After three months of not seeing each other and leaving a trail of missed calls on each other’s cell phones, Jake and I decide it might be prudent to meet up before we get married.
Upon hearing in the affirmative, I drive a work van across New Mexico, explain to the lady taking me to the airport that I’m flying to my wedding and wing across the clouds to South Carolina.
Recently arrived at my family’s place, Jake comes to pick me up.
It is hard to explain what it feels like to see the person you’re marrying in two weeks for the first time in three months drive through the deep green tunnels of your childhood summers, past the perimeters of nighttime pastures and up to the hanging humidity of your empty hometown airport at one o’clock in the morning. Here he is in this place you have long loved, long come back to to find faith in living, and you are going to marry him.
When you hug him, you are remembering his smell. When you kiss him, you are remembering how he kisses you. When you look at him, you search for changes you have missed in the lives you have been carrying on without each other. Three months is a long time to go for people who are intending on marrying each other.
He even has a new hat.
While the two of us have been working in far-flung places, my parents have been staking down the home front, buying every flowering plant within a thirty mile radius.
Dad has disintigrated three pairs of work clothes readying the yard for the ceremony, and Mom has been in the bent-back position for the entirety of the summer, picking tomatoes, planting flowers or putting away corn for the reception. “We’re getting ready for the event of the century!” Dad exclaims over the phone when I manage to dial in with a bar of reception from a mesa in New Mexico, “my wife here, she has turned into a farmhand!” Descriptions of the newly planted caladiums and the intended flow of the ceremony ensue, punctuated occassionally by:
I get the feeling that they haven’t had a non-wedding related conversation in the past two months. I get independent confirmation of this from my little sister.
“The squash are taking over,” I read in an email my dad sends describing the new variety of squash I planted in the springtime for wedding food, “I am telling you, they are coming for the house!”
He quotes Johnny’s Seed description in order to have some scientific back-up.
The threatening species in question:
Sweet Georgia Candy Roasters.
Having spent the majority of my young adult years in veritable slums, i.e. where the rats and raccoons don't just come to play but to stay and pursue the American Dream of home ownership, I am used to the sense of overwhelming order and cleanliness when I come home. The sink is not full of a slurry of coffee grounds, egg-encrusted plates and week old rice, a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night does not involve staring down a pair of ringed eyes in the kitchen or waking up the next morning to hear about an armed assault on the downstairs girl through the downstairs girl’s smoke rings on the porch, the bath itself it not hung with wads of hair in one housemate’s attempt to retaliate on another’s clogging the drain. At home, the hardwood floors are smooth and clean, the sideboard sink, spotless, the book on the piano flipped to the hymn, “For the Beauty of the Earth.” Things are as they should be.
And yet, upon arriving this time, the sense of intense order and readiness was palpable. The grape arbor that I had last seen as a work in progress
as in the type of progress that involves Dad narrowly avoiding paralysis after coming up with the Hang-from-tenuous-muscadine-vine-twenty-feet-above-the-ground-with-use-of-tractor-hoist Technique, was now in a tumbled state of joy on top of the locust wood structure.
The grass was cut in a grand swoop towards the symbolic grape arbor, symbolic on account of Jake and I first meeting while picking grapes, and the garden was stocked with Sungold tomatoes and Cosmos and Sweet Corn that my mom had watered faithfully through the dry spell of the summer.
All of this was not so much astonishing in the terms of the state of the property or parental behavior. My folks didn’t invent ragging off the floors on their hands and knees in a way that necessitates construction-style knee-pads or raking several tons of pebbles in the yard so the pebbles would be individually aerated and definitely look much different! or washing the exterior of the house with an amount of bleach that made the Hometown IGA cashier raise her fake eyebrows about the possibility of meth production all for the wedding. All of these techniques had been developed over a long arc of time and OCD diagnostics.
The odd part this time was that it was all for me and Jake.
The week before the wedding was spent squeezing increasing numbers of family and their significant others around the kitchen table, sending the recent arrivals out on horse poop patrol in the pasture and possibly scarring the future in-laws with our yells of familial coercion when we bombed their rented lake house up the mountain and later informed them that we had no way of getting back down the mountain because we had accomplished our stampede by bike and, well, you know, it was dark, and there wasn’t a car that could fit all of us in it.
The idea of family expansion was finally ironing itself into the quilt of family consciousness, and I watched each of my siblings with their boyfriends or girlfriend and Jake somewhere within that mix, throwing a Frisbee with one of his fellow suitors and losing it in the multitude of Jewelweed stretching its orange tendrils towards the blue of August, and I thought about the nature of family and building out another branch and what carpentry might be needed for such a project.
The week passed and then all of the sudden, by that odd and often unnerving miracle of time moving forward, the wedding day was upon us.
On the porch before our turn to walk down the rows of faces that had populated my life and Jake’s, Dad pointed out that it was just like all the pictures of us kids going to the first day of school, a tally of years and heights and childhood growing up and being given away to something else.
Thunder struck during the ceremony while we were saying our vows, and Jake said it was like God saying I hear you, and the light streamed through the canopy of hemlocks and birches and muscadine vines, as if to say we sanctify this also, and I watched tears building a moat at the bottom of Jake’s eyes and was surprised to hear the strength in each of our voices saying, I will.
After we walked down the aisle and our dignified guests followed, the ceremony exploded with flowers gathered from the roadsides and cocktails made with pineapple sage picked from the triumphantly large sage plant in the backyard, and food from the garden piled into bowls and toppling from platters.
The ceremony's thunder turned to rain that descended shortly into the reception, bringing chaos with it.
The best thing to do when faced with some two hundred people waiting on their dinner until late into the night on account of their seats being sopping wet is to squeeze them onto the porch, give them plenty of drinks and try to believe what your teacher keeps telling you:
The next best thing to do after not being able to taste a bit of your dinner because of the nerves and ceremoniously cutting the homemade peach pies and wondering how you’re supposed to feed it to each other without forks because everything is a little bit improv at this point is to start dancing.
And stay on the dance floor.
At some point, however, we got the signal that we were supposed to be making our exit.
After several moments of panic, in which Mom and Dad and I sprinted through the house to search for the keys to the car Jake and I were supposed to drive away,
Jake and I danced through the line of sparklers and out to the pasture.
Once there, however, we discovered another hang-up:
While Jake searched his brain for a password to the Airbnb account and discovered that it couldn’t be found in those quarters and would have to be gotten by other complicated means since he had set up the account with my email for some also complicated reason but I didn’t have my phone and the Airbnb hosts were asleep, and anyways they didn’t know we were coming from our wedding, per se, so they shouldn’t see me in a white dress and so on and so forth, I propped the door for air and thought about the first lesson of marriage:
Jake tried to distract me.
I didn’t believe him and told him what I knew about hot air balloons, which indicated why one wouldn't be over the pasture at that moment, but then a paper lantern rose out of the sky, illuminating the pasture and floating over the horses and the chickens and heading for the hills that rim the valley of home.
My siblings had gotten their send-off.
By some feat of threading the internet needle, we made it to the artist’s loft that night.
The next morning, I watched Jake cross the floor with a gold band around his wedding finger in that room with the blowing white curtains and the intensity of North Carolina mountain green outside and realized that he is my husband.
The following morning, we left for our honeymoon in Montana.
The odd thing about a wedding is that it takes an entire village to get you married. One friend sends the platters, another comes with the salt and pepper shakers, one neighbor sends a pick-up truck because a really good wedding really cannot happen without a pick-up truck, another directs the wedding dress hunt with unparalleled humor about her charge having exactly one week to make a decision about that somewhat important article of white clothing, one old friend stands by your mom while she loses it over the tablecloths, another shows up the day of the wedding and works and sorts and works and then Poof! You’re off in the world, and it’s just the two of you, not the ten around the kitchen table you’ve quickly become accustomed to, not the ten times three or four on each limb of the familial tree that have come to witness what you’re promising—and to be affirmed in what they’ve promised each other.
Now it is your turn to create the light, the laughter—and to bring it back to them.
With just two, however, it’s easy to forget important tasks and not fully comprehend how you’ll feel about this in the future.