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Two Rings and a Big Secret

A picture from our wedding day on December 29, 2012.

As of today, I have been a married woman for three whole weeks.  I’m sure the ‘veteran wives’ reading this just had a good chuckle, but I imagine for each newly wed woman (such as myself), this new sensation somehow seems to be a daily revelation.

And we didn’t even have a big wedding that, as the festivities wound down and ‘Thank You’ notes were written, this revelation began to sink in.  Nope.  I felt different from the moment I sank my bare feet into the sand in Key West, knowing that Morgan and I were the only ones in the world who knew we were getting married.  Why?  In the purest sense of the word, we eloped.

Our marriage license – a week before we got married.

Since the moment Morgan and I met at a Zimbabwean refugee camp (see An African Boy and an American Girl), nothing about us has really been normal.  We dated cross-continentally for two years while I was finishing my undergrad in the U.S./Cuba and Morgan worked as a reporter in South Africa.  We moved to Thailand and made a life there together when neither of us had ever been to Asia.  Morgan supported my dream of doing community development work when I moved to Mozambique and we were separated again.  And after four and a half years together (see Four Years with a Ninja Paleontologist), I could not imagine my life without him.

Morgan

Morgan.

Our idea to elope derived from a combination of ideas, inspired my Aunt Shirley and my sister, Hana.  Morgan and I had talked about marriage in the past, but we had always wanted what any of our same-citizenship married friends had: lots of family and friends there for the big day, cake, to wear a pretty dress and a nice suit, cake.  We wanted to wait until Morgan and I had saved up some money and could have everyone present (from South Africa and the U.S.).

While we weren’t in any rush, U.S. Immigration waits for no one and Morgan and I once again began contemplating either being apart or finding another foreign country we could both call home.  We had thought about getting married, but up until that point, we had seen only two options: a quick courthouse ceremony or an expensive ballroom-packed reception.

Then one day, a third option was presented to us: a destination wedding.

Key West.  (Source: WordPress)

Key West. (Source: WordPress)

So after one very long walk and some serious thought, Morgan and I decided to get married!  In the same notion, we decided not to tell anyone.  We knew that we would get a lot of opinions thrown into the mix and maybe even a few judgements, but no one else could walk in our shoes.  Another big factor in our decision to keep getting married a secret was that if all of my family and Morgan’s family and closest friends couldn’t be there, we thought it was most fair to everyone (and most importantly, to ourselves) to only have the two of us there.

From the moment we decided, we had exactly two weeks to plan a secret wedding.

My wedding bouquet.

My wedding bouquet.

Firstly, kudos to all of the brides out there who have planned weddings that include more than two people!  For the most part, our planning was relatively stress-free, but there were one or two moments that arose with weather or initially, finding a place to stay, that posed as curveballs.  Nonetheless, we navigated through the unknown matrimonial territory like champs.  We booked a great bed & breakfast, ordered rings, booked our wedding through one of Key West’s several wedding companies (did you know Key West is ranked one of the Top 10 Best Places to Elope?) and (in the spirit of our romantic, yet budget wedding) found perfect outfits in our closet to wear for our beach ceremony.  The only thing left to do was wait.

And then, Morgan surprised me.

The picnic.

The picnic.

Morgan drove me down to the Ellis Wainwright Park in Miami where he pulled out a large picnic basket for a romantic little picnic, complete with hummus, crackers, various cheeses, strawberries and delicious mimosas.

Sunset

It was the most beautiful day.  Not a cloud in the sky.

As we watched the sun go down over the water, Morgan wanted me to take a walk with him to a certain part of the park.  Naturally, I told him that it looked like women got kidnapped in that part of the park and asked why he would want to go there.  But given that he’d put so much planning into our picnic, I conceded and we went.

When we arrived at a gazebo, Morgan’s hands began shaking as he dropped to one knee and pulled out my ring.  To be perfectly honest, I only remember bits and pieces of what he said because I started to cry.  A lot.  But I do remember saying ‘yes’ when he asked me to marry him.

Newly engaged (officially).

Newly engaged (officially).

It’s a funny thing that his hands shook and I cried so much after we had already discussed and decided to get married.  But simply because we didn’t have a lot of money and no one else knew we were getting married didn’t mean that we wanted to miss out on all of the experiences that people in love treasure most.  I couldn’t have loved him more.

On our way

Driving through the Keys on our way to Key West.

After spending Christmas with my family, we told them we were going to go for a little vacation in the Keys and would be back in a few days.  With that, we began our last adventure as boyfriend and girlfriend.

The Coco Plum Inn in Key West

The Coco Plum Inn in Key West.

While it was the peak of high season down in the Keys, we did manage to find a fantastic little B&B that I would recommend to anyone visiting Key West.  The family that owns The Coco Plum Inn treats every guest like another member of their family and the breakfast is unbeatable.  Given that Morgan and I weren’t having a traditional wedding, I figured, why diet like a traditional bride?  I ate biscuits with sausage gravy every morning and it was delicious.

Mimosas for the soon-to-be newly weds!

Mimosas for the soon-to-be newly weds!

We had two days in Key West before we got married and one day after, so we decided to enjoy every moment in paradise.  We visited some of the historical homes, watched street performances, ate as much as possible and made a lot of friends.  The number of people who wanted to know our story and how we decided to elope amazed us!  It seemed as though every other person in Key West was cheering us on.

Sunset cruise the night before we got married.

We went on a sunset cruise the night before we got married.

And then the day had arrived!  It was December 29, 2012 and Morgan and I were getting married.

Our wedding was scheduled for the late afternoon and as excited as I was, I was equally nervous.  While I spent a good deal of the morning telling Morgan that I felt like I was going to be sick, he remained calm and composed.  He said he felt fine and couldn’t be happier.  I left him for a few hours while I got my hair and makeup done and when he came to meet me at the salon, he just stared.  He told me I looked beautiful and then immediately following, he told me that he suddenly felt sick, too.  Clearly, nerves had gotten the better of us.

But when we met the wedding company and arrived at the beach, the nerves began to slowly subside and we realized what we were actually doing.

And it was amazing.

My husband and I.

My husband and I.

Upon arriving back from Key West, we told nine different groups of family members in nine different ways (over dinner, over breakfast, Skype, email, phone, in the car, over coffee) … but that’s a story for another time.

Suffice to say, everyone was supportive and expressed a great deal of love and happiness.

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