I woke up that day certain I was wrong about the date. Could it be? How was it here already?
It was still early, long before sunrise, and everyone else was fast asleep.
I crept out to my living room to see my best friends sleeping soundly in various configurations, long legs draped over blankets and hair strewn out over pillowcases, measured, shallow breaths keeping an eerie pace. I tiptoed over them into the kitchen with the intention of putting the water on for tea. Immediately persuaded by my good sense not to wake everyone with a whistling kettle at 5:30 in the morning, I returned to my bedroom, too excited to fall back asleep.
It was awfully quiet in there that morning. Usually, there is a puppy standing on his back paws in his crate, begging me to free him. I always do, and set all four of his little legs on our bed, where he treats Elena like mountain to climb.
But that morning there was no rambunctious puppy, no playful fiancee—only the faint, fluid ascent of the sun in the east gently pulling at the spires of skyscrapers, glinting off of the great expanse of West Harlem beyond my window.
I knelt in the center of my bed and prayed the Holy Rosary.
When I looked up to open my Bible, I stared directly at Riverside Church, less than a mile due east of the very spot in which I knelt right then. The spot where, in just a few hours, I would make the most important promise of my life.
The realization fell around me softly just then, like a prod in the ribs: “You are getting married today.”
I heard shuffling outside my door and concluded that everyone else must be waking. Wrong. Just the stirrings and flailings of deep sleep. The minutes felt like days. I waited and read and prayed some more and wondered how my life had come to this moment.
Was I not just 16?! Was I not just furiously writing in my diary about how desperately I wanted to be kissed, how invisible I felt? And now those years had evaporated, almost as if before my eyes, and I was looking out at the world from my apartment in a Manhattan high-rise, a delicate Tiffany box on my nightstand with my wedding band safe inside.
There were all sorts of small, fluttery creatures living just below my lungs.
I am not one to giggle. If I’m going to laugh, it’s going to be loud, it’s going to be ugly and it’s going to be audible all the way in Brooklyn, but I was ferociously giggly right then. I could not believe God’s goodness. I could not believe my own good fortune. Eventually, my bridesmaids rose and began bursting into my room one at a time, with bone crushing hugs and shrieking cries of disbelief.
The morning fell around me in a blur. I briefly chastised myself for not having gone to ballet class, but i was quickly occupied by the din of my friends around me, the flurry of texts coming in from friends near and far to congratulate me.
Soon, the action began. My photographer Grace and my makeup artist Camille showed up and got to work, planting me in a high chair to have myself transformed into an Essence magazine-worthy cover girl.
After about 1pm, the day started to slide away and the hours passed faster.
My heart started to race, I started to sweat, I had no reason to be nervous, but somehow I was. The inevitable thoughts hit me. When you have anxiety self-doubt is a regular occurrence for you, and nothing escapes its slimy claws. It is constant, pervasive, and almost never sensible or true.
The panic set in: Are you doing the right thing? Does she even love you? Are you sure you love her? This is the rest of your lives you’re talking about. At that exact moment my best friend Tobi strode into the room and before I could utter my concerns, she yelled—“Issa wife!,” riffing on the then-famous and always hilarious 21 Savage meme that we could not stop watching.
I died laughing and took that as a sign from God that Yes, everything will be just fine and Yes, she is the one for me, and Yes, today is going to be the best day of your life.
Just like every other day of my life thus far, my 7 best girls were there for me and held me up.
All of a sudden my Michael Kors shoes were being slipped on, my Anne Barge dress was being zipped up, a bow being tied on the circlet in my hair, my parents were at the elevator. Daddy beamed with pride, and Mother hid her tears beneath a demure, closed-mouth gaze of approval. She’s not one for public displays of pride or affection, preferring to reserve her praise for private moments, but even in the din of action I heard her whisper, “My little girl…”.
My mother’s life has not always been easy, but she’s held onto her faith and the hope she has in her children. Now all of us are grown, with degrees and jobs and good heads on our shoulders, and she and my Dad can finally focus on just being Nana and Grandad to my nieces and nephews.
In a moment, the bus was outside, and we were on our way. Truly, I would give you more details, but it’s all a blur—so much was running through my mind right then that I didn’t know what to give attention to. All I could think about was “How is this really happening?!”
The next thing I knew, I was being swept up by our minister and wedding coordinator.
They ushered me into a back room of our church that I’d never seen before, clean, bright, quiet, a dressing room with the familiarly lit mirrors and comforting silence. I remember looking at each of my bridesmaids and my two flower girls and singing to myself that favorite and oft-repeated refrain from Hamilton: “Look around, look around, at how lucky we are to be alive right now."
Angela, our wedding coordinator, came to take the girls away and left me standing at the door of the little dressing room, entirely alone. I glanced into the mirror one last time to remember how I looked in the last moments before I became a wife. Skin the color of milk just splashed with coffee. Large, dark eyes. Hair black as a raven’s wing, spotted here and there with patches dyed a burnt chocolate color by the spring sun. Diamonds and pearls glinting in my hair, ears and on my fingers.
“Mainstream” culture (I loathe when people weaponize that word, but in this case it’s the only appropriate descriptor) won’t have you believe that becoming a wife is a significant and important transition in a woman’s life, but in my culture, my faith and my life, it signifies the biggest and most important change a woman can go through outside of becoming a mother.
To become a wife is to gain a small, bright part of God’s kingdom, to join with another person in fidelity, in love and in holiness, and to minister together whether it be in parenthood, in activism, or in the simple but powerful act of loving one another well for all of your days. The blue crystal Rosary circled around my bouquet of dried wildflowers. I turned the crucifix in my hand and meditated for a moment on what Jesus had done for me until that point, and on all that I trusted He’d do for us in the future.
What a mighty God we serve.
I don’t quite know how long it was that I stood there, but by the time Angela came to get me and hand me off to my Daddy, I knew I was ready. Each of my bridesmaids looked back at me one after the other, shooting me those tearful, closed mouth smiles that can only ever convey pride and joy. They each entered in turn, with Angela holding me back until my Maids of Honor had gone down the aisle. She closed the door, and I turned to Daddy, one last time as his little girl.
“I love you, Daddy. Any last words?” I chuckled.
“I love you, baby girl” he said. “I”m so proud of you. I know I’m giving you away to the right person. I prayed for a long time that you’d find someone to love you and take care of you. And you’ve found just that.”
Almost as if on cue, the great iron doors of the church opened, and my world was changed forever.
Stay tuned for parts II and III of this wedding series!