Ajay: I'm 38, and I left a job at a media agency in Los Angeles to move to Chattanooga a couple years ago and start a freelance career as an art director. I love bike riding or walking with my beast of a dog on the daily, and Kate limits my unicorn collection to one item per room.
Kate is 33, originally from Kansas City and a big fan of the Royals. She relocated to Chattanooga a couple years ago from Florida to live near her family and explore a new career path, and was diagnosed with MS shortly after we got engaged. She is very active in the MS community, is inclined to go on midnight hikes to watch meteor showers, and is constantly rearranging the decor in our house.
Kate and I first met online New Years Eve 2016. We were both looking to make new friends and the very next day went on a hike together to a local waterfall. After getting to know each other over a few months, we attended our local film festival. Before one of the shows, a woman was performing an odd feat outside: she was attempting to lift a fifty pound weight chained to her EYELIDS (?!). Kate, like many in the crowd, was totally into it. Meanwhile I grabbed her arm, hid behind and tried not to throw up at the thought of it.
For some reason after that, we just felt closer. So thanks, weird eyelid lady! And luckily, her eyelids remained intact after she accomplished the lift. During the movie, it was total junior high butterflies as we awkwardly tried to hold each other's hands. After that it became pretty apparent that we both felt a lot more than friendship.
I decided to propose to Kate where we spent our first road trip—in the Smokies. While she was studying for her midterms, I plotted a perfect weekend getaway. We stayed at a cozy cabin rental on a private creek and woke early Saturday morning for our hike at Porters Creek Trail.
We took a break by the cascading falls after the third footbridge, about a couple miles in. Kate was preoccupied building a rock cairn which gave me a couple seconds to compose myself. Back on our first hike in the Smokies, Kate had found a smooth black stone that she scratched our initials onto, along with a heart. We then made a wish on it and tossed it into the waterfall. I found an etching artist on Etsy to recreate the initials and heart on a black stone and I brought it out, along with the ring and proposed. I can’t believe I actually pulled the surprise off!
I wanted Kate to feel really special and get exactly what she wanted in a ring, so while out running errands one day I stopped in at a local jeweler. We had such a blast trying on engagement rings and I was able to narrow down her top favorites. Being able to surprise her with the engagement and get her a ring that she remembered loving was a great feeling. Over the summer, Kate took me and our dog, Buck Jones, to the waterfall we hiked when we first met. She attached a custom dog tag to Buck's collar that read "K + A + Buck Jones" and the date of our wedding "10.28.17" on one side and "Let's go on hikes together forever" on the other. Also attached was the engagement ring that her grandfather had given her. It belonged to her grandmother. It's a lovely vintage piece that she designed herself, with 9 diamonds vertically stacked in rows of three. It has an old Hollywood glamour look that I absolutely love.
Community is so important to us that we knew we wanted to keep the wedding small and host it in a venue that allowed our friends and family to spend time together—especially if meeting for the first time—and with us. We ended up choosing the rental beach house in Gulf Shores because it could sleep up to 28 people.
I had a fashion crisis literally days before we were leaving for our destination. It occurred to me that I hated the dress that I had bought months ago and could not, under any circumstances, wear it and feel good in it. I was planning on changing into a black and white jumpsuit after the ceremony and suggested to Kate that I just wear it the whole time. Because she had already seen the jumpsuit and was looking forward to the magical reveal of the "first look," so I decided to do a mad rush to find a new dress. I had one day to scour the town for a dress that I felt more "me" in—and hoped that it would fit my 5'1" frame. Seven stores later, I decided on a white and red Nicole Miller dress from Dillard's that was too fun to pass up. Because of its high-low cut I knew it would move beautifully on the beach. The only dress in stock was too large, but my friend Robin attending the wedding was a costume designer and did her best to pin me in it.
Kate took a weekend trip to Cincinnati earlier in the year to go shopping with her best friend Tara and right away found exactly what she envisioned. Ideally, she wanted a custom-tailored suit, but since we were working within a budget, she was able to find women's separates that pulled the look together.
Our processional song was Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere." You have to listen to the intro. It's pure magic. To me, it sounds like glitter in the air. Our friend Brian knew we wanted to dance down the aisle and so planned to have everyone stand up and dance with us as we came out. It was such a surprising and touching moment for us.
When we found out Kate's mom Janet had learned Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love" on ukele for the wedding, we knew we had to convince her to play it as our first song with Tara (Kate's best friend) singing. I think each one of us felt too shy to be the center of that much attention so we figured this way it would be evenly distributed by their performance and us dancing.
Kate and her brother Jack worked on crafting all the playlists, from cocktail hour to dinner to dance party. We asked everyone to submit a song they wanted to dance to and so we had a varied playlist, from my rocker parents requesting Disturbed to our friend Sam's request for Kesha's Woman.
We decided to file our marriage license in Tennessee the week before we went down to Alabama for the wedding. The assistant minister at Kate's church, Johnathan, met us at a bar for beer and burgers and he signed our certificate. Kate's dad Randall acted as witness.
We had my best friend Brian officiate the wedding. We've visited him in Los Angeles and he's stayed with us in Chattanooga so we all know each other pretty well. He's also a comedic performer and writer so I knew he would bring a great presence to the ceremony and make everyone feel welcome. Kate is Christian and I'm an atheist, so we crafted a very personal ceremony. Kate's dad Randall led us in prayer. My friend Robin read one of my favorite poems "Sunshine" by Pat Parker, an African-American activist lesbian feminist poet. We held a moment of silence for those who couldn't be there. I asked my parents to hold a photograph of my older brother Rob and I at his wedding eleven years prior. I was the best man at his wedding, and it was the last time I saw him before he unexpectedly passed away. It was important that I felt his presence with us—I knew he would have been so stoked to see Kate and I together. We asked everyone to bless the rings as they were passed around on a floral handkerchief that belonged to my grandmother. We settled on vows that seemed to sum up our life completely, and the mission we wanted to go forth with: "I take you, Kate, to be my partner in marriage; to laugh with you in joy; to grieve with you in sorrow; to grow with you in love; serving humankind in peace and hope; as long as we both shall live."
Our friends pitched in and helped bring our vision to life in a truly DIY, all hands on board effort. Kate and I hand painted dozens of planters that we purchased at thrift stores and, with help from her dad, arranged over a hundred succulents in them for centerpieces. At the end of the weekend, we were able to give most away. One of my favorite pieces of decor was the two large framed prints of us at about the same age, in third grade. Kate is sporting a floral shirt and the most unfortunate glasses. Mine isn't much better because I thought pairing a mullet with a pink lace henley dress was a stellar idea.
We used palm leaf plates to keep costs down and be eco-friendly. While we went out for the afternoon with our photographer Leah, we left a binder behind with some loose instructions on how to decorate the space and when we returned the house had been completely transformed. Kate's friend Tara took charge and made sure all the details were taken care of from the decor to the DIY taco bar we had planned. Everyone there lent a hand in making our dream wedding come true. Our friend Sam, an engineer with a side hobby of making cakes, volunteered to make us a classic three-tiered wedding cake. He wowed everyone in the kitchen as he assembled it with incredible precision. Faux succulents were used to decorate the finished piece.
After dancing, our family returned to their own lodging down the road and our houseful of 20+ friends remained behind to keep the party going. Kate's mom Janet had brought a coloring book to act as our guest book and just about everyone took turns coloring a page and initialing it. Even though it had rained earlier that morning, we managed to get a bonfire going with everyone bundled up in colorful Mexican serape blankets we had gotten to ward off the breeze during our sunset ceremony. We had hoped to release sky lanterns but it was too windy to keep any lit. Kate's brother Jack, unwilling to give up, tried lighting one from the deck. It was the only one that made it into the air and it came barreling straight toward the group gathered around the bonfire. As we squealed and ducked, it lifted back up at the last minute and set off over the ocean.
Words by Ajay, as told by Amber Marlow. Photos by Leah Moyers.
Hair | Linda Abston of Cut N Up Aveda Salon
Make-up | Luminous Skincare Gulf Coast Esthetician, Vanessa Langford
Bouquet and flower crown | Julia at SucculentArtWorks
Wedding cake | Family friend, Samuel Hornsby
Officiant | Family friend, Brian
Rentals | A Grand Affair Party Rental
Invitations, save the dates, and welcome bag design | Ajay
Kate's engagement ring | Markman's Jeweler
Ajay's engagement ring | custom design from Kate's late grandmother
Ajay's dress | Nicole Miller from Dillard's
Ajay's robe | Adore Me
Leah Moyers lives in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains, is very into spending time outdoors and traveling to meet couples in love. She's a queer wedding and lifestyle photographer who works towards a greater understanding of her couples and how to portray their love and partnership as well as their individual personalities. As one of her brides commented, "Leah has a gift for capturing the essence of people." From getting to know you as a couple, planning adventurous engagement sessions, prepping for your wedding or elopement day by location scouting to create one-of-a-kind wedding day portraits, from capturing the best moments on your wedding day to the delivery of your artful images, she is all in. Leah is interested in documenting the magical, hilarious, emotional, quirky and behind the scenes moments. She has a fine art photography background, works primarily in the style of a wedding photojournalist and also loves creative portraiture that utilizes the area landscapes and cityscapes. She's cool with all of your dreams, eccentricities, vices, fears, and ways you express love.