On the edge of my seat, I turned around to watch the faces of the crowd. Tuscany, a hillside, and an electric violinist playing Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.” Each one of the 81 gathered looking toward the guest house, waiting for my father’s entrance, and then, that of the grooms.
If you told me two years ago that I would be sitting here at my brother’s wedding, that my father was walking in to officiate, that my mother would be able to make the trip halfway around the world despite the disease that attacked her body, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you told me that our country would have elected a reality TV star who wanted to take away the rights of people like my brother, of people who wanted to fight for this country and make a life in this country, I would not believe you.
If you told me that I would not have had a drop of alcohol in my bloodstream for nearly a year and a half, and that on this day I was seeing everything with the clearest of eyes, I would not have believed you.
But here we were.
Seated behind me: rows of Ryan and Jason’s friends from all parts of the world: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London. And me, from Birmingham, Alabama. My sister and her husband, to my left, from Jackson, Mississippi. How were we all gathered here at this time and place? The grooms: Ryan and Jason.
My father, proud and tall, walked across the hillside. Then the grooms, hands intertwined.
Dad told the crowd how nearly 50 years ago he left the seminary to choose life as a daddy instead as a “father.” And here we were, him officiating his son’s wedding, to another man. Later, at the reception, when we ate courses of pasta, guest after guest approached us. Here was my mother, embraced by man after man, agents and executives, Broadway stars and lawyers, who said, "Thank you for believing in Ryan. Thank you for believing in me."
They spoke to me, and to my sister. “What your father just did was remarkable. What a special man. What an example. Your family is incredible.” This is all we knew.
This was my father, who had made a life for his son to become who he was. Who had made a life for me to become who I was. I knew it in that moment, that what I was watching was history, if for the 81 people present and the 2,000 watching on live stream around the world.
On the hill, before my reading, tears welled in my eyes. I began to shake.
I’d felt a failure all summer. Old, untrue stories gnawed at me as I was gutted, unexpectedly laid off from my job in May. It wasn’t personal, they said. Business. Yet there I was on a street with a box in my hands. With 20-years of experience that no one seemed to want anymore.
That summer I did get assignments, and also stared in the face of the person I was all those years. The years of writing headlines, the years of saying "Does this please you?" The years of drinking as way to numb the turmoil. The years of selfishness, of ego, of self-pity.
This person, she was gone, yet still in me. And when two nights earlier, a wedding guest drank too much, I had to step out into the streets of the medieval Tuscan town and call a friend. “I saw myself in her. I felt compassion for her. I am her,” I said. “You were her,” she replied. It had been a painful death.
For months I’d struggled with how I would cope with this wedding in the heart of wine country, in a place where every single trigger would be triggered. Long, physically taxing days, family dynamics, wine at every single meal. Climbing up the hill to the country house in the car, my back screamed. “I can’t do this,” I thought.
But I did. And here was my brother, and his groom, and my parents. And my aunt, a Cuban refugee who had survived so much -- oppression by a dictator, her own cancer, an the cancer that took the life of her husband. This broken, brutal world.
“I have to believe that there is a loving God, and my brother Charlie is sitting with him,” my father remarked during the ceremony, his voice breaking a bit.
Here, there were 81 people who had traveled through their struggles, men who had been shunned by their families because of the people they loved, the people with heavy hearts, wondering how they could return to our country in turmoil. And me.
I was wearing a hot pink dress with a cape, and an up-do held together by 456 bobby pins. That morning, while the hairdresser teased this mane, I’d passed on wine for the 525th day. I’d fought and clawed and worked my way out, and while it no longer was appealing to me -- was deadly in fact -- there was no more way for me to turn down the volume on the waves of emotion that now reigned. On thoughts of could my mother make it up the steps, how I would make a living when I returned to the states, of would dad feel OK to perform the ceremony? Of what kind of wife I was now, what kind of mother?
What I return to again and again: I am not in control. I never was. Some of the questions were answered that day. My parents made it. And I, shaky knees, wobbly voice, whole self on the brink of weeping, rose. At first, the words didn’t seem to come out of my mouth. My nose began to run. And then came the words:
“When the fiery kick lines an fires were set for us by our founding mother-fathers at Stonewall, we first spoke defiance.”
Words by poet Richard Blanco, the first gay, Latino inaugural poet. Who came to this country in his mother’s belly, a Cuban refugee. Who lived in the states from where my family came: New York, Florida. His poem, "Until We Could," commissioned for the tenth anniversary of Massachusetts' marriage equality law.
“Let us in, we said: love is love, proclaimed it into all eyes that would listen at every door that would open, until noes and maybes turned into yeses, town by town, city by city, state by state, understanding us and the women who dared say enough until the gavel struck into law what we always knew:
Love is the right to say: I do, I do, and I do.”
With each phrase my voice got stronger. I got stronger. The wedding was the most spectacular and beautiful I’ve ever attended. Yes it was in Tuscany and yes we danced by the pool. Yes people were dressed in Gucci. Yes it was the most Instagrammable.
But that’s not what made it the most stunning.
It was the fight. The fight to get here. Each of us, all of us, hurdled through space and time to be on that hillside. Immigrants, ministers, queens. Addicts, mothers, lovers. Witnessing the start of a marriage, challenged with a call to action.
In the busy-ness and to-dos and hassles leading up to the day, I told my brothers, the grooms:
“You will not know whose lives you will change because of this wedding."
But I know one.
I was changed that day, released from the limits of what I thought possible: physically and emotionally. And felt a grace, a grace beyond what I’d ever felt -- not even at mass in St. Peter’s Basilica Days before. Here was God, inviting us in. Here He was, having created these mountains and moved our mountains.
Here He was asking. And my answer:
I do, I do, I do.