A tribute to love

I knew Ryan in his “before” days, when we were both mostly single with short interludes of broken relationships. We were college classmates who graduated one semester apart. I’d had so much fun working with him that I kept in touch after graduation, and we became friends. We commiserated on our shared singledom and reassured each other that we’d each find somebody special, one of these days. He got into the bar scene for a while, but gave it a rest as he got older and realized that wasn’t where his dream woman was likely to be found. And he turned out to be right: around the time that I moved to Oregon, he met her at a coffee shop.

On a Saturday in June, I sped down California’s Redwood Highway, trying not to arrive late at their wedding. I’d frantically changed into my dress moments before getting in the car, leaving so hastily that I forgot the gifts I was supposed to bring. Precious minutes were lost as I turned the car around, ran into the house where I was staying–trying not to trip over my dress–and grabbed the gifts. After that came the speeding. Everybody drives too fast on that section of 101 south of Trinidad, but this time I passed many of them.

I made it to Patrick’s Point right on time, although the wedding did not. The other guests and I sat in a sunny clearing, arranged in a circle of folding chairs, fanning and watering ourselves. We were in a coastal state park, but too far from the sea itself to feel a breeze. (That extra time spent waiting in the sun proved to be the genesis of a terrible sunburn across my chest and shoulders.) I didn’t know anybody there, so I alternated between snapping photos and eavesdropping on the chatter of Ryan’s friends and family. “I haven’t met his fiancée, but they seem so happy and so in love,” said a middle-aged woman sitting behind me. I hadn’t met his fiancée either, and I was looking forward to finally seeing her in person.

At last they arrived, strolling together across the grass with a trail of little flower girls and blown bubbles. Accompanied by the music of a solo violin, they entered the circle opposite each other, then stood side-by-side in the center. The small crowd sat in silence to watch their solemn faces and hear the officiant speak about what this day meant. It was a simple, heartfelt ceremony that paid a beautiful tribute to things that transcend words and formalities: love, devotion, and companionship. There was no collared priest, no white wedding gown or veil—just the couple and the bride’s young daughter, celebrating togetherness and welcoming us all into their family. I cried as Ryan knelt before his new stepdaughter and promised, with a catch in his voice, to take care of her always. I was still crying after the vows had ended and I had a moment to walk up and congratulate the bride and groom. The bride gave me a warm, gentle hug and thanked me for being there.

There wasn’t much opportunity to get the groom alone, since he spent the reception mingling with guests and dancing with his wife. What I tried to tell him, when I got the chance, was not only that I felt honored to be invited but that I was deeply happy for him. He’s one of the most decent and intelligent people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. I find it very life-affirming to see somebody like that find happiness. And on a more selfish note, it gives hope to those of us who are still looking and being choosy about it.

Watching friends get settled has different effects on different people. During the reception, while I was sitting alone and eavesdropping, I actually heard a man say: “Makes a guy think. I mean, I’m 33 years old. What am I doing?” Although he was talking with a friend, he clearly posed that question to himself as he gazed at all the families enjoying barbecue and sunshine. In a way I was grateful that I didn’t really know anybody at the reception, since it gave me a chance to sit back and listen, and to think about what this day meant for all of us. I also thought about the other people I knew from college who had gotten married this year or the year prior. The day I found out Ryan was engaged was the day I knew that he, like the others, had veered onto a path that I couldn’t follow. He had proposed to somebody; he was committing his life to another person. There is no way I can understand what that feels like. And although he surely remembers what it’s like to be single, he won’t always, and we’ll become even farther removed from each other as his marriage matures.

So I’m a little apprehensive about what comes next, given that this was my first time watching a friend get married. Nevertheless, I’m genuinely excited to see what his “after” years will bring.

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1 Comment

  1. Hey Kristen ~ beautifully written, I so enjoy your writing.
    Even though most of my friends are married and a lot have kids, we have stayed good friends and still have an interest in each others lives. I think, or at least I’ve found personally, that it’s not what’s going on in lives that matters, but that ability to connect anyway. I hope you find that with Ryan 🙂

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