One year ago, I won primary custody of my children after a very long and painful year of fighting. One year ago I had my final dress fitting, and went on a frantic eleventh hour shopping trip for an undergarment, rushing back to the restaurant where the love of my life was putting the finishing touches and fresh cut flowers from our yard on the chuppah he built for us. I was in such a rush, I never noticed that I’d put my shirt on inside out, and entered the restaurant with the tag hanging out. This was to be the first of a handful of humanizing “doh!” moments from this event.
One year ago, I woke up at 6am next to my first love, got dressed, and drove away with my daughter to get my hair done. One year ago my daughter and I walked into Wawa with my hair done up like a southern beauty pageant contestant, feeling conspicuous among the stares of the locals.
We drove in silence most of the way, and I let my mind flash back to the boy who’d captured my attention when I was 15, the silent glances we exchanged, never knowing that it ever meant anything. I could still see his face in my mind, soft and dark, and his quiet stature so self-assured but unassuming. I remembered the butterflies I’d felt in his presence, even long after our first dates. Those same butterflies would revisit me 25 years later when we reunited.
I saw us speeding along the backroads of our neighborhoods in his VW beetle, walking hand-in-hand through Valley Forge park, sitting side-by-side on the huge rocks in the woods near my Nana’s house. I saw us walking into the old Lakeside restaurant on prom night, and feeling the roomful of eyes taking in this girl in her Gunne Sax Victorian dress and this boy in his white tuxedo with tails. I saw his smile and the depth of his teenage eyes when they rested on mine. I felt his hands holding mine, his arms around me still, and those unspoken moments we shared when we were totally and completely alone.
And, for a brief moment, I allowed myself to look inside the window on the sickness that plagued my heart and the heavy tears that fell for the loss of what should never have come to an end. And then I remembered a day in late fall 25 years later, when I unearthed my journal from those days and read the words of my 17-year-old self, not nearly as sophisticated as I might have written them today, but the love I defined on those pages was unmistakably deep. The feelings I had then came rushing back to me with such force that I sat weeping with an anguish not so different than what I’d felt that last day I’d seen him. All those emotions tumbled through me and it was like I was feeling them again for the first time.
I remembered the first time we were reunited, how the butterflies came and made me nervous and trembling. How when he put his hand in mine, it was like lightning – like the sky lit up like a thousand volts of light – because no other hand ever felt so right. How when he kissed me for the first time again, I remembered. How the smell of his skin was exactly the same, yet I would never have known I remembered until I was that close to him again.
One year ago, my heart was full, complete, and HOME. The preparations were well underway at the restaurant when I arrived; my mom in the kitchen, and later assembling my bouquet herself and wrapped in ribbon. My dear friend Treena, whom I’d met years earlier in this very place working together, and who had stood by my side at my first wedding, doing food preparations before going home to get dressed. The staff running around readying tables and chairs for the ceremony. And then my man, with my son, bursting in with the wedding cake. And my in-laws arriving, with cousins from California – Todd’s dear cousin Suzanne stepping up to my side for support right up until the last moment before I would take my walk down the aisle to seal a promise made long ago.
It was a magical day in that courtyard. The sun was bright and the air was breezy, and (nearly) everyone I loved and cherished was standing there waiting for me to pass through the gate. They didn’t know that I lost my earrings and had to borrow Suzanne’s, they didn’t know I waited to get dressed until the last minute so that the bra I’d been wearing was still imprinted on my back during the ceremony, they didn’t know my mom was still getting dressed and her hair in curlers so that she missed the beginning of our words to each other, and they didn’t know that Todd had erroneously put on someone else’s pants when he got dressed.
They didn’t know that Todd and I had decided to begin the ceremony at 11:11 am, because that was the date he proposed, and that that was why the music was started and replayed several times because I was LATE. They didn’t see me running through the dusty pavilion in my 4 and half inch heels as A Thousand Years played again. And when I stepped up to the gate with my daughter beside me, they didn’t see me trembling and ready to cry. I knew they were all there, those we loved, but I couldn’t see. I couldn’t even see Todd. I don’t actually know what I saw in those moments I walked down that aisle. No one noticed that my lips were trembling with the weight of this moment.
And my husband would speak the most beautiful and eloquent words of promise to me, and bring tears to everyone’s eyes. And I would see the tears forming in his eyes, and fight back my own. And I would fumble through the words I had written, not nearly half as good as his, because for the first time in my life I couldn’t write my feelings into one concise and coherent statement, and probably every eye in the courtyard was as dry as the Tempe sun with a perplexed, “huh? For REAL?!”
And the ceremony was over, and everyone was happy and the drinking commenced and I still had bra strap marks on my back, and when my 4 and a half inch heels got too painful I yanked them off and – in the most white trash moment of my life – wiggled my way out of my pantyhose right there in the middle of the courtyard, in front of many of my loved ones, and hopefully none of Todd’s family. And had a couple of margaritas, and cried with my Aunts over my Nana and uncle who couldn’t be there that day, and then I cried over my dear friend Chris being there for this most important day and how we had missed so many years of each other’s lives. It was pathetic.
Cutting the cake, and Ava waiting for Todd and I to smash cake in each other’s faces (we didn’t)… and then she picked up some cake and smushed it on Todd. And my mother-in-law and I cut the cake and handed it out with Ava’s help. There wasn’t a scrap of food leftover. Not a single crumb of wedding cake. There was no structure to our event… flowed the way it did… there were no speeches except for my brother-in-law’s which only a handful of us heard… and we forgot to do our first dance together – because we were having so much fun, and because neither one of us by that time could remember what song we picked. (It was Jason Mraz – I Won’t Give Up.)
And then the day ended with family members being carried out by their loved ones, too drunk to walk, and ordering pizza for everyone still hanging on because it was now 8 hours later and we were hungry and then driving home to put the kids to bed. And going to sleep with 8,000 bobby pins and 20 p0unds of hair product in that “do,” waking up in the morning to a wonderful and heartfelt note from my brother-in-law and nephews, who spent the night and left before we all woke up.
That was our day, a year ago. I’d do it all again, including the “yes” to that first date he asked me on over 25 years ago. But tonight I spent in that very same courtyard, celebrating the other man in my life – the first man who ever loved me, and who set the precedent for the one who would take his place beside me so many years later. My dad.
The biggest blessing of all that day, was that everyone who was there was touched by our story, by who we were, who we are, and by the miracle of love that never ends. I am blessed. I love you, boy-in-the-leather-jacket-who-drove-too-fast-and-made-me-never-forget-you.
All along I believed I would find you... time has brought your heart to me...I have loved for you for a thousand years..I'll love you for a thousand more.
Best. Day. Ever.