happy. (featuring ginger lemon soda)
I lay awake, staring at the ceiling of my parent’s guest room at 4:30 that morning. This was nothing new, as my eyes had anxiously popped open at that hour for the past month and a half. I was thinking about the cookie gift bags and how I still needed to fill them and tag them and how sometimes fun little tasks like this wind up as tedious battles with a lot of paper cuts and cursing. It was too early to go downstairs so I just lay there hoping I’d remembered everything. I kind of knew I had.
I listened to Francis breathing next to me. I smiled in the dark. We had originally planned to spend the night apart, so as not to put the “curse of the groom seeing the bride before she walks down the aisle” upon us. The more I thought about it, the less I cared about superstitions. I needed his steadiness to calm me. I needed his ability to make me laugh even when I feel the weight of the world upon my shoulders. “Huh”, I thought to myself, “I actually don’t feel stressed at all. He’s the one. He’s my person. Today, he will become my husband.” I lay there and grinned as the sun started to rise.
My original dream was to cater my own wedding, an idea that was quickly shot down by my family. Francis wisely stayed out of that conversation. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to cook for 80 people on the day I got married, I just wanted to share the passion I have with the people I love the most. We found a fantastic Middle Eastern restaurant in Fairfield called Safita that could drop off freshly cooked food to my parent’s house right before the ceremony. It was the right way to go. I knew that, but I still wanted to share.
There was also the question of party favors for guests. Jordan almonds? I think not.
That’s when it hit me; I could bake different flavors of cookies and have the kind of cookie that you receive in your gift bag be the name of the table you’re sitting at.
So a bag of snickerdoodles with your name on it? Snickerdoodle table. Brownie Cookies? Brownie table. Thin Mints? You get my drift.
I made 9 different kinds of cookies to seat guests at 9 different tables. My only fear was that our guests, who are not children, would find the whole thing kind of patronizing. “Snickerdoodle table? I’m 50. I don’t think so.” But what can I say? I had no intention of making this a stuffy, formal wedding. I’m a kid at heart, if you can’t get down with that, just enjoy the freakin’ cookies.
It’s hard to properly wrap your head around your own wedding day. My dad was making coffee; my mom was doing her morning yoga; my brother was still sleeping. It didn’t look different than any other day, though there was an energetic tingle in my body that I was trying to suppress for another couple of hours. My number one priority of the day was to stay present. I struggle with being in large groups of people. I always have. Even if they’re the best people I know, I can go into smiling zombie mode—detached from my feelings in order to survive socially. I looked at Francis drinking coffee and smiling at me. He keeps me present. If I could look at him all night, I knew I’d be fine.
Francis and I sat at the dining room table and filled, tagged and tied the cellophane cookie bags. It was quick and painless; no papercuts and only the normal amount of cursing. They looked good too. I had baked Chocolate Chip Lace Cookies, White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies, Lemon Biscotti dipped in White Chocolate, Chocolate Cherry Biscotti, Homemade Thin Mints, Homemade Oreos, Brownie Cookies, Salted Butterscotch Cookies, and Snickerdoodles.
I filled the bottles with the ginger lemon soda I had made. There would be one bottle of soda and one bottle of water on every table – a little treat for us sober folk.
20 minutes later, a gaggle of Francis’ friends from Portland came to help us set up tables and chairs and string lights. People had told me that it’s great to ask for help on the big day—especially when you’re doing it yourself. So many friends had offered assistance that we never felt overwhelmed. They were like little wedding elves, laughing as they worked, excited to see it all come together. This was what I had hoped for. A calm, casual, playful day full of support and love. We will forever be indebted to Sarah, Maureen, Lisa, Hunter, Jen, Jason, Eric, Lauren, Kayla and Max for their spirited assistance.
At a certain moment, you just let go of everything you’d been worried about. I wasn’t there to be prettier or thinner or taller than I am. I was there to be myself. I was there to give my heart to this person who has changed my life. I was only nervous about one thing… my vows. I was terrified that my voice would quiver or my hands would shake violently, which they do when I’m speaking in front of people. I was worried that Francis would think my words were silly or random. I didn’t want to bore him as I rambled on.
I had been working on them for about a month and felt this draft finally said what I wanted it to. Here’s a secret: my vows had been written before Francis had even proposed. For months and months, I had words crawling into my head as I slipped into the pocket between awake and asleep every night. I couldn’t explain it, but vows were forming beyond my control. There were things I wanted to say to Francis—things he needed to know. We weren’t even really on the marriage path but these damn vows kept writing themselves in my head.
If I could get through the vows, I could enjoy the day.
Ding dong, the make-up and hair ladies arrived.
I had asked some of the star players from my catering staff in New York to work5 the wedding. They arrived as I was getting ready and I talked them through some basics. I had given them notes prior to their arrival and they’re the best in the game, so they needed very little instruction from me. They got the bar set and the cookies placed. They got the tables finished and the kitchen ready.
I hid upstairs as guests started to arrive. My heart was racing. All my i’s had been dotted, all my t’s crossed. There was nothing left to do but enjoy the ride.
I walked with my father to a place where the guests, seated in my parent’s backyard, could not see us. I had been struggling with the thought of us walking down the aisle with no music (the area is far from an outlet and the thought of walking down the aisle to Pachelbel’s Canon on a rinky-dink boom box was more depressing than anything). Maybe we could hire an expensive team of sopranos or better yet, a virginal flaxen harpist? You really don’t know me at all, do you?
Instead, we asked our guests to be prepared to hum the first verse of “Here Comes the Bride” as we came into focus. My mother, Jill, led them through a couple of practice rounds. There was laughter and a discombobulated sound, but they soldiered on and it started to come together. I loved to eavesdrop on the chuckling but was blown away when, quite suddenly, they sounded as if they had been working on “Here Comes the Bride” for months. It was the first session of The New York Philharmonic Humming Chorus; Easton, Connecticut Division (NYPHCECD).
My heart was bursting.
When I saw Francis, I could do nothing but smile. This was the place I was meant to be.
One of my oldest and dearest friends, Gerald Glackin, had agreed to officiate. He had constructed a ceremony that was a patchwork of traditional greetings; excerpts from the writings of John O’Donohue and Joseph Campbell; a memorial for friends, family members and pets that were no longer with us; and an introduction to our vows. Francis and I had not heard each other’s vows until that moment, though Gerald had read them all and had tweaked them a tiny bit so they would be more like a conversation than individual statements.
I was first to speak.
Magic (I titled my vows, though I did not read the titles in the ceremony)
Shel Silverstein wrote:
“Listen to the mustn’ts. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the wonts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… anything can happen, anything can be.”
I have to tell you something: I’m really cynical. I’m not surprised by much. I don’t believe in unicorns.
It has been my theory that if you focus your attention on building something, you will see results. While I like to be playful, I have become much more apprehensive and skeptical over time.
But something changed a year and a half ago. Something happened that made me realize there might be a bigger, unpredictable force guiding life.
You remembered me.
That would have been spectacular enough on its own, but there was more. Because you didn’t remember me during the drunk years. You didn’t remember me when I was an asshole know-it-all. You didn’t remember me during all those peculiar hairstyles (that’s true for both of us). Of all the moments I have thought of you over the years, and there have been many, you remembered me at the exact moment that you and I would most perfectly fit together.
You hear me. You see me. You challenge me. You thrill me.
And because of that, I am more myself than I’ve ever been.
You are the love of my life. I don’t know how I managed to get this far without you. I am grateful that I don’t have to anymore. You have opened my eyes.
I promise to keep my eyes open to experience every moment of this spectacular world with you. I promise to nurture you, support you and to be honest even when it would be easier to lie. I promise to never take for granted the unicorn that is this relationship. I promise to remember that magic does exist and that, by your side, ANYTHING is possible.
—————————————————————————————————————————Then it was Francis’ turn…
Walk with me
Walk with me
I feel your love
I feel your strong love
I feel the patience of unconditional love
I feel a strength
I feel your faith in me
I’ll never let you down no matter what you do
If you just walk with me and let me walk with you
I’m on this journey already….I don’t want to walk alone.
I have two very distinct images of your face that I carry in my head that I visit every day that I‘m not with you, which has been all too frequently the last few months. The first is from a photograph, one that most of our friends and families have seen. It’s a picture of you in the fall of 1983 when I first met you and immediately felt attracted to you; it was a picture I took because I was supposed to be taking pictures for the yearbook, but I took that one for myself. You’re smiling and look simultaneously happy, excited, curious, open, inquisitive, and, of course, pretty.
All those things turned out to be true when I got up the nerve to talk to you.
The other image I hold in my head of you is from the night we had dinner in April of 2014 at Tia Pol after 30 years of not seeing each other or even speaking to each other. There was an amazing moment of recognition of each other. You nodded your head up and down, as if to say, Yup, that’s him alright. And on your face, I saw the same happy, excited, curious, open, inquisitive expression, unchanged after all that time.
I will get to see your face every day we’ll be together for the rest of our lives; all your expressions are variations of how I remember you from the first moment I felt that huge, amazing teenage crush take hold of me. How lucky I am that it never let go so we could meet again and pick up where we left off and fall madly, crazily, bi-coastally in love.
Balls (again, title was not read)
When kids play catch, the game changes as they throw the ball back and forth, back and forth. They learn things about each other. Sure, they see how good the other is at the basic tasks of catching and throwing, but they also learn what thrills the other and what pleases themselves. Some moments, the game is about the play and sometimes it’s about the challenges. As the game continues, the bond grows.
I’m going to throw it to you with the trust that you will reciprocate and throw it right back.
But some kids throw too hard. Or way off the mark. Most kids get bored and walk away to find something more interesting.
I’m not sure when our game of catch began—a year and a half or 32 years ago—but when you threw the ball to me, I was astonished and flattered and flummoxed. What if I didn’t catch it? What if I waited too long to throw it back? What if you thought my ball was the wrong shape or size?
But you didn’t.
You always responded, making me more delighted and more interested every day. That we managed to find each other is one thing, but that we’ve managed to cultivate this much respect, love and support regardless of distance or time, speaks to how perfect we are for each other. You have never, since the moment we reconnected, made me feel like I was alone.
I promise you, no matter how the game changes, that I will never stop throwing the ball back.
I will always keep trying to put into words how I feel about you, how much I love you and how much better my life is with you and how safe I feel with you, all of which is frequently beyond words. I can’t ever seem to say it all exactly the way I want it to sound to you, so I promise to keep trying new ways to tell you how much I love you all the time.
I will take all your efforts as seriously as though they were my own efforts.
I will take care of you to the greatest extent I possibly can.
Things have happened to me and to us and to people very close to both of us that have made me very conscious of the phenomenon of a vanishing existence. There is no magic elixir that can alter that. I will accept that truth and walk with you and build you up through all the existence we can possibly have together.
And so, I promise to take care of myself to the greatest extent possible can so that I can continue to take care of you until we’re old and funky.
I will make you and our life together the greatest priorities I have in life; everything else is just an offshoot of you and I being together. I will treat you with respect and dignity when life is challenging and always take the time to listen to you and explain myself clearly so we can work together on whatever difficulties we’re faced with.
A relationship can be hard work sometimes. It’s not a thing you can take for granted and just expect to flourish. I promise to stick to it no matter what and do the hard work.
I will embrace the fleeting nature of life and enjoy every part of it with you while we can. Life is short and it’s vibrant and joyful if you let it be that way. I promise to look for all the joy and vibrancy and fun that we can possibly have together.
As a person who has stood pretty solidly in my conviction that I would never marry, I wonder how it is that I’m here today.
I felt like, as the world expanded around me, I had gotten smaller. Apathy and fear dominated my days. My options were becoming more and more limited.
Do you want to go to this party? Not really.
Do you want to see a movie? Not so much.
Do you want to go explore the world? No.
In truth, apathy and fear are kind of easy. It’s feeling that’s hard.
When you showed up out of the blue– after 30 years– my perception began to shift. I started to feel like I had nothing to lose. I could be brave with you because it was so unbelievable that you were there in the first place. I told you the truth like I had never told anyone because we speak the same language and we created a space that felt safe and exciting. I started to see things in a different light; a vibrant light that spilled out onto everything else in my life. I was more grounded at work, more fearless with friends, more sensitive to my surroundings.
And suddenly the answers to the questions changed.
Do I want to go out for coffee? Hmmm. Yeah.
Do I want to come visit you in Portland? Definitely.
Do I want to spend the rest of my life with you? Absolutely.
Do I want to look into your eyes as we drink all the juicy nectar out of life together? Without question.
I promise to remember that saying YES is how all the greatest stories begin… or continue.
We see and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we help each other to see our strengths more clearly and more often. I will support you when you’re strong AND when you’re not so strong, and when you’re not, I will help you see that you ARE strong and smart and capable.
I’ll always have those two images of you, one from 1983 when we were kids and the other from our first real date – smiling, happy, excited, curious, open, inquisitive, and always see you in my mind’s eye and smile and love you. I’m going to be with you for most of the rest of OUR forever. Even when I’m not right next to you seeing your face, I’ll always be with you and I’ll always be in love with you.
There was a moment, about a year and a half ago, when I realized that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life. It felt different than anything I’d ever felt before. It felt safe and full and I was giddy and complete even though he was on the other side of the country.
Then there was another time when he was bringing me a cup of tea in his home in Portland and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling that I had never been so happy.
Then there was that time out at the beach where we laughed so hard that I thought I had broken my face.
I mention these moments because, when you get married, people often refer to it as the greatest day of your life. Francis and I were standing firmly in our conviction that, though it would be a wonderful day for sure, there were many other days that we could say were the best.
Boy, were we wrong.
I’d like to thank everyone who schlepped out to be a part of our day. A special thanks to my mom, Jill and my dad, Mike, for hosting. A very special thanks to my mom, Liz for coming all the way from the UK to celebrate. To Francis’ family, for making me feel like we spoke the same language from the very first time I met them. To Kristine Walsh and Carol Venezia for capturing the true spirit of the day on film. To Chloe, Scott and Shain for being the best catering staff a chef could ask for. And to all of our hysterical friends and extended family. A little while after the ceremony, I overheard someone joyously holler, “Yeah! I’m at the snickerdoodle table!!!” and I knew everything was perfect.
Ginger Lemon Soda
Makes 6 cups of soda
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/4 cups water
- 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and cut into discs
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 4 cups seltzer water
- Place the sugar, the water, sliced ginger, and ground ginger into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.
- Add the lemon juice and stir. Strain. You will have approximately 2 cups of ginger syrup (don’t worry if it’s not syrupy).
- Mix with 4 cups seltzer water for a ginger lemony fizz!
- To double your pleasure, add vodka or tequila.