June 7, 2014 - I awake in a Best Western hotel room in Healdsburg, California. I glance at the clock. 5:30 a.m. I stare at the ceiling and groan at the irony of it all - I’m half a world away from my husband, kids, and dogs. I have no plans for the day until the wedding at 6:00 p.m. I could sleep until noon, if my body would only let me. Jet-lag is a beast. I swing my legs over the side of the bed and pad over to the window unit and flip on the heat. I peek through the black-out curtains. Grey. Foggy. Cold. In June. I’m used to this weather, but I’ve left my spring jacket and scarf in the Netherlands, clearly over estimating the ‘sunny California’ stereotype. I shuffle into the bathroom to grab another tissue. Maternity dresses bought in Barcelona hang on wooden hangers. I’ve been fighting a losing battle with a head cold for over a week. Pregnant, jet-lagged, and tissue-box-emptying head cold make for a rough combination. I rub my eyes and my mind becomes clear. Active. It’s racing. I lay back down. I tell myself I need to rest. It’s a big day. I need to sleep. But my thoughts are bouncing all over the planet – California, Waco, Brazil, Dallas, the Netherlands, and Puerto Rico. Words flash. Sentences come together. Feelings bubble over. I know what I must do. I’ll never sleep otherwise and this is too real, too honest to let it escape. I open my computer and begin to type.
Two months earlier – Vinny returns from his business trip to the United States the weekend before my birthday. I’m finally out of my 1st trimester, but I’m exhausted none-the-less. Cosette’s first week of school proves to be emotional and cycling a few miles a day with the two kids is a little tougher considering I’m carrying one more in my belly. I’ve still kept up with everything – laundry, house, cooking, cleaning, kids, and work, but it’s taken its toll. I want to sleep. Curl up on the couch next to him and never leave. I embrace all the goodies he’s brought back from the States – maternity clothes which were tucked away in my Dad’s garage, gifts from my best friend Nikki, and his Target purchases. I sit in the living room breathing and resting - watching him unpack his bags. I’m sentimental for home and friends. “I have another surprise for you,” he says – after the kids have gone to bed. “Ugh. You know I hate surprises!” I tell him. After nearly ten years, I wish he’d embrace this facet of my personality. “I know. I know. But I booked your flight for Julio’s wedding in June.” My face softens. “Really?” I whisper. “Yes. You need to go. I’ve already taken the time off of work so I can watch the kids. Plus, the direct flights to Dallas dropped dramatically in price.” He’s saying all the right things.
June 2014 - Two months later, I board the flight from AMS to DFW. It’s such a quick trip. I’m armed with confirmations, maps, and a credit card (in my name to avoid the rental car disaster like last time). Four flights, 6 days, 3 rental car confirmations. Maps of the closest Target, Buy Buy Baby, and Ulta (ahem, well cosmetics are cheaper in the U.S.) to Nikki’s house. Plans for a dental appointment, lunch with Dad and Grandma, and dinner with friends in Dallas. Maps, GPS, hotel confirmation, and phone numbers for my trip to California. I’m nervous about the drive from San Francisco to Sonoma Valley by myself (it’s a few hours, I’ve never driven in California, and I rarely drive anymore, period) – but V has done everything he can to make sure I (and baby) feel safe. I’m excited. Pumped. As I’ve mentioned before, solo trips to the United States to see best friends is pretty much the most ideal vacation ever.
Everything goes smoothly. I shop. I catch up. I eat lots of Mexican food. Everyone gets to see for their own eyes that I am pregnant. I’m able to tell my Dad and Grandma in person the name we’ve chosen for the baby. All my pre-ordered packages from DSW & Motherhood arrive on time. I even manage to squeeze in a pedicure the morning before I fly to San Francisco. I pick up my rental car at SFO without a hitch. The GPS is exactly like the one we have in the Netherlands. I have 3 hours to get to the rehearsal dinner. The GPS says I should be there in an hour and a half. The GPS is directions are consistent with Vinny’s directions. I’ve got Nikki’s mixed CDs playing in the car. I’m rolling. I’m happy. I get stuck in some traffic in San Francisco but then fly over the Golden Gate Bridge to the sounds of Sarah Barielle’s “Brave” pumping through the stereo. “Okay Baby!” I say to my bump. “This is exciting stuff. Things I thought I’d never do – drive over the Golden Gate bridge 5-months pregnant. Happy Babymoon to us!” And then. . . I hit traffic. I slowly watch my estimated arrival time expand. The original 90-minute estimate yawns and stretches in the dusty sun. It eventually settles on about 3-hours. I text Julio. “I’m so sorry, but I’m going to be late. I thought 3-hours would be enough time for a 1 ½ hour drive, but apparently not.
I arrive at the rehearsal dinner, late and flustered. I see Julio flagging me down, showing me where to valet my rental car from across the road. “I’m so sorry!” I tell him. But he says to forget about it – he’s just glad I made it. The evening begins.
Glasses clink and a lovely breeze tickles our faces as we dine on fabulous cuisine on the California outdoor patio. I’m seated at a table with twenty smartly-dressed men from Dallas and Julio’s family from Puerto Rico. I had been nervous – “Vinny, I’m not going to know anyone there and I’m going to be all by myself!” I had stressed weeks before.
“Honey,” he gazes into my eyes, “of all the weddings to go to alone and pregnant, this is the best option. A gay wedding in California? Julio’s friends are going to be awesome! They’ll love you - don’t worry!”
Vinny’s assessment proves to be correct. Julio introduces me to many of his friends and we all smile and chat the evening away. Many have heard of me and there are many others who are curious as to who I am. Snippets of stories flash – “We used to work together in Waco. . . actually we were roommates. . . actually, we worked together again at American Airlines. . . we’ve been friends are really long time. . . Julio was in my wedding. . .” Each face glows with excitement. Loves and adoration radiates towards this couple. I’m the only girl at this gorgeous table besides his mother and aunts. I’m pregnant and have flow across the world. Everyone seems genuinely curious as to why I am here and wants to learn more, but none of the sentences spouting from my mouth truly captures the entirety of our relationship. Waves of memories flow. Images flash. The officiant sits across the table from me and asks the man sitting next to him if he is going to give his speech tonight. “No no,” he says, “I’m going to give it tomorrow night at the reception.” Apparently, my subconscious takes hold of this idea, and comes to fruition at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.
I text Julio a few hours before the wedding. “Happy wedding day!!! I woke up this morning and wrote something (a speech? A blog post?) about you. I’m sure you already have everyone all lined up, but I’ll bring it just in case. Love you and best wishes today!!!” Julio writes back and tells me to bring it and that he’s excited I’d speak from his side of the table. I’m excited, too.
The ceremony takes place at sunset overlooking the valley. Acoustic guitar music twinkles. The two grooms look dashing in their black tuxedos. The officiants’ voice recites the vows with confidence and the grooms repeat. Julio’s emotions shine through and every heart in the audience falls with his. In the end, there wasn’t a dry eye on the patio. Afterwards, we mingle and guests sip from wine glasses as waiters circle the stone patio. Julio laughs with his guests about his tearful breakdown. Mike admits he almost broke down when he saw Julio enter the ceremony. “When I saw him crying though, I knew I had to be strong. That’s pretty-much how our relationship works – if one is wavering, the other stands tall.” I smile with appreciation and at the fact that it was represented during the ceremony. After two glasses of cucumber water, I excuse myself to practice my speech. Minutes later, I find myself in the middle of a gorgeous table that stretches the length of the barrel room. Forty men and women who adore Mike and Julio surround them with their presence and love. Conversations are hushed. “Are you ready?” Julio asks me from across the table. I breathe in and out. “Yes.” I stand up and all eyes are on me. My paper shakes in my hand as I introduce myself. “Hi! I’m Celeste. . .” and I continue to ramble a few more words I don’t remember. Everyone smiles, anxious to hear what I have to say. I conclude with, “I’m more of a writer than a speaker, so you’ll just have to bear with me,” and everyone nods with encouragement. As I conclude, the room erupts with applause and I glance at Julio. We’ve made each other cry tonight. I’m still shaking with nervousness – I mean, I just voluntarily gave a speech! But I’m so proud of everyone in the room that has made this day special for one of the most special people I know.
Toast to Julio and Mike
Julio and I started our careers on the same day in August 2001. I, running late and flustered, rushed into the lobby of JRBT – a tiny accounting firm in Waco, Texas, apologized to the receptionist and with an air of defeat, plopped breathless into an armchair. A well-dressed and relaxed Hispanic man sat to my left. With gleaming skin and wide, friendly eyes, his warmth and hand extended my direction. “Hi, I’m Julio!” he proclaimed. Time paused. The entire momentum of my first day of work shifted. I reflected the beam of light and shook his hand. “Hi! I’m Celeste!” I smiled. At that moment, I knew we would be friends forever.
Three days later, my original assessment was confirmed at 6:30 a.m. on the side of a darkened highway 84 as we left town for our first training in Dallas. “Bumpity, bumpity bump.” My little blue Toyota Carolla begged for relief. Oblivious, or just in denial, I drove a few yards further until Julio told me to stop. “Uh, Celeste – I think you have a flat.” I pulled over. The tire was shredded. Flashes of being late for my second day of work, waiting for tow trucks while cars flew past on the highway, watching the sun rise as time ticked by scrolled through my head. “No problem. I fix it!” he said. And I wondered where this angel came from. “Puerto Rico!” he said.
We worked side-by-side in tiny banks all over Central Texas for a few years. We drank bad coffee, ate chicken fried steak, and met friendly people that had never been outside of Texas. “Excuse me m’am, but do you have low fat ranch for this salad?” I asked a toothless waitress at a café across from a bank in Valley Mills. “Honey,” she cocked her head, “I ain’t got low-fat nothin’”. And in response to her raised eyebrow, I just ordered the regular ranch. Julio snickered from across the table.
His lease on his expensive apartment in Waco ended and my fiancé moved to Houston. Julio and I decided to save money and move in together. We eventually found a 3-bedroom duplex in Hewitt. Our backyard was enclosed by a chain-link fence and opposite that was a farm that stretched to the horizon. With cows. I bought a dog named Tyler that Julio spoiled and who befriended the livestock. If you had told us then we’d be living in the Netherlands and a high-rise apartment in Dallas later in life – I don’t think either of us would have believed you.
My parents’ marriage and my engagement ended while I was living with Julio, which of course prompted a lot of drama on my part – poor guy! As part of my ‘recovery process’, I wrote a list of twenty qualities I really wanted in my future spouse - funny, smart, loving, thoughtful. I needed a guy who made me feel beautiful and who I loved spending time with. As I reviewed the list, my eyes grew wide with realization – I had described Julio. I ran into his office to explain my experiment. “Ahh – did you come here to confess your love to me?” he smiled. Desperate puppy dog eyes blinked behind mascaraed lashes. He laughed and shook his head. I already knew, but Julio was most definitely gay – with no hopes of conversion. I fell back into a chair, shrugged, and repeated the advice he most commonly chanted during our years at the accounting firm - “So, what can be done, that’s life?” I needed to find another Julio, but straight. This is not an easy order to fill.
We parted ways and left the tiny town of Waco for bigger adventures – him to San Antonio first, and me to Dallas. Luckily, I met Vinny pretty quickly. “Oh, Julio – I don’t know about him,” I’d exclaim. “Celeste, try. He’s good for you,” and he’d mime spoon feeding me. I listened. I fell in love. Julio was officially an usher at our wedding, but in reality, he was more. Vinny and I had planned a gorgeous outdoor wedding on the steps of a plantation home outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. As the rain gushed from the sky twenty minutes before the ceremony was to begin, the guests huddled on the front porch like scared rabbits, my own tears flowed. It was Julio who found my make-up artist and told her to “run!” It was Julio, along with my other bridesmaids, who hugged me tight and made me laugh as loud as the thunder above. The indoor ceremony was beautiful and Julio and I danced to Santana at the reception to the applause of my family. It was the best day of my life – not only because I married Vinny, but also because I was surrounded by the love of my friends and family. A culmination of years of laughter, heartbreak, and excitement for the promise of the continuation of love in the future.
From culinary adventures in Waco, to sightseeing in Brazil, to hosting my daughter’s baby shower – Julio fills my mind and heart with years of laughter and happiness. When it came to the decision to return the favor – to see him at the best day of his life – the decision was easy. A solo trip, five months pregnant, from the Netherlands are just details to help me prove my point. Julio literally means the world to me.
Julio and I both traveled alone and with each other when we worked at American Airlines. We can traverse the world courageously solo, but I also know that life’s journey is a lot more fun when you’ve got someone to carry your luggage, help you navigate, and a relive the adventures. I’m excited that Mike is the man that will make and share in life’s plans with him. But more than that, I’m happy he’s found a love that’s good for you, too.