I was wearing nothing but a red plaid pajama top when Bryan proposed to me. He was so many things that my wild, hippie family was not: gentle, legally employed, and in therapy. I adored him; he would save me.
It was 1993 and Bryan was working as a counselor at Juvenile Hall, while I was a struggling writer-waitress. He was 38 and I was 32. We had just bought a little house and were broke -- our wedding budget was $1500. We decided to make it a potluck-chicken barbecue. We picked a date, October 16, and a place, Miwok Meadow, a secluded state park north of San Francisco. Miwok Meadow had glorious old oak trees, picnic tables, a large grill, a horseshoe pit, and a sand volleyball court.
As my parents were long dead, I asked my older sister Rosie to give me away. Bryan's brother Craig was to be the best man.
I had recently been the maid of honor for my friend Kathy, and I'd had to wear a fuchsia gown with dyed-to-match shoes. My main responsibility was to keep her ten-foot train from getting stained. It was terrible. My wedding would be simple.
I found a sleeveless white dress and a pair of red-toed cowboy boots with black-and-white tooling on the sides (both on sale). Rosie chose a sunflower-patterned dress. I had my great-grandmother's garnet earring and a strand of borrowed pearls. A florist designed my bouquet, lush with red roses, blue delphiniums, and sunflowers.
Bryan and his brother planned to wear white shirts and jeans. We had a little tiff about his shoes. Bryan wanted to wear new, white sneakers, which made his slightly splayed size-13 feet look like boats. I argued for minimizing brown or black shoes. He won.
I bought piñatas and stuffed them with tiny toys and candy. Two days before the wedding it started to rain. Things were tense. Bryan was nervous that his parents would not behave. He and his laconic father were estranged, and his mother was a dry drunk who was on steroids for some unmentionable medical condition. But it was my sister who freaked out the night before the wedding.
The rehearsal dinner was at our house. Rosie and Michael, our wonderful, gay Episcopalian minister, got into a discussion about a book called The Moon under Her Feet, which proposed that Mary Magdalene was Jesus' lover and teacher. Rosie thought Michael dismissed her opinion. Her voice grew louder and louder. After our guests graciously fled, I tried to calm her down. She yelled, "Don't tell me how to feel!" and stormed out.
I immediately threw up. I was sure she wouldn't show -- who would give me away? That night, Bryan walked me for hours. He patted my back as I vomited in the bushes. "It'll be okay," he promised as he wiped the tears and rain from my face.
The next morning Rosie showed up as if nothing had happened. She played Aretha Franklin while I held warm tea bags over my swollen eyes. When we arrived at Miwok Meadow, the rain had stopped. Michael was sitting on a picnic table, wearing his white robe and purple vestments over jeans. "It's a perfect day," he grinned.
Friends had hung the piñatas and streamers from the trees and decorated the tables with paper cloths and tiny, potted flowers. Fifty guests gathered, wearing raincoats over their finery.
Kathy's new husband, Jack, played his violin as our wedding party entered. Michael opened his arms and began, "Rain is a blessing on a wedding. We are blessed."
Bryan and I held hands as we took our vows. He smiled and I was flooded with faith. In us, everything was possible. Home. Love. Family and freedom. We were shaking and I knew it was joy.
A rainbow broke across the sky and Michael declared, "You are husband and wife."
"That's the easy part!" Bryan's mother bellowed. He cringed. Jack struck up the violin, and suddenly, Bryan and I were skipping, arm-in-arm.
The reception was chaotic. The chef from Juvenile Hall who promised to barbecue the chicken never showed up, so a sheriff's deputy and a probation officer flung themselves into cooking. The potluck dishes were eaten before the chicken was done, but no one seemed to mind. Bryan and I fed each other from a chocolate sheet cake decorated with plastic animals. People played horseshoes and volleyball as it started to sprinkle. Jack fiddled and the children danced and bashed piñatas.
My favorite candid photo of that day shows me wearing a green sheriff's-department-issue rain poncho over my wedding dress. The red tips of my boots are peeking out. I'm blindfolded and swinging a baseball bat at a piñata with all my might.