By Julia Park Tracey
When Steve, the man I was dating, showed up with a diamond engagement ring at my job two weeks after I’d met him, I was so blown away by excitement and romance that I said yes. It was so utterly romantic and impulsive, it must have been true love.
Or so I thought.
I didn’t notice the drinking and overlooked the drugs, which he said he didn’t do anymore, and went ahead with plans for a big wedding; it was part of the fantasy of marrying Prince Charming. I got a long, white gown with a train, a bustle and a Basque waist, and asked my sisters and three friends to be bridesmaids.
I spent an awful lot of time getting the details just right. From the elbow-length gloves to the diamante bracelet, I was going to be the perfect bride and everyone would beam as I walked down the aisle of the church, seeing how beautiful and mature I was.
I paid for the catering, the silverware, the dress, the DJ, the cake, the invitations, and all the other details. I tried to keep an eye on the checkbook, but couldn’t help but see how additional money vanished from the account and how charges I wasn’t aware started to show up on my credit card.
If I asked Steve about it, he always had a reason. “It’s for you, baby,” he said. “I got it for you.”
Several months in, my sister invited me for lunch and tried to tell me that if I married Steve it would be a huge mistake; that there was something deeply wrong with him and I needed to break up with him. Horrified, I pretended I wasn’t hungry; I didn’t feel like eating anymore.
Without benefit of therapy or wiser friends, I went home and told Steve that if he ever drank again, it was over. He duly promised and to my folly I believed him. I bought a blown-glass ornament of two lovebirds nestled under a clear heart — so fragile, so very lovely atop a cake.
I imagined the cutting of the cake and hoped Steve wouldn’t smash it into my face in front of all my family, friends and boss, and how I wished he were a Navy man so he could cut the cake with a sword.
A few weeks before the wedding, Steve disappeared. He vanished for three days with my new car, finally showing up breezy and cheerful and energized, the way a person who might be using cocaine would be. And when I asked where he’d been, he said he was tracking down a guy who owed him money.
Steve had gone to collect the money and beat the guy up when he couldn’t pay. I sat there aghast, finally realizing, “I can’t marry this guy.” Then, “I’m getting married in six weeks. The invitations are going out Monday. The bridesmaids have their dresses. I have silverware. I have to marry him.”
I couldn’t tell my parents I had made a mistake. I couldn’t tell my co-workers who’d endured every moment of the wedding-planning for 14 months. I couldn’t tell my sisters and friends, who were bracing themselves to parade in their rainbow of finery. I couldn’t marry him, but I couldn’t back out now—it would mean that I’d made yet another earth-shatteringly stupid life choice. I didn’t know what to do.
The next day I had lunch with my sister again and told her I was thinking of calling the wedding off. “I’ll tell the family,” she immediately offered. Relief was clear on her face.
That weekend, I threw Steve out and set about canceling wedding plans. But he didn’t go easily. I awoke a few days later and found him standing over me, insisting on getting into bed with me. After that, I took his name off the apartment lease and changed the locks.
He showed up at three in the morning, high and drunk, and pounded on the door. I wouldn’t let him in. Then he stole my car, and later, showed up with a gun, demanding that I give him his things and that I had cheated him out of a wedding and left him for no good reason.
His parents and sister joined the fray, calling me on the phone and sending me letters, telling me what a bitch I was and how I owed him money or a wedding or a car or a life, something to assuage his humiliation.
I took the bustled, lace-encrusted dress to a consignment shop. I got my deposit back from the caterer and the travel agent. My sisters sent back their dresses. I began to use my new silverware every day.
And then I decided to have an “Unwedding” party instead, on the date we had chosen. I ordered a cake with wedding bells and a red circle and slash through them. The bakery didn’t believe that’s what I really wanted.
“I Don’t,” I said. “Put that on the cake.”
The weather was sunny with a blue sky, a nice day for a white wedding. Friends and family came to my barbecue in the local park. We tossed a Frisbee and I thanked everyone for coming. We laughed and drank cheap champagne, and celebrated my not marrying the wrong man.
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