At our rehearsal we were about five men short of the groom’s party. They were stuck in traffic. I was very jittery and kept wondering about the width of the aisle and whether or not it was going to be long enough to fit my mom, Alan and myself in a straight line without knocking into the chairs.
And then some homeless guy wandered up and asked for money.
Thankfully Joey steered him away before I could completely lose my shit.
(I mean, we were clearly in a wedding rehearsal. Seriously bad timing, bro.)
Things started to improve as we headed off to the rehearsal dinner. Carin, R.J’s mom, put together a pretty fabulous spread in one of the hotel’s banquet rooms. She had many breadsticks with my name on them. I was kind of eating, but not really eating, but still eating enough not to go insane from hunger. With the gastroparesis it’s just always a gamble to eat before a big event. I ate just the right amount. It was a magical measurement of caloric intake.
I got to give out some goody bags for my bridal party at the dinner. I put together little satchels for the girls with hankies that read “NO UGLY CRYING”, pictures in frames, some toiletries and jewelry. It was nice to be able to give a little thank you–especially now that we were really seeing what kind of work it takes to get an event like this off the ground. (A lot more than I’d realized in the earlier stages of planning.)
At the end of the night R.J and I went back to our hotel room, not really intending to follow the whole “don’t see each other before the wedding” thing. It’s kind of a bizarre tradition when you’ve lived together for almost five years. Yeah, I wasn’t going to sleep alone for the first time in so long the night before the wedding. What if I didn’t get enough sleep? I could end up with no energy in the morning and the aftermath could last all day. I wasn’t switching up my routines, period.
When the morning came I did end up sneaking downstairs to the lobby before he woke up. But after some perusing of the farmer’s market near the hotel, we ran back into each other.
When I could no longer pretend to be eating my toast, I went back upstairs to collect my accessories, then over to my mom’s suite to relax before the make-up artist and hair dresser arrived. We met with Joni, our wedding planner, and I blearily looked at the day’s timeline. I wasn’t nervous. I was excited and I was perfectly content to be moved from chair to chair.
My friends Liz and Lisa came to the room too and between them, my mom, and my sister it was a very calm, relaxing atmosphere. Really, it was everything I wanted and needed that morning. I even put on a chill Spotify playlist to play in the background.
Down the other side of the hotel, R.J was not having such a relaxing prep.
From what I heard, Alan had him and his groomsmen taking shots as they figured out their suits.
Before I knew it my hair and makeup were done and we were ready to head to the venue.
I still felt calm at that point.
I was trying not to let the little things like the photographer not being in the right room at the right time, or the unwanted guest who wouldn’t get a clue, or the fact that I was in spanx up to my eyeballs get to me. I wanted to be that bride who beat the odds and didn’t turn into lacey-white Hulk a few hours before the moment.
Joni walked us through a back parking lot towards the reception space so that I could see the set-up. She was talking a mile a minute about how everything was prepared and how she had confirmed all of the vendors and—at 60MPH she slams head first into a truck’s side-view mirror. It literally came out of nowhere. There were four of us at attention and I swear to god this immobile object just collided with her like some kind of invisible elephant.
But being the crème de la crème of wedding planners, Joni barely let the caterer get her ice as she continued on in the same breath to discuss the bouquets and tablecloths.
Seeing the venue set up got me nervous and we humbly made our way towards the bridal suite (well, it was more of the library of the venue) When we got there the photographers were already taking pictures of my shoes and my dress. They’d hung it over an arch of crown molding on the main wall. Seeing it all fluttered out like that—it really hit me, and I fell into thrilled/panicked/proud crocodile tears.
I sucked it up because the next twenty minutes involved my mom and sister weaving me into my wedding gown which had a laced corset, a zipper, and buttons. Because I can’t stay on my feet too long I ended up leaning over the back of a chair and just letting them stand. The name of the game now was conservation. I had to save all of my energy for this night. I couldn’t give away an inch of it that I would need.
And then I got super excited and almost fell off my chair because I had a clear view outside the window and had just watched R.J pass by in his tuxedo. He looked amazing—amazing and happy.
The closer we got to the ceremony, the more and more I was convincing myself that I had to pee. I called in the troops and my mom and sister helped me lift up the ridiculous amount of tulle underneath my dress as I hovered over the toilet.
“I can’t pee with you both watching!”
“What do you want us to do?”
“I don’t know.! Sing or something?!”
And now I will forever remember the “I Don’t Want a Lot for Christmas” Mariah Carey song as the song during which I overcame a lifetime of nervous bladder.
Finally the time had come. Joni lined us all up and one by one I watched the flower girls (our grandmothers), bridesmaids, and groomsmen disappear through a doorway.
Then it was just my mom, Alan and me.
Through the glass panel in the door I could see R.J all the way down at the other end of the aisle. He was beaming and I immediately started crying. (It felt more like the bawling, snotty, hysterical crying instead of the delicate blushing bride crying, but between my waterproof makeup and the fact that I was smiling from ear to ear—I’m told it didn’t look as insane as it felt.)
I tried not to look at R.J because every time I did I felt like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs. I looked down every row, happy to see so many people that I loved in one place, at one time, to experience this moment with me.
When we got down to the nearer end of the aisle we stopped and the Justice of the Peace called out, “Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”
“WE DO!” Mom and Alan yelled, and everyone behind us laughed.
R.J came down the steps to take my hand and help me up the steps under the chuppah.
And this part was a blur. I’m glad we both wrote down our vows because through the tears and blinding, genuine joy it’s hard to remember anything but the feeling of success that a moment has finally come to be.
These were our vows:
From R.J to me
I promise to always love and respect you, but I also promise one more thing. We have been together for almost 9 years, but I remember our first date like it was yesterday. I was so nervous standing at the front door in my tagged brown shirt and baggy cargo pants and you over there–dressed up, makeup done, and just spend the night eating and talking.
We have gone through so much since then and now, you have been with me through two graduations, four cars, four jobs, eleven hurricane, seventeen tropical storms and countless thunderstorms. We have flown across the country together, driven across the state, gone to Disney world, haggled for knock-offs, and had a proposal during a flash flood. So my promise to you is simply when we look back in 10, 20, 50 years we will look back at these days as the day our life together started–not forgetting the 9 years we spent together, but noting so many wonderful new memories together that the last 9 years will have been a drop in the bucket. I promise a lifetime of fantastic things are in store for us.
From me to R.J
There are only a handful of things in my life that I’ve been 100%, absolutely and totally sure about. And you and me are at the top of that list. I was so instantly in love with you the moment I met you. We’ve graduated high school, college, gotten jobs, moved out on our own, been through it all hand-in-hand and it’s been the most natural, beautiful connection I could have asked for.
Meeting you was the moment the rest of my life clicked into place. How could I ever be the person I am without you by my side?
I love you. Your happiness makes my happiness real. And I will never intentionally hurt you. I vow to always adhere to this promise. And I vow to communicate with you when we’ve disagreed so that we can repair it quickly, without extending pain and creating distance. I vow to listen. I vow to speak up.
I want to tell you about all the little ways you make my life full. I want you to know that I get AS excited as I did seeing your car pull up outside my mom’s house, as I do now, seeing your car pulling up in front of the house we share together.
I want you to know that in the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed covertly using “Ilana Danko” as my name to schedule appointments so much that I almost scheduled another haircut just to do it again.
I want you to know that waking up in the middle of the night to see you next to me brings me the kind of warmth and comfort that I know most people dream about having their entire lives.
You’re smarter than you have any right to be. You’re more beautiful than anyone as smart as you has any right to be. You volunteer to walk the dog in the rain, and then wipe off his paws before he can step on the white tile. You hold open the door for me, and the lady behind me, and the lady behind her…You’ve spent long nights in the hospital with me and never complained about those sleepless nights—even when they were followed by midterms.
Today, on our wedding day, I want to make you these promises: I promise that I’ll be brave with you. When you leap, it will be with my hand in yours. When you feel like you might not be able to take another step, I will show you the way back to the person I know you are.
I promise to not leave open vats of apple cider on the kitchen stove overnight. I promise to completely ignore your wishes for me to not over-decorate for holidays.
I’ll parent a bunch of moderately tall, curly haired, kids with you. And several more champion dogs. And I’ll make sure you have shampoo in your shower and tell your mom what you really want for Christmas. I’ll smooth over the hurt feelings at dinner parties when you won’t eat because you’re saving the calories for Chipotle.
And I’ll love you. I’ll love you so much that you’ll never feel empty, and never alone. You will always have my heart in your hands.
I am so honored to become your wife and so excited about all the adventures we’re about to go on.
I’m ready. Let’s do this.
Part 3 Coming Soon