(This day is the hardest to write about because I find it impossible to come close to the emotional truth of it. As an author, I struggle with the limitations of the art. In other, less pretentious words: I lack the words to describe being this happy.)
When I wake, the house is already buzzing with activity. Amber woke before me, unnoticed, and is well into a series of last minute chores to make sure our wedding day proceeds smoothly. The thousand tiny potential imperfections stress her, though the persistent drizzle spitting all over our plans ranks the highest for me, since it is the one which I can do the least about. Though I ache to be helpful, or at least occupied by something other than my thoughts, I can't dive right at the metaphorical bear's midsection and expect that is the right course of action unless given a concrete order by someone who either knows better or can allow me to abdicate responsibility for the outcome. Everyone else moves with purpose, as they ought so close to the wedding, and I follow in their wake in hopes I may prove accidentally useful. The joke is that the groom's main responsibility is to show up at the altar and be presentable, but it is difficult when everyone else seems charged with intent.
Jamie is the first guest to arrive. Her car broke a few days ago, seemingly stranding her in New Jersey. I assumed that this would mean she would be unable to attend the wedding. I had heard several worse excuses in the last few days and accepted them all with regret. Instead, she took mass transit from New Jersey to get to her parents' house, then borrowed her mother's car to arrive to our wedding in the middle of nowhere New York.
Second only to my joy that she made to the wedding, she wears a bowtie and Pinky and the Brain suspenders, bought knowing that they would be the perfect thing to wear to my wedding. Though I acknowledge she didn't wear these on mass transit, I have too much fun imagining it to let the picture go. She is precisely the sort of person who ought to be in my wedding pictures.
She provides an immediate direction for my nervous energy. At the edge of the pond are two rowboats, slick with the ebbing drizzle, and a set of paddles. Daniel and Darrell had floated the idea that it would be suitable romantic if, immediately after the vows, I gathered Amber into one of the skiffs and rowed across the lake to give the guests time enough to dissipate back to the tent. Along with them, Jamie volunteers herself for the task of setting one of the boats into the algae-coated pond and, assuming this occurs without disaster, placing me in said boat without drowning me.
The first and most attractive boat has a hole in the back that is meant to be covered, but we lack the designated flap. Water glugs in before I can pronounce this boat far from seaworthy, though they make certain that my weight in the boat will not somehow counterbalance the volume of the pond. I wander around the house in hopes there is a wine cork that would suit the hole-we have cases upon cases of alcohol-but I am shooed away as this idea is too silly to be fraught with anything but charming mishap. I am categorically forbidden to do anything that might result in Amber's dress becoming caked in mud.
We wipe the less seemly boat down with towels from the linen cabinet and, when we shove it into the pond, are delighted that it does not take on conspicuous water. Again, they urge me into the boat and offer caution that I should not attempt to stand. Then, from the shoreline, they do their best to shout at me a remedial course in Muck Rowing. I am hopelessly uncoordinated when it comes to moving the boat through water, to say nothing of clinging vegetation. However, and in much more time than would frankly seem possible, I manage to navigate the boat all of thirty feet to the other shore. I can only hope that whatever marital gods preside over this occasion have minor dominion in helping hapless grooms row in a fashion less farcical. On the other hand, it is my wedding. I would hope people could forgive my clumsiness, if only for today.
I go to change as, through a combination of effort, pond water, humidity, and nerves, I have soaked my first shirt of the day. Aside from Jamie, no one here is yet dressed for the occasion. Prior to the wedding, we will be having a barbecue. Both Amber and I have been to weddings where we quietly grumbled for the couple just to spit out their vows so that we could fill our bellies with a choice between the chicken and the fish. As we intended community to be an underpinning of our wedding, we wanted to be sure that people were not famished while we made mooneyes at one another. Also, given that this barbecue was in part a potluck, we didn't want tuna casseroles and Jell-O salads to go bad before they could get around to eating them. To accommodate this casualness, we told curious guest that they ought to wear what they might to a well-recorded barbecue. Not necessarily formal, but perhaps a touch better than stained Hooters shirts. This is apparently not the clearest of directions, but those in the wedding itself seem to have gotten the memo not to break out the starched shirts until the absolute final moment.
Rhianna arrives in the middle of this, when it becomes clear that we are a few tables short of what will be needed. She has officiated many weddings and this glitch cannot faze her. She takes one look in the kitchen, at the large square table in the center where we had our rehearsal dinner last night. "Why don't you take that apart?" she asks.
We look confused until she lifts the tablecloth up and reveals it is in fact two perfectly sized tables next to one another. This feels as though it should be indicative of the rest of the day, that things should go right be sheer force of our hopeful ignorance.
The sun burns through the clouds and dries the rain as guest arrive, most carrying gifts (which we put in the basinet in our bedroom, since Amber doesn't want to stop the wedding to open presents) and contributions to the potluck. Amber's father takes to grilling burgers to avoid confronting anyone who doesn't want to see him. I decided I ought to play host until given something else to do. Amber tends toward being busy with more practical matters. My assurance that it will all turn out fine loses effect after the first iteration.
Then the power blows without any explanation. However, as we are eating outside at the time, this is only noticeable in that the music cuts. One of the neighbors sidles along and offers up a gas generator to get things humming again, but we tentatively decline. The guests are too occupied with introducing themselves, chatting, and eating to notice that the lights we stringed throughout the tent no longer twinkle. Further, I don't want us wasting a second dealing with practical misfortune that we could otherwise spend making memories.
As I schmooze, my brother Bryan answers my inquiry as to if he has enough to eat by telling me he is thinking of marrying his girlfriend, Colleen. They've been together for almost two years and this is a step she would like to take with him soon. The timing raising irresistible curiosity, since he may now feel that marriage is something people like him ought to do, but today is not the day for me to sit him down and talk this over in the detail it deserves. I doubt he is looking for a blessing as much as a sounding board. On the other hand, I would love to attend someone else's wedding now that I have occupied a wedding from this side, so I may have a bias toward everyone getting married and then inviting me.
I don't have the ability to focus on anything but the seconds ticking closer to the moment of my wedding. Matrimony may be as communicable as the common cold and I am absolutely a carrier today. I am impressed I have attended so many without having caught the bug previously, but I did finally commit to this relationship with Amber after seeing her interact at a wedding. With Amber, I allowed myself to finally be with someone without expectations, without constructing a narrative over the relationship to spackle over fears and inadequacies.
The wedding party collects inside to change and prepare. Amber works with her mother to apply makeup, then assumes the task of fixing my hair. I try to wave the videographer in to record some of this, but he does not seem particularly interested. In short order, all parties are suited or dressed up, though Amber remains in the house with her wedding dress, so far unseen by me because I care to keep that superstition intact.
Just as we are descending for the ceremony, the power flicks back on with no preamble and I realize that I knew this would happen, as though I skipped ahead in the divine script.
I decide to lean to vanity and opt not to wear my Transition glasses, as I do not want to be, in my words, "the coolest guy at the altar." This results in everyone asking if I have forgotten my glasses and questioning if I am capable of seeing. I see just fine, if not far. The only thing I care to see is Amber and I am certain I will be able to figure her out as the smudge of white contrasted against the green.
When Laurel sees me, she assures me that I "clean up good."
I stand before an audience of my family and friends and feel serene. Then, because I'm me, I worry that serene is not the appropriate emotion for the occasion, but I cannot seem to find any other emotion rattling about. I cannot really focus on anyone's faces for long. There may be music-I know we rehearsed this with music playing, a composition from her grandfather-but I cannot seem to hear it. It is a lovely day for this exercise. It almost couldn't be better.
Without my glasses, Amber is a gossamer blur walking down the dells. I know her so well that, even fuzzy, I see she is concentrating on her steps. She slightly arrests her pace on each step, as if to music I cannot hear.
The white and tan resolves into the woman who will become my wife. Her makeup seems a little heavy, but possibly because I am so unused to seeing any on her, particularly in daylight. The dress Holly made for Amber resembles how a fairy might dress herself after falling into a batch of lace, which is ideal for Amber. She wears a headband adorned with blue and purple leather roses.
Amber joins me before Rhianna, who says to take Amber's hands in mine and look into her eyes, knowing that I am holding the hands of my best friend. Still, the serenity, mixed with a bit of good humor and the psychic urging that Amber not start crying. Her tear ducts darken with her eyeliner, but they go no further. I look into her eyes, but I don't feel overwhelmed. I am in love and thinking "Well, this is a fine adventure we are about to have, isn't it?"
Rhianna ties our hands together using a braided cord. One ribbon features doodles and squiggles from Amber to represent our relationship and magickal intent. Another, my handwritten notes about her from the moment of meeting her until now. The final ribbon is blank, to represent our future, which we will create together.
I don't remember much from the ceremony because I am fixated solely on Amber's face. I notice my mother's voice is full of repressed tears when she contributes a "I consent and gladly give" to the wedding, in a nod to the Doctor Who episode "The Wedding of River Song," but don't dwell on it further.
By the time it comes to our vows, I know Amber's better than my own and the welling of emotion means I begin to dissociate slightly. My vows, which Rhianna cheats out to me so I can see them, are:
I vow to write my story from this point on with you as a main character. I don't know if it will be a comedy or tragedy, but I know that I will hold you close as we walk through the paragraphs. I vow to find the joy in our everydays, never to take for granted a moment I get to spend near you. I promise that my truest intention will ever be in honoring our life together. I vow to hold your hand when you need security and let you roam when you need space. I swear to work to keep our art watered and nurtured so that it may always bear fruit. I will remain grounded with you to build the foundation of our life together. I will follow your flow, even if it takes us deep within the earth or scattered in the ocean. I will burn up self-importance and unnecessary things that block our progress. I want to wake up beside you for the rest of my life, one I cannot wait to begin-and continue-today. A day full of possibilities. It's a magical world, Amber, ol' buddy. Let's go exploring.
The end of my vows references the last strip of "Calvin and Hobbes." We may not see the adventures they are having, but we are assured these adventures will continue for them, off-panel. I will have countless more adventures with Amber. We will never stop exploring.
Rhianna replaces the cord with two woven gold rings that my nephew Aydan hands her, so that our handfasting lasts so long as we wear them.
During the milkweed release, the seeds taken from the site where I proposed only a day after the proposal and stored in freezer bags since, someone began violently sneezing. Our direction were that people ought to make wishes for us on them, but I don't think it occurred to Amber and me that people might be allergic. I grin and offer a hearty "Bless you!" from beside Amber. "At least we didn't release bees."
After the ceremony, we rush off to the boat and I, with some help, get us unmoored enough to float. Amber will later joke that, had she realized the impossibility of eating potato salad without someone trying to take her picture, she would have stocked the boat with snacks and candles so we could have floated until people lost interest in us. Instead, I do my best to row to the other side as most of the guests trod back up the hill. The wedding party walks to the other side of the pond to help us out of the boat so as to preserve her dress and my suit from slapstick.
I feel like we crossed a threshold. I am now different from other people because I married Amber. In the multiverse, there are versions of me that did not have this experience and a chasm yawps between us. Likewise, Amber is a different person, legally if not yet in any other way. She is Amber Haqu now, the first two letters of our last names condensing. Her mother mentioned how Amber has always wanted to change her last name, though it was initially to Zephyr, more for the shape of the word than its meaning.
We stand under a willow to allow people to take photographs of us in a variety of poses and configurations, us kissing, Amber's mother and father, Amber attacking me with the bouquet, the bridesmaids, us kissing again, Charlie's Angels pose. I have no trouble smiling. In fact, I actively resist dopily grinning at everything, so glorious does the world seem. It is not merely that I am happier than I have ever been before, but indeed happier than I estimated I could be. I can think of past moments of exhilaration, first kisses and getting my publishing contract, but not outright happiness. My daily life is on the charmed side of neutral, with occasional awareness that clouds look especially nice but not feeling as though much touches me.
Today tattoos me. I am startled to think that this level of excitement is always dormant within me, waiting for a reason to exude. I imagine I looked a bit clownish to those not privy to my inner monologue, but I cannot bring myself to care. It is my day, one of the few days that will ever be truly mine (and Amber's) and I would not curtail myself and the electricity running through my veins at having finally taken this step with my love.
Like adolescents (outside of John Green novels) assume they are immortal, I believe my marriage to be impervious because it has been so far. I have never managed to love someone as well as I have Amber, never found someone as irresistible and comfortable. In my worst moods, my most sleep deprived, I want to be cheerful in her company. This weekend is the public and holy acknowledgement of the feeling, but the marriage was a gradual affair. All that really changes is that Amber will be on my insurance instead of her mother's. Even if she left me tomorrow, I would have the honesty and purity of this wedding. We sacrificed much of our summer in the service of this weekend, of this day, and I don't regret a moment of it.
I have more energy than I have ever had. I wander, talking to various guests and mouthing the words to the songs. Amber has to shove me away lovingly when I threaten to make our first dance "A Whole New World."
The energy does come at a price, that of an unquenchable thirst. I finish one can of seltzer or soda and nearly immediately seek out another. Maybe I need these as a sort of ballast, so I do not float off. Or, just as likely, there is a fire within me and I am trying to beat it back from the edges of my skin using little more than carbonation and caramel coloring. I have always managed the profundity of transitions with bubble water.
"How are you doing?" Amber asks when I stop moving.
"I have an analogy for you, but you aren't going to like it. Remember when my grandmother died and I seemed bizarrely copacetic? Then, after the funeral, everything gushed out?"
"Yeah..." she says, a touch sad with the memory, having been the target of the gushing.
"Gushing is imminent."
The problem with weddings is you invite all the people you care about and then do not get to spend time with them because you are too busy posing for picture. Twenty minutes after we cut the cake, when I think the party is just getting started and I can sit down to talk, half the guests leave. I am not well-versed enough in the language of matrimony that I realize the cake-cutting is akin to playing "Closing Time" at a bar.
Before I can start crying again that Amber is my wife and possibly to keep the rest of the guests from fleeing, Rebecca announces that we are about to have our first dance. Through many sweaty nights, Amber had choreographed and rehearsed a dance to Mindy Gledhill's "Anchor Me," a song suggested by her mother largely because it was on a TV show. Fortunately for me, I do not have to lead, only let Amber look fluid and pretty without tripping her, which I manage to do mostly through sheer luck and a committed partner.
As night falls, we begin a small fire using the planks the owner of this house offered us. My father, who brought two kegs of beer, tells me that he will be back tomorrow and that we had better have them emptied by then. We check and find that one is half-empty, but the other is full. The remaining guests, at least those who have nowhere to be tomorrow, do their best to drink themselves into a stupor.
Amber, red solo cup in hand, asks me to get her sweatshirt and her sash that didn't get included on her dress. I come up to the bedroom and sit so I can begin to process the gushing in a safe fashion. I look at some of the pictures people have already posted and understand my place in this event.
Amber's mom comes up and teases me about how I am sitting alone on my wedding night while there is a party outside. I come down with my sweatshirt and Amber's sash, telling her I cannot find her shirt. She takes my sweatshirt and, well on her way to inebriation, puts the sash around my neck. When I am not paying attention, she takes business cards out of the pocket of the hoodie and gives one to those around the fire, then burns one as an offering.
From beyond the trees, red lights lazily rise. "Oh no," I say, "absolutely no one is going to believe that I see UFOs on my wedding night. Especially when you all are drunk."
"Those are paper lanterns," Daniel corrects.
The lanterns glide, miles away but perfectly visible against the clarity of the stars. The guests posit that someone else--someone who doesn't care much about potentially starting a forest fire--must have been married today, but I choose to believe they are for Amber and me, an anonymous gift from the universe.
A little later, noticing I have grown quiet and contemplative while staring into the flames, Daniel asks, "Do you need to take a walk?"
"A little one," I agree. When we have put a little bit of space between us and Amber interrogating Laurel about an old boyfriend, I continue, "I think this was the best day of my life and I don't want to see it end." I slope my hand. "It's all downhill from here. I used to get this way after birthday parties, too, because they were finite and ending. Or, sometimes, because no one came."
"No," Daniel says immediately, not allowing me to wallow in this for even a second longer. "This isn't the best day of your life. This is the beginning of the best time of your life."
I purse my lips. "You are very good at this 'being the best man' thing, sir."
Soon, the party dwindles just to Rebecca, her friend Caitlin, Daniel, and Amber. Aside from me and possibly Daniel, all are drunk, Amber most of all.
"How can you deal with my history?" Amber asks, crawling into my lap on the dance floor, nearly crying. The string lights illuminate her an unreal yellow. "I once had a crush on a guy who had sex with someone after that within twenty-four hours of meeting her!"
I furrow my brow at this wet-eyed, sniffling creature wrapping her arms around my neck, this stranger who is now my wife. "But that wasn't you," I remind her.
I plant a kiss on her cheek. "I think it doesn't count against you, then."
She considers this. "Are you upset that I was talking to Laurel and Darrell about my ex earlier? I just vaguely wanted to know that he was still alive."
"No, he was stupid enough to lose you so he could date a woman pregnant with another man's child." I give her a squeeze. "I have you. I won."
She grins. "You are too good, my hubby!"
I wince. "Oh no. Not 'hubby.' We need a different word."
Her eyes loll about the tent's contours in thought. "Smizmar?"
"Hm. That will do for now."
After midnight, we all get to bed, since family will be returning tomorrow for breakfast. Rebecca says, "If you guys have to... consummate your union... do it quietly."
This is our cue to start slamming into things, for me to moan how big Amber is and for Amber to make sounds like a wounded deer while punching the doorframe. Amber's uncle mentioned that he didn't understand why newlyweds would want to spend their first married night with other people in the house, but these people are my family, by love if not by marriage.
Soon in Xenology: Wedding wrap-up! Honeymoon!