I’m not sure why I even bothered to try and use hair gel that day. I slapped it on for the first time in years, but by the afternoon I had already sweated it slick again. In the cool fall air, several clumpy strands fell mishmashed across my forehead to kill any semblance of the classic side part I was going for. I didn’t notice. The photos (and delightful wedding video) would make sure it lived on forever.
Nearly two years prior, my best and oldest friend sat me down in our local burger joint. He had just flown in from Wisconsin, where he was in school to get his Ph.D., and it was nice to see him. Our recent chats, bridging the distance by speaking through headsets during video game sessions, weren’t quite the same as our after-school playdates. We hadn’t had those in ten years or so, but even when we were both in undergrad he was only a few towns away. I could swing by over the weekend or a weeknight if I felt like it. Now, each chat is carefully scheduled in.
The restaurant was one of those places that seemed to pride themselves on the number of things they could stack on a burger without it falling over — and the names they could come up with for every unique combination. The Killer Bee (a cheeseburger stacked with onion rings and doused in honey barbecue sauce), the Mac Attack (a burger piled with a 4-cheese mac & cheese), or the Artery Clogger (a deep-fried burger honestly spilling with bacon) were all favorites. All in all, a messy meal. If you managed to fit the burger in your mouth at all, there was a 100% chance you were going to lose a few toppings.
Just as I was strategizing a second bite, he asked me to officiate his wedding.
I can’t remember if I ever finished that burger.
At 24, I still hadn’t been to many weddings, and every one I went to had the classic setup. Get in the church, listen to the priest read off the official vows, and try to remember the last time I found myself in a pew. The idea that I would be in charge of something that important, that intimate, was…mind breaking. I probably sat in silence for a bit too long because he coughed a bit, prodding me on.
I now understand why significant others freeze when they’re popped the question. Awkward in the moment, but too much happiness can shut things down.
I accepted in as many ways as I could say the phrase.
The months afterward were a blur of looking up what I had to do, watching videos of ceremonies online, and picking away at my opening speech. As I talked further with my friend and his bride-to-be, I realized that this wedding would be decidedly non-traditional. In place of the church, we’d find ourselves at the bottom of a hill outside a bard on a chilled October Day. For us New Englanders, it was perfect weather. Trees of every shade would speckle the horizon, their fallen leaves crunching on the ground as you walked to your place on the ceremony ‘floor.’
The day itself was a bundle of nerves (as much as I tried to play my part as the calm, cool, collected master of ceremonies). The hair, a mess. The leather notebook, where I’d written my script to read from in place of a Bible, bent slightly from my grip. My water glass, empty — where can I find more water? Surely someone has water?
I hopped into the bathroom to splash my face and, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, cup my hands under the faucet to collect water and drink. At least I wouldn’t be rasping through the ceremony.
The groomsmen gathered under the deck of the barn, waiting for our cue. Just in view, rows of white chairs were facing a beautiful wooden trellis. Flowers draped from the top of it down one side, matching the golden, red, and orange hues of the trees behind. As the guests milled about, chatting, I got the go-ahead.
From every officiant speech I’d seen online by friends or family, there’re a lot of ways to open a wedding. You could be funny, cracking jokes and lightening the mood to make it the happy affair it so deserves to be. You could talk at length about your relationship to the bride and groom, giving legitimacy to your position as officiant. Or, you could play it safe and perform your role much as any religious figure would: reading out the usual lines of the definition of marriage, maybe citing a holy text, and going right into the official vows.
I decided to play my part a bit differently. For my speech, I wanted to give everyone in attendance a view into who the bride and groom were from my perspective.
For over a decade, I watched their love grow. I was there for the cafeteria lunch dates, the after-school hangouts, the college drop-ins. Their bond was deep. It was as simple as stopping to help the other with homework and as incredible as dropping everything to move and join the other across the country. The moments others wouldn’t have seen — I wanted them to know.
For all the rehearsing, I couldn’t tell you if I followed my carefully-parsed script. I was too swept up in the two of them standing there, eyes for only each other. From the tears and barks of laughter coming from the sea of seats, it seemed like I did my part. And when my closest friends slipped rings on each others fingers, it didn’t matter anyway. I just enjoyed the view when they said, “I do.”