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on this day: part 1

Two years ago today, I stood in front of a small gathering of friends and family and married the best man I’ve ever known. It was a breathtakingly beautiful moment in a total clusterfuck of a day.

About a month ago, knowing that this anniversary was approaching, I set out to write the story of our wedding, for posterity. The truth is that despite planning the event for one year and ten days, and it being a deliberately simple affair, factors beyond our control led to the thing being an almost total disaster. I’ve already started to gloss over parts of it in my memory in the course of trying to preserve only good feelings about the day, so it’s lucky I chose this year instead of two or three from now to set it all down.

But because the disaster of our wedding day began before the day itself, I’m going to have to go back a bit.

Part One: The Courtship

First of all, I am here to tell you that online dating sites absolutely can work.

Within the year after I left Arizona and divorced my abuser, I had started to feel excluded and isolated in the household where I was then living. I knew I still had a lot of recovery work to do and probably wasn’t ready to be dating yet, but I was lonely. I wanted to feel like I was important to someone again. Obviously, being in a new place meant that I didn’t really know, well, anyone. So I decided to give online dating a whirl. At least I’d make some new local friends, I reasoned, even if I wasn’t ready for commitment or real openness with a new romantic partner.

The short story there is that I was 99% matched with someone who turned out to be just absolutely, completely, amazingly perfect for me in every way. We talked online for a week or so, set up a date, hit it off in person, I floated all the way home, and we’ve never really wanted to be apart from one another from that day onward. It would have been fairytale stuff if not for the way both of our home lives imploded spectacularly in the midst of our blossoming romance.

Well, I guess adversity and conflict figure in fairytales too.

Fast forward. It’s a year later. We’ve been living together for a few months and are about to close on a house. There is zero doubt in my mind that I want to spend the rest of my life partnered with this fantasy dream-boyfriend who is so in tune with me that we will often think or say the same things at the same time, but I’ve been ambivalent on the subject of remarriage. Marriage is, however, an important step to Jon. I know how he feels about it, and he knows how I feel about it. He’s waiting for me to indicate that I’m ready before he advances the idea. I deeply appreciate his consideration of my history.

So here we are, about to buy a house together, knowing we’re in this for the long haul. We are, to put it simply, galvaí. I know neither one of us is going anywhere anyway, so I figure I can take the step into marriage in order to make Jon happy. Since he’s waiting on me, I plan a proposal.

At the site of our first date exactly one year previous, I present him with a box that is full of 100+ reasons why I love him, and nestled inside another, smaller box of homemade cookies. The cookies ask the question: “Marry me?” (Or at least they are supposed to. The icing gets smudged in transit and he has to infer what their message is supposed to say. A little less punchy than I’d intended, but we get there.)

His answer is an enthusiastic yes.

Jon wants to know how soon we can tie the knot. He’s all for immediately. I tell him I need some time to adjust to the idea, and since I’d really like a fall wedding if we’re having one, that means a year-long engagement. He reluctantly agrees. The next year is spent planning and preparing.

Part Two: Wedding Planning

There were a few points I was crystal clear on, as we planned this whole wedding thing.

  1. I never got to have a real wedding the first time I was married, so if I was doing it again, I was doing it properly this time.
  2. That did not mean I wanted to bury us in debt just to have a nice party.
  3. The dog needed to be there.
  4. I wanted my wedding to either take place outdoors or feature nature prominently if indoors.
  5. I wanted to wear a beautiful dress and look like a magical elf princess, but I would not wear white.
  6. No Bridezilla-ing. Low-key or bust.
  7. It would be terrible if I saddled my bridal attendants with atrocious dresses they could never wear again and would likely burn after the day.
  8. No pretending that we’re not both introverts.
  9. I’m a grown-ass woman with a grown-ass child of my own and certainly didn’t need someone “giving me away” as though I don’t belong to myself.
  10. This wedding was going to be the way we wanted it to be, not what tradition said it had to be.
  11. It would be beautiful and classy, but simple, and geeky and us.
  12. No dancing.

Jon’s list was shorter and there were broad areas of overlap, (“no dancing” was key,) so he largely left me to do as I saw fit.

I signed up for one of those wedding websites that has a very helpful interactive planning and budgeting tool. It proved extremely useful for keeping me on track as to what planning elements needed to be on lock by when.

Obviously, moving into our new house took up much of our time, focus, and resources initially. The only wedding planning we did that October of 2017 was settling on our date: October 13th, 2018. We also detoured to enclose the yard and find ourselves a dog companion to complete our household. I would have been happy to adopt whatever dog we found, but Jon really had his heart set on a husky. We eventually found handsome Hento.

He was absolutely supposed to be our dog.

By the time we got all of our ducks (puppies?) in a row and started location-scouting in late winter, we’d already missed the availability window to book the site I fell in love with, on the date we’d set. But Jon suggested a suitable alternative and the venue dilemma was solved.

Mingo Creek County Park, Shelter #8, as seen in the spring. Party tree to the right.

My very first wedding purchase was the dress. I’d stumbled on it unintentionally while shopping for something to wear to my former-roommates’ wedding the year before, and had fallen in love with it about as quickly as I had with my husband-to-be. The only hiccup? It was from one of those online Chinese formalwear sites. I ordered my size very carefully according to their measurement guide.

When it arrived, it was wadded up into a ball about the size of my head. Unfurled, it was easily large enough to accommodate two of me.

I ask you, is this any way to ship a formal gown???

Customer service was no help, which I honestly should have predicted. Luckily, I’m a fairly talented seamstress and I had plenty of time to fix it.

*Narrator voice: So naturally, she procrastinated until the last minute and wound up doing a quick, panicked hack-job instead of a proper alteration.*

With the dress chosen, the aesthetic of the event quickly coalesced. I approached décor and catering decisions via the two-pronged strategy of what I wanted the day to look like and what I could buy out of my own pocket. Going into debt just to have a lovely wedding day was at the tippity-top of the no-nos.

In the end, including my dress, invitations, the rings, cake, catering, venue, decorations, rentals, everything, the total budget came out in the neighborhood of $1500, which we split close to evenly between us.

One-by-one, piece-by-piece, over the course of the year I slowly accumulated the supplies to throw this shindig. I am an avid crafter and made the decorations, “bouquets,” and boutonnieres myself. The guest list was manageably small – forty friends and family members and the two of us. We planned a lunch menu we could easily execute between the two of us so there would be no need to double or triple our budget by hiring a catering service. We have many talented photographers for friends; one of these would take our photos on the day. I’m a perfectly competent baker, so I chose a cake decoration design and spent a few months learning how to execute it. Since we wouldn’t be dancing, we didn’t need a DJ – just a playlist and a speaker.

Also by doing a little at a time, no one task was ever too overwhelming to do myself. (Except the dress alteration. Ugh. That just kept LOOMING in the back of my mind like the monster in the closet.) And as time passed and I got into the preparations, I began to feel genuine excitement about the idea of being married again, this time to an absolutely wonderful spouse.

The plan that emerged was this: early afternoon outdoor wedding in a park in mid-October to take advantage of the lovely fall foliage as a natural backdrop, under a magnificent party tree. Officiated by one of my high school friends, who would fly in for the event. Two attendants each. Hento as ringbearer. Custom vows. Small gathering to watch the ceremony. Jon thought the traditional practice of the groom waiting up front alone while the bride is escorted up the aisle is weird and outdated and he didn’t want to do it. Since I wasn’t being given away anyway, we decided to walk up the aisle together, hand-in-hand.

After the vows, lunch under the pavilion – which itself was a pleasant light wood in new, good condition and wouldn’t need to be dressed up, especially against the autumn forest background. A single champagne toast with lunch. No out-of-control booziness or unending toasts veering into uncomfortable territory. We’d step away for a few moments for photos at some point.

After lunch, BOARD GAMES! My bridal attendant Tasha had ordered a custom Cards Against Humanity deck with a special Jon-and-Alyssa theme and we were excited to see our friends play with it. In addition to CAH, we would also have a number of classics like Scrabble, Clue, Chess, Risk, and so forth. Then we’d serve the cake and have the area cleaned out before dark when the Autumn chill would set in.

That… is not what happened.

But I’ll tell you more about that later.

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