Genevieve & Mike
For almost eight years, Mike and I didn’t really think we needed to get married. We had our cats, our little Victorian apartment in San Francisco, and years of solid couple-y goodness. We began, though, to feel that not only had we become each other’s family, but our families and circles of friends had become one community as well. If not for us, then, we wanted to have a wedding for them: to show them how much they mean to us, and how they make our love possible.
We got engaged in our dew-dampened backyard while Mike played guitar and sang Beyoncé’s “Halo.” For the next six months, we carefully put together our version of the ideal Northern California wedding experience: a stay in a quirky western Sonoma town, an extensive website with suggestions for winery visits and beer tastings in the rolling golden hills, the Pacific and redwoods nearby, a welcome party for all guests in a barn on the coast with home brew and tacos, and a big, casual, delicious wedding at an inn owned by friends. We wanted our people to be swept along on a lavender-scented cloud, warmed by the Sonoma sun, and nourished by beautiful food and drink. We wanted to open our hearts and pull everyone inside, to make their time with us easy and fun and perfect.
As a lover of both projects and parties, I dug in. I baked our wedding cakes, we brewed beer, I printed up temporary tattoos as a nod to Mike’s ink, and we harvested succulents from our garden to use as escort cards. We decided to serve cocktail hour drinks to our guests ourselves as a gesture of hospitality, to say, this is for you. It is about us, inevitably, of course, but it is also for you, and you, and you.
I was prepared for meh weather, a flaky vendor, or things running behind schedule. But then dear friends and family members wound up unable to make it, some at the last minute. A few days before flying to California, my parents had to put our family dog down. And then, four days before the wedding, a close friend who was also our coordinator wound up in the hospital with a very serious illness. We were worried sick, and through our haze of concern we realized we needed a backup plan, stat: for the flowers she was to arrange, the cakes she was to decorate, the timeline she was to handle. I woke up each night to scrawl messy plans in my notebook, obsessively referring to my spreadsheets, my mind ticking through mental to-do lists as I chatted with loved ones.
The day before the wedding we were bringing the welcome party supplies to that perfect rustic coastal barn when Mike got stung on the neck by a bee. We laughed at first, because of course–what else would go wrong but the groom going into anaphylactic shock? While we waited for the Benadryl to kick in, I admitted defeat. With Mike’s (non-anaphylactic) encouragement, I sent an email to all our friends and family: help. We need someone to make bouquets and boutonnières. To assemble the cakes. To emcee. To keep me sane. It felt like failure: the host who gets in over her head and drags others down with her into frenzy. Because, I’ll admit, I was super freaking frienzied.
Almost as soon as I hit send, people emailed back, offering support. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was. And a relief. Among them, hallelujah, was a flower expert: my cousin’s husband, in another life a wedding planner to the stars. OKAY THEN. The help kept rolling in: cakes were stacked and decorated beautifully, emceeing duties were handled charmingly, and the coordinator role was filled by a friend who arrived, at a run, waving a clipboard and shouting that everything was going to be fine.
Did we all sleep well? Not really (though, honestly, not all for the same reasons). Did some folks miss their winery tastings, walks along the ocean, catch-up sessions with old friends? Probably. And even though I felt I had let our guests down somehow, I also, reluctantly, let them open up my heart and step inside, in a way that had most certainly not been part of the plan.
On our wedding day, our vision of true hospitality—of caring for our people and showering them with love—became reality. But first our friends and family showed up, a few here and there, bustling around the venue, fetching sandwiches for us, putting finishing touches on the gold oyster-shell salt cellars and table numbers. Our sick friend showed up, freshly sprung from the hospital, and we sobbed in the hotel lobby.
Guests arrived and were handed Sloe Gin Snow Cones, admired the view of the golden hills, and sat themselves down on hay bales as the scent of lavender drifted from the garden. When it was time, our coordinator put down her clipboard, picked up her violin for the processional, and played the song she had chosen, which turned out to be our first dance song. Mike and I walked out hand in hand, because after almost nine years of partnership, we were in this together.
We chose to host the ceremony ourselves, to conduct it with an emphasis on the crucial role of our loved ones in our relationship. We greeted them from beneath a sycamore arbor built by Mike’s best friend and festooned with flowers farmer friends had grown. We asked them to blow us a kiss, and they did, big smackers all. They warmed our rings. Mike played “Halo” on guitar, and the violin sang the melody. Mike’s father and I did our handshake after his reading, popping it, locking it, and exploding it at the altar. We all sang a Rod Stewart song, led by my maid of honor. We laughed, a lot.
My father read from Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” and for the first time in my life I saw him cry. Marriage, he told us, is not for safety, but for adventure. Say only to one another:
Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love, more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law:
Will you give me yourself?
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
Most folks cried then. In a brief moment of clarity in the emotional haze, I told everyone to shake it off. My brother read a John Steinbeck passage and spoke of growth and change, and Mike and I said our vows. Then my brother led community vows, in which all our people held up their palms to us, said simple and true words, and married us, together. When we walked back down the aisle, they tossed handfuls of lavender on us, and on themselves, and it smelled heavenly.
Before the wedding, I couldn’t imagine that the ceremony would be my favorite part of the day. Important, of course, but not as fun as oysters and wine and dancing. And yet, despite the bluegrass band that had people twirling during cocktail hour, and the sparklers that flickered and fogged around us during our first dance, and the VW bus photobooth that was packed all night, and the epic dance party that went on for hours, and all the hugs and kisses and kind words and squeezed hands and cheeks sore from laughing, the ceremony managed to top it all. Because even though we wanted to do everything for them, and it was humbling to realize we couldn’t, our people married us, and that felt like it was forever.