In August 2018, I was visiting Las Vegas for a weekend and my friend Stephanie and her fiancée Marissa also happened to be there. While we were there, the two women asked me to be their wedding officiant. It was the sweetest, most touching ask and there were lots of happy tears and sushi and so much fun I missed my flight back home to New York.
In July of 2019 I attended a psychic fair and met Matthew Croft Lewis. He asked me if the name Bill or Billy meant anything to me. I racked my brain but couldn't think of a Bill that mattered. He simply said, "This feels romantic to me," and described seeing a wide, toothy, wry smile and feeling excitement in his stomach. As I hugged Lewis goodbye, he reminded me about Bill, I laughed and said "Hmm I don’t know about a Bill, but I’ll take a William." Bank all of this info for later; it will be relevant.
Flash forward to October 2019—it’s time to do this wedding! For more than a year there was planning and dresses and parties, and it was amazing, but then it dawned on me that I had to stand up and be the person to marry my friends. And honestly, I was a mess! I arrived in L.A. a few days before we had to head up to the wedding location in Paso Robles with a dress that needed to be tailored, another dress that needed to be hemmed, an almost-finished officiant speech, and a laundry list of things I needed to do. Three days before the wedding I found a woman who would do my hair and makeup.
The brides and I got to Paso Robles on Thursday night. We stayed at an AirBnB decorated with super odd posters talking about Murphy’s Law and how Murphy was actually an optimist. I’m a big believer in signs and there could not have been a bigger one than these two literal posters: Shit was gonna get crazy, we just had to ride the wave and keep it positive.
We slept a few hours and surprise, it’s Friday, which is essentially go-time, yet I decide to go on a hike. That made way more sense to me than doing any of the things I actually needed to do. It was zen and I genuinely felt good about the wedding. But the afternoon took a turn: Steph and I planned on getting a manicure and pedicure before the rehearsal dinner; the salon said they could take us no problem, but that wasn’t actually the case by the time we arrived. Marissa’s grandfather fell and broke his hip and needed surgery. (He's back home and doing well now!) Wildfires were raging, so the 5 freeway was closed and it took a few people from the wedding party nine hours to make the drive from L.A. instead of the usual three. As a result, the brides cancelled the rehearsal, which, in retrospect, I would have 100-percent benefited from. I went in to officiate my first wedding totally blind and, well, you read the headline.
The morning of the wedding I wake up surprisingly not hungover. After brushing my teeth I grab an Uber to meet Kristen, the hairstylist and makeup artist. As I approach the salon, I see the streets are all closed for the Pioneer Day Parade, so I walk the final six minutes and spend the next few hours in glam. I get back to the house, put on my dress, and hop in the car taking the bridal party to Home Sweet Home, a working ranch set amongst gorgeous vineyards and down the street from a cemetery, where the wedding was taking place. While en route, I call Staples (yes, the office supply store) to ask if they can print my officiant speech for the portfolio size I have. The Staples woman was so overwhelmed! Maybe Pioneer Day? I have no idea, but she said she just couldn’t have it ready in time. Once we get to the ranch, I help Steph get into her dress and am working on finding paper to write my speech on (it was an unplugged, i.e. no phones, ceremony) while people try to give me alcohol. I wanted nothing, my nerves growing. I knew my body just had to feel the anxiety and nervousness—a drink probably would have made things worse for me. Before I knew it, it was time to start.
There I was, 14 months after being asked to officiate, standing in front of 150 people. I didn’t feel horrible the entire time, I promise. I was nervous but fine as the bridal party walked toward me. When Marissa's dad, Anthony, walked her down the aisle and shook my hand I had a moment of I’m really doing this. And then I saw Stephanie and any plan I thought I had went out the window. I felt so many beautiful things, but seeing my soulmate walk up looking gorgeous and her dad walking her, and the two of them coming towards me standing beside the woman she loves the most was too much! It was too much! I felt tears coming and told myself, You lock it up, you have a job to do. But those emotions needed somewhere to go, and that’s when the nausea started. It was like taking a shot at a bar but your body rejects it. That’s what my body was doing, but I hadn't taken a shot. All day I hadn’t eaten or drank anything except water and maybe a sip of rosé that was foisted upon me but I was too nervous to consume. It turned out not eating was the best because then I threw up. Mid-ceremony. I. Threw. Up.
I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I fought with every fiber of my being to not throw up, but pinche cuerpo traicionera (translation: my fucking treacherous body) just did not agree with me. To give myself a little credit, I did make it through the beginning of the ceremony until a reader came up to recite a poem. I knew in my heart that was the only moment I could exit before I projectile vomiting between the brides, so I ducked behind the bridal party and found a conveniently placed trashcan. The entire ordeal took 2 minutes and 35 seconds. The wedding itself took 15 minutes. Well, 12 minutes and like 25 seconds without my little moment. I’ve broken it down as a photo diary, complete with timestamps.
I definitely learned some things about being a wedding officiant through the ordeal. I hope my story of personal humiliation helps you a little bit, and if it doesn't, I hope you don't vom. And if you do, I hope that everyone is as cool as the people I had the privilege of vomming in front of.
- Start with a disclaimer. While I was watching wedding videos to prepare, I came across one in which the officiant promised to do his best and that at the end the couple would be married. Smart. Things happen and a disclaimer lets everyone know: We’re all in this together.
- Do your research. My execution was less than ideal, but I knew my shit! I knew the county laws, the state laws, what needed to be done, who had to sign and where. At the end of the day this is legally binding and it should be taken seriously.
- Plan. I’m always running late. Even when I’m on time, I’m late. Weddings are not the place for that. I was trying to get my nails done just before the rehearsal dinner with one of the brides. There was only time for one manicure, so clearly it went to the bride. A million things may happen that are out of your control, so control the things you can.
- Your vendors matter! A moment of appreciation for the DJ and photographer. The DJ, Sey, cut my mic, which was genius! And the photographer, Frankie, kept snapping pics while helping me clean myself up. It was truly phenomenal! The final moment would not have been possible without them and I am forever grateful.
- It’s all love. No matter what happens it will all be fine. When I close my eyes, I laugh thinking about how I wanted to make this moment so special and then my body just got the best of me. But I'm so happy. I don’t make myself uncomfortable for anyone—except the people I love. And I really love Marissa and Steph, and this was the best wedding to be the first that I officiated. The people who ask you to officiate love you and want you to be part of their day; all you have to do is get them to kiss and say "I do." Remember that no one else will have the experience you do, the view you do, or the bond that you do with the couple. It's really beautiful!
One last thing: At the end of the night, I told Marissa that my mom thought it was a gorgeous wedding but she was bummed I didn't meet "Bill." Marissa matter-of-factly says, "Zach's middle name is William." I'm not kidding! He was there to help keep me going. Destiny.
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