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The Perfect Storm

March 16, 2017

 Image: Sarah Weber Photography

 

“You know what, I’m not dealing with this nonsense. We’re just not getting married.” Frankie threw her phone on the bed and marched to the kitchen where she pulled the freezer door open. “Where’s the gelato?” She demanded as she slammed the freezer door shut.
 
“Well, there was only a little bit left…”
 
“You ate all of it?” She thundered as she grabbed her keys and wallet, slammed the front door and headed off to buy more ice cream.
 
I picked up her phone and read the message that set off this latest temper tantrum. It was from her cousin in Italy and roughly translated it said something about a treaty between countries that I wasn’t authorised to sign.
 
I didn’t blame Frankie for this latest freak out. I was angry too. We were trying to organise our wedding at the Italian Consulate in Melbourne because it was the only way we could legally wed in Australia, but the Italians were making it an extraordinarily frustrating process. They needed this form and that form and the consul general thought we should probably apostil all the forms just because, and there was some mysterious form that they didn’t have in their possession and had never seen but which they required us to also sign. But, of course, only one lawyer in Melbourne knew what the form was and he would see us for the bargain price of $400 each in cash.
 
An hour and a half later, Frankie returned with a tub of gelato. “I’ve decided the Italians can get fucked. We’re getting married in Auckland instead.” She handed me a little orange gelato spoon.
 
“I want the blue one.”
 
“Yours is orange.”
 
“I don’t like it.”
 
“It matches your hair.”
 
“I still don’t like it.”
 
Frankie handed me the blue spoon. “I googled and found a celebrant who does same sex weddings at her home on the water and we can go to Clooney for a fine dining dinner after. It’ll be perfect. And there’s one single form you download and fill out. One! Can you believe it?”
 
“I believe that’s normal, yes. A form. Singular.”
 
“This is life in Italy you realise? This bullshit with hundreds of forms no-one needs and apostils and running around to different offices. If this job really comes through and we move there you won’t cope.”
 
“You’re the one melting down, not me.”
 
“That’s because the form doesn’t even exist in Australia. Australia isn’t a party to the treaty with Italy so my cousin said you don’t even have to sign it!”
 
“Ah, his message makes perfect sense to me now.”
 
“Stop going through my phone.”
 
“Change your password.”
 
As we ate our ice-cream, we read the Auckland celebrant’s website and agreed that it felt like the perfect way for us to commit our lives to each other. So we picked a day when we would be in Auckland for Frankie’s conference and emailed the celebrant. Then we booked the photographer and makeup artist, downloaded the marriage license application form, filled it out and sent it off.
 
Two weeks later, we arrived at our serviced apartment in the centre of Auckland, dumped our suitcases in the walk in closet and headed to bed.
 
At 2am, a loud thumping noise woke me and I listened, disoriented, to the faint sound of someone crying. I turned the light on and saw Frankie sitting on the floor next to my suitcase, her hand over her mouth and blood dripping through her fingers and down her arm.
 
 “It’s a terrible sign,” Frankie muttered as she stared in the bathroom mirror, watching her lip swell ominously. “There’s an outline of my tooth where it pieced my lip. It’s an omen.”
 
“A sign or an omen?” I quizzed, secretly wondering if Frankie’s purple swollen mouth would ruin our wedding photos.
 
The next day we drove through the lush green hills of the north island to the Hobbiton movie set, where we spent the afternoon exploring the charming little hobbit village in the glorious sunshine.
 
On the way home, the news came on the radio. Something about a severe storm warning for Auckland and the north island, with winds and rain starting this evening and worsening through the week. “Expect flash floods, power outages, trees down and possible slips.”
 
“What are slips?” Frankie asked me in her best New Zealand accent.
 
“They’re like tips and mits and fits,” I replied. “My accent is better than yours.”
 
“Did you hear the radio announcer???”
 
“Yes. He said I’m going to have a hair disaster on our big day. And my silk outfit will be destroyed in the floods. We’re from Melbourne. We’re used to crappy weather and rain.”
 
“I’m telling you, putting my tooth through my lip was a sign.”
 
“What’s going on?” I asked Frankie as she stared at the road ahead of her. “Don’t you want to get married now?”
 
“It’s not that. It’s just…I don’t know…it’s just a bit…Maybe we should have the people we love around us.”
 
The next day  I walked to my hair appointment in town, smiling as the sun pierced the grey clouds. Halfway there, a flash flood hit and I arrived at the salon looking like I’d jumped into a swimming pool fully dressed.
 
“You’re getting married! How exciting!!!!” The colourist squealed as he towel dried my sopping hair. “Should I blow dry your shirt for you?”
 
“No need, I have to walk home. Perhaps just offer me a glass of wine instead.”
 
I bought an umbrella and skidded through the sheeting rain to our apartment. The balcony was flooded and the building was suffocating under the angry grey clouds hovering menacingly over the city.
 
I curled up in bed and turned on the TV. I watched footage of a horse floating down a flooded river while the crawl at the bottom of the screen updated the latest news: 200 students evacuated from a camp after they woke to find their blow up mattresses floating in water. 3000 homes currently without power. Slips appearing on farms across the north island, animals being washed away. Auckland expecting torrential rains for the next few days…
 
I found the email the celebrant sent with our ceremony attached and practised the vows I had chosen to make. What if Frankie was right? Surely it is a bad omen to marry in the worst storm New Zealand has experienced in 100 years? Maybe we should have the people we love around us for this?
 
Frankie returned home from the conference with drops of water falling from her hair and her shoes squelching when she walked.
 
“You’re right. We can’t get married tomorrow,” I announced as she pulled her wet socks off her feet.
 
“Yes we can,” she answered slowly, looking like I’d accidentally run over our dog.
 
“No, the storms are another sign. I blame Australia for not making marriage legal. Or maybe it’s our mothers objecting to our union. Or maybe we’re not supposed to get married while you’re at a conference. Or maybe it’s just not right.”
 
 Frankie changed into her tracksuit, opened a bottle of Prosecco, handed me a glass and curled up in bed next to me.
 
“I’m sorry I said my lip was a sign or sounded like I don’t want to get married. I was waiting on MRI results for Elena.”
 
Elena was Frankie’s childhood friend whose family hosted us for Christmas in Italy.
 
“What MRI results? What are you talking about?”
 
“It confirmed that she has Multiple Sclerosis. I just spent an hour on the phone with her and Gio. So no more delays and no more concerns about the weather. You’re the love of my life and I’m marrying you and bad weather on our wedding day is the least tragic thing we will encounter in our lives. Our day will be special because it’s about us.”
 
Frankie headed to the kitchen and cut up some bread and arranged it on a platter with cheese, olives and artichokes. “Since the torrential rain is preventing us from going out, we will picnic at home.”
 
“What is going to happen to Elena?” I asked as Frankie bit her lip and squealed in pain.
 
“She’s not symptomatic now and could stay that way for a long time, so it’s ok,’ she said in a way that made me wonder if she was lying.
 
The next afternoon at the celebrant’s house, the wind was too strong to stand on the balcony overlooking the water so we gathered in the Balinese courtyard instead, with her husband and 20-something son acting as witnesses.
 
“Please hold your hands palms up so you may see the gift they are to you.” Said the celebrant, bringing a motherly warmth to the occasion.  “These are the hands of your best friend, which will hold you faithfully through the good times and bad, as you laugh and cry and...”
 
Tears welled in Frankie’s eyes, so she pushed her index fingers into her tear ducts in an attempt to make them stop.
 
“These are the hands which will comfort you when you are sick or console you when you are grieving…”
 
Frankie pushed her fingers deeper into her tear ducts but the water escaped around them and raced down her face.
 
“Can we get some tissues for Francesca please,” the celebrant asked her son, who ran inside and emerged with a box of Kleenex.
 
Frankie mopped her face and blew her nose. I wanted to tell her that it was ok, that Elena would be alright, but I held her elbow instead.
 
“These are the hands that are holding yours on your wedding day as you pledge your love and commitment to your future life together, forever...”
 
As tears poured down Frankie’s cheeks, she screwed her face up and squeezed her eyes tightly shut.
 
Realizing that Frankie intended to spend the rest of the ceremony looking like a three year old who ate an olive she didn’t like, I cracked up laughing. Frankie open her eyes just as I snorted and then she started laughing and we both stood there, hysterical, as the wind blew the rain sideways. Then we pulled out our hand-written vows and in our words, promised the rest of our lives to each other.
 
After sharing a bottle of Prosecco with the celebrant and her family, Frankie and I headed out for our photo shoot. We posed on a pier as the winds whipped my hair into an Edward Scissorhands-style frenzy.
 
“You look fierce and fabulous and like nothing can stop you,” the photographer yelled supportively as my false eyelashes flap furiously in the wind.
 
“You look like you crawled out of the sea to attack me,” Frankie giggled. ‘Fierce. Very fierce.”
 
I spent the next half an hour pulling hairs out of my mouth while Frankie played super model and then we drove to Silo Park, where the wind howled and the sky groaned and my hair tried to fly away. Then the photographer handed us a padlock and we added it to the love-lock fence at the Silo Marina.
 
Later that night we ate tiny bites of food in our tan leather banquet at Clooney restaurant. Back home, we poured two glasses of Prosecco and Skyped with Elena and Gio.
 
Elena cried as Frankie translated our vows into Italian for her. Then Gio made a toast in English. “You two are so special to us and we love you. We never thought this day would come Frankie, but here we are. Hold on tight and embrace every moment that life gives you together our dear friends. Saluti.”
 
“To the time we have together,” Frankie whispered as tears fell down her face.
 
After we hung up the phone, Frankie hugged me tight and lifted all of the blinds in the bedroom. Then we made love as the rain thrashed against the windows and thunder cracked in the distance.
 
The next morning I awoke curled safely in Frankie’s arms. As we drank our coffee in bed, we talked about Gio and Elena and their children. And about how much Elena and Gio needed each other and how much Frankie needed them. Elena’s family had been Frankie’s family. They’d provided the calm, safe place that Frankie had desperately craved in the centre of the storm that raged around her.
 
“And now the storm is raging around them and it’s my turn...our turn,” Frankie corrected herself as she rubbed her wedding ring. “We can't wait any longer. This job has to come through because I have to return home and be there for my family.”

 

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