There are grass stains on the hem of my white wedding dress. The red cowboy boots have creases from my feet dancing within them. The muscles in my face hurt for three days from all the smiling.
Reader, I married him.
Thank you all for your comments and the voluminous flood of emails over these past few weeks. In the days leading up to the wedding, the Chef and I both took time to read the comments and publish them, grinning at each other as we did. We were getting married!
Four days with family and friends — in groups on the grass of our backyard, at one of our favorite restaurants, at a baseball game and a high-rise apartment building downtown — left us laughing and exhausted. Poor Chef had to return to work at the restaurant two days after the wedding, his weary feet still skipping in front of the stove. I slumbered in a stupor, and looked at photographs, and tried to clean the house. About one hundred times a day, I looked down at the simple silver band on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I started giggling. I’m Mrs. Ahern. I’m someone’s wife.
And for days, I tried to sit down to write, to encapsulate it all in shimmering sentences and bursts of hilarious stories. But I couldn’t capture it. Writing about the glories of the wedding weekend? It was like trying to keep a handful of egg whites trapped between my fingers. No matter what I did, the words couldn’t capture it.
I needed time to digest. (And read the entire Harry Potter book.) It has been a full week, plus two days, since our wedding. Forgive me for the silence. And forgive me now for writing these bursts of stories the only way I know how. Fully.
This is, perhaps, the longest essay in blog history. Hold your hats. Sit down for a spell. Or feel free to skip it, if you want. I wrote this for us, for our friends, for the families, and for anyone else who would like to experience it with us.
(Those of you who are looking for a pithy post, or a recipe for gluten-free food. Come back next week. This one simply has to exist on its own.)
We woke early and looked at each other, immediately. The family was arriving at the airport! Hurrying from the house, the Chef’s face a wash of anticipation, we held hands in the car. Spontaneously, we both looked up at the sky and sighed in a whiff of air. And then, as one, we breathed out, long. We surrendered. The planning had left us. The anxieties, the lists crossed off, the endless wondering if we had done everything right. It was gone. Everything had begun.
* * *
One half of the family — the Chef’s parents, his sister and her three kids — arrived early enough to join us in our home for the morning. After they had toured the house and given their approval, I stood in the kitchen and mixed up a batch of gluten-free muffins, with blueberries from our own yard. They were gone before they even cooled on the table. “These are grand!” the Chef’s mother said, and I knew this would be a marvelous weekend.
A fine frenzy in the apartment building downtown, where the Chef’s family had arranged for apartments together. Four brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, ten nieces and nephews, a boyfriend and girlfriend, and the parents, plus us. Can you imagine the happy din when we all gathered in one room?
* * *
I finally met Cooper. His father and mother arrived the last of anyone in the family, enough so that everyone else felt familiar already. When we walked into the apartment, we walked right into Pat’s capacious embrace. Cooper looked at his father, hugging his uncle, whom he vaguely remembered from the last visit. And then, he looked at me, quizzically. Who is she?
Within five minutes, Cooper was snuggled in the Chef’s arms, his wild red hair poking out from between legs as he hung upside down. The Chef seems to have a hidden magnetic strip within him: every child under five is by his side within ten minutes. I laughed to see it, once again, and teared up a little too. He loves his nephews and nieces so.
Half an hour later, we were in another room. Cooper approached me, tentatively, on the couch. I showed him the book that had been left there. “Would you like to hear it?” I asked him. He nodded, solemnly. And so, I sang him Elmo Does the Hokey Pokey, laughing and acting it all out with his feet in the air. When I asked him if he would like to hear it again, he nodded again, quicker this time. I looked up to see the Chef watching us, tears in his eyes this time.
The Chef’s mother — dear Rosemary — had made a pork roast at home in Tucson, and then frozen it. She carried it that way in her suitcase to Seattle. Tell truth, every one of the brothers and sisters rolled their eyes a little when they heard this plan. But by dinner time, we all pushed our forks into the steaming, tender flesh and blessed her planning ahead. She knows her family.
* * *
At the end of the evening, I sat snuggled up against him. On the couch with us, one of the Chef’s sisters. On the couch across from him, the Chef’s other sister and two brothers. Conversation moved quietly through the room, the murmuring laughter of five people who know each other so well that they don’t have to talk. And there I was, beside them, one of them.
Later, he told me that had not happened — just the five brothers and sisters in a room — for nearly fifteen years. And of course, that moment had never happened, since I was there with them.
* * *
We slept sweetly that night.
Sharon was arriving at the airport that morning. The Chef and I had part of the morning, to reminisce about the day before, and eat scrambled eggs and bacon in the backyard, before I had to drive to the airport. Sharon, my dearest oldest friend, who has been with me for over a quarter of a century. And when I told her, last year, on the phone, that the Chef and I were getting married, she spluttered out, “I am the maid of honor, right?” Of course.
Unfortunately, after a morning of hoping to see her and telling stories about her to the Chef, I checked online to find that her flight had been delayed. Okay, except that we had a lunch reservation to keep. Nothing like cutting it close.
I sat in the cell phone waiting lot, willing my phone to ring. Her flight kept getting delayed, more and more. In her grumpy voice (she hadn’t slept much the night before, since she had just finished two weeks at the fine arts camp in Sitka where I used to teach), she had told me that she was finally on the ground. But her bags were nowhere in sight. Throughout our entire lives, I have reassured her. “They’ll be there soon. This is the just the airport.” Forty-five minutes later, I stared at my phone, and said out loud, “Ring, dammit!” So much for patience.
When time ran so tight that I nearly had to call her and tell her to leave the airport, we’d come back that night, she called me. All the suitcases from her flight had been delivered and picked up, but hers was nowhere to be seen. As she was, in tears, declaring hers as lost, she saw an old man (like the room-service waiter from Twin Peaks) slowly pushing a cart with four bags, including one of hers. “It’s the strangest thing,” he said. “These four bags were delivered to the wrong carousel. We don’t know why!” Sharon apparently could not muster the laughter he expected. She just grabbed her bag and ran for me.
This is why, the first time that Sharon saw our home, I had to race her through every room and point out the bedroom so she could take a nap and the cupboards with snacks, and then rush to the car with the Chef.
But we all laughed about it. That is one of the joys of knowing each other so well.
* * *
At lunch, with my parents, and the Chef’s parents, we all waited patiently for our food. I had just convinced the waitress at Ray’s Boathouse that yes, polenta really should be gluten-free (but still check with the guys behind the line). All around the table were patient pauses and watery eyes. The Chef squeezed my hand. This felt momentous to both of us. The first time the parents met.
My mother and father told a story I had not heard in awhile. Her sister kept a photograph of my mother on her desk, at work. Early on, she picked out my father. When he walked by, she put the frame up, on the corner of her desk, for my one-day-to-be my father to see. When another man walked by, my aunt slammed down the photograph. She didn’t want anyone else enticed. It worked. When my parents went on their first date, my father says, he took one look at my mother and thought, “Oh boy, I’m in trouble.”
After we had been dating for awhile, the Chef told me that was the first thought that crossed his mind when he saw me. He hadn’t heard my father’s story yet.
My mother and father were 19 and 20 when they met, only 20 and 21 when they married and had me. They have been married for 42 years. The Chef’s parents were not that much older than mine when they met and fell in love. The Chef’s father used to make the drive from Cresco, Iowa to Lincoln, Nebraska, every weekend, to see the Chef’s mother, before they were married. They have been married for 54 years.
Sitting there, I swear I could feel the force of love at that table, the years of compromise and listening, making it through the hard times, biting their tongues, encouragement and laughter. I squeezed the Chef’s hands. I have no doubt we will be together for the rest of our lives. I hope we have 54 years together, somehow, or at least 42.
Food eaten through tears like that tastes especially good.
* * *
After lunch, I dropped off the Chef and his parents at the apartments, and kissed him goodbye for the day. In these tender days, an entire afternoon and evening without him seemed impossibly long. But I had to hurry away. I had my wedding dress to pick up.
I met Merida on the top of Queen Anne, near the house I shared with the Chef for a year, at the tailors. Her cell phone’s battery had died. Mine had too, with all the running around. So she didn’t know I would be an hour late. But she probably needed the time for contemplation.
After all, she had her move to contemplate.
Dearest Meri, my buddy who moved from New York to Seattle the same week as me, who lived in the apartment across the hall from mine for two years, whom I have cooked chimichurri with and made jam with after afternoons at the farmers’ market, my full-of-life, enormously kind, food-appreciating friend? She was moving away the day after our wedding. She was returning home to New York.
It’s the right decision. It’s time for her to go home. I’m her friend. I love her. Of course, I supported her. But amidst all this happiness, the sad little pull at the bottom of my stomach. My friend was leaving.
We didn’t talk about it. She just helped me pull my wedding dress over my head. She tied the blue satin strings that had been attached to the back by the tailors, cinched them up tightly, and smiled at me broadly when she saw me turn around. “You look beautiful,” she told me. And I hugged her close, so thankful she was there.
For months, Sharon had been saying to me, “You are too going to have a bachelorette party!”
The whole wedding thing? It bothers me. Not the act. Never the act (and I know that, especially, now). But the folderol, the trappings, the empty bowings to what has come before. I never had a bridal shower — there would be no hats made out of ribbons or opened boxes yielding lingerie. The Chef and I never had an engagement party. We just wanted to eat and laugh with our friends.
And so, I had told Sharon, “Look, we’ll just call it a Shauna party. My closest friends, men and women. We’ll eat and drink. That’s it.”
She came close to yelling at me over the phone, several months ago. “No. It will be your closest women friends. Only women. Not too many, or else the party will grow unwieldy. And we are calling it your bachelorette party. That’s it.”
For weeks, I had been telling this story, laughing, calling her the Bachelorette dictator. But when I arrived at Volterra, and saw these wonderful women sitting around me, I squeezed Sharon’s hand and thanked her.
There were no penis-shaped cocktail stirrers or obscene little objects anywhere. No one made me wear a tiara (although Sharon had contemplated, it seems). Instead, there sat Cindy, Molly, Tara, Tita, Julie, Merida, and Sharon. We ate well — roasted boneless lamb leg; wild boar with gorgonzola; pasta with pork jowls and squash blossoms; and a rib-eye steak, done medium rare. There were fennel crush cocktails and rosemary lemon drops, lifted high into the sky in raucous toasts. Great wine, better conversations.
At some point, Sharon and I started laughing so hard, as we told the food stories of our road trip across the United States, that we went into our mode. Tara said it to me later, “My god, she really gets to you.” Sharon truly is the funniest woman I have ever known. But more than that, she and I have such a history that she has only to say one phrase, in a particular voice, and I am set off. Face contorted, cheeks bright red, breath only the merest possibility at that moment — I laugh with abandon and a deep sense of joy in the world. Sharon is by my side. No one else ever understands our half sentences or twenty-year-old references, but we do. And I love her.
I love all the women who sat at that table. We had talked about going bowling afterward. We never did. We just sat at the table, in the lambent evening air, relishing our food (oh, the chestnut panna cotta!) and the chance to be with each other.
* * *
And late in the evening, Sharon and I drove down to the alehouse across the street from the ballpark, to meet the Chef. This is my kind of man — his idea of a bachelor party is taking in a ballgame with his brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and then hoisting beers with them all in the darkness. When Sharon and I wound our way through the crowds and saw him standing among all those now-familiar faces, my heart danced in my chest. There he was.
I ran to him and put my arm around him, and looked up at his family with happy tears in my eyes.
The Chef and I woke early and whispered to each other in bed for half the morning. Sharon was asleep on the futon in the living room. (However, Sharon was not really asleep. If a mouse coughs in Minnesota, she’s awake. I knew she’d be in her half-dreaming state for awhile.) We wanted to relive the day before, tell each other stories. We should have slept more, but there was just no sleeping. Our minds were just too excited to allow our bodies to sleep.
Gluten-free pancakes for breakfast, batter in a bowl near the pot of potatoes boiling for the barbeque later that day. We made big pots of coffee and cleaned up the kitchen. Everyone was arriving soon. We had food to make.
My parents arrived first, and then vans full of the Chef’s family. The people who hadn’t seen it yet were given tours of the house. As I stood in the backyard, I looked up to see Elliott come around the corner, grinning, followed by my brother and sister-in-law. Our friends Quinn and Alison arrived with their barbeque.
You see, we had envisioned this at least six months before. We never wanted a rehearsal dinner, in a big restaurant. Traditionally, the groom’s father pays for that, and we didn’t want to strap the Chef’s father with taking 35 people out to dinner. All we wanted was everyone gathered for a barbeque in the backyard.
Of course, when we came up with this plan, we were living in an apartment, on the top of Queen Anne. Not so much as a patch of grass was ours. But we imagined it, and then we found our home, with the enormous backyard, so big that no one can believe the beauty of it. Suddenly, it all seemed possible.
And so, we had made homemade dill pickles that week. We bought ten pounds of ground beef from a local ranch. After I had picked up my wedding dress, I stopped at the butcher’s for a case of baby back pork ribs. The Chef made his barbeque sauce. We had potato chips and wild greens salad and fresh herbs from the farmers’ market. Sharon and I made apricot-blueberry crisps. No one went hungry.
In the first two hours, I did not sit down, once. I had to make sure that every plate was full, the wine chilled and flowing, the gluten-free beer plentiful for everyone who wanted to drink it. (Everyone did. That stuff is good.) I helped Mark with the music set-up, because our friend who works at Sosio’s also has dj equipment, which he was loaning us for the day. After a few hours, the Chef’s mother came into the kitchen and said, “Now dear, you have to sit down and eat.” And so I did.
It was good preparation for the wedding. I wanted to be present, rather than the consummate hostess. I sat at the picnic table with Sharon by my side, and watched the clutches of people spread out across the grass. Cindy and I laughed as Mark took our photograph. I hugged Quinn and Alison to thank them for coming. I took photographs of all the nieces and nephews. I found the Chef, amongst his brothers, and hugged him, close. The sun shone. We were eating well. The pickles went fast.
And the next day, we would be married.
* * *
Cooper and Elliott climbed up the steps to the treehouse, already fast friends after only a couple of hours of being together. For months, the Chef and I had been waiting to introduce them. After it happened, we just stood back and let them play.
Okay, there was one little meltdown, about sharing these weird little action figures called Rescue Heroes. But they both needed naps, and so the tantrum was mercifully short-lived.
Late in the afternoon, when the sun shone at its hottest, Cooper and Elliott stood at the spigots attached to hoses at either end of the red currant bushes in our yard. Whenever one started to do something, the other wanted to follow. They turned on the water.
The Chef ran over, suddenly a little boy as well. He picked up a hose and asked Cooper, “Do you want to get wet?” He nodded. And so, the Chef sprayed him in the face. All of us watching lost our breath. Would he scream with the cold water? The shock of it? Instead, he wiped his eyes, looked up at his uncle, and started giggling. Elliott wanted the same treatment.
And thus ensued a hilarious half hour of squealing and chasing, dousing and shaking off droplets from their hair. The hose changed hands a dozen times. At a certain point, the Chef turned the hose on his own face, so that his hair dripped water. All the rest of us watched, safe in our camp chairs, clutching bottles of beer, and laughing at the three little boys on the lawn.
Near sunset, the Chef held me in his arms, as we lay on the ground, behind the clump of yucca bushes, safe from anyone’s sight. He was about to climb into one of the vans and join his family at their apartments. He’s such a gentleman. Long ago, he told me, “I don’t want to see your wedding dress until you walk down the aisle. And I cannot see you the night before.” And so, he was going to spend the night away, and make me wait until the moment our wedding started to see his dear face again. I kissed him, gently. And then we kneeled, facing each other, and said, “I have been waiting for you, all my life.” We cried, a little.
And then I slapped his ass and said, “Okay, get the hell out of here.”
* * *
Nearly 10:30 at night. Sharon and I had yet to start baking the wedding cake.
I had plans, in the months before, of baking dozens of little cakes, and freezing them before the big day. But somehow, that never happened. Too many plans. The Chef and I decided, a week before, to make a three-tiered cake, and we bought the pans for it.
But standing in the kitchen, our feet dirty from running around the yard barefoot, a little drunk and more than exhausted, Sharon and I looked at each other. Three wedding cakes in one night?
Especially when the biggest pan was about two-foot wide.
We did what we always did. We laughed. And then we started to work.
I lined up cubes of softened butter, mason jars filled with brown sugar, a bottle of vanilla extract, cartons of eggs, and bags of gluten-free flours. I turned on the Kitchen Aid. I started flinging in ingredients.
Proudly, I finished the first batch of chocolate-banana cake. When I poured it into the prepared pan, I looked down in horror. The entire batch filled one minute patch of the tin pan. We looked at each other. This was going to take all night. What would we do?
We made more.
“As long as I have known you,” Sharon said, “you have always been the messiest baker.” I laughed. It’s true. I’ve never been Martha Stewart. But the gluten-free flour was really flying that night, as I whirled the Kitchen Aid again and again, trying to make one batch after another, enough to fill that gargantuan pan. Sharon remembered the scene from Woody Allen’s Sleeper, when he has to pretend to be a house robot, and makes an instant pudding so big it floods the kitchen and spreads throughout the apartment, threatening to eat people like the Blob. She made me laugh, but I worried she wasn’t far off. Who knew how a big cake pan like this would bake?
Finally, after five full batches of mashing bananas and plopping in sour cream, stirring in cocoa powder, and smoothing the batter into the sea of light-brown cake batter around it, we had filled the pan. We looked at each other and hoped for the best. We slid the pan into the oven.
And then we had to do the music.
* * *
As long as I have known Sharon, we have danced. In the living room of my house when we were teenagers (to Paul McCartney songs) and clubs in New York, in conversations on the phone, in our laughter. We have a huge retinue of songs that mean the world to us.
Even though I had been thinking about mixes and combinations of music for the wedding for months, I had promised Sharon that I would wait until her arrival to put them all into final order. So we sat down in front of the computer, a little after 11 at night, to drag songs from iTunes into the folder we made, named Wedding Music. Afterwards, we planned to put them into smaller folders, divided up into hours.
As we clicked and dragged, Sharon said, “Oh my god, you have to have some Olivia Newton John!” There was Xanadu, which had been playing when I kissed my first crush. “Oh my god, Annie Lennox is brilliant. How about those three songs?” Prince, Captain and Tenille, John Denver, Gwen Stefani, Stevie Wonder, Death Cab for Cutie — they all had memories attached. We had to have them all.
About forty minutes into this, we ran to check the cake. Miraculously, it looked perfect. Dense and light at the same time, the top crust perfectly browned, the toothpick inserted came back clean. We whooped and hollered a bit — we had done it! And then we declared, “That’s it! No more cakes.” One giant cake would have to be enough.
It didn’t match my conception of how it should be. I didn’t care. There it was — a beautiful gluten-free wedding cake.
The Chef could decorate it in the morning.
We went back to the music.
At a little before 1 in the morning, we admitted defeat. We had to go to bed. After all, I was getting married in the morning. Sharon rose to brush her teeth. Before I closed up the computer, I looked down at the folder we had created and started laughing. “What is it?” Sharon called from the bathroom.
“We put together a mix that lasts 17.5 hours!” I shouted back to her.
We went to bed laughing, imagining all the guests held hostage until they had danced to every single song.
* * *
The bed sure felt empty that night.
Monday. The Wedding Day.
The first image my eyes saw when I woke up was blue sky.
Out the window, the sky seemed vast, an endless scape of clear blue. Early in our relationship, the Chef and I started talking about our love as the sky. It’s a riff on a Buddhist talk I heard once, something that always stayed with me. We think that our minds are the clouds, the storms, the torments and flat grey. But if we can just find some quiet to remember, we know that our minds (and thus our love) is like that blue sky: endless, without blemish.
I smiled when I saw it.
* * *
Of course, I was up far too early. There had been no real sleeping, no matter how tired I had been the night before. My mind whirled like that Kitchen Aid blade had done through those five batches of cake batter. Around in excited circles. Today’s the wedding!
I tip-toed into the office and started arranging the gargantuan music files into manageable folders. An hour of songs that are close to us, in the first hour before the ceremony. Jazzy loves songs and cool melodies for eating in the two hours after it. Five or six songs for special dances. A dance mix to make Sharon’s heart happy. And several loping hours of songs, some love songs, some just kick-ass music, to round out the evening. As I sat there clicking and pasting, I kept having to pinch myself. We were playing that music, that day. Good god.
* * *
By the time Sharon woke up, we were hungry. Scrambled eggs, lox that the Chef had cured with dill, sugar, and salt just days before, fat slices of heirloom tomatoes, and big mugs of coffee. We sat on the front porch, in the glider my parents bought us for a housewarming present, our feet propped up on the two-dollar ottoman that Brandon had found for a housewarming present, and we gently glided back and forth as we talked. Since I was sixteen, we had been talking about what our lives would be like in the future. There we were, in the future. Right now.
Thank goodness, we sighed, that we don’t have to run to Golden Gardens this morning. “Yeah,” Sharon said. “Good call.”
* * *
You see, I didn’t say this on this website before the day. That was kind of the point — to keep it a secret. But with less than two weeks to go before the wedding, the Chef and I made the decision: we were changing the site where we would be wed.
Crazy? Maybe. I know that most brides could never have done this. But the fact is, as soon as we saw our home, and especially the expansive backyard, we both secretly started wishing that we could have moved in earlier, so we could have planned the wedding for our own home. Too late, I thought, always with a tug in my gut that said, why not?
Two weeks before the wedding day, during a day of running errands and crossing tasks off the list, I looked with horror at the rental agreement for the site we had planned, a beautiful beach owned by Seattle Parks. We were supposed to have purchased event insurance by then, in order to make sure we could have the event there. We had not.
How had I forgotten? Maybe I did it unconsciously. Maybe there were just too many events whirling inside my head. Maybe it was just rotten luck. But it wasn’t rotten luck. Because, as we waited to hear back from Seattle Parks to see if they would give us a waiver, I looked out the laundry room window at our backyard. “Honey?” I shouted from across the house. “Why don’t we just get married here?”
You see, we would save a lot of money. But even more, Golden Gardens had become too public. Some of you readers had erroneously invited yourself because you thought the wedding website was a public invitation. We know those were meant with love. But around that time, we started receiving comments with slightly more malicious intentions. A pack of people showing up with water guns to soak the entire wedding party. Threats of disrupting the party. Nasty little notes that, unfortunately, seem to part of being a presence on the internet. No matter how lovely the community is, there’s always one voice shouting no.
So, we made the only decision that seemed sensible to us. We shifted the entire wedding to our home.
We told our friends, in mass emails and phone calls (they all responded). We planned out parking (no problem with the neighbors). We asked our landlord’s permission (he loved the idea). And then we sat back and breathed a big, relieved sigh.
We were getting married in our own home.
That is why Sharon and I were so relaxed, sitting with our bare feet propped up. We had nowhere to go. The day before, all the teenage and young adult nieces and nephews hefted the round tables we had rented, placed white chairs in rows, laid out rectangular tables in our beautiful yellow garage (empty and spacious, so only a garage in name) for the food the next day. They pitched in, and in fifteen minutes they had transformed our yard to a wedding site.
About 11:30 in the morning, everything started moving. Merida arrived, and she printed and folded all the food cards for me. Cindy and Ben came in with smiles arriving, and Ben set to work, hanging the canvasses and moving tables under the canopy. Sharon flew around, wondering what to do next. Mark came by to finish the last preparations for the music. Daniel pulled his enormous pick-up truck into the driveway and began unloading buckets and tubs of dahlias, poppies, and exotic flowers for which I did not know the name. He had offered to place vases all around the yard and in the outbuilding with the food. The Chef’s sisters arrived and started cutting stalks of white daisies from our yard and placing them into mason jars.
For the first time in weeks, I didn’t have to do anything.
I just stood in the backyard, in my shorts and wrinkled t-shirt, surveying all this movement and smiling at it all.
* * *
The phone rings. “We’re pulling up! We’re almost there””
“Shit, Sharon. We have to get into the bedroom now! He’s coming through the door any minute, and he can’t see me.”
* * *
When my sister-in-law came in, with Elliott in hand (I think he felt a little nervous about the day, and he wanted to see me), she informed me that just that morning, the city had started an enormous construction project on our street, where the main road turns onto our road. No one could get through.
I just laughed. What could I do?
* * *
Robin, the wonderful, wry man who has cut my hair for the past four years, came through the door. He came in bearing an enormous tray of caprese salad, and a bag full of hair implements. We are friends now. He was an invited guest. But he had offered to do my hair. He was an hour early. Good man.
The make-up artist was due at noon. Now, lest you from the wrong ideas about me, I would never hire a make-up artist for my wedding. I’m not that kind of girl. But the Chef’s cousin lives in Seattle, and she’s a professional makeup artist. As her gift, she offered to do my makeup for me. Well, why not? What a lark.
Sharon was especially excited, because I offered to buy her a makeup session as well, my gift for the wedding. Even though she is beautiful beyond my words, she is convinced she has bad skin and needs a full hour to do her makeup. (No one else agrees.) So, she was excited.
We waited for the makeup artist in my room. With the blinds drawn, it was starting to grow hot in there.
* * *
“Shauna, do you know where the tablecloths for the long tables are?” someone shouted through the door.
“Sweet pea, where is the cream?” the Chef asked me on the phone, from the kitchen, because he was making the ganache frosting for the cake.
“Can the boys come in and see you? They want to see you with your hair up.”
“Um, what were the words he was supposed to paint on his canvasses?”
“What can we do to help?”
“Shauna, where are the rings? The boys need to put them in their pockets now.”
“Where is that make-up artist?”
For weeks before the wedding, I imagined some oasis of quiet to contemplate what was going to happen. A day’s meditation retreat? That never happened. A few hours alone? Nope. A pedicure? I had the world’s most woeful bridal toes — only chipped polish on my big toes — so bad that Sharon had to take a photograph. Surely that hour and a half of getting ready would be some quiet time with my four girls.
“Shauna, where is the champagne?”
My favorite moment is when Robin was putting the seventieth bobby pin in my hair, I had the laptop on my lap so I could show Sharon something about the playlists for Mark, I was on the phone with the Chef, and Monica was taking my photographs.
I just kept laughing.
* * *
The makeup artist was late. Almost an hour late.
“Sharon, she’ll be here. There’s construction. She has a family.”
Sharon blew out of the room to yell at someone else trying to use the bathroom. She was an incredible maid of honor — just the person to run interference and try to keep people out of my room.
Robin finished my hair. I had never felt so glamorous in my life.
* * *
I could hear people moving around outside. It was after 1. Guests were arriving with trays of food and platters of fresh fruit.
Once, I sneaked a little look to the side of the blind. It was just past 1, and already the backyard was starting to fill. One look and I saw one of my dearest friends, with his new girlfriend. To his side, former students. Over there, food blogger friends. Look, there’s the Chef’s aunt. It was dazzling, like the greatest hits of my life, all gathered in one place.
As I was starting to look away, I saw the Chef descend the back stairs, in his suit jacket and vivid blue tie. My heart thrilled to see him. “He’s so beautiful,” I thought. And then I saw his hands dancing on his pants, and I thought, “Poor boy. He’s so nervous.”
That’s when it felt real.
“Where is Daniel? I need my bouquet.”
Daniel had said, weeks before, that he would do the bouquet for me and my four bridesmaids (fierce, alive women). About an hour earlier, he had come into the room, bearing two huge lilies. He extended them to Sharon and me, saying they were the biggest from his garden. He said he would put them at the feet of the Buddha statue in the bathtub in the backyard. He hugged me, and then he left.
No one had seen him since.
“Where’s my bouquet? I have to carry something!”
Sharon, bless her heart, ran around the yard, asking if anyone had seen Daniel. I knew he would have to go home, about fifteen minutes from our house, to change. But that had been an hour earlier, and we were only half an hour from the ceremony.
“Meri, just grab me a vase full of flowers. That will do.”
She came in, proferring a long-stemmed bouquet of red dahlias, orange flowers, and poppy blossoms. That worked just fine.
* * *
“Sharon, the make-up artist is not coming. Just put on some make-up.”
Frantic, Sharon dashed into the bathroom, near tears with the thought of doing her hour-long routine in ten minutes. I crammed in next to her, asking Meri and Cindy, “Does this look good? Is this color okay for my eyes?” (I’m sort of hopeless with makeup.)
The fan sat propped up on the windowsill, blowing lukewarm air at us.
I rushed to the bedroom, where Meri and Cindy helped me put on my dress. We all clasped our hands to our chests when I was dressed.
“Sharon! We need the fan in here! Shauna’s all sweaty.”
I saw her hand and heard her exasperated sigh.
Robin came in to put on my veil. When he was done, and I could feel it on me, I started crying. Gulping sobs, the tears mixing with the sweat on my face. I was really, really getting married. I was finally marrying the Chef.
* * *
My parents came in. They both beamed, gulped back tears I gave my dad a kiss on the cheek.
* * *
“Where are the flower girls? I never saw them.”
* * *
“Shauna, every wedding starts late. Don’t worry!”
But I want to go now. Now. I want to marry him now.
* * *
“I think Shauna is getting a little claustrophobic in here, in this little room.”
“Dad, I’m not claustrophobic. I just want to marry him!”
And then, impossibly fast, we were walking. I had heard Coleen start to sing “True Companion,” and then I saw, out the window, the Chef walking down the grass path toward the bathtub in the backyard.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!”
* * *
As I came down the back steps, I saw a quick image of the yard, transformed by over a hundred smiling people, flowers in tall vases, canvasses adorned in sky-blue paint, my bridesmaids standing in place, the Chef’s brothers and sister standing on the other side, and waiting, patiently, smiling, his hands clasped in front of him: my love.
From that moment on, I saw no one else but him.
* * *
I couldn’t stop giggling and crying at the same time.
As I walked down the grass path toward the aisle made of pots of herbs we had planted only the week before, I was surprised to hear my mother say, “Slow down, Shauna. Make it elegant.”
I looked at her, holding my arm (my father held my other arm), and said out of the side of my mouth. “Mom, I’ve never been elegant in my life! I just want to reach him.”
“Just walk more slowly, like a movie star.”
In one photograph, my face is turned toward her, with the biggest puzzled look on my face.
I was going slowly. I wanted to skip toward him in my red cowboy boots.
* * *
When I finally reached him, he took my hands. His blue eyes beamed at me, filled with tears. I nearly started to sob.
And then, under his breath, he said to me, “I’m sweating like a pig.”
That made it all more real.
* * *
After Kendly greeted everyone, she asked us to honor our parents by going to hug them. When I bent down to squeeze the Chef’s mother, she whispered to me, “Take care of him.”
The tears of the Chef’s father were mine as well.
* * *
Kendyl read the Raymond Carver poem I had chosen:
“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”
I looked around at the faces around us, and then I looked up into his face. I recited the poem with her, silently, breathing the words to his lips.
I stepped to the microphone to tell a story.
A story of how we fell in love at first sight.
A story of how a salad he made compelled me to ask him to move in.
A story of how he proposed, spontaneously, because of bread and beef tenderloin.
And when he put aside his plate, and said, “Oh what the hell,” he got down on one knee.
And when he did, he farted. A long, loud fart.
Everyone there laughed. So did I, my face open wide to the sky with laughter. And I looked over to see him laughing too. (See the photograph at the top of this post.)
We were so happy that everyone laughed during the wedding. It’s such a big part of who we are.
* * *
Francoise spoke for us, about seeing me walk down the street toward her, just after I had met the Chef. “I knew immediately that she had found love, because nothing other than love itself can illuminate your face and give to your whole body this deep glow that comes from within.”
We both nodded. We felt it in that moment.
She read a love poem by Jacques Prevert, which she translated herself:
What day is it?
It is every day
It is the whole life
We love each other and we live
We live and we love each other
And we don’t know what life is
And we don’t know what a day is
And we don’t know what love is.
* * *
Tita stepped forward, in her sweet, humble way. “Shauna always said that when she met the love of her life, she would have to bring him over to Vashon to win our approval. Well, Shauna only brought one man to our house, and that is [the Chef]. And he is the only one we will ever meet, because this is the love of her life. We approve.”
* * *
My friend Kristin Korb played upright bass and sang her jazzy heart away, with “Night and Day.” Man, that woman can sing. Everyone stood and sat with open mouths. And toward the end, she sang, “…and my torment won’t be through until you let me spend my life making gluten-free food for you!” Everyone exploded with laughter.
* * *
The Chef’s sister, Kathy, startled to find that we did want her to speak, after all, stood at the microphone and gave her heart, tenderly. And then she said, “You know, the first time I met Shauna, I knew I had to love her. But I really liked her, too!”
* * *
My brother made me sob. The way he talked about the Chef’s talent for taking one bite of food and turning it into joy in the belly and my talent for capturing a moment and turning those sentences into joy in the mind, and thus uniting us in our desire to bring people joy? Well, I didn’t even know he felt that way about my writing. I just stood there and cried.
* * *
Coleen and Joe played “I am on your side.” How many times have the Chef and I danced in the living room to this song his sister wrote? Standing there, we wanted to dance. Instead, we just squeezed hands.
* * *
I wanted to kiss him. It was killing me to not be able to kiss him.
* * *
When Kendyl handed me the microphone to say my vows to him, I stood there for a moment, trying to breathe, trying not to sob. I looked at all the people there, my love, and the cord draping from the microphone. Suddenly, it hit me: I was standing in my own backyard with a microphone.
“I feel like a lounge singer,” I wailed. And everyone laughed again.
We made up the vows in the moment.
There were four canvasses in the yard, each with a hand-painted word. On the garage door: food. On the back deck, near the music: love. On the treehouse: imagine. And nailed to a board above the Buddha’s head: yes.
That was the structure for the vows.
I love you because….
I imagine a life with you of….
I will feed you….
Yes, I will marry you.
We had the structure. We made it all up in the moment.
That feels like a good way to start a marriage.
* * *
When he grabbed the microphone, he remembered what I had said. Immediately, and loudly, he sang, “Viva las Vegas!” as he whipped the microphone cord behind his back.
I nearly snorted with the laughter.
* * *
During his vows, he pointed up at the sky and asked me to look.
“That’s how I love you,” he said.
* * *
As part of a feeding ceremony that Kendyl had imagined, we fed each other Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam triple cream cheese, which we had fed each other on our third date, when I knew.
We couldn’t get the wrapper open for a moment, even though both of us attacked it with our fingers.
Everyone laughed again.
* * *
Cooper and Elliott came toward us, solemnly, wearing cowboy boots, each clutching the pockets of his Hawaiian shirt. Cooper came to me, and handed me the ring I would put on the Chef’s finger. Elliott came toward the Chef, and handed him the ring he would put on my finger. We each picked up the little guys, and held them close. And then we traded.
When I picked up my nephew and hugged him close, he nearly knocked the veil off my head.
I didn’t care.
Rings on fingers, all the words said. Just one more thing to do.
“Ladies and gentlemen, will you please inflate your whoopee cushions!”
At the beginning of the wedding, one of the nieces or nephews handed out a brightly colored whoopee cushion to each guest. No one knew why. They didn’t explain. But we knew.
Almost everyone inflated the whoopee cushions, some people looking perturbed.
We kissed. Finally.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Daniel and Shauna Ahern!”
And then everyone let off their whoopee cushions, with a big splat that resounded around the yard. We held hands and stood there, laughing so hard we could have started crying again.
What better way to start the first few moments of your married life together than laughing with all the people you love?
* * *
We walked to the front yard, holding hands, laughing out loud, husband and wife. Finally.
* * *
A receiving line in the front yard. So many hugs and tears.
Sharon kept coming up and thrusting a water bottle in my hand.
We hugged and hugged, alone for one moment.
Sharon and Tara brought us three plates of food: sweet corn salad; fresh cherries; red quinoa salad; baba ganoush and tortilla chips; pork roast; new potatoes with artichokes. The most succulent lamb we had ever eaten.
(Our friends at Volterra had roasted an entire lamb for us, with fennel and chiles, along with a side of fava bean aioli. Oh, and these Portobello mushroom caps with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes. As someone said later of the food at our wedding, “Wowie wow wow.”)
Every single bite of food at the wedding was gluten-free.
* * *
Tara told me later that her favorite line of the wedding was when I walked into the garage, saw the line of people filling their plates with the bounty of scrumptious food, said, “Well, I guess the potluck idea worked.” And then I walked out again.
* * *
We carried the enormous cake — chocolate-banana cake with a chocolate ganache frosting; baked by me, frosted by him — out to the canopy on an enormous white cutting board. We cut the cake, feeling each other’s fingers on the knife. We fed each other, slowly.
And then everyone ate the cake.
From what I hear, most people had at least three pieces.
* * *
Toasts in the back yard. Laughter and tears from brothers and best friends. Sharon said, “My whole life, I never thought anyone was good enough for Shauna. You know. If you meet Shauna, she changes your life. And now, I know, she has met the one man in the world good enough for her.” She sobbed. I ran over to hold her.
And then Elliott grabbed the microphone and said something inexplicable from the Rescue Heroes show. And then Cooper grabbed the microphone and said, “Happy Birthday!”
* * *
The Chef and I danced.
I danced with my dad.
* * *
Sharon stepped up to the microphone and asked everyone gathered to sing along with the song. This is how we came to be in our backyard, with a group of people we love, singing “Imagine” together.
Not everyone sang. Not everyone knows the words. But there were enough voices for us to hold each other throughout it all.
We will never forget it.
* * *
Finally, out of my wedding dress. Sharon threatened to take a photograph of me in my underthings, the dress over my head, and someone pulling on the cowboy boots to try to pry them off my feet. I swore at her not to do it.
* * *
We all danced. Patti started a pile of shoes on the grass, all of us in our bare feet. “Time to worship the shoes!” she shouted above Prince, and we all moved into the circle, waving our arms.
We were in our backyard.
Sharon and I nearly fell on the ground when we saw Uncle Bob, who is 83 years old, cutting the rug with Julie, to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl.” Good for you, Uncle Bob!
One of the nephews said to the Chef, “Great dance mix!” He just pointed to Sharon and me. We felt exultant. Everyone danced for nearly two hours.
* * *
Off to the side of the yard, I hugged her close. We held each other for a long time.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to drive you to the airport tomorrow?”
She shook her head. Clear.
I looked at her for a moment, willing myself not to cry. I said goodbye.
And then Merida walked away.
* * *
Hugs and partings. Smiles and exclamations. We said our goodbyes gradually, in stages.
As dusk fell, it was only the Chef and I, Sharon, Mark, and Cindy and Ben who remained. We stood near the back porch, the music quiet, our feet bare on the grass. We opened another bottle of champagne, raised our glasses to the sky in one more toast to our lives together.
The Chef and I kissed, a long slow kiss, and danced, one more time.
Finally, we were married.
* * *
It doesn’t end there, of course.
We spent our wedding night in a bed and breakfast downtown.
Do you have any romantic notions about wedding nights? Drop them. We were both so exhausted that we could only gnaw on a hunk of Salumi salami, eat the inch of barbequed potato chips left at the bottom of the bag, drink half a paper cup of champagne, and fall into a knackered sleep.
We had breakfast with the Chef’s family the next morning, bedraggled and grinning.
We said our goodbyes.
Oh, and by the way, the makeup artist showed up precisely at noon. The next day. She had the date wrong.
It turns out Daniel never came back. He’s gay, with a loving partner for the past fifteen years. Last year, when the Washington Supreme Court struck down the same-sex marriage law, he vowed to himself he would never attend another wedding. Torn about ours, because he loves us so, he brought the flowers as his offering. I understand. I had been thinking about him and Jeff, and how unfair it seems to me that I can have this glorious day, saying my vows to the man I love, but he can’t. But why didn’t he tell us in advance? He didn’t tell us that he wasn’t coming back, because he didn’t want to inject a note of negativity in our wedding.
But Sharon thought he died in a car accident, so, there you go.
And the day after the wedding, when we returned home, the Chef and I sat around the house with Sharon, eating jelly beans and tortilla chips, too exhausted to do much of anything else. There was plenty of weak laughter, but not much else.
And after I said goodbye to Sharon at the airport, teary again, I drove home to the Chef. We were alone for the first time in our home, as husband and wife.
We fell into bed and were asleep by 9:30.
I have so many memories of the wedding. Well, quite clearly. There are a hundred dozen more that I could never record here. It’s all too elusive, like the light slipping from the sky outside the window as I write this.
But this. I remember this.
I was never a girl who imagined her wedding. I never wanted to be a princess. I never imagined my gown or fixed on how everything should look.
In fact, for much of my life, I never thought I would get married. Not that I didn’t want it. I wanted it. But all through high school and college, I felt like the ugly duckling. Plump and ungainly, a bookworm in vapid southern California in the 1970s and 80s, I just never thought I could be loved.
Even when I grew out of that phase, slowly, I didn’t have much chance to meet good men. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 21 years old, and even that was awkward. (Now I know: how could it not be?) I fell hopelessly in love with every young man who seemed to have a decent brain and made me laugh. For awhile, life seemed an endless array of hopeless crushes, all deeply felt and unrequited.
And then I was a teacher. No single man crossed my path for years at a time.
When I lived in New York, I made up for lost time. Flings and big relationships both. Finally, I felt like a woman. I let go of the notion that I could never be loved.
But I was in my early 30s. Easy predictions in the media said that a woman had more chance of being hijacked by a terrorist than marrying in her late 30s. I grew indifferent. It would never happen.
And then I was in a terrible car accident. And in pain for nearly two years. And then I grew sick with celiac.
And then I was reborn.
After I was diagnosed, and went gluten-free, I felt it in my gut: I needed a year to myself, to be with this new self, before I started dating again. I met the Chef four days to the year after I had been diagnosed.
And then I was reborn again.
But through it all, even in the years when I thought it would never happen, meeting that man who would love me entirely, there were moments I believed. And it always happened when I heard Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life.”
Throughout those years, I danced. In my living room alone. In clubs in New York. In the car as I drove to where I needed to go .Whenever that song came on, I danced. And immediately, I always imagined playing it at my wedding, dancing with that unknown love.
And then I would cry.
At our wedding, the Chef and I danced to a slow song, something meaningful to us. Truly, it wasn’t much more than the seventh-grade shuffle. We didn’t care that everyone was watching us.
But the second song on that mix? “For Once in My Life.”
When I heard the first few notes, I thought I would start crying. But the Chef grabbed my hand. And he started twirling me.
There we were, in our own back yard, on the green lawn, everything green light and trees, that blur of green that can only come when you’ve given yourself to the world and you don’t mind which way you are spinning. And we twirled. I lay out my arm to the side and let the force of the spin take me, whichever way I would go. I felt his hand in mine. I twirled and twirled, faster and faster, laughing.
I looked down at my red cowboy boots, spinning quickly. I saw the grass brush the hem of my dress, staining parts of it green. I didn’t care. I was dancing with my love, after a lifetime of dancing alone. With his hand in mine, I could give up gravity for a moment, give up knowing the best way to be, give up all those hopes and dreams. And just dance with him.
I saw of blur of faces around me, snatches of color. People I loved, someone with a question, a face open wide in laughing. I felt his hand, and I danced.
We laughed, and we danced, to the song I always imagined at my wedding.
And in the end, it feels like that is how life will be, with him. A sometimes dizzying spin of images: the smell of great food in the air, people we love gathered around us, the feeling that we might fall. And we will go around and around, again and again, in a circle that feels different each time, but not really. Sometimes, I will want to close my eyes and not take in so much. Sometimes, I will want it all to slow down. Sometimes, I might worry that the song will end.
But through it all, in this whirr of brilliant, beautiful images, in the middle of this twirling circle, will be the feel of his hand in mine.