By Dyana Herron

My first wedding took place on November 1st, 2003, All Saints’ Day, exactly two years after my fiancé proposed to me in a Waffle House parking lot, before we’d ever even kissed, and I said yes.

I was twenty-one, old enough at least to legally have a glass of champagne at the reception.

Where I’m from, twenty-one is a perfectly acceptable age to enter into a marriage. My mother was seventeen when she and my father married, and my father’s mother was only fourteen. Back then, if you were finished with school and ready to work or make a home, it was time to marry and get on with it.

Getting married on November 1st meant that the eve of our wedding was Halloween, which I’ve already mentioned is a major event in my hometown.

My husband-to-be and I couldn’t even drive to the courthouse to pick up our marriage license that day, because the roads downtown were closed to allow setup of the annual Block Party. We had to walk, weaving our way through clusters of costumed children gripping candy buckets—miniature superheroes and pumpkins, ninjas and pirates. Angels.

I was trying hard to feel adult, old enough, capable and strong enough, to be a day away from a lifelong commitment. But that was hard, especially walking through the ridiculous streets, surrounded by kids. When the courthouse clerk gave us the certificate, she also handed over a goodie bag, a sort of “congratulations” from the city. Inside, among other items, were a sample-sized deodorant and a coupon for acne medication. Gifts fit for an adolescent.

I had planned the wedding largely by myself, my mother fresh from a hospital stay to regulate her bipolar medication. After the quick rehearsal on October 30th, she was confused as to why I expected her to come to the rehearsal dinner, just pizza at a nearby restaurant. She confused it with a bridal shower, already passed.

My father existed in the cloudy world of alcohol he’d inhabited for years, a dark forest I couldn’t follow him into, from which he would sometimes heartbreakingly emerge. While in Atlanta for a bridal shower, my siblings called me, panicked, because my father had woken my nine-year-old sister at night, during a thunderstorm, to insist she come outside with him to shoot the shotgun. They hid the guns, left the house, and asked me to call my dad.

Although his words were heavily slurred, I understood him when he said, “You’ve always been my baby girl. You’ve always been the one who loves me.”

Perhaps it seems that someone taking care of her parents would feel more adult, and sometimes I did, but more often I felt like I was pretending. Like a girl shuffling around in her mother’s high heels, mostly tripping, falling often.

The night before the wedding, a girlfriend and I had manicures and pedicures at a nail salon inside the mall, also decorated for Halloween. The man who massaged my calves wore a sequined halter top and hot pink wig. He spoke in low, lilting Vietnamese, but addressed my feet. This whispering continued for a while, until he finally looked up at me and said, in heavily-accented English: “Your feet. Are very tired.”

My feet had given away my secret to this man dressed as a woman. They were very tired. So were my brain and my heart, and the rest of my body. I was. Very tired.

By the time you read this, my second wedding will be two days in the past. I am twenty-nine. I feel more exhilarated than tired. I am doing my own nails. My shoes fit fine.

Because neither David’s parents nor mine can make the trip to Seattle to attend, I asked them to send me their own wedding pictures, so I could frame and display them at the ceremony.

I hadn’t looked at the one of my father and mother for years, and seeing it again made my breath catch, they are so young and happy. My mother’s copper hair hangs in long, loose cylinders of curls around her delicate, freckled face. My father has a muscular build, his hair dark and wavy, to his shoulders. He wears a gentle smile and a white suit.

They are linking arms, sipping fruit punch from plastic glasses marked “Bride,” and “Groom.” They are just kids.

I wish I could say that when I stand before David to take my vows I will feel perfectly confident, composed, and adult. But I can’t say that.

And not because I have any doubts about my love for him or my wish for our lives to be joined. I don’t.

But because of this: love makes children of us all.

To stand before another and confess one’s love, to devote oneself to another’s wellbeing, to give oneself over completely to love, is an experience that carves us down to our essential, shivering, exposed selves.

Regardless of our age, our job, or our self-assurance, we all buckle before love. We buckle before the simplicity and purity of it, our unworthiness before it, and our gratefulness for it.

If I could visit that twenty-one-year-old girl on the eve of her wedding, I would tell her that it is okay to take shaky steps forward. I would tell her it is okay to feel like an adult. I would tell her she will never regret that—that this is the way she moved into womanhood.

I hope she would tell me, now, that even as an adult who is surer of herself and sure of this marriage, it is okay to feel like a child. That, really, I will always be a baby girl. One that has loved, and loves still, and commits herself to love, and is better for it.

Note: This post was originally published on the Image Journal blog Good Letters.