This year has been one of great change for the APW staff. It’s funny, because the whole lot of us are notorious planners, and yet I think we’re always pleasantly surprised when what we’d planned for actually, you know, comes to fruition. Though really, when I think about it—doesn’t that sum up the very essence of marriage itself? You plan as much as you can, and then you let the universe (or what have you) pick up and do its magic, knowing that everything is a variable and the only constant you have is each other. If things turn out the way you planned, hooray! If not, the journey is the destination, right?
So this week, we’re digging deeper into the meaning behind the words, “No matter what the future holds,” and exploring the various ways that our marriages are tested by the wily nature of the universe. And what better way to start this particular week than with Anya and Csanad’s wedding that took place in the midst of Hurricane Sandy? The lessons learned here extend far beyond the difficulty of having to re-plan a wedding in four days, and in fact might even just be a perfect analogy for marriage itself.
—Maddie for Maternity Leave
I was taught, growing up, that all good adventures started with things going terribly wrong. Nothing worth telling a story about ever started with things being just fine. And things were fine in wedding planning land—uncannily so. Planning a wedding with my now-in-laws overseas and not speaking the same language? Fine. Not having a honeymoon and doing touristy stuff in cities I generally refuse to be a tourist in? Annoying, tiring, trying, but fine. Having to countenance how much money this was all going to cost? Shocking, but fine. And really, that was it for the turbulence. My wedding, which I was totally fine about, was on November 4, 2012. It was supposed to take place on the Jersey Shore.
I’m not a fatalist about storms, but I’m not stupid. Hurricane Sandy was coming on Tuesday, so we changed the in-laws’ Tuesday flight to Wednesday and found our flashlights. I watched the Weather Channel.
Work was cancelled on Monday. That night I finished up a collage of our families’ histories by the light of a police car that stood guard over a tangle of wires lying in the street. Blue and green flashes lit up the sky as power line after power line fell to the howling wind. The flares let me see the finer details of my work. By Tuesday morning, the roads around our house were a maze of oak and pine, our planned venue was flooded, and no communication worked except text message. We started to think that perhaps it was time to change our plans. By Wednesday night we had wrangled one of the ten flights of the day into Newark to deliver our family to us. We drove them to my parents’ cold and powerless house, and our families met by candlelight. The table was set as if for a Victorian drama. We pulled food from the frigid porch and heated the match-lit stove. By this time my mother and I were devoting every spare minute and text message to re-planning the wedding. The shore was, by all accounts, a wasteland of sand and broken buildings. There would be no wedding there for weeks, and we only had family in town for a short time.
My friends kept asking me how I was doing. Honestly, I wished they would just. Stop. Asking. There was no time for questions, or feelings, or anything, really. I have never been busier in my life than those days after Sandy. I had no time to worry. I had no time to be upset. Hangnails are worth getting upset about. The storm ripping apart easily laid wedding plans? That’s just something you plow through. That is how life gets done sometimes—just by the doing of it. Marriage is not a little thing. It is the thing of which our families’ stories are made. It needed doing till it was done.
I don’t remember what happened when. The days are a blur. We drove an hour so my husband could bake our cake in a friends’ kitchen while I walked down the George Washington Bridge with his family, answering texts, making calls, and trying to not make my in-laws feel ignored. We tried to find a venue, but in the end, we decided my parents’ house could fit ninety people. I waited for over an hour to get gas. Twice. We went to bed early and got up early, because when there are no lights and the cold begins to creep in, that’s what you do. We decorated my parents’ house, arranged the flow, had a rehearsal dinner of Chinese take-out in my parents’ dark and cold kitchen, rehearsed by candlelight and head lamp, and paused for translation after all of it. We bought plastic plates and cups and rented bar tables an hour away, where there was power and an open store. We called endless restaurants and caterers, only to hear there was no food, or gas, or power. I charged my phone in the car and counted every mile against long lines and gas rationing. My mother and I were in constant contact, but we discussed nothing but the business on hand. We were two women with work to do. And it was work. We re-planned a wedding in four days. If I cried, it was from exhaustion, not from worry, regret, or any sense of loss.
We left our apartment and moved into my parents’ house. There were ten of us staying there by the time the wedding took place. We had to kick my sister out to her boyfriends’ parents’ house. We just didn’t have the room. Thank God it was always going to be a daytime wedding. Thank God I had made the decorations, and all the bouquets and flower arrangements weeks before from dried flowers I had grown or picked off the side of the road. Thank God my sister and her boyfriend had power in Queens, so they could make us a last-minute wedding playlist. Everyone helped in countless ways, big and small. My best friend came over and just did what needed doing. She was there for hours and I only saw her while painting my nails, which I summarily smudged. There wasn’t time to let it dry properly. My mother and I had our hair done around the dining room table at one of the salon’s employee’s houses that had gotten power back my some miraculous turn of events.
To be honest, I remember little of the wedding. Everyone loved it. They all braved the gas rationing and light-less highways for us. It was sweet, and beautiful, and in my childhood home. What’s not to love? The food was delicious. A friend brought it down from a restaurant who cooked what they could with the supplies they had, but couldn’t deliver because of the gas shortage. There was no power. A friends’ generator kept the music playing, with occasional shut-downs for refueling, and gave us some light once the sun set. A friend brought gas from Virginia. We kept beer and food cold on the porch. Two women cleaned and cleaned and filled up buffet platters so we had time for the party. My sister’s boyfriend DJ-ed from his computer and some hastily-found speakers, and then took requests which he played using YouTube on his phone. My father decided, at the last minute that our father-daughter dance would be to the theme of Gone With the Wind.
In retrospect, I guess a sense of loss may have been an appropriate feeling, but I never, not even for a minute, felt it. On one hand, there was no time. On the other, there are more important things than venues and plans. Like family being there for our wedding. Like the tradition of the thing. Perhaps because I was deep in our family history pasting old photos onto a timeline when the power went out, it did not occur to me to feel sorry for myself. When your family comes through the hell and high water of history, a wedding being shaken up by a storm is small potatoes. The marrying part—that’s what matters. That’s the soul of the thing. And it has been done through war and poverty, through mourning and persecution. To do it at all is noteworthy. To do it with an ease that allows us to worry about matching cake cutting sets risks enabling us to forget the very weight of this event which has passed between our ancestors for generations —the story-worthiness of it all—the fact that our grandchildren will not care if our linens matched, only if we did.
There is nothing any of us can do in the face of storms and life changing our plans. My only advice is to remember that no story worth telling began with things going right. Life is an adventure, and the true wonder of marriage is that it is the moment when a family is created. It is an echo of your own family’s past—a past that was not easy, that was full of stories worth hearing. Spend time with those stories as you get ready for your own. That way, you’ll be ready if and when it turns into an adventure.
Photos by: Bea Bolla