We were married on November 11, 2018 on Sugar Beach in Maui, Hawaii.
We had both been lucky to grow up with memories of Maui that involved family and surf, the almost inexplicable magic that Hawaii can bring about. Even as a kid, I would proclaim that my dream wedding would be on a beach in Maui. As it turned out, getting married in Maui was also Kurtis’ dream.
He flew to Hawaii a few days before me. He’d had his hair freshly cut and he smuggled his wedding suit out of the apartment in a show of great drama, yelling out for me, ‘not to look!’ while I said, from the other room, ‘I’m not trying to.’
When I flew to Hawaii, I had a migraine.
I woke up after the flight still feeling the shakiness in my body and a faint throbbing in my head. I couldn’t believe that I was getting married.
He picked me up, quite early. He was staying with his family and me with mine. I wore an olive green romper and I drank a mug of tea in the car. We had to get our wedding license, which we collected from a drab office in a brown building somewhere on the island. We were so excited, sitting in the taupe chairs, listening to the woman explain that we would need to file all the papers in Canada, when we returned. Back in the car, I looked right at him and told him how good it was to be in the heart of something like us. I didn’t use so many words, but that’s what I meant.
We had a few days until the wedding itself and we spent most of these days eating tacos, laying on the beach, surfing in the water. He was a very good surfer and I am a persistent one (read: falls a lot). That day, though, I rode a wave all the way in beside him. We couldn’t believe it.
“Together, babe,” he said.
He got a sunburn on his face and overreacted in the way that only he could, covering himself in a tent of towels, wailing that the wedding was ruined.
I wore an absurdly large straw hat, borrowed from a friend, and one night all of our friends came together in a house with a pool and drank. His friends drank inside and my friends drank outside around the pool. We all played three truths and a lie.
When we walked back to our rooms, in the small hours of the morning, a man leered out from the trees’ shadows and warned us about going to The Triangle, a constellation of bars where he said women were jumped. It was alarming but I felt as though I saw it from far away. Around me, my friends. Above me, constellations.
The afternoon before the wedding, another of my friends, in her dark green swimming suit, waded into the blue eye of the sea, and let herself fall backwards into the water. When she surfaced, dark hair streaming wet, she said she felt limitless.
I knew exactly what she meant.
The morning of the wedding—November 11—he got ready with his groomsmen and family and I got ready with my wedding party and family.
There had been rain the day before but the entire wedding day, the light was occluded by nothing.
I wore a fitted lace dress, which was the first dress I’d ever tried on for a wedding dress. I had said it felt comfortable and it was. My mother and father had given me a jade cuff that has been in my family for years and I wore that on my left wrist, and on my right, I wore an Italian gold cuff that my mother lent me. I gave each member of my wedding party a book. The makeup artist foiled my eyelids pink and while I had my hair done, my bridesman swam in the sea and I watched his body trawl back and forth at the horizon.
At the wedding venue, I walked up behind Kurtis and tapped him on the shoulder. His suit was fit perfectly. When he turned, I realized how nervous he was. His face, usually so relaxed and open, had been cut into angles, his jaw tense.
I, on the other hand, felt uncharacteristically relaxed, smiling too wide, gesturing too much.
“Don’t be nervous,” I said.
But he was. He was that way until after we had read the vows we had written for each other.
While our photographer, Lauren, was taking our bride and groom only photographs, a bird shit in her mouth. She shrieked and ran for the bathroom while our second shooter tried not to laugh too loudly.
“Of course this would happen to me,” Lauren said when she returned.
He was still too nervous to find this as funny as it was.
After the photographs, the ceremony commenced. Both my parents walked me down the aisle and my dad said I was walking too fast, which was true. I was eager.
The ocean was behind Kurtis, and for once, I don’t remember noting anything about the water. I just saw the way his hands were clasped, the straight, perfect line of his shoulders.
I had made him promise me a thousand times that he wouldn’t crack any jokes during the ceremony.
“It’s not a joke,” I said. “You have to take it seriously.”
“I will,” he promised me.
And he did. It was me that made a joke. I didn’t intend to, it just came to me in the moment, and I wanted him to laugh. The judge, a diminutive woman, no more than five foot, had asked if I would share my accomplishments with him, or something, I can’t quite recall exactly what, but I know when I responded, I said that I would share my many accomplishments with him.
He laughed, everyone did, and the sun that always followed him rose that much higher.
After we’d signed our wedding papers and exchanged our rings and walked back down the aisle and into the small side room where champagne and snacks were waiting for us, he kissed me, and I took a selfie of us together.
“You said no jokes!” he exclaimed as soon as the photo was done and I laughed, a big, genuine one.
“I couldn’t help it,” I said.
Sequestered in that room, just the two of us, so freshly married that the plastic wrap was still on us, I felt a happiness unlike anything I had before. Even then, I tried to find a less cliche way to explain the emotion but I couldn’t.
Then, the doors opened, and out we went. The sun was setting and the food was so good I had two platefuls. For dessert, we had hot donuts drizzled with melting caramel. When the sun fully dropped, and the strobe lights came on, everyone danced.
At one point, I left the dance floor and walked onto the beach, my train dragging through the sand. The moon tracked up the sand’s arm.
I had felt married to Kurtis for a long while. There was a deep dedication to each other, to our love, that we had known, long before we were legally married. I hadn’t even been sure if the wedding was needful. I had really wrestled with the misogyny at the root of the institution of marriage, before we were in it. He and I talked a lot about the flaws of the institution. But he was sure, on an ineffable level, that marriage was for us. He felt keenly the privilege inherent to being able to make this decision, to be unto each other.
In the end, he wasn’t wrong. There was something about proclaiming our bond in such a public, symbolic, legal, and celebratory way that moved me (and I know deeply touched him). Beyond that, too, I have seen, especially in this first year of widowhood, the ways in which that institution has protected me.
When I returned to the floor, he was still dancing. Limbs moving everywhere. He swept me up into them. That night, we were staying at the Andaz, which is a beautiful hotel. We had to wake up early because our photographer was shooting a day-after session with us. I’d gotten a pale peach silk gown for it.
I know the wedding sounds idyllic; in many ways it was, but this isn’t to say that he didn’t drop me in the water when he tried to pick me up that day-after shoot, or that we didn’t fight, him going one way, me another. Of course we did.
But it was one of those times where all the ordinary permutations of living were given a new and shiny shell. It was one of those times when everything is worth photographing. After the shoot, I ate two cinnamon buns that were bigger than the palms of my hands.
“I love marriage,” he said, over and over, watching me lick icing off my fingers. He reminded me to send him a copy of my vows.
“I want to frame them,” he said.
When he said vows, he was not referring to the traditional, formal vows we spoke in front of all of our wedding guests at the ceremony.
He was referring, instead, to the vows we had written for each other and that we read to each other before the ceremony, in a private room, with just our wedding party present.
I had originally wanted it to be just the two of us. Something about sharing the words we wrote felt intensely private to me, too much so to be shared, but he, ever the one to open up, wanted our closest friends to hear our promises too.
He told me after the wedding that once he read his vows, all of his nerves fell away. He had said what he came to say. I saw it too, the way his whole body relaxed after he finished reading, the way he returned to his usual, easygoing, happy-go-lucky self.
That is how seriously, how intentionally, he wrote and spoke his promises to me. What he wrote was moving and precious. His words remain some of the most important to me, even now, even as it is so deeply painful to think about what he told me, what he believed we would see and build and love together.
As is probably obvious, I have always been able to best say my most intense beliefs and feelings in writing.
What I wrote for him was only for him. Even after the wedding, when he asked me to allow him to share what I had written with others, I told him no.
I told him the vows were his and his alone. Something in this exclusivity pleased him, and he stopped asking to share them. But, he would often ask me to read the words to him again. I intended to, in fact, do so on our second wedding anniversary. Of course, I didn’t get this chance. Of course, instead, I ended up reading my vows to him while his body lay in his casket.
I remember looking at his body, so still and quiet that day in September, and thinking of how stark the contrast was to the day, a year and a half ago, in November that I had read the vows for the first time to him in that well-lit room in Hawaii. I cried then as I did at our wedding, but I kept going to the final lines of my vows.
“Let time [be] tender towards us,” I said. “Let the dishes sit in the sink, let the radio play your favorite song, let the moon pull the tides at will, and oh let love be at the end, where ever that may be.”
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