We like to say each project begins with a conversation. But really, it begins by finding an hour to come together. That hour is almost upon me as I exit the Montgomery Street BART station.
Most weekdays, I’d have to fight my way cross-current to make the seven steps from the station exit to the doors of The Palace Hotel. Monday through Friday, the tide of finance and tech professionals make for a rough cut with an approximate ratio of one apologetic sorry/smile for each tentative, perpendicular step through the current of commerce flowing up and down Market Street. But today is Saturday, and I’m downtown with Alicia, a like-minded lady for whom commerce is also a distant concern. The streets and sky are clear, and we’re meeting a couple who is engaged to be married. We’re in the business of love. Alicia and I mint currency in words with a delicate exchange rate between symbols, metaphors, and customs.
Amethyst and Lena are deeply in love and have a solid, complementary partnership. They smile at each other a lot. We settle into high-back chairs, near ATM-sized flower arrangements, under a vaulted glass ceiling. After exchanging pleasantries and stirring sugar into our coffees, we move into the big stuff: their story.
Like most clients, at first they’re a bit reserved. We lob soft questions at them, about where they live and favorite movies, and finally dive into how they met. Longtime friends became a long-term relationship, speckled with true admiration and pride in one another.
My role as editor and officiant means that I will assist the lead writer and perform the couple's wedding ceremony. While Alicia is tasked with the hard work of good note-taking today, I’m allowed to indulge a little freedom on my train of thought. As we keep talking, a detail of their proposal at an elephant sanctuary down the coast enchants me, and my pen eases into the margin of my notebook to do a quick sketch of a wedding band and a line of elephants, each trunk looping a tail. For a moment, I consider the wonderful, indelible circle as a symbol of eternal love. It is an element of human language that has translated across centuries and continents, flawlessly.
Those elephants march through my mind as I edit Alicia’s first draft. I tighten a sentence here, expand a section there. As editor, I mix finding spaces and embellishing while also ensuring structure and cohesion. We have to keep those elephants marching forward, trunk-to-tail. In the end, we’ve woven Amethyst and Lena’s inside jokes, shared history, and hopes into a meaningful fifteen-minute ceremony, tailored to bring the couple into the officially married club.
Alicia and I send the first draft of the ceremony to the couple, and soon we’re deep in the revision process. Remove a metaphor here, replace a story there, swap out a reading toward the beginning for something more befitting.
Some months and a few drafts later, and I’m getting fitted for a mic by a sweet DJ. I’m wearing pendant necklace with a tiny gold elephant, but hidden behind the neckline of my dress — it’s a secret good luck charm, a tiny extra offering of love to the couple. One of the brides asks me to write out her vows because she fears the pressure of “repeat after me” will be too much in the moment. She runs off to greet guests. Handwritten, her vows are tucked in with the ceremony. Last minute requests are the norm.
And then, a few minutes after the appointed time, I’m standing with Amethyst and Lena in front of a collection of their family and closest friends. All three of us are a little nervous. With great officiating power comes great responsibility, and I want to make sure these two are married with laughter, joy, and grace. We’re all a little breathless as we begin.
Memories of strong women in their families are shared. Guests chuckle when they’re supposed to. Both brides tear up, passing a handkerchief between them.
As I close the ceremony, I declare, by the power vested in me, these two are married, and magically, as if the words were a spell, “girlfriends” transform into “wives.” I’m an alchemist! A sorceress! Suddenly, a dozen people in front of me are now “in-laws.” The influence of my incantation is so great, it is recognized by state and federal law, in taxes and property rights and health insurance. All of this significance is held in the gentle, eternal cradle of a circle.
With these women, Alicia and I made ripples in that tide of commerce. There are glimmering swells where the sun touches the water now, where indelible currencies churn forever.
Alison Hunter's goal is to be a cool old lady and she fills her life with the people and adventures to make this a reality.