The loss didn’t hit immediately. The first time I felt it, the dull churn clawing at the hollow in my tummy, was the day the tree we sat beneath came into bloom for the first time since you’d gone. We’d met when the branches were prematurely bare, and when I walked past and saw the start of something new, all I could see was the end.
Then you’d been gone 27 days; a further 23 had passed since the afternoon you were to become my husband. It’s now 168 days and nights and 23 more. No time and a lifetime. Even now, I struggle to believe in my bones what happened as the seasons changed. You arrived as the summer was dying. Autumn brought a decision to marry. And winter was cold and hard underfoot as I called off our wedding with 11 days to spare.
Husband. I still roll the word around in my mouth, trying to taste comprehension. It, a husband, wasn’t for me. A child not just of a divorce, but of many. Each time a blinking, winking ring was pushed on to the second finger of a left hand of an arm that I loved, I felt amazed. What is that saying? That insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome? Then this — marriage — seemed like insanity. The kind that snakes its way through your head and your heart until all sense is eaten away and you’re left with a whirling madness you name Love. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in love, I did, often recklessly, but not in Love.
A brief (but not hometown-uncommon) engagement at 16 aside, my pledge was easily kept as I became a woman. There was one beautiful writer who made me want to feel differently, but I couldn’t tend that desire into anything more.
I certainly haven’t spent the last 20 years fighting suitors off. In fact, I haven’t come close to a proposal since saying yes in 1995. I wasn’t, am not, what most boys dream of when they’re scratching their wife out of crayon. I drink too much. I work too much. I have daddy issues. I absolutely, definitely, do not want kids. I have a short, sharp way with thoughtless words. I’m stubborn. I take up the whole bed. I have wanted a man, but never needed one.
So, I lived in my familiarity, the single lifestyle folding comfortably around my body. I lugged my bags up three, four flights of stairs. I chose to sleep on the slim sofa, my face lit with the glow of the TV. I came in late, head spinning, brain fizzing. I danced alone, the tips of my fingers stroking the grooves. I sought the answer elsewhere: a new city, a better job, friends, family. And for so long, it was enough. Almost always enough.
The Love came last year on August 30th. Save for a few romantic entanglements, I’d been single for five-and-a-half years. He was my first match, my last on a dating site that didn’t cause finger strain. He had a hard face, confused by soft eyes. A way with words which fell out of his mouth and bounced off my edges.
He would later say that he fell in love with me out of the corner of his eye as I tottered towards him. The next morning, my phone buzzed with two words: "You’re amazing." Then, a second date in two days, a third in three and a tenth in 10, until the day when, while talking about the friend’s couch that he hadn’t slept on since our first meeting — I said, "Just come and live with me." I was at my desk when the photo came through — the cracked spines of his books next to mine. For the first time, I had someone to help me lug my bags up three, four flights of stairs. I turned off the telly and climbed into my — our — bed. My key found the door earlier, in steady hands. We danced together, my fingers finding his.
It’s 3 am and we’re sitting together on the wooden floor, tracing the outlines of our lives, when he shares the story of his first marriage. "I said I’d never marry again. I know you don’t want to get married." A beat. "But I’d marry you." I don’t blink. "I would marry you." It’s only been two months, but I want to tie myself to him irrevocably. I want to say I’m his wife. It feels like a miracle; he feels like my miracle.
As we book the registry office, the cracks appear. He isn’t working and the financial responsibility — so long for one, now for two — keeps me awake until dawn. My trust issues rise up as his past bleeds into our present. There is so much that is still to be learned and I flinch at what I’m taught. We stare silently ahead as the gap widens beneath our feet. Our wedding license appointment ends in spat words. A visit to the reception venue ends in tears. Each new day, I feel sick. Before his eyes open, I study his face, convinced he’s not real. I touch the coarse hair I still barely know the texture of. I want to will him into being: the husband that I now feel I’ve knitted from the skin of so many others, from the skin of myself.
By the time I find the secrets that make our marriage impossible on the unlocked iPad, I haven’t felt him in my fists for weeks — just his absence. I tell him we can’t get married. It’s the night before Valentine’s Day.
As it turns out, calling off a wedding is the easiest and hardest thing a person can do. One hundred messages which begin, "I’m really sorry, but..." The first 10 days I feel utterly shell-shocked and entirely humiliated. The next 10, I’m furious. Then three days of nothing until I see the branches in bloom, followed by sadness that spreads through me, into the soil.
He says I found it too hard to be loved. It’s true the Love was too hard. So I return to my familiarity. A different one. I lug my bag up three, four flights of stairs. I lie like a starfish across the bed. My hands remain steady. Six months on, he’s living with the next me and has been for many months. I’m somewhere between where I just was and where I used to be. The sorrow and shock still stands, but so does what he gave me: unparalleled, never-experienced-before happiness. The ability to love, wholly. Will I actually marry one day? Christ knows. The question is, really, will I love again? Almost certainly not now and maybe not anytime soon. But yes I will and this is something I believe in my bones.
I still walk past our tree every day. A year from when we first sat beneath its boughs, it’s shedding the bloom once more. But while I still feel loss, I don’t see endings; just the space, the hope, for new beginnings.
This post was written by Terri White. For more, check out our sister site, Grazia.