Words by Tara
I’ve never been a romantic, and until Arlia came along, I wouldn’t say I really believed in ‘the spark’.
I still remember the exact moment that I first saw Arlia. We both had just started working at the Melbourne Zoo, and this particular day, while I was washing some glasses, Arlia walked in the door. I don’t really know how to explain the feeling that I got. I was this instant ‘who is that girl? I need to know more’ feeling. Funnily enough it turns out that initial feeling wasn’t mutual, but persistence paid off!
It took close to a year for the timing to be right but when it was things moved quickly. I moved in from day one and six months in we’d named our first child and dreamt of our wedding day. Our love was intense, passionate and something different to what I’d experienced in other relationships.
We’d been dating for a year and Arlia’s birthday was approaching. It was the first that we’d get to spend together as lovers and I wanted to do something for her that she wouldn’t forget. I packed her bag and we left Melbourne for a romantic adventure to Perth. It was a perfect surprise.
During the trip, I’d planned a night over on Rottnest Island. We arrived via boat to an incredible place. It was picture perfect. An Island so small there aren’t cars instead, you travel to its remote beaches via bicycle.
That night we rode to a beach to watch the sunset. We sat on the secluded beach, not a worry in the world. We spoke about our love and commitment. We spoke about what we meant to each other and the old phrase ‘when you know, you know’ was thrown around. We sat and discussed marriage, planned who we would want to join us on the wedding day. We are both shy people and the pressure of having a day where we would be the centre of attention made us nervous. We didn’t want anything elaborate just a celebration of love. We decided that eloping was something that suited us more. We’d run away get married and celebrate with our loved ones on their return.
I know that a few people reading this will know what comes next. It was the single worst night of my life.
Long story short, Arlia fell off her bicycle that night. She came over a 2m ledge and landed head first into a concrete path. She wasn’t wearing a helmet. It was late in the evening and the place was deserted. I jumped off my bike, rushed down and found Arlia unconscious, not breathing and her bicycle bent in half. I got her to breathe and called out for help.
That night she was airlifted off the island to the hospital for emergency, life-saving, brain surgery to stop a large bleed on the brain while I waited back on the island for the first boat back to the mainland.
The week that followed is one made up of nightmares. As Arlia lay in an induced coma the prospect of what a traumatic brain injury looked like in our life was sometimes grim. There was a chance she’d never wake up and if she did things could be very different. She might not be able to walk or talk, she might lose years of her memory which would mean she would have no idea who I was.
We’re thankful that Arlia did wake up. She woke up asking where I was. In that time space, she woke up and she was okay. The only memory she had lost was the memory of us heading over on the boat to the island and everything that followed. It meant Arlia had no idea that we had made plans to elope.
In the months that followed we learnt that while physically Arlia was uninjured there are some mental injuries that we now cope with. Our focus turned to recovery and marriage was something that just wasn’t the priority.
A year down the track I felt like we were starting to finally get to a place where we could move on with our lives and although an elopement was something we wanted before it had become imporatnt to us to have a wedding with our loved ones there.
Arlia is a trained jeweller so I knew getting an engagement ring right was a huge priority. I wanted to use a parti-sapphire in the ring, one that was a beautiful blue/green colour – the same two colours of our eyes. I actually sourced a raw stone that was mined in Queensland and had it specifically cut to my requirements. It was important to me to use Australian stones and a jeweller who would handcraft a piece that would be unique. Natalia Milosz Piekarska was a perfect fit. She helped me to design and build a ring that would be perfect.
I’ll be honest, it took me a while to save and pay for the ring. In fact, the process took eight months. With Arlia out of work in her recovery, it was really challenging to balance having enough money to pay rent with and being able to save a little extra each week to pay for a custom designed ring (and without Arlia cottoning on!).
I remember getting a photograph of the finished ring sent via an email. We were on holiday at the time hiking with my Dad in the mountains. The excitement was overwhelming and I contemplated proposing to Arlia on that trip with just the image!
Once I physically had the ring there was a little extra spring in my step. I sat with her Mum and asked if she would mind if I married her daughter – which, I might add, was much more nerve-wracking than it needed to be! I planned to fly Arlia from the Gold Coast to Melbourne that weekend and propose in the city we fell in love in.
I picked Arlia up from work, bags packed, and started driving to the airport. Arlia complained the whole way about how she was tired and didn’t want to go anywhere!
We got to Melbourne and checked into our hotel. I told her that I had dinner reservations and that we would need to wear something nice. I didn’t have any solid plans. All I really knew was that I was incredibly nervous.
I decided at that moment that I’d ask her just before we left for dinner and hid the ring under the pillow on the couch. When the time came I pulled her in close, got down on one knee, said some words and asked her to marry me. Arlia thought that something was wrong because I was crying and couldn’t get any words out! She said yes! I passed Arlia a notebook that I had put together which was a diary of the last six months. It described all of those really magical moments about getting the ring and all the feelings and emotions that I felt along the way. We went out for dinner, the hotel helped us celebrate and it was an incredible weekend as newly engaged!
We’ve been engaged for a little more than 18 months and it’s been a journey! We started to begin planning a wedding day in those first few weeks, noticed there wasn’t a great deal of inspiration that was relatable to us and so Dancing With Her was born. Obviously, it’s become our little baby and life plans have been put on hold to really focus on creating a community and platform for women just like us. In that time marriage equality laws have passed in Australia and we are now so excited at the prospect of having a legal wedding in the near future – not that any law was going to stop us celebrating our love before this!
We haven’t solidified any of our wedding day plans. We would love to get married later in the year with a small group of our closest loved ones, but it’s hard to grasp the sheer cost of a wedding (especially when we also would love to start planning a family in the next year or so & Arlia still can’t work in a full-time capacity). We also have different styles which makes it hard to agree on things. Our biggest challenge so far has been finding a venue that fits into our budgets. With such a small group of guests (just 30), we want a space that is both beautiful and doesn’t feel empty yet something modern and has nearby accommodation for our travelling guests to stay.
The only real decisions we’ve made are the guest list and that we both want to wear a dress and read our own personalised vows. Oh, and the fact that there will NOT be haybales and the floristy and food needs to be on point!
Our time will come and I know there will be plenty of ugly happy tears flowing (Seriously, I’m really nervous about my emotions taking over and breaking down during the ceremony). In the meantime we will continue to live vicariously through the beautiful weddings we get to share with such a diverse and supportive community.
Photography Fox & Kin, as part of the #rainbowlove project.