The photographers were none too pleased with us.
By the time we finished our joyride around the National Mall, the incredible sunset had almost completely receded. We had no sooner stepped into the DAR lobby when all three of our lens-warriors, visibly bristling with haste, appeared between us and our guests. “You need to get up to the roof,” Bill Holland politely told us through a tight smile. “Now.”
We obliged, even though the cocktail-hour crowd had noted our arrival. “We’ll be right back!” we sang out to our applauding guests as we slipped past them and up the marble stairs. Fortunately the photo session didn’t last much longer than the remaining daylight; doubly fortunately, there was just enough of that left to backlight the monuments and throw the receding rainclouds into impressive relief. The photographers almost certainly got some killer roof shots of us dancing, modeling our rings, posing with the Washington Monument over our shoulders and genuinely laughing ourselves silly at how perfectly the day was going. (“This,” said Washington Post Bill, “is what we call a target-rich environment.”) In short order, we were back downstairs in the lobby, sharing our giddy joy and drinks with our guests.
We’d hired a DJ several months ago, at the urging of a half dozen folks who did not trust us to rig up an iPod to whatever speakers could be found at DAR. I’d never met Miles myself, but trusted him to fall into place just as everything else had so far. He did not disappoint, reading the cocktail crowd and picking just the right moment to herd everyone out onto the portico for the wedding party grand entrance and our first dance as newlyweds.
Neither & nor I am particularly graceful on our feet. Accordingly, back when we were planning this, we’d had a decision to make: we could either resign ourselves to the clutch-and-rock first dance that is the routine province of folks who dance like we do, or we could sign up for some lessons and do this for real.
Last year we had laughed at those ridiculous people, slaves of the Wedding Industrial Complex, who pay good money for weeks and weeks of ballroom dancing lessons just so they could do a single silly dance. So of course, we wound up becoming those people and doing exactly that. (The laws of irony will inevitably turn you into the object of your own ridicule.)
For weeks and weeks, under the tutelage of a pleasant professional ballroom dancer named Jen, we marched through the steps of the Official Dance of Entry-Level Newlyweds: the “American Rumba.” I’d wanted a tango, but it was unclear whether my tightly-fitted gown or my natural clumsiness could accommodate the deep lunges. So the rumba it was.
I did not regret it as Miles queued up our first-dance song, a live recording of Chucho Valdes at the Village Vanguard riffing on “My Funny Valentine.” A true tango would have been crowded and awkward on the portico, hemmed in by guests and heat towers (which turned out to be unnecessary; the temperature implausibly cracked 70 degrees on my wedding night, another celestial gift). The rumba, on the other hand, fit into the space like a hand in a glove. Several hecklers had fun at the expense of our obvious ballroom dance instruction, but dance we did, and if the pictures come out half as good as we felt then the lessons will have paid for themselves.
Our bridal party, and then lots of other people, joined us on the floor for the second dance: a swing, to the accompaniment of one of our favorite songs. We’d first heard Paul and Storm in concert on one of our earliest dates, promptly fell in love with their brand of nerdy humor, and soon discovered our shared personal theme music: “Oh No, You’re Talking Out Your Ass Again.”
After we’d paid it suitable homage, we figured, we’d sit for dinner before we opened the floor back up for more dancing. Miles obliged, queuing up some Gipsy Kings and instructing everyone to head in to their assigned tables (indicated by &’s handiwork: table cards featuring Roman numerals superimposed over various Monet paintings of Rouen Cathedral).
Barbara had insisted, last month, that we could not simply put tealight lamps on each table and call them centerpieces. Not even if they were Moroccan-style perforated metal lamps. Not even if we painted them copper. No, she said, flowers were required and she would see to those.
I happily located a florist, outside the Beltway in the vast indistinct land I know only as “Outer Virginia.” Barbara von Elm lived on an actual farm, received us over her giant heavy Pottery-Barn-esque kitchen table, and nearly fell off her chair when I described the scene we were hoping to set at the reception. “Well, it’s at DAR, in the great library. But the ceremony is at the National Cathedral, and we’re much more into the Gothic architecture than the American neoclassical. We love fiddlehead ferns, the way they look like wrought iron. My bridesmaids are carrying Spanish fans and my dress is all lace. And we’ve got these great Moroccan perforated lanterns that we want to use. I guess if you wanted to sum up our theme, it’d be… Spanish-Moroccan-Gothic.”
And FloristBarbara delivered. (“I just had to,” she said afterwards. “Every other bride I talk to wants simple yet elegant. How often do you get to do Spanish Moroccan Gothic?”) At the center of each table was a platter of cranberry lilies, orchids, eucalyptus and fiddlehead ferns, surrounding our beloved copper Moroccan lanterns. A larger collection of the same flowers spilled across the mantelpiece in the gallery, and the library tables and place-card table were set with tall vases. And because these people are so damn good at weddings and don’t miss a detail, someone had scattered a handful of orchids around the base of the cake stand.
The cupcakes had made it into formation, orderly arrayed on the copper-painted cake stand we’d ordered off of eBay last week. Some of the cakes were handsomer than others, but all had survived the trip from my kitchen to the caterer’s to DAR, intact and proudly homemade as ever. Strictly speaking, there was no cake topper; the two cupcakes on the top tier were each garnished with a chocolate-covered strawberry (decorated to resemble a tux and a gown respectively), and the only plastic people anywhere on the cake stand were a pair of ninjas hiding among the cupcakes.
We’d happened upon the ninjas fortuitously, while waiting in the checkout line at Fran’s Cake and Candy Supply. While I picked out packets of cranberry-colored sugar flowers from the glass case, & explored the bins of plastic toy cake toppers. “Look at these,” he chortled, holding up a two-pack of ninjas. “Who would put ninjas on a cake?”
Pause for a moment.
“Um,” I said, “We would?”
And so we did. (Because, for the record, in a battle against pirates they’d win.)
My freshly-minted husband and I sat at a sweetheart table adjacent to the cake stand, a fortunate thing since I couldn’t stop looking at it. I had baked my own wedding cake out of one hundred and seventy-five handmade cupcakes. No longer a mere dilettante, I had arrived. “That’s our wedding cake,” I couldn’t stop repeating incredulously to &. “I made all those!” “Yes, you did!” he’d reply with his inexhaustible smile.
We’d been warned that we wouldn’t have time to eat more than a few bites of dinner. This didn’t sound right to us at all, so we went out of our way to make sure we at least tasted everything. A good thing, too, even though we didn’t get to finish a plate. The pinot-noir poached pear filled with gorgonzola mousse? Wasn’t even as yum as the sweet corn timbale, or the crispness of the vegetables inside the stuffed chicken, or Barbara’s excellent wine choices. And before we could get to the dessert course (the cupcake plated alongside an ice cream napoleon), there were the toasts to be made.
For these everyone gathered in the library. In another lifetime it had been a theater; the proscenium was now a reference desk, but the parterre boxes on either side of the stage were intact. We made our way up to one of these, toasting flutes in hand and Elianna and Brad in tow. (Rather than attempt to recount their toasts, which were brilliant, I’m going to see if they’ll give us copies to post here.)
Eli toasted us first, then Brad. Then & made a toast of his own, grateful and heartfelt and short, and then it was my turn.
Perhaps because I finally could, I came unglued. My toast was a spontaneous litany of compliments, metaphors, adjectives to describe my husband and how he made me feel. Like much extemporaneous speech flavored with champagne, it eventually degenerated into semi-coherence, from which a refrain emerged – “So happy. So happy. So happy” – accompanied by tears of same. Fortunately, because the bride can get away with such things, the libraryful of guests chose the appropriate moment to applaud and cut me off.
More dancing followed, more table-surfing, more running into old friends in the hallways and restrooms and various display rooms of the DAR museum. The cupcakes were a huge hit, as were the truffle-favors which had materialized as if by magic on the lobby table where the place cards had been. There were so many people to find and hug and thank and love on. We could not keep pace with the passage of time. In what seemed like minutes it was suddenly late, quittin’ time at DAR, and our wedding reception was drawing to a close.
But we weren’t done yet. After bidding good night to the grownups in the crowd, a good dozen of us each grabbed a copper Moroccan lantern off the dining tables, took our leave of DAR, and set out in a goofy tipsy parade across the Ellipse toward our hotel. We had a honeymoon suite off the roof deck at the J. W. Marriott, where people would soon be bringing the remains of the open bar. It was a glorious night in Washington, almost summery for October, and we waved to the White House as we walked right past it.
I’m not sure how late the afterparty ran; 1 or 2 am, I think. I wasn’t paying attention to the clock any more. At some point or another, my wedding day technically ended when a clock struck midnight somewhere and the calendar shifted over to today. It didn’t matter; we were still coasting on the pure ridiculous high that comes from getting married the way we just had. It carried us all the way through to the departure of the last guests, then upstairs and into our wedding night. We were, at that precise moment, as fulfilled and satisfied as either of us had ever been.
We’d done it. We’d pulled it off. I’d married a man of the substance of dreams, and our wedding had been the stuff of legend. The Washington Post would profile us in the next few weeks. Our grandchildren would hear these stories. We had made history in our own lives, and now we were going to bed. As of today, as of this moment, all was right in the world.