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A Surprise LA Wedding

Get your tissues out, folks

Esther, Student & Rhys, PhD Student

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I feel silly writing a Wedding Graduate Post because unlike almost every other bride out there, I didn’t plan any aspect of the wedding. I did however, get married—at a wedding that my husband threw for me as a surprise. A wedding that my husband planned in less than three weeks, without my knowledge.

It was magical.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

Our circumstances were more complicated than we would have liked. When Rhys officially proposed and we started thinking about getting married, we knew a big wedding was out of the question. We were poor students after all, who will stay poor for a long, long time (yay med school! Yay grad school, then med school!). At first that was okay, since we didn’t want a big wedding anyway. Then, around the same time that we were thinking of eloping to Vegas, I came to the conclusion that, “Just kidding! I want to have a party and everyone I love to gather ’round and love on us on our wedding day!” Then we found out getting my spousal visa would be very expensive, so our “wedding” was going to have to be signing papers at city hall after all.

On top of that, I was (and still am) going through Topical Steroid Withdrawal, which made me not only feel extremely sick, but look extremely sick. Despite my attempts at being open minded, I had an idea of how a bride should look like, and a scabby, oozing, burn victim was definitely not it.

I tried hard to be okay with it. I mean, there were just so(A). many(P). reasons(W). to be okay with “just” signing papers. It made sense financially. As a bona fide empowered feminist, making a big deal over a (lack of) wedding seemed so silly. I was confused as to why I felt so depressed over not having a wedding—it’s not like I ever daydreamed about The Wedding Day, nor did I ever look at pretty wedding things on Pinterest.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

During the wedding planning process, my then-fiancé and I only saw each other over the weekend. We talked on the phone during weekdays, and on one of these phone calls, I couldn’t stop crying for over an hour. After our call, Rhys called me back in efforts to cheer me up, and I still couldn’t stop crying. As we talked I realized, a wedding, to me, wasn’t about the dress, or the cake, or whatever else it traditionally includes. I was crying because a wedding, to me, was the one legitimate opportunity that I could demand all my loved ones to gather in one place and love and bless our union. A wedding was the one chance I was going to get to be unapologetically at the center of my loved ones’ attention, and be ecstatic, together.

When we decided to go to city hall, I thought I had to let go of this chance to be loved. So I cried, grieving the loss of what I thought was my only chance at being loved by all of my community, and my husband, at the same time. After my sobfest, Rhys apologized. I told him he had nothing to be sorry about, that I knew I was being silly, and that I’d get over it. He said, in efforts to make it up to me, that he’d plan everything about the city hall wedding, and my only job was to show up and feel pretty. I said okay.

Unbeknownst to me, he frantically started Facebook messaging my friends that very night, determined to organize a place where all my loved ones could be together. I was conditioned by society and media that men cannot possibly care about a wedding, nor do they possess the ability to organize a good one, no matter how small. So I constantly interfered. I pestered him, not knowing my amazing, detail-oriented, busybusybusy fiancé was collaborating with my family and all my close friends, planning a surprise wedding in less than three weeks. (In defense of me trying to interfere, how could I have possibly imagined this was at works? I mean, who does that?!)

The weekend before the wedding, we went suit shopping, and he was clearly stressed. I attributed it to his work and the fact well-fitting suits were not easy to find. To lighten the mood, I said, “Can you imagine planning a whole wedding? That would be so stressful!” and my poor fiancé smiled, then replied, “… Yes.”

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

When my interferences continued, my fiancé told me, “Look, you just have to trust me and focus on the one thing I told you needed to do. You have to make sure you feel pretty!” Easier said than done. While I was trying to do his job, I was hopelessly failing at my job. It’s hard to feel like a beautiful bride when wearing a white dress can mean dying it red with your blood. The world tells us that a woman must look her best on her wedding day, and here I was, failing to feel even like my normal self.

Because I thought my skin was too broken for a bride, I had a long sleeve, floor length wedding dress made for me. It came two days before the wedding, and I hated it. The fabric covered me up, sure, but I didn’t feel anything close to pretty. Well, since it was just going to be signing of papers, I told my mom I was just going to wear a random non-white dress I had in the closet. She insisted we go shopping. So we went, the day before the wedding, in an attempt to find a dress that was somewhat bridal.

You guys. It is so hard to find a white dress that isn’t a clubbing dress or a full on taffeta and lace wedding gown. After a whole day of shopping, we finally saw what we were looking for. It was strapless and short and didn’t cover any of my scabs. Despite that, the dress allowed me to feel pretty. It made me think I would be able to succeed at my only job.

The day of the wedding arrived and my parents were on the phone to announce the nuptials to our relatives in Korea. They were cautiously excited, telling us that they would send some money as a wedding present. They wanted us to send them photos. They would be praying for our union. They cared, so much. At that moment I felt loved, to the core. I realized, wedding and celebration or not, the love that surrounds me is so much greater than I can imagine, and I didn’t need proof of the said love. My soul was content. I continued on the day, serene, despite many things causing delays.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

So the day went: At my mom’s insistence, we had a professional hair appointment. My dad decided that five minutes before we were supposed to head out was the best time to wash the car. We arrived late to the appointment. The stylist was helping somebody else. We started late. We ended late. We came back home and the damn fake eyelashes (one of two makeup items I was able to wear that day. The other was tinted lip balm) just wouldn’t align correctly. We got on the freeway, and it greeted us with full-fledged LA rush hour traffic. Meanwhile, my sister tells me she was instructed by my fiancé to blindfold me, but since she doesn’t want the falsies to fall off, I may close my eyes instead. I said no.

Attempting to control until the very end, I plugged in the address my fiancé gave me (hint: it was a trick! He thought of everything!) into Google Maps. My sister frantically texts my fiancé, who tells her we must get there before the fifteen-minute grace period is up, and ohmygad I forgot his wedding band at home!!! Traffic isn’t letting up and WHY IS MY DAD EXITING ON THE WRONG ROAD. Then my sister goes CLOSE YOUR EYES! My maps app is freaking out. I am freaking out. But I finally obey and close my eyes.

The car stops; we seemed to have arrived in the nick of time. I hear my sister on the phone with my fiancé, and she mentions my friend’s name. Huh? I stay seated in the car, clueless and confused, as my phone continues to direct away.

My sister half carries me out of the car and instructs me to start walking. Eyes closed, I start wobbling forward. I enter a lit area and finally! You may open your eyes and I see my fiancé looking so good! And there is my friend! What is she doing here? I try to kiss my fiancé and he says that’s for after.

What is this clearly wedding related place! Are we taking studio pictures because I kept bugging you about taking pretty pictures? He smiles and guides me up the stairs. About halfway up the stairs, I see a person in an orange dress. What is happening right now? One more step and I see my friend’s face! I will never forget that moment.

All the way up the stairs, and I am now at a wedding chapel, with my friends all in different circles, standing as they wait for the bride to enter. And the bride was me.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I have never cried out of joy before that day. Standing there, looking at my husband-to-be in the eyes, holding an origami bouquet that clearly took forever (four hours with two people to be specific), surrounded by my friends and family. It was as if I was caught in an avalanche of joy and love and my heart was overflowing with gratitude. Nothing comes close to describing the overwhelming gratitude that rushed through my soul. I had to force myself to stop crying because the falsies glue wasn’t waterproof.

Seeing my friend officiate like a pro, sing and play the guitar, say words of blessings… I don’t know how, but my husband had actualized all my dreams about our wedding day, and then some. Saying our vows in front of our loved ones, exchanging (borrowed) rings, and finally being pronounced husband and wife has to be the most profound moment of my life.

After the ceremony, we went to El Torito. My friends were already there and had decorated the place. As we ate and laughed, my now-husband surprised me yet again—he said we have a reservation at a hotel for the weekend and my mom had already packed my bag. What?! Ever the amazing mother, she reassured me she packed all the lingerie. My sister made gagging noises and my friends winked knowingly at me.

Surprise Wedding | A Practical Wedding

I have never felt so loved in my life. I used to aww over romantic novels, but now their appeal is gone because my real life love story with my husband is better than any romanticized fictional thing I can read about. If I had been involved, would I have done some things differently? Probably. Was it beyond perfect, just the way it was? Absolutfreakinglutely yes.

To think I was grieving about lack of love at my wedding. I should just trust him, indeed.

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