My wed­ding day that never was

It’s been just over a year since Terri White met the man who con­vinced her to aban­don a life­long prom­ise never to marry. So how did she cope when it all fell apart?

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

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 humped my bags up three, four flights of stairs. 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 five­and- 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 hump 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 3am and we’re sat 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 li­cence 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 St 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 hump 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.


i want to tie my­self to him ir­re­vo­ca­bly. to say i’m his wife

pho­togr aph s chri s f loyd

Terri’s Joy Di­vi­sion-in­spired tat­too: ‘Heart and soul, one will burn’

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