I’m not one to cry, but I did. I almost lost it. You see, I was so overwhelmed. A mere song before walking down the aisle, it dawned on me. This is actually happening. After all we’ve been through, this is happening.
I woke up calm as sunrise. All day, I felt the tingling peace that sweeps over a girl when someone plays with her hair, all the way from mid-morning mimosas to the first step into my dress to the very last pre-ceremony picture. I laughed with my photographer, rejoiced in small rays of sunshine, let go of the tiny, insignificant details.
In the bridal suite, I could hear the songs we had picked out weeks before through the speakers overhead. Songs by rugged, red dirt guitarists with raspy voices singing about love that lifts one’s feet off the ground. My bridesmaids leave, go outside, line up. Alone, I realize. This is happening. After all we’ve been through—five years, summers nearly 700 miles apart, misunderstood gestures, historic tornados, hazy futures, a painful breakup, an emotional makeup—and this is finally happening.
I wasn’t quite sure when to step outside. When I did, there stood my dad, right on cue. He tried to talk to me. I can’t remember what he said. All I could do was stare straight ahead, straight at nothing, and breathe. Keep it together or your face is going to turn the color of their dresses.
We’re given the cue to leave our spot behind the wall and start walking. I am overwhelmed again. When have I been to a wedding where I knew this many people? Why, never. This is my wedding. I know all these people. These people are here for me.
And then, I see him. Am I smiling? I can’t tell. I feel as though my face is shaking.
I nearly lost it after the first line of my first set of vows. I, Stephanie, take…
My voice begins to shake. Tears well up and fall. I look away and breathe. I finish, voice trembling. He is collected, like a rock. He smiles at me with his whole face and rubs the back of my hand with his thumb. The second set is considerably easier.
He kisses me, we turn to face the crowd, and I am glad for the song to which we have chosen to leave, because the song is how I feel, like feet-stomping bluegrass starring a high-spirited banjo and fiddle, like a song to which you just can’ t keep from dancing.
When the time came for us to leave for our honeymoon, we didn’t want to go. We wanted to keep sipping wine and smoking cigars and spending time with our families and friends on the banks of the river where we got engaged. Fifteen minutes later, the sun set. The cigars became nubs. The bouquet was tossed. The garter was thrown. We left beneath an array of fiery, smokeless sparklers.
On our way to the historic Tutwiler hotel in Birmingham that night, we both marveled at how perfect everything had been—the rehearsal dinner the night before held beneath pine trees and electric icicles, the heartfelt speeches given by our friends and family members, the late-morning breakfast, the getting ready with our best mates, the sunny and 70-degree weather, the simple ceremony, the carefully selected music, taking the time to eat dinner with our families, the visiting, the delicious food, the timing of it all, the balcony overlooking the river. It was simple, it was southern, it was smooth, and it was so, so us.
Photos by Drew Hoover
Some things, as they will, didn’t go as planned. The bows on the reserved seats were the wrong color. The decorative flowers on the cake were smaller than I had expected. The flowers above the gazebo wouldn’t fit and had to be split in two. We started pictures nearly an hour after we said we would. But those are tiny, insignificant details.
That night, I cried again, only I didn’t keep it together. I didn’t even try. This has happened, and he loves me despite my face turning the color of cherries and my body being drenched in sweat from spending all day in a dress the size of a hula hoop. In good times and in bad. In joy as well as in sorrow. I wouldn’t have done anything differently.