In high school, I was a serious theatre nerd. Trying out for my first play freshman year was a huge leap for young, socially-awkward me — and not just because it required me to memorize lines and not fall face-first on the school stage. Coming from the disjointed throes of middle school, I was looking for a way to become a new person — a more confident person — and theatre seemed like a natural way to try that.
Over the course of four years, I was in more than a dozen shows and met countless people. Theatre changed my life in profound ways — especially because I was so active in the department during those crucial teen years. The fun of playing a character on stage held major draw for me, sure, but that wasn’t even what I loved most about theatre.
It was the friendships.
Over the course of a few months, we would audition and be cast and then spend hours daily running lines, rehearsing scenes and getting to know one another. After school each day, our cast and crew would assemble and start to plan these huge shows that would take over our young lives. And when opening day would finally arrive, finding us all antsy and excited and scared, there was always a time before the curtain drew open that I would force myself to pause and savor the moment.
In that world, murmurs from the audience reached the actors and technicians buzzing around backstage as the stage manager would wrangle us with whispered instructions. As show time approached, my stomach would lurch as lines and directions ran through my nervous mind. But when the spotlight clicked on and my heels hit the stage, all that anxiety would ebb away.
Backstage is where I first met Erin, my steadfast friend and new bride. As a freshman, I envied sophomore Erin’s confidence, humor and poise. Both active in drama, it didn’t take long for us to share costume tips, laugh as ’50s teenyboppers in “Bye Bye Birdie” (pictured above) and form bonds that would carry us into adulthood.
With a wide circle of mutual friends, Erin never made me feel like I was another passing acquaintance. Our conversations have inspired me in difficult times, and my trust in her is absolute. A year ahead of me in school, Erin was the first of my friends to arrive at the college I would follow her to the next fall. We briefly lost touch at university, but nothing could have delighted me more than getting a Facebook note from her during my junior year: “I think we have a class together this spring!”
We were both English majors and poets, and it was a literature class on the works of William Shakespeare that brought us together again. I remember the afternoon she showed me a text message from a handsome guy she’d just met. Her eyes glittered like diamonds, and neither of us paid much attention to our droning professor. She was thinking about when she would see him next.
About twelve years after Erin and I shared a stage in high school and more than five years since that class, Erin and Matt were married at Ft. Belvoir on Sept. 10. As one of her bridesmaids, we spent Saturday getting ready and laughing about old times. Secluded before the ceremony, I listened to the murmur of guests arriving and felt my stomach flip. All these years later and we were in a show together again. I ran through my lines and directions, but my task now was simple: try not to cry as my dear friend married her love.
Just as we had more than a decade ago, I marched ahead of Erin into the spotlight — and held my breath as she appeared on her father’s arm. My chest ached as I took in the moment: this ending and this beginning; the pooling of tears in the groom’s eyes; this exquisitely beautiful bride, and the true gift that has been our years of friendship. When I think about all that Erin has meant to me, I feel overwhelmed. I wiped tears away the entire ceremony.
Vows were exchanged and promises made, and this performance went on as scheduled. Love lit up Erin and Matt’s faces all evening, and we enjoyed delicious food and even better times. Dancing and snapping shots in a photo booth were definite highlights, and it felt so good to have Spencer on my arm.
When I looked over at the newlyweds’ expressions and felt my own face mirroring that high, I was emotional all over again. I’ve had my heart broken. Erin has been there for me through everything — through that, and so much more — and I felt so elated to just be . . . happy. And in love. In love at her wedding, a moment we’ve anticipated for so long. And when Spencer pulled me in for a dance, I forgot about whether or not everyone was watching us. It didn’t matter. Nothing did.
I think about Erin and all the good things I wish for her. I think about Matt and how I hope and pray he will love and care for her always, as I hope she will for him. I think about all the exciting things that are ahead of them — and for me, and for all of us — and am filled with this sense of elation and wonderment and pride.
Weddings are beginnings — but they’re endings, too. But for once in my life, I didn’t focus on the sadness that can often tint my enjoyment of the good things in life. I thought about how honored I was to be a part of her day, and how thankful I am for the people in my world.
And like so many of our plays in high school — and all the good books I’ve read — I know this is just the beginning of their fairytale ending.