Justin and I met when we were 18 years old. I spotted him on the other side of the gas station pump when I was in Montana working for the summer. He had a dog and a flatbed and was cute and those were pretty much the only boxes that needed to be checked in my opinion. Through some *aggressive* small town stalking we finally got his name and, eventually, he got my number. (Yes he was confused and no he did not think this was normal.) Several months after spotting him for the first time we met up to go on our first date.
We’ve been through a lot over the last 10 years but once I moved to Montana 3 years ago, Justin and I got back together and it was clear that both of us were in this thing for real. But did we want to get married? I was skeptical of the whole thing and also a bit appalled by the excess and self absorption of wedding culture. The former grungy musician in me wanted to skip all the pageantry and go to the courthouse. Justin doesn’t like crowds or being the center of attention so that sounded good to him. And white dresses are unflattering!!!!! I still feel this way. 😂
Obviously, some things changed. As I got older I realized I did want to take the official step of getting married, and a lot of that came down to worst case scenario planning. Justin did too. And then we realized how lucky we are to have big, amazing, close family on both sides. And we (ok, I) thought bringing everyone together for one special day would be a once in a lifetime chance and an incredibly special way to start our lives. My mom and I got so excited and we planned a big ol wedding with tons of people and special little elements. But before we had even sent all the invitations out....
Three months before the wedding, the pandemic hit. Not only did everything feel uncertain and unsafe but also our true values were suddenly back in focus. What mattered most was not all the wedding details or even the wedding at all. I had to let it all go. Things I had thought were silly months before now made me cry to cancel. I delayed the cancellation of our reception as long as I could. I navigated so many heart-wrenching conversations with my closest friends and family who had been planning this trip for a year. (My maid of honor had planned to fly in from New York and my bridesmaids were coming in from PA, NJ, and Ecuador. Family was supposed to arrive from all over the country and Europe...even Egypt and Nepal!) 99% of my friends and family were out of state. It wasn’t going to be safe. But everyone has different ideas of what “safe” even is! All the while I questioned whether I was overreacting, because these decisions needed to be made fairly early in the pandemic. Montana had, at that point, been very lucky and avoided a major outbreak. So what to do? Some locals thought I was taking the news too seriously. But obviously everyone’s health is the most important thing.
Because we didn’t want to delay our wedding or change location (down payments had been paid, rescheduling was a nightmare, and we wanted to be married) we had to be cancel the reception for almost everyone and put our local family on standby. My mom booked a ticket two weeks in advance so she could self isolate out here and not miss it. And we prepared for it to literally be us and immediate family on a hill with our officiant. The venue, Chico Hot Springs, got super flexible with us as we just didn’t have answers to their questions yet. Montana was in phase 1 and gatherings over 10 people were prohibited. So, that was that....
And then, just when I thought I understood and had accepted what the wedding would look like, Montana moved into phase 2 and lifted some restrictions. 2 weeks before the wedding. 😣 To be honest, my first reaction was frustration. Does this mean cases will surge? (Yes.) Do we UN-cancel the reception?? What do we do, ethically and logistically? People were asking me for answers and I didn’t really have them. I was crazy anxious. I regretted the whole thing. We should have gone to the courthouse. Why was I so attached to getting married at Chico as planned and going through the motions? The venue needed a head count. People were asking if they could come or bring so-and-so. All while I was still heartbroken over so many of my friends and family who couldn’t be there. And all while my amazing mother put a happy face on as our dream of a big family reunion melted away. I looked for a beach full of sand to bury my head in.
The anxiety stayed until the day of the wedding. Even when I was getting makeup on I was tense and agitated. But soon the fun started creeping in. My three amazing bridesmaids and flower girl kept me company and we drank champagne and got cute. I put the dress on and felt like myself, only better. My mom was beautiful in the perfect dress and cowboy boots. And an amazing local carriage company, Outlaw Carriage Company, was there to give us a ride after the ceremony. I was so excited to see Justin.
Once the wheels started turning, it was pure joy. The pre-planned “first look” felt intimate and special. Our bridal party was awesome and hilarious. The ceremony reflected our hopes perfectly and our friend Tory did an amazing job officiating in a long black western coat and hat like an old-timey traveling preacher. He even worked “Lonesome Dove” into the ceremony! And then Justin and I climbed into the carriage and got to ride away for a while, enjoying the moment and the backdrop of Paradise Valley.
Remember how I thought wedding culture was self serving and way too much? Well...I still think that. And now, I was that! But once you have to cancel a wedding for so many loved ones you sure are glad to have beautiful photos to share including some special sunset shots we snuck away for.
We are lucky beyond imagination and week 1 of married life has been so joyful. Just like life before, except legal. As our officiant Tory reminded us during the ceremony: the hard times will come. There’s no need to wonder or worry about that. Enjoy the little tiny things that make up a life and there won’t be need for regrets later. And to end on, I'll include a reading from our ceremony...
“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”
-Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It