, largely unasked, to hang out and pitch in. But I also felt torn between all my different impulses to be a hostess, a friend, and a bride. I wanted to get people drinks and food, I wanted to sit down and catch up, I wanted to take care of all the looming tasks we still had yet to do. Moreover, I was starting to feel a low-grade anxiety about my appearance, which I hadn’t yet had an opportunity to care for. After some hemming and hawing, I decided to tag along with one of my brigadiers to an appointment she had at a nail salon so that I could get a manicure and a pedicure.
This is when I fell into a wormhole. That’s the only plausible theory that can account for the fact that somewhere around here time went missing. All I remember is sitting in a vibrating chair, gazing up at a closed-captioned show on Animal Planet while some dude wearing a mask rubbed my feet, and all of a sudden it was two hours later and I was rushing back home with my brand-new manicure already scuffed. There was only half an hour left until the rehearsal and the house was absolute chaos. Some friends had left, and new ones had shown up. We’d run out of flowers and one of the groomsmen had run to Trader Joe’s and pick up some more. Other pals were in the living room folding dessert label cards and putting signs into frames. Holy crap. Holy crap.
In the midst of my breathless dash, I spotted my paycheck from work lying on the table and immediately shrieked, snatched it up, and held it over my head as I made a spontaneous celebratory parade around the living room. Finally! This was the check I’d been waiting for all week! This was the check that was going to help pay off our vendors, and pay for our honeymoon! I ripped it open (as gingerly as possible, given the state of my fingernails) and the grin on my face immediately disappeared. This check was for $320. I’d been expecting $2,000.
I burst into tears.
I double-checked the invoice I’d submitted and, yeah. It was totally my fault. In my wedding-induced brain haze I’d accidentally submitted an invoice for a freelancing gig to my full-time gig. Of course they only cut me a check for $320. I only billed them $320. Of course.
So then I had to explain why I was crying to a houseful of people. This included a groomsman’s new girlfriend, whom I’d never before met, and who was probably thinking I was absolutely batshit insane, just like all the wedding advertisements had warned. A friend handed me a vodka drink, which I downed quickly. It was now five minutes until the rehearsal. Everyone was leaving. I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing to do. My company couldn’t cut me a check on a Friday afternoon and deliver it to me by Sunday. We’d have to figure something out later. For now, I just had to move on.
The rehearsal whipped by like a fevered dream. All I remember was one of the groomsmen semi-arguing with our coordinator about how the entrance should go, and the coordinator and DJ ever-so-subtly sniping at each other during the practice — they had recently broken up with each other and it clearly hadn’t been amiable. I silently cringed upon hearing our entrance songs — songs the beau and I had previously chosen and listened to in private — played aloud in front of a small crowd of people. We stayed afterwards to go through a ceremony reading with our officiant, then rushed back home to pick up the rest of the items for the welcome BBQ. The house was empty save for the aforementioned groomsman’s new girlfriend, who was sitting on our couch reading a book. We’d had no idea she’d even been stuck there alone, and I was appropriately mortified. But she’d finished up the rest of the flowers and packed them in boxes while we were gone. By herself. Just hanging out. She’d known us for all of an afternoon, and had happily finished off our flower arrangements for us.
And this is how it came to be that I didn’t arrange one single vase of flowers. Not one. The kindness of our friends (and one then-stranger) had made it happen. Now that, folks, is wedding magic. I was grateful, but I barely had time to marvel at the beauty of this gesture. We were already late for the goddamned BBQ. Just before we got into the car, I caught sight of the beau’s shellshocked face. I put my hands on his shoulders. “We’re almost there,” I said. “Everything is mostly done. We can finally just chill and hang out with everybody.”
There was already a crowd of people standing around when we arrived at our picnic site beside the ocean. The beau and I rushed around unloading items and setting up, but we could only do so much without the charcoal and alcohol, which some friends had promised to bring with them. Food and drink are the great people uniters, and their absence was keenly felt. I kept getting pulled aside and introduced to new folks from the beau’s side of family, or reunited with people I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I tried to smile as big as I possibly could, and make the least awkward conversation possible, but the whole time my eyes were darting around the picnic area. The booze still wasn’t there? Nobody was mingling? My grandpa was off by himself? Oh, god. Oh, god. Where were the guys? We needed to start the grill. We needed to put out the appetizers. Oh, shit.
Finally, our friends arrived with the goods. The party slowly started to creak to life, just as the fog abruptly rolled in and settled its damp chill over us. Okay, I can deal with this, I thought. It would have been nice for our out-of-town guests to have a classic sunset view of the mountains and the ocean, but the weather cannot be controlled. But then the sangria ran out within the first half hour. And our two backup bottles of wine were drunk in an instant. And the keg was already running low, and we hadn’t even eaten yet. Did I need to send someone out to for more? Who was even sober enough? Hey, the guacamole was already gone, too! Was I unintentionally ignoring anyone? Oh god, my great aunt and uncle had come all the way from Michigan and I’d barely spoken to them yet. And, wait — was it already getting dark? Shit. We didn’t have any candles or lanterns. How was anyone going to see to eat? People were standing with their arms clamped to their sides, freezing. And where were the desserts? How was anybody going to know there were desserts? Oh god. Oh, god. The BBQ was turning into an utter disaster.
And then, for the second time that day, I burst into tears. Only this time I couldn’t stop. I stumbled over to the fence at the top of the bluff and laced my fingers through the chain link mesh. I stared out into the oppressive wall of fog and then down at the black sea crashing over the rocks, and I sobbed. I just fucking sobbed. There was no helping it. The beau soon wandered over from his station at the grill to see about me, and I told him to go away. I didn’t want any of this. Everything was wrong and I was helpless to fix it, but more than that, I was angry at myself for not just enjoying it. This wasn’t supposed to be happening like this. I wasn’t supposed to be feeling like this, but I couldn’t stop.
Later, two of my brigadiers sat next to me on a picnic bench, silently comforting me. My mom brushed my hair back from my face and deflected her sisters away from me — “She needs a moment right now.” At some point, my dad asked me to go on a little walk with him. “Look at that,” he said, gesturing back to the party. “Everyone is having a really great time. You wouldn’t believe what people were saying to me all night — you two are really well-loved. You are just surrounded by love.” There was a note of wonder and pride in his voice, but when I looked out at the shapes of my family and friends moving around in the darkness, all I could see were my own failures. I stood there snuffling for a few moments, worrying tiny holes in the damp, crumpled paper towel I’d been using as a tissue. “Okay,” I said.
Somehow, while I was floundering inside the dismal recesses of my mind, the picnic site got cleaned up. Two lanterns magically appeared — I learned much, much later that a friend had run back to her house to get them — and everyone lent a hand. Our families headed to their hotels, our friends headed to the bar, and the beau and I headed home. It was already 8:30, and now, we could finally rest.
Well… yeah, not so much. We had to unload the car with the BBQ stuff so that we could load our wedding supplies inside of it to take to the venue the next morning. All of the platters, bowls, and serving utensils from the BBQ had to be washed, which really did my manicure in. We had to organize and label all of our boxes of stuff so that the coordinator knew what was what. There was also the matter of cleaning up the front porch, which was absolutely littered with flower stems, clippings, and tools. Oh, and I still had to box and wrap the gifts for my brigadiers, my mom, and the beau’s mom.
We didn’t go to bed until 1:00am.
And that was how our wedding day began: the beau passed out on the couch, and me bent over some wrapping paper on the floor, cursing my aching back. We were stressed, confused, and absolutely spent.
I said it before, up there somewhere: I hadn’t wanted it to happen like that. I’d wanted it to be more meaningful and significant. Somehow there was this idea in my mind that in those final days, I’d have a specific feeling. A special feeling. Not zen, of course, and not perfection — I’d already come to grips that those two things were well beyond reach. I’d imagined, though, that I’d feel some sense of closure. Something that said to me — aha! — so this is what it feels like to be getting married.
That feeling wasn’t in my cards. The most disconcerting thing about that last day was the sense that I was trying to grasp at sand even as it slipped through my fingers. Despite being emotionally ready for months, and despite all the reflection I had done prior to the wedding, when time began counting right down to zero hour I wasn’t prepared for anything. I wanted it all to stop; I needed to regroup. I just wanted to sit down and think.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
And I won’t lie: I felt like I kinda got robbed on that.
For a long time, I believed it was totally unfair. But I’d planned! I’d thought all the right thoughts! I’d focused on the upcoming marriage, and not the pretty frippery of the event! I knew things would go sideways, and I knew I would feel stressed. But maybe deep down, I’d still hoped for better. Maybe I thought that if I recited over and over that my wedding would be messy, imperfect, and zenless, I’d somehow be granted immunity to the badness and ugliness. I’d rise completely above them, so to speak.
So yeah: the badness and ugliness completely knocked me on my ass.
But. Five weeks later, I’ve finally given myself permission to have had this experience. You know what? That day sucked, but it is mine to own. And besides. If you look hard enough at the cracks, you can see the beauty that had sprouted in there.
And I promise: by the time the wedding was over, that beauty had grown sky-high.