A Wedding to Remember

I have necessarily been incommunicado for the first two weeks post wedding–not because of our honeymoon, which remains a week away, but to recharge. Too much socializing, an unceasing onslaught of novelty, and a hospital visit consumed every vestige of current powering my scarcely animate carcass. This of course, requires copious explanation.

So far as memory serves, the revelry began on the 28th. Aside from checking into the hotels, setting up the dining hall, trucking to and from Bloomington to snatch my mother from the wretched clutches of Amtrak, relaying sketchy directions to visitors, and generally contributing to increasing turmoil all before 5pm to attend the rehearsal and accompanying dinner, I maintained most of my composure. Rob and his “date” Marial arrived and waited at the hotel until Robert and I could arrive and attend to his debriefing. Doug had yet to arrive, so we shared nostalgic tales a while and attempted to entertain Marial by colorfully lambasting Rob’s various attributes before duty called Robert and me to the banquet hall.

Soon a caravan of vehicles coalesced at the church where various people milled about until the pastor arrived and playfully herded us toward some semblance of order. Becky, as usual, managed to barely attend the event, likely speeding on a car undoubtedly retrofitted to run completely on the power of her giggles. The rehearsal itself was somewhat unnerving, but our caterer soothed at least my frayed sanity with copious amounts of delicious victuals. Donna, whom with the help of her husband, provided the silk flowers for all the decorations, has a birthday on the day we chose for the wedding, so we chose to thank her during dinner–adding to the surreal and festive mood. Gifts were presented to the wedding party and Jen’s parents for making the day possible, and once cleanup was complete, we went our separate ways to relax for the night.

A relative term, of course. By this time Doug had arrived, my mom bowed out of the nightly festivities–likely a side-effect of not sleeping the previous night and waiting at the Amtrak station since 4:30am that morning–and everyone had unpacked sufficiently, so Rob and Doug demanded a cigar run. I didn’t really pay attention to what everyone purchased, and am not a cigar aficionado, but both seemed pleased with themselves, so we (Rob, Doug, Becky, Marial, and little-old me) all crammed into Rob’s clown car to reach The C-Note, an area pub suggested by Kim, Jannica, and probably everyone else in Jen’s crew. This of course, is where things went wrong for me for completely unexpected reasons.

To the uninformed, I’d been fighting a cold for weeks. By the time of the wedding, I felt mostly fine, but only after ingesting two different nasal sprays–one a steroid, another a decongestant–a strong dose of Augmentin–Levaquin is my first allergy, woo!–and two separate stomach medications to reduce reflux from coughing. By now, I know also that even small amounts of caffeine and alcohol have been triggering palpitations recently, but not reliably, so I figured I could attempt some alcohol and stop if I started feeling giddy. As it turns out, I had to quit drinking shortly after my second stone sour, a sad event abandoning my mood just short of tipsy–note that this was around 11pm. So Rob, Doug, Marial, Becky, and I chatted for a while before taking the discussion back to the hotel where Marial and Becky retreated to their respective hotel rooms, leaving Rob, Doug and me to rhapsodize for several more hours in the cold while imbibing cigars. Of the cigars, I deferred thanks to fear of how the nicotine may affect my already unstable system.

But all good things must invariably end, so around 2am, we went our separate ways. I chose to read a couple chapters from my latest fictional escape (The Terror) before calling it a night. Some time around 4:30am, I awoke feeling highly nauseous and excessively chilled. Eventually I began shivering uncontrollably, my heart rate refused to go below 120bpm, and even three layers of clothing failed to warm my core. Cue civilized yet sternly concerned call to my cardiologist’s office asking for advice, though I knew the office was unstaffed, I also knew the answering service was sometimes monitored by various nurses on off-hours. Ten minutes passed and the chills were persistent, so I called 911 and repeated the question of what I should do–they suggested sending an EMT to evaluate me, which I figured would be ok.

But I also realized nobody would be comfortable evaluating me with such a complicated heart history, so it was straight to the hospital I went. I tried to relate a certain amount of urgency in my desire to attend my own wedding, but the tests continued until around 8am when they finally decided to discharge me with instructions to see my cardiologist. This really is the best ER I’ve visited, with the most methodical and skilled staff ever–I’ve never had blood taken so easily or an IV inserted without a lingering bruise until my stay at St. Francis in Peoria. The final diagnosis was that my decongestant nasal-spray, which I took right before bed to ensure clear breathing through the night, combined with my dilated blood vessels from the (even five hours ago) alcohol to put me into a kind of chemically-induced shock. My newly acquired sensitivity to stimulants and depressants, lack of sleep (I only slept two hours the night before, still unsure why), and a weakened immune system created a perfect storm for ensuing hilarity.

Regardless, by 8:30am, I was in the waiting room, groggy and abused, waiting for a ride to the hotel so I could check out by 11am. Keep in mind this was the day of the wedding, and everyone was supposed to be at the church by 11:30am for lunch, something that would have been easy had I woken up at 9:30am after a refreshing night of sleep as I’d intended. Jen’s father provided the trip home, dispatched by Jen after I reassured her everything was fine, and that I’d neglected to call her only until I knew worrying about my state would not detract from her beauty sleep or otherwise risk her role in the wedding–I only needed to show up, after all.

This was not shaping up to be a reassuring series of events. But I’m generally intractable when driven, and I was determined to give Jen the wedding she wanted. So once at Jen’s Parents’ house, I jumped in the shower, braved my double-edge razor, donned my tux, and rushed to the church, arriving only an hour later than planned. I quaffed a sandwich, and bid my time until the photographer arrived and took advantage of my punch-drunk state to elicit absurd poses and uncharacteristically relaxed modeling skills. Jen and I spent about an hour gussied up and prancing about, all while Pam gushed at how beautiful Jen was and how apparently natural I was in front of the camera. Utter silliness.

Eventually there was nothing left but to retreat into the foyer of the church and hobnob with early arrivals (mostly Jen’s close family) until the ceremony proper began. This of course, despite the rehearsal and preparation, was the moment I was dreading. Ironically enough, being tired and partially detached mentally greatly reduced my trepidation. I’d forgotten one word in my painfully memorized vows (thankfully I provided the pastor a copy), and spoke each sentence almost mechanically enough to be accused of reading them, but the hard part was over. The unity candles heroically–and somewhat hysterically–resisted copious amounts of flame from two simultaneously applied candles, but everything else actually went as planned.

Jen and I spent about a billionty years thanking everyone who left the church where I suddenly recognized Jim Freeman, my favorite professor from college whom I invited on a whim and didn’t think would attend considering the distance and his undoubtedly tenuous relationship with me post graduation. It seems he was a casualty of our badly worded RSVP cards, asking number of guests instead of persons attending; a few people lacking guests all wrote 0, which we of course interpreted as an RSVP for “not attending.” But once the receiving line was over, the wedding party collected outside and subjected itself to several more batteries of photographs before piling into a limo for an exciting fifteen minute ride to the banquet hall.

By and large, the worst was over. One of the buttons holding one of Jen’s bustles popped off, delaying our Grand Entrance, but just after 5:30pm, enter grandly we did. It was time to eat, drink, and be merry, all while trying to prepare myself for the toasts and the inevitable and expected dances. Jen and I had dictated that only the Mother/Son, Bride/Groom, and Father/Daughter dances would involve Jen and me, reducing the chances of a meltdown on my part, but I was still close to snapping. Eventually Rob started the toasts with this little gem, instead of the embarrassing soliloquy Jen and I expected.

Hello everyone. I’m Rob Hansen, and it’s been my honor to know Shaun for about a dozen years now. He and I met at Cornell, where we were both studying computer science.

Now, most people think computer science is all about computers. It’s not. It’s about some of the deepest questions human beings can wrestle with. What kinds of questions can we ask? What kinds of answers can we find? Computer science isn’t about computers. It’s about the pursuit of truth. Shaun and I both really love that notion, ‘pursuing truth.’ Neither one of us want to be fooled. We don’t want to fool ourselves. We don’t want to fool others. I think that’s why we’ve gotten along so well over the years.

So. Let me welcome all of you tonight into our world. A world in which we strip away polite lies and discover deeper, profounder, truths.

Ladies. You have all told us gentlemen that we look so dapper, so elegant, so debonair. We love you for saying this, but really. If we really looked that dapper, would you really need to adjust our neckties, our collars, our shirt cuffs, and everything else? The truth is that our rented tuxes fit us like … well … rented tuxes, and it takes all of your considerable magic to turn us from an ambulatory bag of beer wrapped up in rental polyester into a charming gent fit for polite company. Thank you for all that you do for us on occasions like these.

And we gentlemen tell lies, too. We tell you that we cannot imagine you looking lovelier than you do when you step out of the hotel bathroom with your hair up and your makeup perfect and your dress lovely. The truth is we cannot stop imagining how much lovelier you’ll look once the reception is over and we’re back in the hotel room with you, all of us having had a few too many drinks and the courage that comes with it. We cannot stop imagining that moment yet to come, nor can we stop imagining your beauty. Forgive us for the lie, and be kind to us in the night.

Shaun, Jen … all of us have told you how happy we are to be here with you tonight, celebrating this momentous occasion.

We lied.

All else being equal, we’d much rather skip this night in favor of the years that are to come. You and Jen have decades ahead of you: decades filled with triumph, with sorrow, with joy, with pain, with life, with death – with the grandeur and the glory of living.

[extemp: Further on down the hall, a little boy named Cadyn is celebrating his fourth birthday. I stopped in to say hello to his mother, to coordinate our respective parties. She looked just dog tired, as any mother of a four-year-old would on her son’s birthday. But she was smiling. She wouldn’t trade it for the world.]

Life is full of these glories, and we realize that we will not be there for most of them.

They say the reception is where we celebrate the beginning, but really, it’s a consolation prize. You have these decades of life ahead of you – and we know we will be able to participate directly in so little of it. We’re very sorry to be here today. We very much wish we could be there with you by your sides through it all, through the tears, through the laughter, through the pain, through the relief.

But we can’t. All we can do instead is gather here tonight, to all of us participate in this one shimmering, brilliant triumph. To give you a fine memory, something to tell generations yet to be born about.

And we are so honored to begin this journey with you.

And so, as the Best Man, I am going to stand on my right of First Toast.

[extemp: To Cadyn, on his fourth birthday, may there be many more. To his mother, may she soon get some much-needed sleep.]

To the gentle, loving lies we tell one another.

To the deep and delicate truths that go unsaid between us.

And above all else. Above all else.

To the Source of Truth that brought the two of you together; and to the love that will so illuminate all of our lives.

We love you. To you!

Thanks Rob! After the dances were over, Jen and I worked the room. Surprisingly I was pretty good at this part. I don’t remember any names, but I did enjoy talking to everyone and getting a chance to catch up with people I did know who were able to attend. Patrick and Sarah, Chris and Hillary, Doug, Justin, Becky, the good Dr. Freeman, all in the same corner of the room so they wouldn’t feel overwhelmed in the veritable ocean of Jen’s relatives and family friends. Regardless, I had a good time.

But the long two days were draining my reserves. By 8:30, Jen and I said our goodbyes and vacated the premises for our top-secret hotel room, which ironically was in the Bed and Breakfast two floors above the C-Note pub, where the wedding party and other revelers continued the drinking and debauchery in our absence. Rob took that opportunity to quaff six neat doubles of Maker’s Mark, and I only wish I were there to witness whatever took place, because I assume it was legendary in scale.

The next morning, Jen and I dressed, packed, and excitedly waited for the breakfast part of our stay. Almond twists, Bananas Foster pancakes, and baked bacon, topped off by hot chocolate, was the best breakfast I could have possibly requested, even though the menu is pre-determined every morning. Delicious. Unfortunately Jannica took my tux away after Jen and I unpacked in the hotel room, and that meant I had no shoes, and it was snowing prodigiously that stupendous morning of November 30th. Luckily she picked us up the next day so we could pack everything into the car for the gift opening, and that included my actual shoes.

There’s not much to say about the gift opening, other than that it was another opportunity to catch up with Doug, Justin, Becky, and a badly hungover Rob. We’re still writing thank-you letters, but it’s a labor of love. We took mom back to the train station, but stopped at a place nearby to spend some time so she didn’t have to spend two hours by herself waiting for the train. After that, it was a two-hour drive back to the suburbs, putting us at home around 7:30pm and finally ending the whole affair.

If you read this whole thing, you were obviously bored, but I salute you. Go have a drink, you probably need it, I know I do.

Until Tomorrow