Through The Fire: How I Lost And Found My Wedding Photos

Rescued from flames in the nick of time.

The other day I was the recipient of a mass email from one of my beloved editors here at Babble inviting us to send in a photo of ourselves from our wedding day and then one from today to be featured on Babble.

They were compiling Now And Then: How Love Changes Over Time. I love these kinds of things, mostly because I like looking at Before/After photos of people who undergo some kind of transformation; be it weight loss, plastic surgery or just the unrelenting passage of time. Ever seen a photo of your grandma when she was in her twenties? Mind-blowing.

But I chose not to send in a wedding photo. Mostly because I don’t really have one. I mean, I have photos of us from the day we got hitched, but we didn’t really have a “wedding” in the traditional sense. Several weeks after we met we bought a couple $10 rings at a mall kiosk, went to the courthouse for a license, asked them to point the way to a judge who could do the thing, like, NOW, (Serge was leaving on a European tour with his band the next day) spent the morning calling various judges and at 5:30 that evening, armed with a disposable camera, we rolled up to the judge’s house where his wife and her friend witnessed our ceremony. (You can read the story of how we met and married here).

You are now husband and wife.


Our honeymoon? Dining at Red Lobster because my new husband had a ratty old gift certificate in his wallet. We managed to get some fellow diners to snap a photo of us in the parking lot so that one, dim, blurry-ish photo is our sole “honeymoon” photo.

Does it bother me that I don’t have any “real” wedding photos like the ones that other blushing brides ended up submitting to the Babble team? Me in a white dress standing in a meadow somewhere gazing off into the distance, as you do, my hair blowing delicately in the breeze while Serge pretends to lovingly tuck the errant strand behind my ear? Because nothing says marriage like that kind of poetic exchange between folks. I mean, please. If a photo representing marriage is what it’s all about I should’ve commissioned someone to snap a photo of me peeing while Serge spits toothpaste foam into the sink and Henry tries to get between my legs to see what’s doin’ in the toilet.

But, like I was saying; does it bother me that I don’t have any photos of myself clad in a billowy white dress while scads of people – NONE OF THEM WEARING WHITE BILLOWY-NESS – admire my obvious ethereal beauty and congratulate Serge on landing such a stunner?




Not really. But sometimes. Sometimes I wish I had been proposed to. That someone had got down on bended knee and presented me with a ring and stuttered out some kind of speech about how I am the only girl for him and would I spend the rest of my life with him. Sometimes I wish I had walked down an aisle in a white dress to a teary-eyed fella while my friends swooned at our magnificent display of what is clearly true love forever – even though that may or may not be the case. Who the hell knows at a wedding how shit will turn out? More than half of ’em will end in divorce. So check back in ten years, suckas, and then we’ll see about all this true love talk. Mostly I am glad to have avoided all that claptrap. Surely, knowing our families, several people would have gotten drunk before 9pm and there likely would have been fireworks by the end of the night. And not the Brad-and-Jen-spent-a-million-bucks-on-a-spectacular-light-show kind of fireworks either. The brothers arguing/mothers crying kind of crap that goes down at most of our family functions.

Not for me, thanks.

But still.


All this got me wondering where my actual wedding day photos are, seeing how we had a bad house fire in January that burned up most of our mementos. After discovering so many things had been destroyed by flames, after a while I kind of shut down and stopped the inventory of what we’d lost. I just couldn’t take the realization of yet another tragic loss.

But after the request for photos from the Babble team I took a deep breath and went pilfering through the one melted, blackened container of stuff we couldn’t throw out but couldn’t keep inside for the acrid smoke smell and so had set hastily in the corner of our garage. And yes, as it turns out, all the wedding photos from that single disposable camera we giddily purchased that day in October of 2004 are gone forever. Then I remembered something that had happened in the days after the fire…

When the firefighters were battling the flames they began heaving our belongings out of the house to reduce the amount of burnable material inside and also to try and save things from burning. When the smoke cleared we ventured slowly up our road to assess the damage and found a pile of burned, melted stuff in our driveway the size of a small car. My first instinct was to grab a rake and pilfer through it because OUR STUFF! Childhood photos, journals, yearbooks, Violet and Henry keepsakes… And what if something was salvageable right then but if I waited it would slowly burn or melt in the middle of all that mess?

But I was told by firefighters lingering to put out hot spots to leave it alone until it stopped smouldering. Apparently that pile of stuff ignited again the day after the fire. My neighbor saw it smoking and went to hose it down, I think, and while doing so happened to notice a red photo album that was near the flames. She pulled it from the pile and carried it home to give to me the next time she saw me.

The album of photos is the last tangible item I have left to remember our wedding day. It was made by my best childhood friend as a going away present when Serge and I moved to New York City after getting married. Had she not stolen the photos from me and made the album, I wouldn’t have any photos from that day. Had my neighbor not spotted it the album surely would’ve melted in the hot mess. Maybe not, but you never know…

I figured I better get my act together and get the photos online before something else happens to them. As I don’t have a scanner – that burned in the fire too – I went ahead and took photos of the photos, which is never great and some of them kind of melted to the plastic they were in when the fire came close so they aren’t the greatest quality. But they’re photos, dammit! And they’re all I have.

There’s no wedding dress but there is a meadow and my hair does appear to be blowing in the breeze! Mostly there is a whole lot of smiling and hope and happiness. And that’s pretty much all you need in a wedding photo.

  • Rescued From Fire 1 of 20
    Rescued From Fire
    Fire licked the corner and some of the pages are melted together but the album is in great condition considering...
  • Marriage Metaphor 2 of 20
    Marriage Metaphor
    I am debating purchasing a replacement album but haven't pulled the trigger. There is something unique about the charred album. A reminder, perhaps, of how close it came to being destroyed that is an apt metaphor for our marriage. Through the fire, baby, through the fire.
  • Goin’ To The Chapel 3 of 20
    Goin' To The Chapel
    Technically we're driving to the judge's house.
  • Stop Playing That Song! 4 of 20
    Stop Playing That Song!
    I made Serge play Jeff Buckley's version of Hallelujah over and over again as we drove there. He later admitted to me that this made him question marrying me. He was joking. I think.
  • Disposable Cam Glam 5 of 20
    Disposable Cam Glam
    We took all our own wedding photos with the exception of one the judge's wife took of us standing with him and then another of just the two of us on their porch.
  • Are We Really Doing This? 6 of 20
    Are We Really Doing This?
    Another of us in the car, sitting in traffic on the way to the judge's house.
  • $10 Rings 7 of 20
    $10 Rings
    A couple years later my ring broke and we lost it. A couple years after that Serge's ring broke too. We've had a ragtag assortment of cheap-ass replacements, but nothing has stuck.
  • We’re Here 8 of 20
    We're Here
    This is a favorite of mine. Serge snapped it as we walked up the driveway to knock on the judge's door. We were thrilled that his home turned out to be this quaint, French-like villa in a neighborhood right up against the Utah mountains. Would've sucked if he lived in some shack down by the freeway. Or a van down by the river. But, you know, JUDGE and all. Had to figure he had nice digs. Anyway, it's a favorite because in my face I can see all the excietment of that day and I'm looking at Serge, not the camera.
  • Just Married 9 of 20
    Just Married
    This is the first photo after we got married. That's the judge there and that's the signed license Serge is holding.
  • Sweet Shoes 10 of 20
    Sweet Shoes
    This photo makes us look a little weird because it was kind of melted against the plastic of the photo album. Nice bedazzled platform flip-flops, Monica.
  • Sweet Smile 11 of 20
    Sweet Smile
    He's so goddamn cute here. I was shaking throughout the ceremony and he kept rubbing my hands with his thumb. I liked that.
  • Posing It Up 12 of 20
    Posing It Up
    A few last photos in front of the judge's house.
  • All Done 13 of 20
    All Done
    After this photo we climbed in my car and took off. Just like that.
  • Photo Shoot Round 2 14 of 20
    Photo Shoot Round 2
    As we were driving to who knows where we stopped at the base of the Wasatch mountain range to snap a few more pics because everything just looked so beautiful.
  • Am I In Frame? 15 of 20
    Am I In Frame?
    It was October 4th and the leaves in Utah in autumn are absolutely magnificent. These photos don't do them justice. Disposable camera, go figure.
  • Dog Collar Garter 16 of 20
    Dog Collar Garter
    I wore my dog Max's collar as a garter because we didn't think it would be appropriate to take him to a stranger's house. Serge wanted him as best man, though.
  • Newlywed 17 of 20
    This photo hasn't been edited or anything. I am actually stunned at the quality from some dinky disposable camera.
  • Obligatory Ring Shot 18 of 20
    Obligatory Ring Shot
    Now we're just being silly.
  • Wedding Portrait 19 of 20
    Wedding Portrait
    If I have any "wedding portrait" this would be it.
  • Honeymoon! 20 of 20
    Tonight we dine under the plastic crab. Serge once wrote, "I like that our wedding photo album consists of maybe six pics tops. And that in the main one, the Just-Married-Newlyweds/Ain't-Love-Grand one, I show a bit of belly. Out of the billions of wedding photos on Earth, there can't be many in that category, huh?"
    If you'd like to read Serge's version of events click here.

More He Said/She Said:

The Little Things

25 Things About Serge Bielanko (From His Wife’s Perspective)

25 Little Known Facts About Monica Bielanko

Follow Serge and Monica on Facebook!  DO IT.

You can also find them on their blogs, The Girl Who and Thunder Pie.



Article Posted 4 years Ago

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