I remember looking at the new faces in my freshman dorm and immediately identifying who in the room looked the most Jewish. Tall, skinny dude wearing Giants cap, I may not know his name, but that’s my boy. Many of my best memories from my first year were spent playing catch baseball with Ryan right down the hill from our dorm room on UC Santa Cruz’s East Field overlooking Monterrey Bay. We ate most of our meals and drank most of our beer together, and triumphed as part of the “Poke Checkers” checking line in intramural floor hockey.
I was in Ryan’s dorm room when a sparkly blue-eyed blond haired gal named Sierra from his Sonoma County hometown of Healdsburg, California popped in. Ryan didn’t have to tell me he liked Sierra in high school and never stopped. It was obvious.
Well, as luck would have it, Ryan and Sierra basically shared a room sophomore year, the same room I also just so happened to share with Ryan. They eventually moved in together which made the most sense for everyone.
Despite these memories, I couldn’t decide about attending Ryan’s wedding. We had only seen each other a few times since graduating in 2007. The wedding was a far drive and I’d have to take time off work. He was my best friend in college, but we didn’t talk all that much. Plus my best bud, Vivo, the Poke-Checkers all time leading goal scorer, wouldn’t be there.
I struggled with this decision and sought advice from family, co-workers, retail employees—whomever would listen. A few beers deep on a first date I asked Abby her opinion. “Would you want him at your wedding?”
So, I drove up to wine country with Todd, my freshman roommate. We spent hours in the car together listening to his same Rage Against the Machine album on repeat like we were roommates again. We spent a night in San Francisco with our friend “Shappy,” who we convinced to join us at our camp site along the Russian River.
Ryan and Sierra’s post-college friends—farmers, fisherman, and townies, arrived at the beach with some of the best groomed mustaches west of the Mississippi. Nate, our new zucchini farming friend passed a bottle of whiskey around as we introduced ourselves as Ryan’s college friends aka Ryan’s Jewish friends. Shappy, now shirtless, was the only person at the campground wearing a Star of David. To fit in better, I was hoping the Star of David that could reverse into a Cross. Also not helping matters,Todd forgot his sweatshirt. It was like man vs wild. Well, more like Jewish man vs wild.
And then I met Blair –tan, with thick brown hair and remarkable lips, my love interest for the weekend.
At night we sang songs like “Jolene” around the campfire. I sat in a foldout chair hoping Blair would come close since I didn’t want to give up my seat. Instead she clung on to Raj, a salmon fisherman from Alaska who had drifted to Santa Cruz. When he wasn’t catching salmon, he was crashing weddings and stealing hearts. Ryan rounded the circle like a joint until finally reaching my chair. “What’s it feel like?”
“It’s surreal knowing everyone came here just for us.”
Todd and I wondered how we would shower before the wedding since there were no showers on site.I put my head under a spigot where I conditioned my hair and shaved my neck. I changed my pants inside the tent and kept hitting my head on the top flap. I stepped out of the tent to see Blair looking sexy in a royal blue dress, a similar color to the bridesmaids dresses. If one of the bridesmaids went down Blair could easily step right in.
The wedding was held at a vineyard overlooking Alexander Valley and a nearby reservoir. The sun set over the valley with Ryan and Sierra underneath a hoopah handcrafted by Ryan’s dad and the four groomsmen who I presume never before wore a yarmulke nor built a Chuppah. Ryan’s Uncle Mike officiated the ceremony. The microphone was about a foot taller than Mike and it took him a good couple of minutes to realize that the mic was not turned on.
Sharing their vows, Sierra expressed her love using index cards while Ryan took his bride in his hands and said “Sierra when I am with you I am free. I promise to be good to you always. You are my love, my only love and I will forever be there for you.”
Blair was sitting in a row next to several other naturally beautiful Bay Area natives, the kind of strong-minded, independent women you’d want Occupying Wall Street. These proud women were now sobbing uncontrollably. I was more than ready to borrow Uncle Mike and take Blair under that same Chuppah.
Raj reeled Blair in so it probably wasn’t going to happen. Besides, in the two days I knew Blair the extent of our conversation was “Nice to meet you too.”
And so with my cabernet in my hand I took a walk as the sun began to set. One of my best friends in college was now a a married man and there I was at his wedding watching the sun glow from the body of the reservoir thinking about how this might be the end of our friendship. I wouldn’t see him much anymore, not like I saw him much to begin with. That thought passed quickly when I realized that Ryan and Sierra’s love was pretty special, and I witnessed it from its earliest stages to its climax (literally).
Before I could reach the dance floor, Ryan grabbed my arm. “Horah—next song! I want you to be in there.”
I rushed to the circle joining the groomsmen in lifting Ryan in the chair until I could no longer feel my arms. I was glad I could be the Jew he identified among everyone else. More so, I’m glad I could be there as a friend.