It’s official: My best friend is a bride

Back in early October, I shipped myself back to the tri-state area for the wedding of the century, between my best friend Natalie of 12 years and her now-husband, the upstanding and distinguished gentleman Tim Duckham. It was a wonderful wedding for many reasons, including the opportunity to reunite (after many years) with my girlfriends from Syracuse, and the experience of being completely overwhelmed with the love I have for Natalie. Sure, we’ve made it through nights of drinking and dancing, heartbreak and loss, and countless road trips and vacations together, but standing up in support of her, in the company of our closest friends, as she married someone she loves? It was truly an unforgettable moment—I’m getting goosebumps typing this now.

I flew to New Jersey on Friday, October 4, and landed early Saturday morning. After hanging out at home with Mom and Dad and taking a much-needed jetlag nap, Matt and Larissa met us at home and we headed to one of our favorite places, Hopewell Valley Vineyards. This picturesque vineyard in Central New Jersey has 25 acres of grapes under cultivation, and produces 6,000 cases of wine per year. Not enough to sustain the average annual Hayden consumption, but impressive nonetheless. They also have delicious wood-oven pizza and live music in their main venue, which is where the Haydens convened on Saturday night. Pizza, wine, music, family—the recipe for a most perfect evening.

Sunday morning brunch followed, followed by a trip to organic grocer Profeta Farms nearby our house, for me to pick up all the loot I’m not able to get in Singapore (cashews, almonds, reasonably-priced rolled outs, and other yuppie items). We hung out at Mom and Dad’s for the rest of the afternoon, having an early dinner, and then ordering an Uber to Matt’s apartment in Hoboken. This Uber was unlike any other, in that our driver would not stop talking, switching the air conditioning on and off at drastic levels, getting into near accidents and, to top it off, nearly heading straight into the Lincoln Tunnel. One star.

After narrowly making it back alive, Larissa, Matt and I (#sibsquad) decided to grab a drink and watch some football (the kind with the pigskin) at a nearby bar. Larissa headed home soon after, but Matt and I decided to go for a late-night snack at Carpe Diem, a cozy and convivial haunt featuring fairly famous chicken wings. A good day, made great by chicken.

That week, I worked out of the McKinsey & Company New York office, a completely gorgeous and newly-renovated space at 3 WTC in lower Manhattan. There’s not much to report here, outside of the highlight of my week outside the wedding, which was sinking my teeth into an egg-and-cheese bagel and bodega coffee on Monday morning. Praise be.

I had the chance to see some friends during the week, too, including a dinner on Tuesday with my beloved crew: Berger, Chet, Mitch, and CJ. Unfortunately Zé only arrived in NYC the following morning so he wasn’t able to see them, but we’re hoping to rectify that at Christmas.

We shifted to the W Hoboken on Wednesday morning, which is perched right on Hoboken’s waterfront, right across the river from Manhattan. It provided us a great view as we ate breakfast and caught up on work that day. In the late afternoon, we headed out to the ‘burbs for an early dinner at AMA Pizza with Mom and Dad. AMA is a super cozy, family-owned pizzeria in town, and my new favorite place to bring visitors. Mom and Dad joke that every time we’ve had Zé over for dinner, we’ve gone out for pizza, but I don’t think anyone is complaining (and if they are they’ll need to quickly silence their whinging because I love pizza). Matt stopped by our hotel that evening to say hello, and we called it a night.

Jetlag can sometimes be a beautiful thing, and Thursday morning proved this point for us. Waking up at dawn gave us the chance to experience the sun blooming over the island of Manhattan, stretching out over the Hudson River in the foreground.  Hello new day, and hello new Instagram photo!

Thursday morning was another work day for me, with a quick trip to the salon to get my egregious highlights fixed (I do not care to cover this element of my trip as it brings me PTSD), before heading out to Long Island in the late afternoon. We had a bit of a slip-up with the train schedules and ended up having to take a taxi about an hour to finish our trip to Greenport, NY.

Greenport is a ‘centuries-old fishing village on the North Fork of Long Island,’ according to the Goog, and has been featured in New York Times’ ’36 Hours In’ column. This is where we’d be spending the weekend. We arrived at our Airbnb, a big and clunky, old colonial home that I am almost certain was haunted in some way. As a not-entirely-separate side question, who decorates their home with clown paintings…?!

Thursday was a relaxed night, marked by a dinner between myself, Zé, Natalie and Tim, Natalie’s parents, and a few other close friends. We headed to a Mexican restaurant called Lucharito’s, and caught up before the madness was set to begin. It was so lovely seeing the gang, seeing Natalie’s parents after many, many years, and spending quality time with Natalie. I am really thankful we were able to have that time together.

Friday was the first of two very busy days, marked by brunch in the morning, a hair appointment, an itinerary and materials check at the wedding venue, a meeting with the event planner, a rehearsal at the church, a rehearsal dinner for the wedding party and family at the Halyard (dreamy), and drinks afterwards at a bar and bistro called First and South. I was wiped by the end of the day, but my energy came flooding back at First and South because this is where I got to see many of my Syracuse girlfriends, namely Ali Pickering and Tara Nelson. It was a much overdue reunion, and I think we were all so overwhelmed by love and shock and giddiness that we all managed to make it out of that reunion without any tears. Well done, ladies!

We didn’t stay out too late Friday evening, because I had an early morning Saturday. I was in the bridal suite (the top floor of the wedding venue, Brockneck Hall), at 7:30AM, coffee in hand. From there, it was a full morning of GLAMOUR. I’m talking the works: makeup, hair, gifts and gowns for the bridal party and maid of honor (moi). We headed to the church at 1PM, and I told Natalie (hilarious) jokes on the way and played some music to keep her mood chilled as we pulled up to the church. The realness of the whole experience came crashing down on us in that moment.

The ceremony itself was beautiful: the priest was warm and personal, and gave a meaningful homily. Monica (matron of honor) and I sat up in the front with Natalie, Tim, and his man-of-honor, helping Natalie to keep her dress primped for photos, and managing her flower bouquet. Seeing Tim’s face as Natalie walked down the aisle was priceless, and hearing Natalie and Tim exchange their vows made me tear up a little (but the makeup artist had spent so long on my eyeshadow/mascara/eyeliner that I really couldn’t afford any moisture on my face).

Following the ceremony, it was time for photos—lots and lots of photos. This may sound like a complaint, but if you’ve ever met me, you know this was my favorite part. You can see some of the glamour shots below.

We headed into the main hall at Brockneck for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, and I had the chance to experience White Claw for the first time. The Claw, as the kids call it, is the hard seltzer grocers couldn’t keep on the shelves this summer (video link on the drink’s ascent to fame, for those who want the education). In short………I get the hype.

Anyway, the night kicked off with dinner and dancing as all good weddings do, with all of the bridal party coming out in pairs. The two tallest of the bunch (me included, shocker) came out, high-fived, and danced our way to the center of the floor. We watched Natalie and Tim have their first dance, watched Natalie and her father enjoy their father-daughter dance (I’m not crying, you’re crying…..), and put the evening into high gear from there. The big highlight of the night (for me) was the speeches. First was Monica, Natalie’s matron-of-honor. I went next, and had to balance the respectful duty of delivering a meaningful and heartfelt speech, while also delivering a slam-dunk comedic stand up performance. I want to stay humble here but……………….step aside, Tina Fey.

The party wrapped up around 10:30PM (yes folks, this is the wedding industry in America), and we headed to Claudio’s for our after-party. Claudio’s is an open-air, dockside on the Peconic River, with a huge dance floor and fantastic live music. The band that night was particularly great, giving us all the pop hits and vocal range (or was it the White Claw?). We danced into the early morning, when we decided it was time to call it a night and head to sleep. Why? Because, in the dumbest move of all time, I booked our flights back to Singapore for the following day……out of Newark Airport (I am still perplexed by my motive to do this). The next morning, we hitched a ride with fellow bridal-party member Molly to Babylon (Natalie’s hometown), and took the train into the city from there. After meeting up with Larissa and a few friends of ours (Dani, João and Flor), we took the train over to EWR, boarded our early evening flight, and shipped ourselves back East.

It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but completely worth the miles. I don’t think I was prepared for the magnitude of emotion I felt the day Natalie got married (I am half Irish, so emotions do not come naturally to me, after all). Weddings really do make everyone realize how special and beautiful love is, and experiencing my best friend get married, especially with my other Syracuse girlfriends in tow, was humbling, to say the least. It reminded me these people will be in my life forever, and I am damn lucky to have them.

A few photos from our trip to New York and Natalie and Tim’s wedding: