I stared out the window of the groom’s den and watched the rain as it poured from the heavens. The deluge blurred my vision, skewing the outside world, much like what you’d see on an old television when it loses signal. My thoughts, however, were not on the church pews that my bride-to-be had stripped, stained and reupholstered, nor were they on the black tablecloths that had been painstakingly washed, steamed and folded, nor were they on the velvet napkins we fretted over having enough of to serve our 110+ guests.
As Mother Nature attempted to wreak havoc on our wedding day, all I could think about was how upset Katie probably was as she, too, watched the rain from her bridal suite window and how I wasn’t allowed to go to her to calm her. We had only been apart for four hours or so at that point but I missed her dearly. The thought of her being distraught over the weather crushed my heart because I knew I could calm her nerves better than a room full of women who would just be reminding her of how rain on your wedding day is good luck – folklore she simply didn’t want to hear. Sometimes when your heart is aching and you’re frustrated, anger is the only emotion you want to feel in the moment. For Katie, it was definitely one of those moments.
We had spent nearly two years organizing and planning this wedding. We had lost friendships that were once close, strengthened friendships that were lukewarm and built new friendships with others. We had unnecessary fights with our families and with each other in this process, spent more money than we intended, hurt some feelings and had ours hurt in return, all in an effort to put on the wedding of the century – a wedding that not only made our marriage official, but moved people and left a lasting impression on them.
Now, after two years of effort and stress, planning and delegating, collecting and shopping, laughing and crying, we both stood in our respective windows watching Clinton, Tennessee, grow wetter by the second. At that moment, all Katie wanted was perfect weather for our outdoor wedding and all I wanted was to be beside her.
It was around 3:45 pm when someone found me in the groom’s den to let me know it was time for the First Look. We had received a break in the rain and I felt a jumble of mixed emotions in my stomach. Part of me was excited to see her, another part was heartbroken at the thought of her being sad on our happy day. A third part of me was nervous that I hadn’t fixed my hair or adjusted my tie so I maybe wasn’t as put together as I’d like to be for such an occasion. And yet another part of me was afraid that while I knew I would break up seeing her, my reaction wouldn’t be what she expected or had hoped.
Ironic that preparing for the First Look was so nerve-racking because it was intended to save us a lot of time, trouble, effort and stress. Our photographer had told us that a First Look is a great idea because it cuts out the time-worn tradition of having to wait until the ceremony to see the bride for the first time, thereby allowing you the luxury of doing all your bridal party photos before the wedding. We thought this was a great idea because doing so would mean our post-ceremony photo session would be cut in half (if not shorter), thus reducing the amount of time our guests would be hitting the open bar and eating cheese before dinner.
Our biggest desire with the First Look, however, was getting to spend more time together. Our married friends told us stories about how they didn’t get to spend much time with their new spouse on their wedding day or how quickly the night slipped away, leaving them with few memories. We wanted to remember every aspect and spend as much time together as possible, so we made intentional plans to be present and schedule time together. We would be sure to meet on the dance floor at regular intervals, we had opted to have a Last Dance together with no one but the DJ near us, we ate dinner at a Sweethearts’ Table so we could only be distracted by each other and we set up this event that I was now stressing out about – the First Look.
Our venue was a Dutch Colonial house built in the early 1930s. The historic home is very beautiful but the selling point is the stone tower gazebo and garden all constructed with stones taken from the Norris Dam Project just 10 miles to the north. These were the features that made us choose this venue as the stage for our wedding and the stone tower would act as the location for our First Look.
Katie got chills when we were told First Looks in the tower usually consist of the groom standing inside looking out over the courtyard while the bride walks up the stairs. An old door gently creaks open to create an element of suspense and even romance just before the groom turns around to find the love of his life donning the most beautiful dress she has ever worn. It’s a fairy-tale moment you read about in books or see in Disney movies but we were given the golden opportunity to make it a reality.
I started by facing the backside of the tower, briefly speaking to our videographer as he coached me on what was about to happen. This not only informed me of the scene but also gave Katie enough time to cross the dance floor and make her way to the base of the tower. Once she was securely hidden below me, I then turned to face the garden. Before Katie came up the stairs, however, we did several practice runs both for my sake and for the sake of the videographers and photographer. They got close-up shots of my turn as well as establishing shots of where I was standing to depict what it would be like to walk through the door to find me standing there.
Satisfied with the set up, it was time to make wedding magic.
When we were about to do our live take, the idea of what Katie would look like in her wedding dress hit me. I imagined her beautiful blonde hair draping down her shoulders, what her dress might look like, how her eyes would sparkle and how I knew she would smile once I turned around to see her. Even this was too much for me to handle and I wiped tears away from my eyes. I frantically began thinking of as many unrelated things as I could in an attempt to not get choked up until it was an appropriate time to do so.
Just as the door started to creak open, I looked ahead and caught a glimpse of her arm, covered in beautiful white lace, in the reflection of the window in front of me and started weeping. I hadn’t even seen her face, hadn’t even heard her voice and hadn’t even seen the full dress and I was already a mess. Moments later, I stood dumbfounded before a beauty the likes of which I’d never come face-to-face with before. She was radiant, she was ravishing and somehow despite there being nearly four billion men in the world, she was my bride.
I took it all in: how her hair was picturesquely framing her face so gently, how the color of her lips accentuated the sharp upward turn her mouth naturally takes when she smiles, how her eyelashes drew attention to her striking pupils, how the style and fit of her dress was modest yet intrepid and, most of all, just how calm my heart and soul felt when she entered the room. I was excited to see her and overwhelmed to the point of tears, but everything was right in the world because we were together again.
I’ve never seen anything quite so commanding or electrifying and doubt I ever will furthermore. It was a magic moment that I’ll never forget and will forever be grateful for having. As the photographer snapped several photos of us standing in the natural light of the tower windows, we stood together gazing out over the garden covered with rain-soaked tablecloth-clad tables, gold chargers with puddles of rain on them, centerpieces covered in plastic bags and an overcast sky threatening to do it again. Yet despite the ruination, our hearts, minds and souls were full of peace. We had waited two years for this moment and in another hour – rain and impediments be damned – we were going to be husband and wife.