July 21st is the one-year mark of the day that me and my lovely, talented, and always amazing wife said our vows to each other. As I’ve thought about the past year, the first year of our marriage, I’ve been reflecting on the many twists and turns our lives have taken together over the course of the year, and what that means — for me, for her, for our lives together through the adventure known as life. In honor of this first year, I’m going to spend the second year posting monthly reflections on that month in the previous year. This is the first installment: the wedding.
I love chronological narratives (as regular readers have likely deduced), and part of me would love to just describe the day step-by-step, documenting each moment. But that’s not what I want to do here. Instead, I want to do my best to express my recollections of one of the best, brightest, and most emotional days of my life — the day Holland Phillips and I said “I do” — July 21, 2012.
The light filters into the bedroom through the high window, here in this house we have shared for just a few months, and which — though we cannot know this now — we will leave again in a year, as we move on to a new chapter in life together. Trying to collect my thoughts, I think of the day before — a mad dash around town to get items put together, the rehearsal, the rehearsal dinner, audio equipment for the dance, a perpetual feeling of panic and excitement swirling together to construct the blurry haze that the day is in my memory. It is only the final hours of the day, sharing a picnic dinner with friends and family in a beautiful park, that the day begins to come back into focus. And now, the big day is here. Are we ready? Is everything where it needs to be? My sister’s boyfriend still hadn’t arrived yet — would he able to make it on time?
Then — I think that this is the last morning we will share together as a non-married couple. We’ve been together for five-and-a-half wonderful years, and I have no doubt, Holland, laying there in bed, that I want to spend the rest of my life with you — but what if things change? I’m only teaching part-time this summer, with no job prospects yet for the fall — where will we be in a month? It’s hard to think about the future when there’s no certainty beyond the next few weeks, and I know the next year is likely to be hard, financially and emotionally; the academic job market is an ugly, unpleasant monster with no thought for the emotional toll it takes on the supplicants who come to beg mercy before it. How will we get through this?
But then we’re off to breakfast, surrounded by friends and family again — your father stands and sings a very sweet song about you, one he has sung before, with a new verse added in about your life in Oregon. His voice is high and a little thin, but clear, quavering slightly with emotion, and the entire room is in tears. You sit next to me, in that red-checked dress I love so much, and I look at you, blushing and wiping away tears. “What can I possibly have done,” I think, “to get this wonderful, talented, funny, sophisticated, beautiful, much-beloved woman to agree to marry me?” My father stands too, and tells everyone how glad he and my mother are to have you join the family. Even before they met you, when I talked about you on the phone, my mother once told me, she knew you would be “the one.” Other family members get up and tell stories, there are rounds of toasts with orange juice and coffee, and then we separate, not to see one-another again until the ceremony.
I drive off alone, back to the house, to get ready; the officiant (the “culprit” behind our relationship), the best man, groomsman (your brother) and honorary groomsman (my childhood friend) will be coming soon for a round of photographs. But there’s a little work to be done — the wedding programs did not arrive, so I stop at the office supply store to pick up marbled paper, to print off new copies. The house is empty — after nearly a week of extra family and activity, to find myself at home alone — even the dog is elsewhere, being watched by friends — is startling. There are only a few hours to get ready, but I don’t know what to do. So I open a sandwich left over from the picnic, find a can of pop in the cooler, a bag of potato chips, and sit down. I’m not really hungry; all I can think of is you, getting ready with your family and some friends. I try to think of the ceremony, which we rehearsed the previous day, but I can’t remember who is supposed to carry which glass of sand — someone has that information, I know, I just don’t know who.
Then, not knowing what else to do, I put my suit on and wait. Only a few minutes pass before others arrive, but I can’t focus enough to read a book, and I can’t go for a walk (it’s getting hot, and I don’t want to sweat through my new shirt). So I stand by the patio door, hands in pockets, looking out at the trees in the backyard as they sway in the wind.
The others arrive, pictures are taken, the cars are loaded up — your brother and I are tasked with the safe delivery of some of the wedding balloons, so we sit in the back seat of one of the many “Oregon limousine’s” (a Subaru Outback) on the way to the winery, heads bent sideways to keep the balloons from bursting. The winery has not yet officially closed for the day, so while the caterers set up their tables, and family friends begin setting up tables and decorations, I mingle with the usual Saturday wine tour crowd — middle-aged couples in khakis and polos, a (real) limousine ferrying a large group of excited young women from vineyard to vineyard, and a random assortment of young couples in jeans and flip-flops. I wander about somewhat aimlessly, trying to help on occasion but not really knowing which color vase goes to which table, so I end up simply looking off over the hills, trying not to check my watch, hoping I don’t take a wrong turn and step on the maid of honor somewhere during the ceremony. I know you’re upstairs, with your entourage, getting ready… I want so much to go up and give you a hug, but I know that’s not allowed, so I wait.
Suddenly, it’s time to start. The musicians begin playing, and I start walking through the dining area to the side entrance to the courtyard. As I pass the doorway to the wine cellar, where you have been getting ready in a back room, a sudden flurry of activity grabs my eye, and for a brief moment, I see you — not long enough to take in the dress, your hair, the entire lovely scene, but just enough to make my heart race a little more, if possible.
Then I am out side, standing there in front of everyone, and it starts. I’ve been teaching for over 6 years now, I’m no stranger to standing in front of a group of people and at least attempting to appear nonchalant, but at that moment, I must have looked like a wreck — I have no idea what to do with my hands, other than to perpetually reach into my pocket to double-check that my keys are there, which of course leads me to remember that I don’t have my house keys with me at all.
And then there you are, coming out the front doors and down the aisle, and my breath is taken away — you are radiant, incandescent even, your dress is stunning. Time seems to slow down, and all I can see is you, walking towards me, squinting slightly against the sun, so beautiful and beaming with happiness, and I wanted to stop time completely to take it all in, note the subtle flavor of the air and document the expressions on the faces of everyone there, measure the temperature and take samples of the dust swirling across the cobblestones in the courtyard… and then you are there, standing across from me.
The ceremony, the one we designed together, begins — our officiant, an old friend of ours, tells the story of how we “met” — that fall when he told me you had been asking about me, and invited me to Thanksgiving, while another mutual friend told you the same, and then the ticket to your concert, which had been given to him by a “certain violinist,” which I took to be you, but which had been donated to the “cause” of getting us together by another musician. He tells our friends and family that we took it up from there, in so many words, and I’m thinking of all that is contained there — of first meeting over a year before our first date, of a friend and I running into you at a street fair some time later, and you later telling me you were disappointed, because you assumed we were together; of sitting at that Thanksgiving and talking to you, thinking “she’s really playing hard to get, if she’s been asking about me,” and not knowing that you had been doing no such thing; of hanging around on a friend’s porch far too long into the morning hours at an afterparty for that concert, with another now mutual friend who had just gotten engaged that evening, and who was now at our ceremony, with her husband and little girl. That was the night you asked for my phone number, and we then proceeded to spend every night for the next week on the phone, leaving me an exhausted (but happy) mess every day.
The stories they tell express so much, yes, but in between those stories is the space where our love, and our relationship, was born — during those long phone calls, the long nights talking outside of cafes and restaurants, the first dates which never really seemed like dates at all, we were so comfortable and happy together from the start, it seemed. In a story that the best man tells in his speech later, I traveled to Portland with he and his wife after one of those nights on the phone, and I was so exhausted I kept falling asleep whenever we were in the car. When a storm knocked out power in Downtown Portland, his wife and I tried to help by singing R.E.M.’s “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” repeatedly, but I ended up falling asleep again, and woke up to find out that we were “lost” on the west side of the metro area, where we exited to turn around at a shopping mall, then found a gas station before we got back on track. For years, I wondered where we had ended up that night — now you and I live only a short distance away, and that gas station marks the closest freeway entrance for us.
The symmetry there, between marking a location when lost and later coming to recognize it as home, is at the heart of this day, our wedding day, for me. We came to Oregon at the same time, both for graduate school; we met many of the people at the wedding around that time, or over the next few years — we all threaded our lives together, and a we all watched the bonds between each other grow and strengthen, with many engagements, weddings, and children following after. Most of us are native to Oregon, most of us not even from the west coast, and yet, I think that Oregon represents home, or one version thereof, to all of us, for this is where our community of friends was born. I cannot imagine meeting finer people anywhere in the world, and I cannot imagine where my life would be without them today — because coming to Oregon led me to them, and it led me to you, and our friends played their part in making sure that our life together, the story of “us,” was given space to grow and flourish.
As I look back on that day, all of this and more is contained in the image I have of you walking down that aisle. The night you picked me up from the airport, after my sister had passed away (her son, who she never got to see, walks down the aisle with the rings), and just laid next to me on the floor in my apartment as I struggled to make sense of the world. I see you arriving at my door to take me to the beach on the first birthday we were together, all bright-eyed and filled with excitement at showing me the picnic you had planned, and I see you skipping through Central Park on your birthday several years later, pointing out your favorite landmarks. I see the way you always cry at the end of movies, and how much I love the way you are so tender-hearted that even thinking about a story can bring tears to your eyes.
I see all of this and more, so much more, when I think of you coming down the aisle on that day, one year ago. There are many memories of the evening, of course, and as we talk to more friends who were there, more stories emerge to flesh out the picture. The food was wonderful, the view was spectacular, and of course, the company could not be surpassed. I’m often fond of saying, when gathered with friends, “good food, good friends… good times,” and this night was no exception.
So, finally, Holland, thank you for joining me on the adventure of life. The wedding marked the end of our first chapter, the chapter where we meet and form a bond. The next chapter remains to be written, and I know it will contain both joy and sorrow, for that is the way life works, but I also know it will be written by us, and that makes me very happy indeed.
Happy Anniversary, Holland!