Sunday, September 28, 2008

Animating in Westfield

I've just spent my first week in New Jersey, and I can now officially say I'm a character animator for a company called SpeakeasyFX in Westfield, NJ, doing work for the 40th anniversary season of Sesame Street, which will include 8-minute animation shorts that we will be producing from now until next year. I'm terribly excited, but unfortunately very tired so I need to keep this update short.

Downtown Westfield

The main thing you need to know is, yes, I am very happy. This one sort of landed in my lap just after the wedding, and while it seems like horrible timing to be apart form Naveen, who is still in Chicago, it was a wonderful opportunity I could not refuse. He and I will be just fine.

I'm falling asleep while writing this... so I'd better quit before I accidentally delete some files or break something... it's been a long week, mostly because I've been finding a place to live. I'll try to give more of an update tomorrow.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Headed for New Jersey

So, I don't have long to write, but you know me. Brevity is not a friend of mine.

Today I am packing like mad and trying to absorb everything that has happened recently. It's clear that divine providence has taken a very present role in our lives these past couple of weeks. As you know, Naveen and I were married on September 6, and had our day of bliss. It was absolutely wonderful, and as I said, I was (and still am) looking forward to life as a happily married woman. Naveen and I have been doing great, and yes we plan on a honeymoon eventually, but probably not until spring, for multiple reasons.

Five days after the wedding was September 11, and although that day has been burned in our minds as a tragic day for American history, it has notoriously been a good day for my career. Two years ago on that day I signed my contract with CVC Communications to work as a full-time art director after having freelanced with them through the summer. It was a great opportunity and I was blessed to be able to live at home and save a lot of money while Naveen was away at school in Florida. Of course, as you know, I was simultaneously taking classes through Animation Mentor and juggling school projects with work ones, and after about 6 months I decided it would be best to continue work on a contract basis and go to Florida where I could focus on animation and wedding preparation with Naveen. The contract relationship with the CVC team has been maintained well and may still continue despite the present news.

In the early evening of September 11, 2008, I received an email from a small but rapidly-growing company in New Jersey that wanted to discuss the possibilities of me joining their team as a character animator for a television show geared toward preschoolers. The story behind this company is truly exciting, but I'm not sure what exactly I'm allowed to say about it just yet (I can only mention what was said to me in the initial email before I signed a non-disclosure agreement, and I won't mention the company name just yet).

I was a little shocked, because Naveen and I had been getting excited about having more time after the wedding so that I could polish up my reel and start sending it out to places, but I had only just barely begun a side project ('Dog N Suds') when I got this news. Apparently my advisor at Animation Mentor had recommended me to them, and they had seen my work on the alumni site. When I heard that, I was even more surprised, because a handful of that work is unfinished, but evidently they see some promise in my style, and I couldn't be more excited to work with them. Over the next several days, I got to look at their amazing preproduction work and hear more about their team, which is growing in numbers with Animation Mentor folks, and is run by some animators that have worked for reputable film studios.

Obviously the catch with this whole situation is that it's in New Jersey, which would require me to live there. Incidentally, Kristy (my sister) lives in Brooklyn, which is only about an hour train ride east of where this company is. I did inquire about working from home in Chicago, since we just got married and set up our apartment here, but as I expected they need to at least start with everyone in-house. It's completely understandable. Instead, we discussed the possibility of working on just the first episode until early December and go from there.

So by September 16, ten days after our wedding, I went through a couple of fairly brief phone interviews with the owner / visual effects director as well as the team manager and executive producer. I never got to speak directly with the animation director, but it sounds like he was finishing up another major project and would be busy this week. But by the end of the day they wrote yet another email inviting me to start work on Monday, and after much discussion, Naveen and I agreed this is a good move for me, and I'm going to do it.

We're packing today, flying at 6:30am tomorrow (Saturday), scrambling to find a short term lease or room mate situation over the weekend, and I start on Monday.

I'll finally be a professional character animator. :)

Of course it will be difficult, and hopefully some of my earnings can be applied toward trips home every couple of weeks or at least once a month (although December isn't as far away as you'd think - it would only be around 10-12 weeks). It's probably going to fly by faster than we imagine. Since Naveen is happily working here in Chicago and we have a year lease on our beautiful apartment, we'll just have to try to make things work - but we definitely agree this is the way to go for my career. We've been together just about 6 years; we knew this day would come sooner or later. We had no idea it would happen two weeks after our wedding - but, life has thrown us a lot of small miracles, one of them being our little Sully, the stray that made his way into our lives just days before the wedding, and I'm thankful that he'll be here to keep Naveen company while I'm away.

Please keep us in your prayers. We're thankful for life's many blessings, and we think this great opportunity for me will really help us down the road. It's a great first step into the world of professional character animation, and we're thrilled about it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

We're MARRIED!!!

Saturday, Naveen and I were married, and although it sounds cliché, it was the absolute best day of my life, no question.

I’ve spent my first day back home preparing for our new life here in Chicago. I feel completely reborn. My concerns about missing life like it was, or being a grown up, have all instantly been pushed out of my mind, because now I have this brand new life and this all-encompassing but gentle pressure to rediscover myself now as a happily married woman.

Starting on Wednesday, September 3, life was getting really crazy. I had visited my doctor on Tuesday for one final checkup before becoming a married lady, and on Wednesday, I was feeling crampy and moody. That didn’t last long though – Mom, Dad, and Kristy were driving from Fort Wayne to Wisconsin and made a stop here at the apartment so Kristy could see it before returning to New York. She really loved the apartment and couldn’t get over how much space we had. We hung out for a little while, but they couldn’t stay long because the cats were waiting for them in the car and they had to get back on the road.

Now, before I go on and eventually claim to be the newest addition to the Nattam family, there’s something very special that happened on Wednesday as my family was leaving our Chicago apartment. A small stray tabby cat ran up to me as I was trying on a pair of white wedding heels next to the car. He was extremely affectionate, pushing his face against my leg (a sign of love, that the cat is taking ownership and forming a bond), and rolling around my feet almost like a little puppy. Mom gave me some food to hand to him while coaxing him out of the street, but he kept coming back to me and rubbing his forehead against my legs. As my family drove away, I had every intention of going back upstairs and getting back to packing for the wedding – but I simply couldn’t leave. The little guy kept circling my legs and looking up to me.

A woman walked by and I asked if she’d seen him before, and she said no, picked him up for a moment and chatted with me, but set him down then and said although she’d love to take him, she already had two cats and she couldn’t have a third. This cat took another few steps toward her, but she jogged away so that he wouldn’t follow her, and when he turned and saw that I was still standing there, he came back to me and wouldn’t let me go. I tried getting inside our front gate, but he snuck right through and went up the steps. I opened the front door and he ran all the way upstairs to our apartment, and I just tossed my head around debating about whether to shove him back outside or hang onto him until Naveen came home so that we could take him into a shelter somewhere. However, after spending a few more minutes with him, it was impossible to think of turning him over to a shelter where he might be euthanized, and he was in such good health I was certain he belonged to someone. I decided to take him to our bathroom for the moment, giving him an empty moving box and a sheet for comfort. Meanwhile I thawed four small frozen shrimp I had in my freezer and he gobbled that up extremely fast. I also got him some water and waited for Naveen to come home. When he did, I showed him the cat, and like me, he instantly fell in love.

Naveen and I had been talking for almost a year about getting a cat. We weren’t sure if we could afford one, or manage one with our schedules and moving around so much, but after spending only a short time with this little one, it was just impossible to imagine giving him up. We had wanted to get a really scrawny looking cat and name it Hagrid like from Harry Potter, just for laughs, but we couldn’t possibly give that name to this cat, even temporarily, because if he belonged to someone else, it would be even harder to give him up. He was acting so goofy throughout the afternoon, I had been saying how silly he was, and that sort of evolved into the name “Sully,” like the character on Monsters Inc. We ran to the store for some cat food and a litter box, and got one of those nice perches with the cat cave and scratching post all built in one. We knew we were dropping quite a bit of money on him very suddenly, but we acknowledged that even if we found out that he had an owner, we would donate or keep the items for a new cat we would certainly get later, or otherwise donate the items to people who maybe couldn’t afford them. But at least for the night, he was ours.

More about Sully on Naveen's Blog

Thursday came, and although we were supposed to have been focusing on our final days of wedding preparation, all we could think about was little Sully. Naveen went to work and I scoured the internet for local shelters and vets. I found a guy named Mike from the Red Door Animal Shelter nearby who was willing to come to the apartment and scan Sully for an identification microchip. When he arrived, we learned that Sully did not have a chip, and while that didn’t guarantee he was homeless, Mike assured me it would be odd behavior for an owner to let this cat wander outdoors without having been neutered first. It was remarkable though that Sully appeared to be in such good health, though, so I posted a listing on Craig’s List as well as fliers around my building, letting people know I had found a cat.

I continued to call around to try to find a place that would take him without risk of euthanizing him, at least for the weekend while we figured things out. Most places found it extremely admirable that despite our crazy pre-wedding schedule, we were taking such time and caring for this cat. After much searching, I found a vet downtown who would take Sully over the weekend fairly inexpensively, but also go ahead and neuter him and partially declaw him (front two paws only, to save my skin from more severe allergy problems as well as for the furniture we’re starting to accumulate, while keeping his back claws for his comfort and protection in case he would ever escape outside). So while Naveen and I could have left for Wisconsin immediately after work, we instead fought the downtown traffic for an hour and managed to squeeze Sully in just before closing time. The vet, Dr. Andres, and his assistant Jim, were extremely nice and patient with us, and took their time explaining the procedures as well as the shots and other tests Sully would get for his overall health. It was expensive, but well worth it, and we left our new kitty knowing he’d be in good hands. Sully stared into my eyes just before we left and I promised him everything would be okay, and that we’d be a little happy family when we got back to pick him up.

It was hard leaving him there, but we knew it was the right thing to do while we focused on our wedding the next couple of days and decided for sure whether or not we could handle having a cat this soon. We returned to the apartment, scanned in some photos for a digital photo frame that mom got for the reception, and put together all of our wedding gear for the last drive up north as an unmarried couple. It was so late, and Mom had explained that there wasn’t much room at the house, so we stayed in a hotel near the airport that night and got a solid night’s sleep.

Friday morning we woke up and went down for a quick hotel breakfast. Shortly afterwards we drove to Grandma and Grandpa Malecki’s house to get everything together for the wedding. Eventually Naveen and I parted ways so that I could drive Mom, Kristy, and myself to the Serenity Day Spa in Waukesha to have our nails done before the rehearsal. I think the best part was knowing mom was finally getting an afternoon of relaxation and special treatment – she deserves more of those. We enjoyed manicures and pedicures and then met back at the Country Springs with Dad and Naveen, who had been running around trying to fix the tux situation that had developed. Savvi Formalwear (in the upstairs of Eva’s Bridal Center in Oak Creek) had completely lost our friend Nathan’s measurements – I had called them once earlier that week as well as yet another earlier time the week before, asking if all the guys had submitted their measurements, asking specifically about Nate because we knew there had been some problems with his. Both calls I had made were answered with “Yes, everyone is all set, Nate too, we’re set to go.” Apparently they really weren’t – Nathan’s measurements were non-existent, and most of the other groomsmen’s pants had been hemmed up terribly high. I was glad I wasn’t there to deal with that, because I probably would have ripped somebody’s head off. Savvi Formalwear is in desperate need of hired help and consistently seemed unprofessional, in both dealing with our out-of-town tux measurements as well as our wedding invitations (they had a deal with Carlson Craft, who delivered invitations to us that barely had any of the beautiful floral pattern that had been impressed on the stock that was shown in the sample albums – Carlson Craft was quick to remedy the problem, even though Mike from Savvi was incapable of noticing there was anything wrong, and needed a lot of pushing from Mom and myself to get the invitations reordered).

We only had a short time to get ready at Country Springs before scrambling over for rehearsal at 5pm. We got there just in time to start, but many people were missing, including most of Naveen’s family who were still getting checked into the hotel and finding their way to the church. I apologized to Father Leonard, who was glancing at his watch and wondering when we could get started. It was just about quarter after 5 when his family finally arrived and we were able to get going with the rehearsal. We only walked through the ceremony once, and Father was a pleasant mix of firmness and humor, balancing the solemnity of the mass with the joy and excitement we all felt. It was a beautiful rehearsal and ran until almost 6:30, so we thanked Father again for accommodating us out-of-towners and for presiding over our ceremony.

As we left the church, I got a call from the vet. It turned out Sully’s surgery went well, and that he was happy and healthy and ready for us when we would return. We were ecstatic to hear this, and slowly other people were finding out – first my sister and her boyfriend, and later some of our other bridesmaids and groomsmen. It was more fun keeping them in the know, but we wanted to wait to tell our parents until after the wedding so as to not add any additional stressors to think about.

Soon we were off to the Seven Seas, a beautiful secluded restaurant in Hartland, WI, which looks like a white country mansion at the edge of Pewaukee Lake. It had a beautiful terrace outside, although we arrived too late to enjoy it, but the view from the upstairs dining hall was beautiful. The appetizers were really tasty, and the drinks were also good. But probably one of the most enjoyable parts of the evening was seeing Naveen’s reaction to his groom’s cake, which was an expertly crafted imitation pizza, complete with white chocolate shavings resembling the shredded mozzarella cheese, and marzipan and fondant shaped into mushrooms, green peppers, black olives, and pepperoni. Probably one of the most fun and memorable cakes I’ve ever seen, and Naveen was just blown away. We then enjoyed a really nice dinner with our rehearsal guests – some enjoying chicken, others beef, and a few ordered the vegetarian entrée.

As things settled down later in the evening, the girls and guys sorted out their plans for some last-minute bachelor/bachelorette parties! Naveen and the guys decided to stay in the Country Springs bar while the girls went out to the Water Street Brewery and enjoyed some drinks and appetizers. I know Naveen’s gang had a lot of fun, but meanwhile the girls really seemed to enjoy getting me some new and interesting sleepwear, as well as some very thoughtful gifts as well to mark the start of a great marriage. I was so thankful to them and had a wonderful, fun time. We stayed out late, so Mom and Dad had their own room while Kristy and I had an adjoining room. We didn’t get back to the hotel to go to bed until around 2, but I felt myself falling asleep quickly and without any wedding jitters, and I was so thankful to them for helping me relax.

It was terribly unfortunate then that around 4am we all woke up because of a domestic situation taking place out in the hallway just outside our door. People were screaming, particularly a very intoxicated woman who couldn’t remain standing, and a man who was yelling back at her. It seemed later that they were involved in some kind of abuse situation, but at the moment it seemed that people were just extremely drunk and yelling obscenities at one another, while some of their party was spilling out of the hotel room and one of them was apparently trying to call for help. I stuck my head out of the door and complained to the man on the phone, who seemed somewhat sober, telling him it was my wedding the next day and that I would be calling security if it didn’t quiet down. He looked sternly back at me as if I had no business telling him what to do, but he legitimately looked me in the eye and conveyed he was doing all he could, so I closed the door and went back into bed. Still 10 minutes later, the situation had grown worse rather than better, and I finally did call the hotel security. I know mom had stuck her head out as well and scolded them, and it seemed she might have also called security too, but it took probably 20-30 minutes for any police response, and it seemed it was an hour before the noise level seemed remotely tolerable.

As if interrupted sleep wasn’t bad enough, my nerves had been awakened from the deepest core of my being. It became evident that I could not contain myself anymore, and I started shaking uncontrollably in my bed, and crying. No matter what I did to try to calm myself down, I couldn’t. Kristy even got into bed next to me and tried holding me – I was suddenly freezing cold and unable to pull myself together.

I’m afraid I probably kept her up most of the night, because I don’t think I slept at all after that. I just shook and cried and kept running to the bathroom feeling sick. It was awful, and I was powerless to stop and tell myself it would be okay. Hour by hour, I was feeling weaker and weaker, and angry that this had to happen on the night before my wedding, after I had enjoyed such a wonderful rehearsal and dinner with family and friends, and then a fun and easy-going party with my bridesmaids. I wondered why that had been taken away from me and replaced with such fear and negativity.

When I peeled myself out of bed around 7:15 am on Saturday, I was feeling exhausted, upset, and cheated out of a good night’s sleep before my wedding day. I dragged my feet to our small sink and tried to find the strength to get myself ready. At every noise that came from outside our door, I jumped to the peephole as if to lash out invisibly to the people on the other side, only to slide back over to the bathroom and tell myself to get a grip and take courage. I took the hottest shower possible to get my body temperature up to normal and wake myself up. I threw on a white tank top and some tan capris and let my hair air-dry while I packed up everything I would need at the church and reception. I knew I should eat, but when I went to the hotel breakfast by the pool, all they had were doughnuts and muffins and cringle and anything baked with ten layers of sugar on top of it. Disgusting – no bagels, no breakfast fruits (they had some apples but because they’re so hard I doubted I could stomach those either). I later saw a kid with some Cheerios and decided that would be my only option, but even those were the Honey Nut kind and I had maybe one handful before I realized I couldn’t eat those either.

I kept feeling like everything was impossible – I wondered how I could possibly drive myself anywhere while being so tired, and I was only barely going to make it on time to my hair and makeup appointments. But things slowly started to turn around. I ran into Nate while I was getting a luggage cart for myself, and he helped me to get my belongings out to Naveen’s van. I gave him a huge hug and thanked him – I was so glad to have a friend to spill my story to while I was packing up to go. I realized as we walked outside and were blinded by the sun that it was going to be a gorgeous sunny day and I wouldn’t have to worry about rain or cold weather, and that alone warmed my spirit and gave me some strength.

When I reached Anton’s Salon in Pewaukee, I sat down with Molly who was so wonderful and encouraged me to talk about everything, and cheered me on like an old friend would. She was the biggest sweetheart about it all, and when she heard I couldn’t eat anything at the hotel, she sent her assistant to the salon break room to get me a glass of water and some of their tasty biscotti for me to munch on while she was curling my hair. I only was able to have half of it, but I was so thankful because it was something to settle my stomach and keep my energy up. Meanwhile she talked to me and smiled and put together a beautiful hairstyle we had come up with during an earlier visit – and it was even more perfect than I remembered it before. She worked wonderfully with my hair and was patient with my requests for slight changes here and there, and it was such a relief to have someone so kind-hearted taking care of me that morning.

I was already feeling better by the time my hair was done around 10am and I was escorted to another chair where Bree was all set up and ready to do my makeup. She was also very friendly and patient, and a great aesthetician. There is something very serene and intimate about having someone else do your makeup. Until that day I had been really nervous about it because I was afraid a lot of makeup would make me look trampy – mostly because I’m so used to slapping on some foundation and not really adding any color or interest to my face. She knew how I felt about my combination skin and the redness I tend to have (that I can’t stand!), and she gave me tips about my makeup choices while she so carefully transformed my face into that of a bride’s. I was so surprised at the end when I got to look in a mirror and see that it was still me, but with a face I didn’t want to look away from instantly – it was me with a smile and depth and instant personality, and magically, I looked like I had had a full night’s sleep. I thanked her for giving me a look I could be proud to look back on.

From there I scooted off to the church. It was only a little after 11am, but I knew the wedding party would be arriving between 11:30 and 12, so I wanted to get there first and unload the van with all the things we needed for the ceremony and reception. I was still there by myself – Mom and Kristy each had a 10am appointment to get their hair done at a place in Waukesha they had selected, and although they had been my strength in the morning, I was glad to have a little time alone at the church to help keep myself calm and collected. As I walked into the church, I was greeted with a burst of beautiful color and amazing fragrance – it was my wedding flowers, and they were phenomenal. It was like out of a dream. I had basically designed my flowers, although I had a florist. I have to take credit because it honestly felt like a form of validation for me and my ability to work with colors and shapes. I was just amazed at how perfect the bridesmaid bouquets were, and I was so very proud of how they looked. I couldn’t stop looking at them throughout the day, thinking about how I had carefully chosen each flower and color, and fought so hard to get them. I’m not sure how many people knew how much trouble I went through with the first florist and that we basically switched florists only a month before our date, but I was so very happy with the end result. At least at that moment, I thought that might be the proudest moment for me, seeing my floral vision come to life after all of that stress. And instantly, I realized, it was time for me to get married.

The first thing I took inside of course was my dress and all the accessories so no one else would see it just yet. I hung my bow bouquet (from my wedding shower) on the bride’s door just to suggest that I was inside, and I closed the door for privacy. Apparently someone’s Christening was going on that morning which no one told us about, and they were irritated at us for being there while we were irritated at them for being there, until both parties just shrugged and assumedly figured “such is life.” Until about 11:15, I was rushing back and forth from the van to the bride’s room and making sure everything was out of the van that we’d need later.

I don’t want it to sound like I was in charge of everything – because it was mom who was on top of the whole event and worked so hard to make it happen. I just brought things that I had taken responsibility for, like the cake cutters and topper, and unity candle holders, and several odds and ends like that.

I basically sprawled everything out in the bride’s room, conveniently located on the left side of the church lobby area as you walk in the front doors. I also had the programs with me, half of which were glued and half weren’t (I had transformed our extra invitations into programs by cutting out the invitation wording and adding sheets of paper inside, like a window card – they were all put together with ribbon, but for half of the programs, I hadn’t had time to finish gluing the outside window part to the first inside page). I thought I’d have time to do that, but soon enough the photographer and videographers came and wanted to capture me getting into my gown.

Slowly my bridesmaids began to trickle in and help me get ready. Each of them looked just beautiful in their purple pickup gowns, and just thinking back about each of them almost chokes me up. Dorothy and Julie arrived first and helped me get into my gown, which was a surreal moment. I was scared for a moment when I couldn’t get my slip up over my hips and realized I really should have tried it on earlier, but I soon figured out how to get it on the right way and started getting really excited about getting my dress on. It fit like a glove of course, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Soon enough I was being photographed like mad, and the videographers were also trying to capture all that they could of me beaming about things coming together. As Becky, Kristy, and Kedari arrived, it was becoming more and more real to me – this was finally happening.

I have to take a moment to remember what a help they all were, getting me ready and once again trying to get me to eat something. I had brought a banana and the cheerios from the hotel, but couldn’t touch them. I was downing water as much as possible, and they also fed me a couple of cheese nips crackers and sprite, but I was adamantly refusing to have a Jimmy John’s sandwich that Mom and Kristy brought, because I knew I couldn’t handle it. I think adrenaline was pushing me through the day. Meanwhile, Dorothy’s husband Jeff grabbed my computer and USB key drive and cropped a bunch of photos Naveen and I had scanned the night we left for Wisconsin. I owe him a huge thanks for helping me get those finished, because I had been too busy to do them, and mom had purchased a digital photo frame for us to use at the hall during the cocktail hour. Without Jeff and Dorothy, that frame would have sat in the van through the night unused – and instead it was a cute little memory flip book for our guests as they enjoyed drinks and appetizers before dinner later that evening. I was so thankful that they helped me do this even as time was ticking and we were within a half an hour of the ceremony starting. Mom came in once when I was clearing off some space on the key drive and said, “Leave it to you to be on your computer 20 minutes before you get married!” But she knew we were doing all we could to get everything done as fast and best as we could. There were pictures being taken of Mom and me, and also then of Dad and me, and all of my girls with me, and the time was ticking.

From there, it was magic. The music started, my girls circled around me, and Julie led us in a prayerful moment before the ceremony began. It was finally happening, I was finally about to be married. And all I could think about was how special and wonderful it was to be surrounded by people who meant so very much to me, praying for me, and once again giving me the strength to carry out the ceremony.

I can’t even begin to start writing about it without getting goose bumps and an overwhelming sense of awe. I peeked outside as the wedding party lined up, and watched as each of them proceeded down the aisle, bowed, and went to either side of the church. The priest went first, and I came out of the bride’s room shortly after Naveen and his parents left to go down the aisle as well. The bridesmaids and groomsmen all went, first Kedari and Chris, then Julie and Nate, Becky and Adam, Dorothy and Raj, and Kristy and Praveen. I counted to five to prepare Anu and Shreya to start walking at the right time, and I did the same for Kaiden. Then, I took Dad’s arm, looked at him, and knew it was time to go. I tried to look at all the faces I could as I walked down the aisle, acknowledging everyone for being there, and then as soon as I found more strength, I looked up and saw Naveen. As the music played, I realized that maybe everything has happened for a reason, and even though I was so upset about the incident on the night before, maybe I should be thankful that it jogged all my nerves and tension early on so that it was out of my system. I had thought about how much church organ music sounds so powerful and often makes me choke up and even cry – I was bawling when I listened to Charlotte (our organist) playing for us weeks earlier when we were selecting our music, and I wondered how I would ever make it down the aisle without crying. But in that moment, I was on a mission, and all that mattered was giving Dad a kiss, hugging Mom and kissing her, and waiting for Dad to shake Naveen’s hand and to put my arm into his. An incredibly special moment – it tears me up to think back on it.

The priest gave each of us his special blessing, touching our heads, and then we sat down in chairs facing the congregation of our family and friends. This was a very different feel than I was used to for a Catholic wedding mass, but in retrospect I was so thankful for it being this way, because it allowed our intimate moments talking with the priest to be seen and admired by all who were there, and it was truly unique and memorable that way for everyone. Father Leonard was a Godsend, and he talked openly about marriage being a Sacrament and how we should bring each other closer to God and share our gift of love with everyone else. I just tear up thinking about that now too, because it meant so much to us to be acknowledged in our truest of love for one another and willingness to abide by our faith and traditions. I felt so completely fulfilled at that moment, as he spoke about that, because several priests along our journey made a point to tell us that our marriage would not be considered a Sacrament with Naveen not being Catholic – but Father Leonard saw it as we see it, that it truly is a Sacrament and still is a covenant with each other and with God, with wholesome purpose and deepest sincerity.

Uncle Rob gave the first reading from Tobit 8:4b-8. We had selected another passage earlier that we thought might be too wife-centric, and decided to switch to this one. The only problem with this one was that it begins to talk about Tobiah’s wedding with Sarah, but in the old manner of speaking, he calls her “sister,” which bothered us. It was all a blur at the wedding but apparently Rob left the word out so that no one would feel uncomfortable hearing a wife being called a sister. Meanwhile, the reading finishes as Tobiah prays that he is not marrying out of lust, but for a noble purpose, and we were so happy to have such an honorable reading being spoken at our wedding.

Kristy gave the second reading, which of course was 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8a. We always knew we wanted that one, with “Love is patient, love is kind,” etc. It is so beautifully written and speaks to our hearts, and we were looking at each other and at our families and friends and feeling totally in the moment.

The priest read the Gospel of John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into wine for celebrating, and again it was always the one that we had wanted. I remembered Father Dan telling us about that story years ago when we were speaking to him about marriage preparation, and it’s a really special story.

I think it was during his homily that Father Leonard was identifying our love as being something immense and powerful that should be shared with all – and we looked around the room at these people who care so deeply for us, and thought of them all, and we also thought about our little Sully who we’d be coming home to soon. There sure was something divine about him coming into our lives just days before our wedding, keeping us grounded and calming our nerves, and we thought about how our new little family would grow over the years. Father talked about the focus and intent of our marriage, encouraging us to visualize ourselves at the foundation of a pyramid with God being the top point, and that all our life we would be coming together to that point, bringing each other ever closer to God.

We stood to take our vows, and gazed into each other’s eyes as we spoke them. We have been so sincere to each other over the years that I truly felt we’d already made those vows to each other – but now we were making them in the presence of God and our families and friends, and my whole world felt complete. I was beaming the entire time, and as we exchanged rings, I was thinking, this is happening, it is really, finally happening. Then Mom and Naveen’s mom (who I call “Amma”) made their way to the altar to light the tapers next to the Unity candle, as Charlotte and Terry played and sang “One Hand, One Heart” which was deeply beautiful. We watched them as they returned to their seats, and then we went around and lit our Unity candle together, and it was just such a beautiful moment – a little humor added in when my wick was being somewhat finicky – but mostly a joyous moment that felt like a warm blanket wrapping around us.

Aunt Pam continued the mass with the prayers of the faithful, and soon Grandma and Grandpa brought the gifts to us at the altar. We handed them to the priest and walked around behind him so that we could watch as he prepared the Eucharist. We held hands across the room and prayed the Our Father, and as the church resounded with voices praying, I realized how lucky we were to have so many come to watch us be married in the church and to pray with us – so many of my family and our friends were there to stand and pray, and looking at Naveen’s side, not even Catholic, but still standing and holding their hands and looking up toward the cross, I knew what a wonderful, one-of-a-kind family we now had, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude and a sense of renewed spirit through them all.

Soon after the prayer was the sign of Peace, during which I was allowed to give Naveen a second small kiss – the first had been shared just after our vows moments earlier. I shook Father’s hand, and continued on to all of my girls, Kedari, Julie, Becky, Dorothy, and Kristy, hugging and thanking them all, and wishing them peace. I went on to my family and shook hands, and shared hugs and kisses with Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa. I then walked across the aisle to hug Naveen’s parents and family there, and the groomsmen, Prav, Raj, Adam, Nate, and Chris, thanking them all for everything, and then Naveen and I returned behind the priest at the altar for Communion. After I received the bread and the wine, we returned to our seats in front of the altar while Father continued Communion for the rest of the church. Toward the end, after everyone had received who wanted to, Terry was still singing “My Song Will Be For You Forever” – a heartfelt song we had heard many times in church – and I mouthed the words of the chorus to Mom and Dad, who looked very touched. They both were clearly fighting tears, but throughout the mass I smiled at them and nodded, trying to assure them that this would be a new beginning for me and I would truly be happy. I also looked at Naveen and sung to him a little, and he just gazed at me and told me how amazing I looked. We held hands and waited for “Ave Maria” to be sung so that we could present our flowers to Mary. We prayed at her feet a few moments before returning to our chairs once more.

Finally, we stood in front of the entire church as Father announced us as Naveen and Laura Nattam, man and wife, and we kissed a final time and went down the aisle to the sound of the “Wedding March” – ducking into the bride’s room so that we could collect ourselves with our wedding party and wait until the church cleared. We took photos in the church then from 3-4pm with our families, and the rest of the crowd traveled to the Country Springs for the 5pm cocktail hour.

After the church photos, we piled into a limo bus and scooted over to Waukesha’s Riverwalk and took some nice photos there, and continued on to the Formal Gardens at Frame Park. It was a little bit of a struggle because there were other wedding parties clamoring for space, and the appointment times were not being regulated by anyone, so Mary (the photographer) had to do the dirty work of asking them to head out so we could take our photos. It would have been nice to have more photos around with the flowers, but we were really rushing around to get back to the reception hall on time. The limo bus was comfortable as far as space, but it was kind of a horrible bumpy ride, like the shocks were out or something. It was tolerable and we were joking about it, but it really would have been nicer if the ride was smoother and not as noisy. Still, we enjoyed a little toast and drinks in there as we were being shuttled from place to place.

Finally we arrived at the reception hall just moments before 6. The driver was very courteous but we were happy to be getting out at the hotel. I encouraged people to grab drinks right away before the open bar closed, and meanwhile I ran into the bathroom with Mom and Grandma who helped me bustle my dress.

I thought there were 9 ties in my bustle, but apparently they only could find 7 – I later wondered if there were two more in there somewhere, because my dress kind of fell down after dancing a while. When the doors to the reception hall were opened, people went in, and I spoke with the DJ about how we would all be entering. We all danced in to the tune of “Linus and Lucy” and people stood up and clapped as Naveen and I danced our way up to the cake and cut it. We didn’t have a food fight as some people hoped, but we did get pretty sticky!

We found our places at the head table, where Prav gave the first speech. His words were mostly about how over the years his relationship with Naveen transformed from brotherhood to a real friendship. Then Raj spoke briefly, with compliments that no two people were more suited for each other. Dorothy spoke next, and I teared up as she emphasized how much we are like family and how happy she was to see that now I could be truly happy. Finally Kristy spoke, and although she told me later that she changed her speech at the last minute, she recounted my excitement about the wedding over the last several years and talked about looking up to me with love. Everyone had wonderful words to say, and I was so appreciative of all of them.

Then of course people started getting clinky with the glasses and ringing the bells, so we had to kiss a lot. It was fun being on the receiving end of that – we later talked about how many weddings we’ve been to, and for a while how it took us some time to get adjusted to the notion that it was now our wedding and all these people were here to see us on our happiest of days. Naveen thanked them all for coming from near and far, and invited me to say a supper prayer before dinner.

The food just looked amazing. The spread was really well done, and I only wish I had developed more of an appetite. With all the adrenaline rush and being somewhat confined in my dress, it was still difficult to eat despite my total lack of food throughout the day. I did have a small piece of salmon and some of the vintner salad, and a little of the beef and some penne pasta, but I don’t think I tried to stomach much else. I felt full almost immediately, and apparently some of the girls did too. The guys seemed to get their fill, except Naveen who also didn’t have a whole lot, maybe out of nervousness too.

After we ate for a while, we got up and took some more photos in the lobby with people who had left early from the church, and then Naveen and I went around to all the tables to say hello and thanks for coming. We really had to rush after a while because we were supposed to get going with our first dance before it got too late in the evening. If I remember right, the dance happened around 8 or shortly after, and while I wish we could have practiced at least one more time before then, we did a pretty good job and really enjoyed it. I sang along to “Come Away With Me” and we danced a waltz the best we could, and it just felt great. At the end we gave each other a big hug and soaked it all in.

Afterwards, Dad came up to dance with me and Usha came up to dance with Naveen for a father-daughter, mother-son dance to “Unforgettable.” That was special because I got to spend some time talking to Dad about how the day went, and how I had been surprised we all held it together so well. I had made jokes earlier in the church before it all started, saying “There’s No Crying In Baseball!!!” – a line from “A League of Their Own” which my sister and I had grown up loving to watch. It was the only thing I could think of to say that would throw people off enough that they wouldn’t cry! Dad and I talked about how beautiful the evening was going and how everything was turning out wonderfully, and I said thank you.

Dancing was opened to everyone for a short time while Anu (Naveen’s 7 year old cousin) continued to get ready for her big debut. She did an amazing Hindu dance like she had done at Praveen & Jenny’s wedding last year, which she’ll also do at our Hindu wedding in October, but we wanted our relatives to see it who wouldn’t be able to travel to Fort Wayne. Everyone really enjoyed it, and she had a lot of poise through it all. More dancing continued with the whole crowd, and Anu did another dance about 10 minutes later after she changed into a different costume. Afterwards we really danced to a lot of party music and really had a great time. Later at some point in the evening, around the time after cake was served, we held a generational dance where couples came out to dance but were asked to leave according to how many years they were married, so that eventually the people married the longest would be the only remaining couple on the dance floor. Of course we knew it would be my Grandma and Grandpa Malecki, and we gave them some roses and had them dance to Grandma’s favorite Eddy Howard song, “My Best To You.” It was a sweet moment and my Grandma was especially touched.

Now of course, we also had a garter and bouquet toss, and man did we have more fun with that than I could have ever guessed! I hadn’t been sure if we wanted to do it at first, with our families all there, but I just laugh thinking about it. The DJ walked Naveen through the process, suggesting that if at any time I didn’t really care for the dance, I could refuse him and he’d have to start over. So we started out with the theme song to “Austin Powers” and he got some groove on that I had never seen before! He was really getting into some fun and sexy moves (that’s right, Laura can say that “sexy” word now), but I decided I’d have a little fun with it and refuse him on one of the moves so that he’d have to start over with a different song. So he tried again, and once again really got a groove on that I shook my head at in disbelief. Didn’t know he had it in him! It was lots of fun to watch and he was really doing great, but once again I refused him – this time because he was dancing so much to the crowd and I looked around as if to say “What about me!?” So then he really got it on to the third song, and made a point to focus all his efforts on me – to the point of straddling over my dress in a way that was somewhere between highly embarrassing and extremely funny, so he won that time, and we got the garter off and I spun him around. He threw it, and while we were hoping Raj would get it, Doug jumped out in front and managed to catch it first. Man was that fun though – I still think about it and laugh – I hope the videographer got some good shots of that!!!

With the bouquet toss, Naveen spun me around with my eyes closed, and I really launched it, apparently, because I heard a lot of “woah’s” and it was still in the air when I turned around. Becky was the one to catch it and seemed very excited about that. So she and Doug danced while Naveen and I did too.

I think Naveen and I danced about 90% of the rest of the evening. Our feet were so tired by the end (and I actually left my heels on the whole night, until the last slow dance), but we had a great time, and Naveen enjoyed running around the room and getting everyone up on their feet to the dance floor. We had mostly upbeat songs, and not nearly as many slow songs as I would have thought I wanted, but it became a really hoppin’ party with fast dance music, and even some Hindi dance music we had brought along. We had a blast. Things came to a close just after midnight, and after cleaning up and talking to everyone, Naveen and I finally headed for the Marriott Milwaukee West around 1:30 in the morning, and despite being extremely exhausted, we stayed up, laughed, reminisced, and celebrated our special day. Finally, finally, we’re married.

It’s hard to believe it’s all over now. I can hardly wait to see our photographs and wedding video. Truly, all that stress and planning ended up being well worth it. Several times during the evening I looked out across the room and took a mental picture of it all, feeling so thankful for having such wonderful family and friends to share our day with us. It was the very best day of my life, never to be forgotten, always to be cherished.