Wedding Day – Part Two
Guests start arriving at the beach house around 9:45. My friends have spirited me upstairs to wait until 10:00, when the ceremony is due to start. Any notion we might still host an outdoor wedding has been blown away like a trampoline in a hurricane – rain and wind batter our friends as they plod muddy grass to reach the side door.
I asked Fiona to wrap ribbon around the staircase, which is the only place for a bridal entrance. I hope to avoid tripping over my large bridal feet and tumble, end over end, like a white chiffon slinky, on the wooden stairs. Jac snaps pictures of the kids and I together – Fiona in her spiral curls and bright pink taffeta dress, Finley in spiked hair and tuxedo. The kids and Pete have chosen to wear canvas sneakers.
Someone tells us the crowd is ready. Josh, our 22-year-old musician, strums the first notes on his guitar. I’d looked through his playlist of dozens of songs and chosen Louis Armstrong’s, “Wonderful World” as our prelude. Fiona starts down the stairs with a gift bag full of rose petals. I powder my nose one more time, pick up my bouquet of flowers consisting of pink roses called ‘Bonjour,’ white roses called ‘Avalanche,’ purple hydrangea, white Snowberries, pink Alstroemeria, plus green grass and ferns. I start very carefully, very slowly, down the stairs.
Nearly 60 of our family and friends are sardined into the living room. I focus on not tripping over the long dress which my dad has helped zip me into. At the bottom of the stairs, I look up to see Pete. I’m stunned and overcome. I told myself I would not cry and I’m good at not crying, having held back tears at Sean’s memorial. Almost exactly four years ago, I had steeled myself against crying.
Today, I’ve forgotten my shield. Defenseless. Seeing my handsome groom in his black suit, lilac shirt and shiny gray tie makes me feel like I did during the lake swim of my first and only sprint triathlon: surprised by breathlessness and nerves, struggling to inhale and exhale in rhythm. I’m going to marry this man. It’s happening.
I gasp. Start crying. Shit. I’m stuffed. What about my makeup?
Even Pete has tears in his eyes. My stoic Scotsman. Until this moment, I’d suspected he was an alien without tear ducts. Later, on our honeymoon, during dinner at the Thai restaurant overlooking Ohiwa Harbour, Pete tells me, “I had, ‘What a Wonderful World,’ on a mix tape my father made of all his favorite songs. I used to play it over and over after he died, but then, it got lost.” I hadn’t known that when I chose the song.
The music stops, and Richard, the vicar (who’s also my boss at the Anglican church), starts: “We have come together in the presence of all who have gathered… “ I clutch my bouquet in one hand and Pete’s arm in the other, trying to sniff without snorting. From the front row, my friend, Andrea (one of the first people I met in New Zealand), reaches into her bag and pulls out a tissue. I pass Pete my flowers so I can dab my eyes and maybe blow my nose.
My friend, Donna, reads from Robert Fulgham’s ‘Union’
…Look at one another and remember this moment in time.
Before this moment you have been many things to one another-
acquaintance, friend, companion, lover, dancing partner, and even teacher…
Paula reads the ‘love’ passage from 1st Corinthians (“Love is kind and patient…”). My friends. These same women spent hours decorating the reception hall last night after returning from a 22-mile marathon training run. I am so thankful for my friends.
I lean into Pete and smile. He smiles back. He’s the first to read his vows. After a month of procrastinating, he wrote them within an hour. They’re beautiful. And funny.
Dawn, I love and adore you with all my heart.
You make me feel like the only guy in the room
and to me you are the only girl in the room.
You have brought light and love into my life and given me
a family of my own...
I promise to give you space when you need it and support
when you need it.
To respect your beliefs and opinions and listen when your
heart speaks to me (even when there's a good action movie
I love you, and today I'm proud to call you my partna,
my Dawn, my wife, your Petey!
I stop sniffing to read my vows to Pete. I’d revised them four or five times, with a final edit and critique from my friend, Lee. I nearly included something about Sean giving me courage and strength to love again. Lee was on target (as always) when she told me in an e-mail what I already knew – this ceremony was about me and Pete, and our friends and families understood our history.
I look up from the program Richard has tucked into a folder to gaze at my groom.
Pete, I love you. With you, I can just be me. Your good looks caught my eye;
your listening skills flattered my ego; your conversation captured my heart.
You’re kind, generous, smart and funny. For this, I can forgive your addiction to action movies...
I pause because our friends and family are laughing. I don’t let my eyes linger long, because some of them are also teary, and wedding tears are infectious.
I finish without blubbering. Pete quips, “20 years of broadcast experience really shows…It’s like getting in the ring with Tyson.” The group laughs. Richard asks if we have the rings. Rings. Finley, our ring bearer, has been showering rose petals on our guests (with help from Fiona) from the second floor loft. We send Finley for the rings, which he’s left in a bedroom. He emerges, following an eternal pause, with a small black box. I wriggle a nearly too-small silver band onto Pete’s hand – the first wedding ring he’s ever worn. He, in turn, slides a white gold band onto my finger – the second wedding ring I’ve ever worn.
Richard pronounces us husband and wife:
Dawn and Pete you have declared the love you have for each other and your hopes for
the future. You have made promises to each other, and have symbolized them by the
joining of hands and giving of rings. You are now husband and wife.
We kiss. Maybe one more for my handsome groom…
Richard ends with:
We call upon the moon and the stars and the sun, who govern the rhythms and seasons of our lives and remind us that we are part of a great and wondrous
universe, and we ask them to bless this marriage…
The ceremony itself was only about 15 minutes long. And yet, we’d concentrated more than two years of loving each other into the space of 900 seconds (give or take a few). Hundreds of seconds of intensity, emotion and a love as big as the swelling sea outside the house. It’s as if we’d pressed the pause button on my GPS watch during a run. We’ve stopped the clock to stand together, look at each other, to honor the love we share.
After the planning, arranging, calling, organizing, seating charts, food orders, dress alterations, hair sessions, a combined bachelor/bachelorette party, what was most touching, tender and real about this wedding was the ceremony.
I hear champagne corks pop and smell warm sausage rolls. Servers have laid large trays of savories, salmon, carrots, hummus, baguette, pear, grapes and brie on the wooden table in the kitchen area.
This is where Pete and I, plus witnesses Lee and Elton, sign our marriage certificate. Our scribbles on paper show we’re married not only in the eyes of the church, but also in the eyes of government.
Josh plays Jack Johnson’s “Better Together” on guitar while we nibble and mingle. Jac grabs Pete and me for more pictures. This time, we’ll brave the drizzle to take photos on the boardwalk overlooking the beach. So much for the hair. So much for the beach wedding. Crikey, my one shot as a beach bride, and I’ve blown it. At least I have purple canvas sneakers in which to shuffle through wet grass and blowing sand.
We stay at the house until around one o’clock, when we drive up the street to the reception hall. Donna and Paula’s efforts have transformed the place: the tables are decorated with ivy (collected from another Jogger friend’s garden), sea shells, pussy willows, candles, sand and white hydrangeas.
The lamb, for which we rented a barbeque large enough to roast a wildebeast, is tender and delicious. We have more than enough meat, salads, beer and wine… more than enough wedding cake (a gift from my friend, Lee), more than enough chocolate chili raspberry gelato (a gift from our friend Matthias and Bettina)… more than enough.
What we don’t have in infinite quantity is time: Our musician must leave at three o’clock.
I’d asked the Joggers’ Running Captain, Jackie, to emcee. She leads us gracefully from the meal, to awards (we presented faux trophy cups to couples who’d been married the longest and shortest amounts of time), to toasts. Jackie had coached Fiona and Finley to stand together and speak into the microphone, saying, “Cheers to Dawn and Petey.”
My Dad, who’d arrived three weeks earlier with his wife, Kathe, stood and said, “After Sean died, Dawn took the kids on a trip around the world. We met her in Paris; then, she travelled Europe, South Africa, Australia and finally New Zealand. When she told me she’d met someone and wanted to live here, I said, ‘Why do you want to live so far away?’ But when I met Pete, I knew – this is where she needed to come to meet exactly the right person for her…’”
I want to cry with gratitude, love, relief. He gets it.
Another Mount Jogger friend, Mary, stands with nine other women from my running group. Mary gives a short speech revealing two not-so-secrets about me she and others have gleaned from girls’ weekends away: I don’t sleep well and I eat a lot. I pause from my plate full of lamb and salad to look up and laugh. Mary says, “Dawn, we’re glad you’re here with us in all your American-ness. Please don’t ever lose that quality.”
I toast my husband, starting with the Thomas Merton quote I'd found at two that morning, "My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me."
The rest of the reception is a kaleidoscope of smiles, music and laughter. The weather outside grows increasingly warm and humid, making my hair droop. I sit next to Pete’s wee Scottish mum at the head table, who says, “It’s about time” her 47-year-old son got married.
My groom and I dance to the song I recall hearing consistently when we first met: Lionel Richie’s, “Easy.” We pull in parents and kids for the next song. One moment I’m swaying with Dad, and the next, I’m clasping Finley’s hands, bouncing up and down. Not many people dance, since it’s the middle of the day, but I can always count on my running friends to shake a leg or two.
It’s five o’clock by the time we’re helping our servers clean up. There’s no grand exit in a fancy car – just last minute instructions to our hired help and requests to a few friends to please return our rented items (champagne flutes, BBQ…) to the party store. It’s not the almost-fairy tale wedding of my twenties, with fancy hall, five-piece band, catered banquet… It’s down-home, DIY, Kiwi-style. Still gorgeous in its own way. And I’m just as married today, at 43, as I was back then, at 29.