My limited library of words seems dismally insufficient when I think about describing the most love-filled week of my life, but the details below are my best attempt at painting the picture for you, and for me. And most importantly, him.
Two weeks ago, at this very time (5:46am) my husband and I were fast asleep yet somehow alive and well in a daydream state. In just a few short hours, I would wake up and leave Neil sleeping so I could chop off roughly 6-7 inches of hair, pack up all the small details of my jaw-dropping wedding wardrobe, and hug my dearest friends goodbye as Mrs. Patel.
I can’t believe it’s been two weeks! Have I been floating this entire time? Probably so.
When Neil and I first got engaged, we talked about eloping. We talked about planning a “half and half” ceremony, though we weren’t sure what that was supposed to look like or mean. We talked forever about where we would host whatever we were hosting. I knew he wasn’t down for the traditional five days, and he knew I wasn’t interested in the big white dress and long, dramatic walk down the aisle. Our options were endless but we both wanted just one thing out of the whole event: to spend forever with each other. With that in mind, we knew the details would eventually sort themselves out. Y’all, everything I thought would be clever and romantic enough to describe this momentous, magical day (week) seems to pale the lustrous paint due to limitation of words.
My interest — now obvious fascination — with the East and all of its ancient traditions is completely pouring out and over the rim of my cup. Of course, it started years ago with my yoga practice and being ever curious about proper thought during meditation, but now it is this whole other thing, a wave of deep devotion to exploring and satisfying this inquiring mind. When I met Neil, I never knew what would blossom in my brain as far as being drawn to culture and practice. During the year between our engagement and wedding, I absorbed as much as I could about the different ceremonies we’d chosen; the ones most important in Gujarat. I read and researched for months what I could online about “multicultural” weddings, searching endlessly for descriptions about what each small ceremony or ritual would entail, looking for answers for what is normally expected of the bride, and lastly, TRYING TO LEARN GUJARATI. Nothing I could Google or Bing or Yahoo or memorize would ever prepare me emotionally and mentally for being the semi-center of these gorgeous events. Everything, and I mean every tiny minutia is met with respect and holds meaning in the Hindu faith and Gujarati culture.
Our first event of the week — aside from Wednesday’s Monsoon themed nail party (that’s totally a joke, however bad the rain really was) — was Thursday morning’s pooja (puja) to bless the Patel house. All immediate family members and a few close friends showed up, and I was simply excited to be there to watch…I had no idea I would end up participating and leave feeling like I too had received all kinds of blessings.
The priest and priestess arrived and began setting up the altar. My partner in crime, Ashley Treib, and I watched in white girl amazement as small details of a religion completely new to us unfolded. I took note of the items used during the pooja: fresh food and fruit, various types of rice, petals plucked from fresh flowers, water, and fire. As I was taking this mental inventory, Daksha, my mother-in-law, called me over and asked if I’d like to participate. I blushed and shook my head yes. “Krishna will have to sit between you and Neil since you aren’t married yet,” she said with a smirk, which pinked my cheeks even deeper.
We are getting married!!! was my only thought as a smile spread across my whole body.
The priest started the ceremony and read and chanted and Neil, Krishna, and I became a unit: Krishna holding on to Neil’s right arm, me holding on to Krishna’s. OMG I AM CRYING AS I WRITE THIS! Daksha was sitting next to me, and every now and then, she would hold on to me, making our line even longer. I was feeling the beat of this ceremony, even though there really wasn’t a specific tempo. At any given time, I could hear the priest, overlapped by the interpretation from the priestess — a huge courtesy for me — mixed with the gentle clanking of pans in the kitchen and soft, Guju chatter. This ceremony was nothing new for most of the family so they were either eating or napping, aside from the handful that sat around the living room in a half circle. I noticed this briefly and it made me smile, but only on the inside; my nerves held my face. I was completely glued-in the entire two hours of rituals, fascinated by what I’d never seen before. I could feel Ashley sitting right behind me, drinking it all up too. I’d never seen ritual performed on a level like this, and I’ve experienced some religion in my days.
I can’t compare what I observed in those two hours to anything else. There was demonstration and explanation and time for honoring all; there was pranayama. It felt old and new, the way an worn wooden pew bench does when I come across one and take a seat. I shifted from side to side, like I did in church when I was young; full of questions and observation, but required to remain quiet and search for the answers in my head.
We read aloud and took small bites and prayed by offering bits of rice and petals; to my surprise I even recognized some Sanskrit words here and there. The pooja concluded and I felt another remarkable wave of peace wash over me. As a person who once loved religion for ritual and reverence, this kind of honoring of tradition stirred me up inside.
A delicious evening of live dosa making followed a few hours later, where we drifted in to a hot August night and woke up to a cool, wedding weekend.
My adrenaline the week of the wedding was insane, I felt like I was on fire; Thursday’s pooja fanned my flame, maybe blazed it. I wasn’t hungry, I was mostly decaffeinated, and I couldn’t really tell if I was sleeping or just floating through the nights between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. But I was awake, so woke I couldn’t even buzz myself to sleep with wine. Friday morning, I woke up before the world and laid around until I couldn’t any longer. I pushed my floating body in the shower at 8am, waking Ashley and Alex with uncoordinated noise, and chatted up the shower-head about the hours that would follow. Picking up friends and family from the airport, steaming all my clothes for various events, receiving the first part of my mehndi….I was on the “bridal climb” and trying my best not to totally. freak. out!
In preparation for a week of: meeting family, prepping last minute things to pack in my teeny carry-on (an activity I eventually did so many times at 2am on Monday, I started timing myself) and being consumed with all kinds of emotions, I got in about five-ish hours of yoga. Teaching some, moving around at home, taking class; I made it my mission to be able to locate my zen on the spot if I needed to. I stuck to my Veg30 diet to keep my mind and body clean and I made myself as busy as possible. Again…as much preparation as my little Capricorn heart, body, and soul could muster was indeed not enough to properly assemble my brain for becoming Mrs. Patel. My thought for most of the weekend, aside from reminding myself not to lock out my knees, was, “in through the nose, out through the nose.” I literally had to remind myself to breathe. I am unimaginably empathetic, so I sponged up everyone else’s emotions too; absorbing that much love can make you feel a kind of high I wasn’t aware existed. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
My amazing henna artist/ family friend/ hair-growing-goddess, Filisha, arrived around noon on Friday to get a jump on the first part of my mehndi, so I could at very least walk around and greet everyone that had traveled for us from everywhere. It was then, upon Filisha’s arrival, that I — I’ll admit, forcefully — entered my official state of what everyone has since referred to as, “tempered.” I’m not kidding when I say that every person that saw me during the wedding for more than 4 minutes made it a point to tell me how relaxed I seemed…to which I endlessly laughed, internally.
She started with my feet and worked her way up to my right forearm, not missing a beat even when I’d shift around or twitch. In through the nose, out through the nose. She finished up after about three hours and headed out to get herself ready for a second night of fun. My feet were mostly dry, but my arm still needed a solid twenty before I could move around and start primping too; all my other limbs would be finished at the ceremony so everyone could check out the process in real life. If I could hold them up. My nerves were…all present, lets just say.
I felt anything but normal when I saw him. All weekend long he was the most regal thing I’ve ever laid eyes on; a glowing, gold aura beamed off of him constantly.
I’d been hugging and meeting family when he walked in and I vaguely remember confetti falling around us as we met/ ran / floated somewhere in the middle (? maybe??) of the room, before I randomly sat down to be hand fed and henna-ed. I swear I’m not making this up, it happened! REALLY!!!
All night long, I sat lounging on this beautiful, golden chaise and watched my family meet Neil’s family. All of our friends from all over started finding each other and introducing themselves…and I got to see it. I looked up once and saw all of the aunties doing henna on my friends and on each other. I watched everyone laugh together and turn up!! and eventually hit the dance floor together. It was so beautiful and I was nearly in shock from it all, bright light beaming from my eyeballs, no doubt. At one point, my sweet little sister comes up to me, pops a spring roll in to my mouth and whispers in my ear, “are you on drugs or something? You look…euphoric. Your eyes are the size of the moon.” She was 100% right. I was totally, naturally in euphoria, which was currently oozing from every inch of the interior of the room. Well, wasn’t it? The whole room appeared to be glowing.
To be completely honest, there was a split second where I was presented with two choices: freak out and be nervous the whole night or just relax and embrace and observe, so that’s what I did. I spent the entire night panning the room, glued to my chair from the wildness of the thought that this was all for us.
Did I, at one point, end up in the bathroom alone and holler out? Yes, of course I did. Only to get out some wild, happy, loud energy. I still feel the joyful, overwhelming happy vibes of that night; I’m living off the entire weekend, but I had never, until that night, ever felt so much magic in one place.
And then I heard the words “party bus,” from three moustached, unbuttoned, feisty firemen (or maybe some cousins?), and I knew the night was about to take an interesting turn. Neil, along with all the fire guys from NOLA, fam from Philly, Boston, Dallas, and who knows where else, piled on to a bus that would take them far in to the morning of our wedding. I slipped out of my mehndi dress and in to a blue silk dress from my little Blayre, and entertained my friends with a gin-induced Lil Wayne rap battle…with myself. I Ubered Ashley, Michael, and me (did that work like I wanted it to?) back to the hotel by midnight and forced myself to sleep, an attempt to be as fresh as possible for the best day of my life. I think my mind finally turned off around 2am, but who can really say?
I “woke up” at 7am on the nose, to a text from my sister-in-law saying she broke her foot on said party bus.
And to the forecast of rain.
And to a very hungry belly that was lightly lined with alcohol and crackers.
But that didn’t keep me in bed and certainly didn’t stop the ear-to-ear smile from practically ripping my face open, eyes and all, the morning of my wedding. I flung the curtains open (more like slowly unzipped them) and apologized for waking the room and informed them about Krishna — who by some Louisiana-Guju party girl strength, soldiered on the entire weekend with a broken foot — and said that it was time to get it in gear and where the hell is the coffee??!!! I was awake and so ready to become Mrs. Patel.
Neil’s vidhi was first up on this gorgeous Saturday, perpetual inner sunshine totally radiated from Neil, doused the dreariness of the cool August day and all of the events from the late night.
This ceremony is typically done at both homes of the bride and groom, separately, where they are blessed by the priest, their parents, all of their uncles and aunts, and treated to haldi by female cousins, which are lovingly referred to as sisters. The haldi is a handmade paste that is rubbed on the face to make the skin glow. (It smelled amazing from where I ended up sitting) I couldn’t wait to watch this! How can they possibly make Neil’s face glow any more than it already does?! It is mildly infuriating at times how beautiful my husband is, but his smile truly looks like a glowing, endless sunset, so I tolerate the his annoying wonderful charm and dashing, sassy good looks. (life is hard)
Many more family members and friends had arrived after the mehndi, so I was nervous, yet excited, to meet more people. The squad was impressively dressed and at the hall before most, so I had time to cool my head and find some excitement in the presence of the moment. I felt a tad over zealous by showing ups so early, but was more than anything ready to see my future husband for the first time on wedding day.
I sat quietly as my masi pinned a bindi to my head just before the vidhi started. Looking down at the color of my henna, I couldn’t help but smile as I heard Baa’s words from mehndi night in my ear: “Beta, dark color means deep love.” She’d said this with a knowing smile I was beyond grateful to see; marrying in to a strong Gujarati family means honoring the strong family ties between the generations. I thank universe daily they everyone had such an open mind and heart when they were presented with the idea of adding a different culture to their family.
I looked at my hands and studied their color further, deep red; remnants of the paste still clung to my skin. Choosing to focus on my patterned hands other than my nerves seemed to steady me, though I felt like I could see the red hue deepen with each step I took, almost psychedelic and moving. The color seemed to brighten with every hug and touch and there were moments when I thought the design would climb right up my arms and legs. My skin transformed before my own eyes.
I thought for sure when Neil touched me the henna would magically remain unfading.
The vidhi came and went quickly, and the afternoon before the wedding and reception went by just the same. I felt like a total maniac all afternoon, completely devoid of any and all chill.
While my moms and sister had their hair and makeup done, my body decided to respond to the sense of overwhelming love by mixing that up real good with the tiny bit of the caffeine I had, and all of the excitement I felt about the wedding. I have NEVER felt so out-of-body. I did everything I could possibly think of to calm my nerves, find my zen without addressing to the crowd that every atom in my body was floating apart. My years-long friend, hair guru, and mom to the dumplin’ I looked after for a while and still just adore to pieces, was finishing up with Mrs. Daksha when some sort of crazy, unbreathable vibe took me over. I sat down, then stood up and turned in a circle and just stopped and stared at all the makeup on the bed. I couldn’t really breathe and didn’t want to admit it.
At this point, I had: laid flat, stood on my head, peed about a dozen times, drank half a gallon of water, nibbled on some pouris, blasted chill, lo-fi beats, drank coffee….I tried it all to keep myself calm. And then, I felt the whole of my body turn in to jello. “Can I take a hot shower? Like RIGHT now?” I addressed this plea to Rhianna while attempting to remain cool. She gave me the most sincere “OH FCK” look and said, “Ummm sure yesokaylove, can we cover it?” responding to my paling skin and perfectly pre-curled hair. “Mmmmm,” was the only response I could muster. I vaguely remember Michael leaving the room, but moments later he rushes to the rescue by providing not two but four shower caps and I was in the shower locating Ujjayi in no time.
Another conversation with the shower head.
When I came out in my long whatever it was I was wearing, I felt collected, and it was my turn to sit in the chair.
It only felt like a few minutes, but I know it was longer. I let the air come in and out of my nose, and only spoke a few times; I can’t for the life of me recall what the last hour before the wedding was like; I remember my eye being closed, and then opening them when I arrived at the hall. I knew only one thing in that moment, and that was that the best part of my future was about to begin.
I floated down that aisle, y’all. My mom was floating; I could feel her smiling and that made my heart visible from chest, I just know it did. I feel as though I hovered above the ground during the ceremony and never felt the smile leave my face. I wonder if anyone noticed my feet leave the floor? There are moments that friends have captured that just melt my heart, and there’s so much I could share, but not every detail is meant for the world. If I could put the entire night in a box and keep it forever, I would.
I listened so intently as the priest spoke, yet was busy panning the room with my eyes, deep in observation, memorizing the faces in front of me. I remember squeezing Neil’s hand with every promise we made — there were seven — and my hand shaking to sign my name, for the first time, as “tj patel.” Always lowercase, with absolutely no explanation.
Our wedding night whirled on, to the beat of bhangra, bollywood, and everything else under an indoor, evening sun. A blend of family and friends shared their talents, their words, and most importantly their time with us this night. It all stands out so clearly in my mind, every last little jewel of it. I continuously scanned the room so many times that night just to drink in the amount of people that made the time to celebrate the happiest night of our lives. I could hardly speak at certain points, truly unable to find the gratitude I felt in every inch of my body. I still feel it all.
It was a starry night indeed, a thick blanket of memories suspended in the sky, for always.
Neil, I hope every day of our life is filled with memories and tales that take from sunrise to sunset to tell. Thank you for giving me your family, for giving me this day and everything that it represented. Thank you for the love I feel from you every day and the immense joy I have; you are solely responsible for helping me create that daily in my life. To the brightest light in my life, I will always treasure every single moment of this remarkable, sparkling, unforgettable moment. I love you.
We have so many people to thank and we love you each so so much we are bursting.