So getting married is fun. You get to ride in limos, drink champagne, and take lots of bizarrely-posed pictures next to trees and stone mill walls. Then there’s adorable miniature foods on toothpicks, fancy cake, fancy napkins, dancing, and some bearded dude who looks like a lumberjack busting it up on the dance floor. Oh yeah, and you get to have a beautiful bride all done up and decked out in a wedding dress. And the bride, well, she only gets me. But I do come with Ninja Turtles.
Planning a wedding is a lot like preparing for a Category 5 hurricane. You run around for weeks doing all this planning and shopping and freaking-out, but eventually you just realize this thing is hurling towards you rapidly no matter how ready you aren’t. And you still have to get your shirt tailored, buy shoes, socks, a damn belt, and stamps. Then you’ve got to print sticker thingys, stick the sticker thingys on the bag thingys, type up the place settings, get a hair cut—and don’t you dare go to that Great Clips where they cut your hair like Peter Pan last time. I mean it. If you go there, I will kill you.
And that was just my chore list in the final days. The bride’s list was exponentially longer and even more grueling, with perils at every turn. There was printer drama, make-up appointment panic, and a faulty hair clip crisis. At some point, you’ve got no choice but to just hunker down and let the storm blow past.
Except, you can’t. Because you still have to practice dancing for your first dance. And this shit is literally hours away, and you’re still a wet noodle with two left feet. I had a whole choreography to remember since we were determined not to do the awkward hugging-and-waddling-around thing. Damn it, these guests were coming for dinner and a show. It only meant one thing: cram sessions to Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed.
We got married in a civil wedding ceremony with our parents and siblings the day before our Saturday reception. Because it was to be a small, simple affair like we wanted, I had absolutely no thoughts of nerves. But when they called our names to go into the courtroom, my heart began racing and I could feel myself beginning to sweat through my first layer of clothing. Never a good sign.
The officiant took us aside and went over the vows with us. I felt light-headed. “I gotta say that whole thing?” I asked, looking down at what suddenly looked more like a lengthy and unintelligible excerpt from War and Peace. Meanwhile, I could hear my father excitedly announcing that he just figured out how to take HD video with his smart phone.
We moved over to the podium, standing under a cheesy makeshift alter with plastic flowers and leaves. The air conditioning piped in through the vents. The American flag towered and hung above us, which reminded me of being in an elementary school classroom. The smell of ink and chalk and dust.
“You’ve turned bright red,” the bride said, somewhat amused. The officiant began, “We are gathered here today…”
I started laughing, desperately trying to stifle it. The officiant paused and smiled. “Sorry, I’m nervous,” I said. But I couldn’t stop laughing. Which then made the bride laugh. Which made me laugh more.
Deep breath. Or at least something resembling breathing. But not really. I decided to focus on a zen place, like the button of my jacket. I fiddled with it gently between my thumb and forefinger, focusing. It was round and smooth. For a moment, it worked. Relief. Until the bride motioned at me with a bewildered look. “What are you doing?” she whispered, and began laughing more. Which made me laugh.
Then for some reason I looked over at my mother, who promptly threatened to kill me with a slicing-the-neck gesture, a gesture she performed slowly and very seriously. Which the bride saw, too, and it made her laugh even harder.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Somehow, the officiant, the consummate professional, trucked onward through the service, finally making it to the vows section. Oh crap. I hadn’t exactly been breathing the previous five minutes like I was supposed to remember. Suddenly I was gripped with the fear of gasping through my section of War and Peace that I was about to recite for the room. My only hope was to say it as quickly and methodically as possible. That meant no pausing, no enunciating, and no looking up.
I decided that was a brilliant plan. A genius, I am. Once, when I was a kid, we had to get up at 4am to leave for a road trip to Florida. I came up with a plan to sleep in the clothes I planned to wear the next day so that I wouldn’t have to get dressed when I was sleepy. I considered that a brilliant plan, too.
I said my vows robotically, monotonously, and swiftly, and then I took my first breath of oxygen in what felt like thirty minutes. My sister later remarked that it seemed like some sort of Will Ferrell SNL comedy sketch…and that the entire ceremony had only lasted six minutes total.
And that was only act one. For my second act, I was certain I’d step on the bride’s feet while dancing, trip, and puke during the first dance at our reception the next night. We decided to squeeze in a few more cram sessions with Paul.
The next morning was calm, the eye of the storm. The now-wife had a whole afternoon of hair and make-up and dressing, and I waited around pacing and eating strawberry Whoppers. The reception was going to be the opposite of our rinky-dink courthouse wedding—a 100+ guest affair at a historic mill with vaulted ceilings and fourteen-foot windows, decorated in dramatic black and red hues and candles.
The wife said she and her father would be over to pick me up at 5:00pm, since we had to meet the photographer at 6pm. Around 4pm, I calmly began to get dressed. Two minutes later, I felt silly for dressing so early, so I took the jacket off and hung it back up. Then I paced. Then I put the jacket back on, in case they came early. I ate more candy. I watched out the window.
After a while, to switch it up, I decided to pace around outside. I chatted with the older woman next door, whom I have nothing in common except the weather, but today we talked about why I was so dressed up. Then we talked about the weather anyway. A lot of rain lately. Should hold off. Cool already. Autumn came fast. I went back in, and took the jacket off. I put it back on. I looked out the window. It was soon 5:45pm. The wife hadn’t answered her cellphone. Weren’t we supposed to meet the photographer somewhere soon?
Suddenly her father’s car peeled into our court. I walked innocently to the car, smiling at my wife and her father weakly, sensing something was deathly wrong. I opened the car door and sat down in the backseat. Her father grimly said, “there was an incident with the curling iron.”
I looked at the wife, who was bizarrely wrapped in a bed sheet, maybe so that I wouldn’t see her dress, or perhaps so that the car seat itself wouldn’t somehow taint her. She looked at me, unsmiling. “THERE WAS A CURLING IRON STUCK IN MY HAIR,” she screamed.
Her father gripped the wheel, staring forward, emotionless. “You’re lucky you weren’t there,” he said.
“It was something they put in my hair at that salon. I wanted to touch it up with the curling iron at home, and it just got stuck!” she said. “My hair was wrapped in it all the way to the top,” she added dramatically.
“All we heard were the screams,” he father added, still without emotion, like a grizzled veteran telling a war story.
“Mother couldn’t get it out! And then she started screaming, too. You think I freaked out, Daddy, but it was really mother’s reaction that was over the top,” the wife added defensively.
“You were lucky you weren’t there,” her father said again, glancing in the rear view mirror.
“Daddy took it out with the screwdriver. HE HAD TO DISASSEMBLE THE WHOLE THING. WITH. A. SCREWDRIVER. IN MY HAIR.”
But there was more. “AND MY DRESS IS A LITTLE LOOSE AND YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO BE IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE I DON’T COME OUT OF IT ALL NIGHT.”
But there was even more. “AND WE ONLY HAVE TWELVE CENTERPIECES AND THERE ARE FIFTEEN TABLES.”
Still, more. “AND MY SHOES AREN’T THE SAME SHADE OF WHITE AS MY DRESS. MOTHER IS FREAKING OUT.”
Her father simply stared and gripped the wheel, apparently shell-shocked from making it out alive. At this point, I hadn’t even said hello to greet anyone yet. There was silence.
“Why are you wrapped up in a bed sheet?” I asked.
“MOTHER MADE ME DO THIS.”
I decided not to press further.
We made it to the mill only a few minutes late, literally jumping out of the car in the middle of the road to meet the photographer on some historical bridge, the oldest suspended iron railroad bridge in America. He was a stoic British man with little interest in fake pleasantries. “Let’s get one on these beautiful railroad tracks,” he said, cutting right to it.
The bridge had since been restored to add a spot where people could cross over the bridge on foot, and there was a security rail between the walkway and the old tracks. The tracks were dilapidated and mossy, hanging over a several foot drop looking down. “You just have to climb the guard rail,” he pointed out.
“I don’t think it’s safe…and her dress…” I began, but the dude already climbed over the railing and was standing on the tracks with the camera ready to go. The wife, too, was already proudly straddling the shaky wood railing in a seemingly Pyrrhic victory over her mother and the bed sheet. So I sighed and climbed over, too. And that’s either going to be a great picture, or a very strange one where we’re standing awkwardly and anxiously on some ancient railroad ruins for no other reason other than the fact that we’re just married and completely fucking nuts.
But that wasn’t the end. British dude had us offroading it up stony hillsides, the wife in heels, to take pictures next to neat old stone walls, leaning against old resting trees, and making all sorts of random poses and loving gazes and other things we don’t do at home. Now that I think about it, maybe this dude was just screwing with us.
Finally, this was it. All of the planning, all of the panicking, and all of the practicing led to this big party. We were introduced in the room to the Sgt. Peppers intro by the Beatles, which was really cool, and probably my favorite part. We went right into our first dance, which I pulled off without any nerves or puking. Alcohol helps.
From here, these are the wedding stories that are always the same, and yet always sweet in the same way. My sister and the wife’s brother each gave a toast, both going in for the kill shots to make try and make us cry. The wife danced with her father to Buddy Holly’s Words of Love, while people looked on smiling with a little sadness, too. She threw the bouquet, though it was really more like a sixty-yard punt that should have been called by Gruden and Jaws. My cousin, who’s the next to get married, made a sick cut for it like a running back, nabbing it. Her fiance gulped. We cut the cake together, and though we talked in advance about not doing any smashing-the-cake-in-the-face, the wife smashed it in mine anyway. Besides, everyone seemed to be waiting for it, and you can’t let the audience down.
Now, we wore wedding bands on our fingers, as naturally as if they had always been there, and as knowingly that they forever will. And then it was all over, and there was just one question left to ask. What were we going to do next? Simple. We’re going to Disney World!