Jessica, Public Health Grad Student & Alex, Medical Student
For the past several years, before Alex and I moved to Ireland, we spent Thanksgiving with his family in a rented house in Sea Ranch, on the northern coast of California. This tradition would quickly become our favorite holiday and most anticipated part of the year. We would spend a long weekend with loved ones, cooking, drinking, and exploring the nearby beaches. When we decided to get married, we knew immediately we wanted our wedding to look like Sea Ranch, wedding edition.
We decided to have a backyard wedding in a rented house, with a very small guest list, thirty-five of our closest family and friends. We wanted to ensure we had delicious food, but didn’t want a sit-down meal, so we opted for a taco bar and pie. We eschewed any traditions that didn’t work for us, which would end up being a lot of them. We wanted the whole day to feel like the holidays, a gathering of loved ones for good food, drinks, company, and, in this case, a wedding.
So with a year to plan, we slowly curated all of the elements our wedding. We planned our destination wedding in Los Angeles, our first home together, from thousands of miles away in Dublin. We found a house at the top of the Hollywood Hills, with panoramic views of the city. I found a short blue dress, not as some statement against traditional wedding dresses, but simply because I fell madly in love with it—that, and I had a pair of ridiculously sparkly heels I couldn’t bare to cover up. We booked our vendors, all awesome people we were thrilled to work with. We inadvertently incorporated a travel “theme” through the few crafting projects we decided to take on. Travel is a huge part of our relationship; we spent our seven years as a couple traversing the globe, together, but also often apart. The whole process was easy and joyful. We felt lucky; there was never any indication that we might have to compromise our vision of our wedding.
The universe had other plans. Ten days before the wedding, I stood in a towel in the bathroom, staring at my phone where a message loomed with certain disaster. The subject heading was simple, “pipe burst.” It was from the property manager for the house we rented for the wedding. Sure enough, the message, curt and formal, informed us a pipe burst in the kitchen of the house, rendering it unfit for guests. We would have ten days to find a new house that would allow a wedding, house both of our families, and ideally, be marginally attractive, all over Labor Day in Los Angeles. My first reaction was a sense of calm; I’d like to say because I work well under pressure, or respond well to disaster. But in reality, I was already emotionally drained. A few days prior, the BBC reported that a volcano in Iceland was threatening to erupt, and if it was anything like 2010, it meant flights from Europe would be grounded. Though I was in California, Alex was still in Ireland, prepping for his medical licensing exam, intending to fly out the next week. While probability suggested he could make it, we were confronted with the potential of a canceled wedding, something we hadn’t vaguely considered.
Losing the venue was different; it was a concrete threat to everything we had planned, not a hypothetical act of nature, however threatening that was, it was still not certain. Our venue on the other hand, was gone. In what felt like a great haze, I slowly changed and wandered into the kitchen. My future in-laws sat eating breakfast. I stood at the doorway a few moments before announcing we’d lost the venue. The collective response was shock, which quickly turned to concern for my mental wellbeing. But the previous week of volcano-threat induced anxiety left me in an ideal state to deal with this, my emotions were minimal; all I had left was determination to solve this problem. And so, over the next forty-eight hours, which now feels like a complete blur, with the help of our fantastic DOC, and a fair amount of luck, we salvaged the wedding. The property management team was able to set us up with the house they owned next door, though it technically wasn’t renting at that time. We’d go in essentially blind, with no idea what the furnishing looked like, or really, the layout. All we had were a few photos of the unfurnished version of the house. We rented some last-minute lounge furniture for the pool area, and hoped for the best.
This is when the magic started, a few days before the wedding. Alex was safely stateside thanks to a cooperative volcano. The near-disaster meant that my usual, type-A “I’ve got this” attitude had to be adjusted; I’d have to accept all the help I could from our people. And watching our loved ones pitch in any way they could was such an amazing experience—to have these people who genuinely wanted to help, selflessly donating their time and energy into making our wedding happen. The house ended up being a pleasant surprise, with an arguably better outdoors space. But it was not without its challenges. In the forty-eight hours before the wedding, countless errands were run. Alex’s brother managed to borrow a full professional sound system from his work; his other brother and wife helped serve as bartenders now that the bar was not next to the catering. The bridal party helped decorate and spent part of the rehearsal dinner stringing up lights and getting them to work. Our florist set us up with a two-dozen mini vases of flowers in twenty-four hours. By Saturday morning, everything was, miraculously, ready.
The new morning brought with it a sense of calm. At this point, we were just so happy to be getting married, and to have a place to do it. We started the day with gratitude for our family and friends, already feeling enveloped in love. It felt like everyone was rallying behind us, that everyone was more personally invested in our wedding, having been intimately involved in its ability to happen. Alex and I spent the morning together, drinking coffee, overlooking the not-yet-awake city, anticipating the day and what it would bring. We hoped it would be a joyous day, filled with family, friends, good food, and a lot of love. And it was. But it was so much more.
We could not have anticipated the feelings of elation, and completely overwhelming feeling of love the day would bring. From the moment our friends arrived, the air changed, it was electric-joy everywhere. You could feel the outpouring of love from everyone that came to be there, we have never felt more loved in our lives. Nor have we smiled, laughed, or hugged so much. It was pure magic. It flew by, like everyone said it would, and yet, I felt completely present, the details of the day etched firmly into my memory, a highlight reel I replay often. There were so many moments that stood out: our vows when the entire world melted away; our friends circle dancing around us as Alex spun me around on the dance floor; my little sister’s incredible speech that rendered me laugh-crying for several minutes; the sunset pictures alone in an abandoned lot next door; the piñata that would. not. break. and then finally did, with a grand confetti-glow stick explosion. When our friends decided to wear said piñata on their heads while they danced.
Yes, things went wrong, but we didn’t care; we couldn’t. Very little could have brought us down off that cloud. And they didn’t matter anyway; something going wrong at our wedding meant we were having a wedding in the first place. And in a way, I was thankful for all of the trials of the past few weeks. They wore me down, and I had little anxiety or worry left to give. The threat of a canceled wedding, or even a wedding that looked nothing like we so carefully planned, removed any worry about the small, insignificant details. Instead, all we could do was enjoy the moments with our people, soak in all the love, and be deliriously happy we were married, that we made it there.
At the end of the night, after most people left, our best friends sat around the pool. Glassware had long been abandoned. As we passed around the remnants of the last bottles of wine, we watched as our oldest friends from childhood laughed alongside our best friends from our adult life. The whole day was incredible, but it hit me then, seeing all these people that meant the world to us, in one place, all one community that surrounded us, how special this moment was, and that it would likely never come again. How truthfully none of the worries I held about the day were necessary. It would have been wonderful not matter what: we had each other, and our people. I wanted to live so badly in that moment, and swim in all the joy I felt. I willed the hours to linger. But of course, it had to end. The evening wore down and the remainder of our friends departed. In those early morning hours, we stood at the top of the staircase, as the front door shut for the last time that night, we smiled sleepily to each other and whispered, “We did it.”
Stay tuned for Jessica and Alex’s Hollywood Backyard Wedding, up next!