We thought we’d just do it in the courthouse. Something simple, short, sweet. Quick and cheap. I was 28 and Alvaro was almost 30, and we had lots of other things we needed to spend our money on: a car for him, then a car for me, the ridiculous checks we had to write for his immigration process, rent and daily living, my student loans.
My mother disagreed and talked me into a real wedding. I was surprised at my parents’ offer to pay for it; until they brought it up, it hadn’t crossed my mind that creating an event for us was something they would want to do. In my family, once my brother and I got jobs at 14, we took care of most of our purchases ourselves, whether they were big matters like buying cars and paying for insurance, or smaller things like toiletries, clothes and shoes. That independence was something I welcomed and has served me well ever since.
It also made me incredibly practical, and although his fairly privileged background was different from mine, Alvaro meets me when it comes to pragmatism. Neither of us likes to be the center of attention; we don’t see ourselves as cause for a fuss, and we can’t think of anything worse than being surprised by a surprise party. We didn’t even consider a bigger celebration of our marriage before my parents brought it up.
The first purchase was my wedding dress. I found one I liked and ordered it a little too big so that it could be fitted. I remember going to the seamstress’s house with my mom to pick it up when it was finished and trying it on. Alone in her basement before the floor-length mirror, I was stunned by how good I felt in that dress as I smoothed down the skirt, loving the soft swishing sound it made, this dress that my mother bought for me, the dress I would wear to my wedding. My wedding. The tears came on suddenly, and I had to double over so they wouldn’t fall on the dress before pulling myself together and calling my mom in, where, when meeting her eyes, they came back. I used to say I’d never get married when I was younger, not because I didn’t think I’d have fulfilling relationships, but because I couldn’t imagine being with someone and saying forever. And then it happened, and there I was staring at myself in a mirror wearing a white wedding dress.
Alvaro’s parents came from Chile for the event, and I met his mother for the first time. Some of my aunts and uncles came from the East Coast. My grandmother came from Rhode Island. The night before the wedding, I hosted a party for people who had come from out of town at our apartment; a formal rehearsal dinner seemed like too much of an extravagance, but what was I thinking putting a party together the day before getting married? I miss the energy I had then. I knew my grandmother would see that Alvaro and I had been living together before our wedding, and I was nervous about it. She is from Ireland, which makes for an incredibly devout kind of Catholic, and I didn’t want her to worry for my soul. When we had a moment alone together, she shocked me by saying, “I think it’s great that you’ve had a chance to live together first. Now you know exactly what you’re getting. More people should do that.” I was speechless. To know Josephine Joy is to understand that she is the very last person you’d expect to hear that from, and it still makes me smile to remember it. Years later on the phone, when she asked if we were planning to have children, I told her no, that we didn’t want that for ourselves, bracing for the usual responses we’d gotten from other family members: Oh, you don’t know that for sure. Your feelings will change. Even if you don’t think you want children, you will regret it someday. But my grandma surprised me once more by saying that she thought it was wonderful that women have a choice “about these things” today, that they don’t feel forced into becoming mothers. And I’ve wondered since about a life where she would have been able to make her own choices, what that might have looked like for her.
I spent the night before at my parents’ house, leaving Alvaro alone in the apartment. The next day was a flurry of activity: getting our hair done, getting to the venue (an Italian restaurant for an all-in-one ceremony and reception), getting made up and dressed. My father was put in charge of Alvaro, who had spent his morning panicking, buying a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black and a flask for the road. He was confident about making our commitment, but he was incredibly anxious about doing it in front of a room full of people. He’d already had a few shots by the time my dad picked him up. Alvaro isn’t much of a drinker now and wasn’t much of a drinker then, so downing something as strong as whisky wasn’t the best idea he’d ever had. My grandmother was sitting in the back of the vehicle as Alvaro laughed nervously and mimed smoking pot to my father to indicate how anxious he was, flashing the flask tucked away inside his jacket. This seems like a good place to share that Alvaro has never done drugs of any kind, has never even smoked a cigarette, but my poor dad began to worry immediately about whether he was going to make it.
Alvaro greeted guests as they arrived, and my dearest friend remembers him showing her his empty flask and laughing about how much whisky he’d had to drink. Prone to maniacal laughter when he’s anxious, I’m glad I didn’t see him until my dad walked me up the aisle, or I might have had second thoughts about whether his state was an indication of things to come.
There we were, in front of family and friends, committing to each other. It’s cliché, of course, but we had no idea what was ahead of us, just that we’d be facing it side by side. I knew that, anyway. Alvaro, with his glassy eyes and stupid smile, was just trying to get through the ceremony, the whisky doing a fair but incomplete job of calming his anxiety. In the 12 years since, we have adopted two dogs, moved from an apartment we loved in a historic building to our cookie-cutter suburban house, been through several job changes for him, the citizenship process, and then my MS diagnosis, the greatest challenge we’ve had to face so far. There will be more heartbreak in the years to come, of course, but that’s the beautiful thing about partnership: finding a way through it together.
That bottle of Johnnie Walker has been with us since our wedding, taken out of the liquor cabinet once in a while for a drink with guests. When I was making butterscotch ice cream this summer, I reached for it and realized it was almost gone. I bought a new bottle and put the other one aside for this anniversary: it had been aged for 12 years when Alvaro bought it, and now we’re celebrating 12 years since. I’ve made chocolate mousse to celebrate with tonight, and we’ll each have a drink from the end of that bottle, making a small toast to his having gotten through the wedding day and all that we weathered in the years that followed. Our hope for the future is still bright, though it’s certainly better grounded by the work we’ve put in, and memories of my parents’ gift to us—hazy as they may be for Alvaro—are held dearly. Cheers, friends!