Last year, Valentine’s Day was a momentous day, in a momentous year. It was the eve of my 40th birthday, in the year that I was to get married.
It was also the year 2013.
In 2013, I suddenly heard the ticking of time-bombs, whose existence I had never even guessed at. My head had been filled all along with fairy tale cliches, templates for living which I had successfully ignored all of my life – they didn’t fit and couldn’t be superimposed upon the landscape of my modern world. Yet now they were detonating in an explosion of longing; filling the landscape of my mind with a profusion of blood red…roses.
I wanted to get married on Valentine’s Day – the day before I turned 40. It was absolutely vital that my prince rescue me before that clock struck midnight and I became an old hag, and I knew beyond any doubt that the only way I could survive my 40th birthday was by waking up a bride. I would carry red roses, their colour splashed against the white, snow covered hills that would surround us. I found the perfect place: a country hotel, with a small room housing an enormous Gothic fire place. I would be married in (fake) fur, lit by the glow of firelight and candles.
Things started to go wrong with this picture as soon as we began to plan it. Firstly, the number of guests – it kept increasing. I suddenly had many more friends than I had could ever remember having had before, and it was going to be an impossibility to fit them all into the small room with the Gothic fireplace. I gave up on that fairly early on in the proceedings, but I cried with the disappointment. We booked a larger room, and now we had to think about entertainment, whether to book a late bar, how to get people home…many things which I hadn’t imagined in my romantic vision. The wedding seemed to have taken on a momentum of its own.
There were more ticking time-bombs. My daughter was entering puberty, and things were detonating around her, too. She had had a father-less childhood,and struggled to get used to her Stepdad-to-be – but now, suddenly, her blood father came blazing out of the shadows, bringing carnage in his wake. Her long-lost father, often no more than a disembodied voice on a phone (when he could be bothered to ring), now there in the flesh and staking his claim: I am the Father, and you shall have no other Father but me. He asserted his visitation rights, and he pulled her into his virtual world.
She talked to a counsellor. The counsellor was concerned enough to call me in to express her concerns about the way my daughter was feeling, and how confused she was.
My romantic Valentine’s Day wedding, 2013, disintegrated in a blizzard of tears. There was snow, and there were rose petals, but there was no wedding. The ill-fated event was cancelled.
I awoke on my 40th birthday, not married. Not a princess. No hearts and flowers; just fear and worry for my daughter, and for our future.
Yet, I was surrounded by family. My daughter was OK. My not-husband was still there, because we wanted him there – my daughter and I – and his son was there, wanting to be part of the family we had tried to make. Our extended families were there, too; instead of the wedding his family came over to my parents’ house, broke bread together and afterwards took a walk in the freezing February air.
‘We would have been getting married about now,’ said my not-husband, as the sun reached its early zenith in the pale sky. We held hands as we walked ‘Still, our families have met. So we don’t actually need to bother with a wedding any more…’
As usual, his irreverence made me laugh, against my will. And we were still together. All of these explosions had not blown us apart, they had brought us closer together. All four of us – our children, and us. Me and my not-husband. And somehow, that was more romantic than any wedding could have been. We did get married later, when things calmed down and when I knew it was the right thing to do, for my daughter as well as for me – but that time, that decision we made to stick together, through doubt and fear – actually meant more than any vows we ever made.
So, tonight as I saw all the worried faces queuing around the card and flower displays – red roses now going cheap – I know that, of course, love and commitment go deeper than that, and red roses are beautiful any time of year…