Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A bridesmaid's tale

This past weekend was one of the major highlights of my life as Puck and I attended the wedding of our friends Chris and Bruce in Pennsylvania. It was the first time I've ever been part of a bridal party.

As I think about Chris and all that we've been through, our changing identities and our unconventional friendship, it occurs to me that she fills the archetype of being my only childhood friend. She's that person who grew up with me, then went off separately for a few years before we reunited and became friends as more fully formed grown-ups.

I remember well those days in the mid-2000s when we were both trying to sort out so many things and emotions often spread into the all-caps territory as we chatted online. I only remember moments now, and Chris remembers even less. But that foundation of trust and mutual support in the face of extraordinary circumstances has forged a bond between us unlike any other in my life.

After growing up together across a great distance for eight years, I feel so fortunate that we were able to meet and become IRL (in real life, for those who don't chat online much) friends back in 2012 ("Road trip 2012" - March 14, 2012). And when I look at how Chris has changed in the four birthday group photos on my shelf from 2012 to 2015, she reminds me that we should never stop growing and learning new things about ourselves and those close to us.

Chris wrote a lovely poem for my birthday in 2014, which was also our 10th friendiversary. Reading it now as a prelude to writing about her wedding seems fitting to me.

Like a breath of wind,
A drop of rain,
And the smallest grain of sand,
All that we touch moves on.
Changed. Shifted. Altered.

All the pieces we keep,
The fragments we lose,
And the ones we forever cherish,
All those we touch stray onward.
Beloved. Nurtured. Accepted.

Through wind and rain,
Distance and journey,
And the shifting sands of time,
May friendship endure forever.
Stronger, Deeper, and Profound.

The weekend started on Friday when I left my Times Square apartment and headed down to Staten Island to pick up Puck and pack up Yoshi for the three-hour drive to Harrisburg. Bruce was home so he gave Puck the grand tour, and Trent (one of the groomsmen) and Chris arrived soon after. We drove to the Cameron Estate Inn in Mount Joy to rehearse for Sunday's big day. Eva, Jenna and Fiona joined us at the venue, along with best man Pete, the parents and close relations.

The weather was humid and thick, and the air was filled with all manner of biting insects so numerous that we had to brush them off our clothes. We weren't there very long, but it quickly became unbearable and we wondered if the wedding would be the same way. The forecast was for rain on Saturday, clearing up on Sunday. We could only hope for the best, but we made plans to have insect repellent available just in case.

In the evening we went to the Lancaster Brewing Company for dinner, which was the venue where Fiona introduced Chris and Bruce more than three years ago. And in a bit of synchronicity, Fiona recognized the server, Michelle, as the same one who served them at that first meeting. We shared garden and Caesar salads, a thick-cut bacon board, calamari and chorizo mussels for appetizers. I got the artisan pork and honey sausage with carmelized onion whipped potatoes, sauerkraut and whole grain mustard, and Puck had a crispy skin Atlantic salmon with local corn, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach, Yukon gold potatoes, smoked bacon and lemon butter sauce. After dinner we said goodbye to the adults, Eva and Jenna, and came back to the house to play video games and watch cooking shows.

Saturday we woke up to the predicted rain, and what a rain it was! I don't think I've seen such a downpour but once or twice in a year. Puck and I joined Chris for a visit to her parents' farmhouse to take care of last-minute wedding details. As we drove around we pointed at every patch of bright sky as a hopeful sign that the rain would stop soon and for tomorrow. We went to Harrisburg Mall so that Chris could buy a clutch bag and I found a more comfortable pair of shoes than the Calvin Klein flats I was intending to wear. For the first time ever, I didn't go to 2nd & Charles, but that was okay because I'd just been there last week when I came in for my last dress fitting.

In the evening Sean and Jono, the remaining two groomsmen, arrived with other close friends for a pre-wedding party. The rain finally let up around 6 pm, allowing Bruce to grill hamburgers and sausages for dinner. We had lots of video games tournaments and watched movies until the wee hours, although Chris turned in very early because she had to wash and dry her extra-long hair.

I got up the next morning and watched a couple Firefly episodes while waiting for people to make their appearances. Chris and Bruce came home with donuts for breakfast and Puck woke up late since they were up late and were also feeling a little under the weather. Oh yes, the weather! It was absolutely incredible the difference between the stormy Saturday and the gorgeous weather on Sunday. The breeze was blowing steadily, just a few clouds and there was the first whiff of autumn in the air. We couldn't have gotten more lucky with the weather for this wedding!

Clearly, the trick of it is that I can't fly to anybody's wedding, but I can drive there (the last two times I've tried to fly to a wedding, the flights have been canceled, once by freak weather and the other by having part of the plane's wing break off, causing us to be bumped because they couldn't fill the plane).

We met up with Chris and the other bridesmaids at Cameron around 3:30 pm to start getting ready, doing hair and makeup in the spacious bridal suite, and helping Chris into her breathtaking gown. By the way, it helps to have tall bridesmaids (like myself) to get into sprawling, complicated gowns without messing up carefully coiffed hair!

We started the procession just a little past our scheduled time of 6 pm, with Bruce and his attendants making their way to the stage as the bridesmaids walked from the main house down to the wedding area. Before we started, we helped Chris get into the passenger seat of a vintage Duster that her dad Ron rebuilt so he could drive her down the path to matrimony, preceded by Riley, the flower girl.

The ceremony was presided over by Reverend Panzini, who led Chris and Bruce through the exchange of their vows and rings, and had the maid of honor Eva lay a handfasting chord over their joined hands for a short handfasting ceremony before pronouncing them husband and wife.

As the guests returned to the Inn for cocktails, the families and wedding party had photographs taken all around the grounds as the golden light slowly faded from the sky. Chris' mom Julie, Eva and me went up to the suite to French bustle Chris' dress, which was quite a complicated routine of color matching ribbons and rings. I held the light from Eva's phone so we could make out the different colors.

Once that was done we all sat down for dinner as Bruce's father introduced the couple and they took their seats across from me and Puck at the wedding table. Pete gave the traditional first toast, wasting no time providing a Nintendo gaming reference by calling Chris the "Princess Peach" to Bruce's "Mario."

At this juncture, Chris asked me if I wanted to give a toast as well, which took me a little by surprise because I had interpreted our last conversation on the subject to mean that formal toasts and speeches were going to be discouraged, but we clearly miscommunicated. I felt that someone from Chris' side of the aisle should speak and after a quick consultation with the other bridesmaids I was elected, since I'd at least prepared something short.

I'd actually written out this toast in July but I didn't bring it with me, so I improvised from memory. I have no idea of what I actually said at the dinner, but this is what I would have said if I were to have given it properly.
Honored guests, I offer a toast for this assembly that is based on the writings of British novelist C. S. Forester, who is best-known for writing "The African Queen" and the Horatio Hornblower novels. This is a modern interpretation of the toast that Admiral Cornwallis offers to Horatio Hornblower at his wedding to his wife Maria: 
May they never know sorrow. May they always enjoy health and prosperity. May they be forever loyal to one another, supporting each other both in their individual paths and in the marriage that binds them together. May they be blessed with children, and may those children grow up to perpetuate and spread the honor and love of this family wherever in the world they may go. I pray you charge your glasses as we toast to the happiness of the bride and groom!
After my toast there were soon calls with the tapping of glasses for Chris and Bruce to kiss, which they did happily until the food came and they decided that sustenance took priority over romance. After a few bites of the excellent food, they started to make the rounds from table to table greeting their guests before being called to cut the cake.

For the guests' wedding favors there were little pots of local honey, and they had a photo for guests to write a message or sign their names. Chris, of course, had to update her place card with her new married name.

Finally, for an extra-special touch, we all went outside and lit extra-long sparklers and formed lines to give the couple a true Pennsylvania send-off.

Photo by Sarah Ohl

I've said much in the past about how my role as a bridesmaid to Chris is important to me. But what was foremost in my thoughts on Sunday wasn't what the wedding meant to me. It was the joy of seeing one of my dearest friends have her fondest dream come true. It was thinking about all the agony and heartache that we've been through together over the past decade and coming out of it with the happiest outcome either of us could dare imagine.

Life can be a miracle if you believe in your dreams.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Movies that make me cry

So last time I wrote about the movie "If I Stay" and about my thoughts about death. One additional thing about that movie is that it is the rare movie that has made me cry, as in bawl-my-eyes-out cry. Katie M and I talked about the movie over dinner Monday night - it didn't get to her the same way it got to me, which surprised me since she's actually been through a near-fatal car accident. But it turns out that going through that kind of experience firsthand makes it easier to be more critical of the movie version.

We talked about other movies that make us cry so I thought I'd make a list of my own personal tearjerkers. Mind you, this doesn't necessarily mean these movies are the best or even my all-time favorites (although some are on that list), but they are all good enough to warrant being in my extensive collection. If I've written about the movie previously in this blog, I've linked the prior entry to the movie title.

Obviously, if you haven't seen one of these movies, you shouldn't read the descriptions because there are spoilers throughout so consider yourself warned. So in no particular order, here are the movies and the moments that make me tear up, get a lump in my throat or sob uncontrollably.

If I Stay - The moment when Mia (Chloe Grace Moritz, in her best role since "Let Me In") finds out that her brother has passed away and sobs in the hallway of the hospital. Also, when her grandfather delivers his bedside speech to her, telling her if she feels she has to go, she should go.

Interstellar - Seeing Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) sob as he hears the message from his long-estranged daughter Murph (Jessica Chastain), and then when he finally returns to her on her deathbed.

Les Miserables - Fantine (Anne Hathaway) singing "I Dreamed A Dream."

Ben Hur - The end-of-film reunion of Judah (Charleton Heston) with his miraculously healed mother and sister.

Furious 7 - This ending obviously has a real-world tragic dimension since the actor Paul Walker actually died during filming. So when Brian and Dom (Vin Diesel) are racing for the last time at the end of the movie, you know that, after 14 years and seven movies, it is truly the last time they will look at each other across the starting line.

Toy Story 3 - The ending scene when Andy gives his beloved toys to Bonnie and leaves for college.

Wreck-It Ralph - The moment Vanellope tells Ralph to escape Sugar Rush without him (as fully described on this Tumblr fan page) and the end when Ralph gets hoisted up and sees Vanellope winning her race and she waves at him.

Wall-E - When Eve restarts Wall-E and it seems like his memory has been wiped out, but then he manages to find his way back to her.

Love Actually - When Jamie (Colin Firth) proposes in broken Portuguese to his maidservant.

Armageddon - When Col. Sharp (William Fichtner) asks to shake Grace's (Liv Tyler) hand upon returning to Earth.

A Beautiful Mind - John Nash's (Russell Crowe) Nobel Prize acceptance speech to Alicia (Jennifer Connelly).

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - The final scene when Sam (Emma Watson) and Charlie (Logan Lerman) kiss in the tunnel.