Everyone says that the wedding flies by so fast that you need the pictures to remember what happened. Julie and I tried to be as deliberate as possible and soak up as many of the details as we could so that we would remember them. I picked one moment and said, I’m going to remember every single particle of perception about this instant and capture it in amber to encapsulate the whole event. That moment came just as I had processed up to the communion rail and had turned to face the choir, watching the bridesmaids process behind me. As I did so, I saw the smoke from the incense censor wafting upwards and filling the enormous space of the choir, the crossing behind that, and even up into the Nave. Through it I saw the glorious colors of the western Creation Rose window, which had been on the cover of our invitations, blazing even on a rainy day. It lit up the incense and made the air seem almost thick. It was amazing. I thought to myself, “Now THERE’S something that I’ve never seen at the Cathedral.”
I had spent the night in our fabulous suite at the JW Marriot, arranged by Julie’s cousin. This was the vice presidential suite…big enough to accommodate an entire rock band and groupies. It had two floors and let out onto an enormous balcony with views of the Washington Monument, the Ellipse, and DAR. I had rattled around there the night before all by my lonesome.
I had the wedding dress, my suit, and Julie’s overnight bags with me. I woke up way before my alarm, of course, and lay there thinking, “This is my wedding day.” I was nervous, not about the sacrament or the huge step I was about to take. I was enthusiastic and could not have been more sure that what I was doing was not only right, but the best thing I would ever do. No, I was just spinning with all the logistics and arrangements that had to go right that day. I was hoping for good weather, in defiance of the forecast. I was nervous about the tour of the Cathedral I was going to give that morning. I was hoping that the video camera, which I had left in the choir during the rehearsal the night before, had been snagged by our verger or by someone else at the Cathedral. But the head spins that had hit a fever pitch around midday on Thursday had subsided by now. At this point Julie and I were both relaxing our anxieties somewhat and letting things play out as they would. We knew we had done absolutely everything we could to make things work out, and that it wouldn’t be PERFECT, but that it no matter what happened it would be perfect for us.
The night before I had neglected to bring the wedding license along to the rehearsal, and had been given a bit of a scolding by Stanely Utterback, our wonderful verger. I had intended to pick it up with the wedding dress the night before, but had missed it with all the other stuff I’d had to transport.
I got out of bed and cracked the curtains. It was overcast, as expected, but not raining, which was good. All week we’d been frantically checking the forecasts, hoping for a miraculously sunny day, but the predictions had all been dire. Thunderstorms. One even said, “Tornados.” We’d consoled ourselves with the fact that it was warm, unlike the wedding we’d attended the week before in the same space when the weather had been rainy and bone chillingly cold.
I resolved to do everything on this day as deliberately and intentionally as possible. I didn’t want to find myself on autopilot at any point, rushing through things. As I showered I thought to myself, “This is the last shower you’ll take as a single man.” I got into my docent’s uniform of blue blazer and tan slacks and called down to have the valet bring the car around. I peeked out the window and even saw a ray of sunshine and a patch of blue sky. “No way,” I thought, “Don’t even get your hopes up.”
I headed down to the lobby, stopping for a soda in the gift shop. I congratulated myself on how together and relaxed I was for such a momentous day, which had been the subject of so much effort and planning over the last year. “Keys, check.. OK, I have to swing by 206 to pick up the license, and then get up to the cathedral. People are coming for the tour at 10. It’s barely 9 now, but I’ll bet I can sneak in through the Way of Peace.” I strode through the lobby confident and relaxed. I got into the car thinking, “OK, I’ve got this fucker under control, because I’m THE MAN, I’m totally THE MACK, I COMPLETELY LEFT THE WEDDING DRESS UPSTAIRS OH CRAP!!!!”
Hurriedly I snapped off the ignition, leaving the car idling in the driveway of the hotel, probably blocking traffic. I tore upstairs, grabbed the dress, and boomed downstairs like a bat out of hell.
OK, that was a good little reality check about getting too big for ones britches.
I drove up to 206. I knew that Julie and her bridesmaids would be at Aveda getting their makeup done. Sure enough, only James was holding down the fort at 206. He was a bit surprised to see me when I came crashing through the door like Kramer to snag the wedding license. I told him I was heading up to give the tour of the Cathedral, and he seemed wistful. James is an architect, and would probably get a kick out of the tour. But his wife Elianna, the maid of honor, had instructed him to wait there in case he was needed to run around and do anything, and he was staying put.
I headed up to the cathedral, and parked right by the way of peace on south road. Some tourists were knocking about, and I blew right by them carrying the dress, feeling very much like the insider I was.
Sure enough, the Way of Peace was open and I slipped in, carrying the huge white bag with the wedding dress over my shoulder, the license under one arm.
I left both in the slype, the dress hanging right next to the bishop’s robe, and the license on the register we’d signed the day before. Then, still half an hour before I was supposed to meet my guests for the tour, or the cathedral was supposed to open, I walked around the old girl. I lit a candle and did something I don’t normally do…I prayed. I said, “God, you and I don’t talk much. I’m not sold on the idea you even exist. But today I humbly beseech you. Of course, THY will be done NOT mine, but if it be your will, first of all, happiness and long life for me and Julie. Second, may things go as planned and not screw up. And third, recognizing that I’m totally in extra credit territory here, if you could POSSIBLY see a way to swing nice weather, we’d REALLY appreciate it.”
After that I ran into a fellow congregant who was there to polish the silver. I took him back behind the door in St. Mary’s Chapel, and sure enough, that’s where they were. I made a mental note to tell Julie that this was something we should do.
As I did so, I was suddenly quite lonely and missing her. I realized that this was perhaps the longest time we’d gone without talking or texting with each other. I’d gotten one text from her earlier saying, “off to Aveda!” and I’d responded with, “License is in the slype!” to reassure her after the kerfuffle the night before, but other than that, there had been not contact. And 8 hours is a LONG time for us to go without chatting.
I continued to wander around. I saw the Saturday docents setting up, and asked them for the keys to the triforium. I saw a security guy and asked him if anyone had turned in the camera. They all congratulated me and offered to help out in any way they could. Everyone was amazingly helpful and friendly. I recall having felt that they were somehow authority figures we were going to have to trick or con to get up into the triforium, and that the security guys would somehow be and obstacle to dodge, but everyone was SO eager to help
At about this time my phone buzzed. It was Uncle Trez and Aunt Jean and their daughter Amy. “We’re out in the north cloister,” said the text. I figured they meant the garth and headed out.
It was go time. I showed them the Darth Vader grotesque, then walked around front where others were assembling.
This was it, I remembered thinking. All the planning, all the thoughts, everything over the past year, and now the start of the tour was the start of the events. I began talking about the history of the cathedral and the Ex Nihilo sculptures, and about the movie The Devil’s Advocate. This is stuff I didn’t get to do on the normal tour. More people started showing up. My folks were there, Patrick C. came up. Since I was now in full tour guide mode I wasn’t able to greet them individually but gave each of them a nod of recognition as they came up and caught my eye. I dispatched my dad to ask the security guy in the basement if the camera had been turned in.
It began to spittle, so I moved the group indoors. I snagged the triforium keys, and asked where I should go so as not to be in the way of the other tour groups. They told me, “Oh wherever,” so I had to improvise. I pulled them to the north aisle half way down the transept for most of the standard nave speech.
More and more people were coming. We were up to 30 people or so at this point in our group, and as I took them across to the Space Window, I fell into a normal pattern and felt myself slip into the flow of my standard docent speech. I saw the Bachmans and the Schroeders join us. Then Dan L.
We did the rest of the tour of the main level pretty much by the book. I was able to sprinkle in some personal anecdotes such as, “The spot you’re standing right now is where I asked Julie to marry me,” and “When Julie sang me the vocalise that night, she filled this entire space.”
I left out a couple things, such as not telling them about the Canterbury pulpit. But on the whole, I was giving the tour of my life.
When we finished with St. Mary’s chapel I pointed out the canons by the slype and said that Julie’s wedding dress (and the license) were now inside there. Then I said, “Normally I’d take us downstairs to the crypt level chapels, but instead we’re going to do something extra and fun. I’ve got the keys for the triforium level.” Much oohing and aahhing.
Now the elevator to the triforium level only holds 12 people. Normally these tours are done by two docents. But I had to run shuttles. I dropped off the first load, went down, then came back to find that I’d shoved my people into an unlit hallway that ended at a locked door. I elbowed my way through, opened the door, and we found ourselves right up next to the clerestory stained glass.
It was super neat. I began telling the stories of my favorite windows. Everyone was hushed looking down. There was a real sense of being an exclusive insider. The fact that there are cables and stuff running all over the place reinforced the fact that this was a real behind the scenes tour.
After the triforium, I tried to figure out how to get them down to the West Balcony. This involved some doing, and unfortunately the elevator started malfunctioning, and we ended up with a bunch of people trapped at one point. Fortunately they were able to go down and get out on the ground floor, and others who were trapped upstairs found their way down the stairs. The last time I’d done this the door didn’t let out onto the west balcony but fortunately today it was unlocked. After a hectic period of me running up and down the stairs and elevators like Buster Keaton, I had had a preponderance of my guests safely ensconced on the West balcony. At this point I was totally off the tour script and just talked about the cathedral and other things, hanging out and chatting with people in the lofty perch of the west balcony, looking out over the nave.
I called Elianna who had called me earlier about something and asked her to bring Julie’s grandfather’s tie tack which I’d forgotten. Trish grabbed the phone and hollered into it that I needed to eat something. I wasn’t at all hungry. I was coasting on the high of a successful tour, which I usually am after even a normal day docenting. And of course I was still in wedding anxiety mode, although that had faded to a dull background twitch. The sky was still overcast, but not raining.
I headed back to the JW, and shockingly found street parking. I was carrying a bunch of stuff from the car…Rachel’s gift bag, my cell phone charger, some other stuff I’d forgotten but picked up from 206. In spite of this I decided to grab a sandwich to go at Corner Bakery on the same block as the hotel. As I was waiting for my order, Julie’s Uncle Paul came up. He and Marcia and Young Paul and Laura (YP’s gf) and Uncle Terry were having lunch there, so I joined them. It was really enjoyable and I’m glad I ran into them. I’d been feeling oddly off on my own and disconnected for such a busy, ME centric day. So it was really nice to have some relaxed sit down time with people who very shortly would be family.
I ate but didn’t linger. I stopped by the store in the lobby to pick up shoe polish, since I’d run out of time to get my shoes polished professionally that week. I told the clerk that I was the groom, and she said, “Brian?” I said, no, not one of the weddings here at the JW, I’m getting married up at the Cathedral. I needed black shoe polish and all they had was one they’d opened already, so they gave it to me for free. I went back to my hotel room, and commenced to Get Ready To Get Married.
OK, I thought. This time I mean it. This really IS the last shower I’ll take as a single man.