Friday would have been my four year wedding anniversary.
For one thousand four hundred and sixty days, I would have been a Missus. Had David and I married four years ago, I would have had in-laws; I would say things like "I'll ask my husband;" I would probably know how to cook and iron; I might have been pregnant by now, I may even have already become a mom.
Instead, what I have is a four-year-old wedding dress that was made to fit my twenty-year-old body hung carefully in the back of my parents' closet. The veil and shoes that I would have worn on June 3rd, 2001 are stashed away in my old bedroom, little time bombs tucked into the innards of my closet, just waiting to go off when I stumble across them. I have old contracts from caterers, DJs and dining halls that were never fulfilled, a surplus of invitations, the wedding gift David gave me all too early: The carnage of the wedding that never was.
I know that I should go through what has become a scattered mess and weed out the things that are no longer even keepsakes - The notebook I kept of which photographer I liked best, the clippings I saved from Martha Stewart Weddings that gave me ideas, the long preliminary guest list - and toss them. I should carry that dress from its home in my mother's closet, dust off its protective cover, and give it away or sell it. I should wrap David's wedding gift back up in its butcher paper, so that it doesn't assault me every time I walk into the room surrounding it. I should wear the shoes, discard the veil. I should. But I can't.
Every year, around this time, I think back on the woman I was becoming when I was preparing to wed. I recall the image of myself, hunched over my family's dining room table, carefully spelling out two hundred names on thick envelopes, twenty years old and acting like I was thirty. The dress fittings, spinning around on a pedestal in front of three mirrors before my mom and grandmother, seeing the tears in their eyes, and saying to myself this is the dress I will be married in.
I think of all of the pressure, how David and I were planning this magnificent wedding not only because we wanted to, but because we had to: When he graduated from West Point, it would be off to Ft. Benning, Georgia and if I wanted to go with him, I had to be his wife. I remember the doubts nibbling at my thoughts long before he proposed and amplifying as the wedding date drew nearer, but staying with him because I felt like I had to: My family loved him, his family loved me; Our friends thought we were the perfect couple; he was romantic; he fit the mold of the man I wanted to marry; we had already made the plans, booked the chapel and chosen invitations. And even though David loved me like no one in the world ever has, I remember saying to my mom "I think I'm settling," well before the wedding came to a screeching halt.
I remember sitting with David on a park bench, less than two months before we were to stand before our families, our friends, and God to exchange vows to love, honor and cherish, and spewing the words "I just don't know if I can do this, David. I know I love you, but - and I hate to say this, but it's the only thing that fits - I wonder sometimes if I'm in love with you anymore." I hadn't wanted to say it, but it just came out. I remember the look on his face, the strange mix of a shattered man and a little relief. "It's okay," he said, his hands wiping away my tears. "I know. We'll figure it out."
I can still smell the fresh spring air that brushed my arms as we sat in Lafayette Village and discussed what we would do. "Our wedding is only just over a month away," he said, looking past me instead of at me, "we have to decide now whether we're going to do this or not." I suggested a break. Five weeks before our wedding.
If I think about it enough, I can still feel the knot in my stomach that came with my mother's frantic phone call. "David just told me you're taking a break. A break? Laurie, you two have to decide what you're doing here. Either you get married or you don't. You two have to talk. David's on his way to meet you."
And so we did as instructed: We talked. He told me he wasn't sure he was ready either, suggested that we postpone the wedding and move to Ft. Benning together as boyfriend and girlfriend or fiancées, and take it from there. But it was too late. I'd tasted my freedom, seen my chance to get out of a marriage that I wasn't sure of. And if I wasn't sure I wanted it, I probably didn't. "No," I told him. "Either we get married or we break up." I said it knowing which option he'd choose. "We'll still be friends," he said as I passed him my ring. "And we'll see where it takes us." I don't remember ever crying so much.
I remember walking back into my house, alone, after we broke up. My parents' faces turned to me expectantly as soon as I walked through the door. "So?" they asked, eager to know. "It's over," I said quietly. "We're not getting married." They were crushed. They had loved him like a son. "I'm so sorry," I cried. I remember feeling that they were disappointed in me, that David and I should've made this choice months ago, before thousands of dollars in non-refundable deposits were made. "It's okay," my dad said. His eyes were so soft, so honest. "We just want you to be happy. We don't care what it costs."
I can taste the tears I cried for days thereafter, agonizing over whether or not I'd made the right decision. I can feel that same desperation, the ache to know if I'd made a horrible mistake. "What do I do now, Mom?" I pleaded, standing in her bedroom, tears soaking my skin. "What do I do now?"
I'd spent so much time planning to be a wife, I didn't know who I was. I didn't know what I wanted. I only knew that I wasn't sure, for whatever reason, about David, and that seemed reason enough to not become his wife.
So I keep the shards of our relationship that are strewn about the house because I'm not ready to let them go. Even now, four years and one failed relationship later, it's good to know they're there. The white dress, the shoes, the veil: They remind me that, even though being married was what I wanted more than anything, I was still strong enough to not do it. I knew what I felt, and I made my decision. It wasn't easy, it may have been the hardest decision I've ever had to make, but I made it.