Today is our sixth wedding anniversary. Rosie and I don’t go to see Ben. He has an appointment in the middle of the day, making a visit awkward. Instead, we cook, tidy and take a walk down a scenic street in Hampstead, telling each other which one of the million pound houses we are in the mood to have this afternoon.
“I want that one,” says Rosie, pointing to a maroon-washed three-storey terraced house, “because it tastes of cherry.”
In fact, we are on our way to visit architect Erno Goldfinger‘s former residence for Open House, an opportunity to visit sites of architectural interest in London free of charge. We don’t make it in because the event is ticketed.
It doesn’t matter. The sun is shining, the heath is just across the road and Rosie has spotted a playground. About an hour later, we head back up towards the tube, dropping into the fairy shop on the way. Rosie goads me into buying her something – a pair of ladybird’s wings which she immediately dons – before we pop into a patisserie for a palmier, and then finally home.
Ben and I used to hunt out small finds on Open House weekend. We would marvel at rarely seen interiors, nose about ancient buildings. It was always unique and wonderful. I think this, more than anything else, is why I choose to take Rosie out to Hampstead today. Ben is at the back of my mind, walking behind us, silent as a shadow.
This photo of us, captured as we leave the church for the sun outside, makes us look like a carefree, adoring couple. It says nothing of the troubles that came before or that would blight us later. But there were signs.
- Ben had to make an effort to stop drinking in the run-up to the wedding.
- I was on hormone pills which left me highly strung throughout the day.
- A helicopter kept buzzing back and forth during our service, drowning out the choir (who were singing hymns by Monteverdi, Palestrina and others – all meticulously selected by me, all a waste in the end).
- Someone threw a glass of red wine on my dress during the reception while I was dancing. It was an accident, but I was furious (see 2 above).
- Ben’s dad got drunk and managed to crush the left-over wedding cake (which we had planned to take home with us).
- The day after, our car broke down on the way back to our flat. The rescue effort took 10 hours.
- The priest who married us – infamous for his professionalism and sharp humour – turned out to have been a paedophile.
My mum, being a superstitious sort, remembers the cake incident most vividly. She read disaster into my father-in-law’s clumsiness. Looking back now, I can’t argue.
Still, signs or no signs, the ceremony was beautiful, as was the venue (the church crypt). And our smiles, which ranged from half-chewed to open-mouthed joy, were genuine. Ben, for one, didn’t stop grinning that afternoon and evening. I was the one on edge. I was the one trying to organise everything – because I had organised everything from start to finish. And when I did finally let go, one of my friends (who is renowned for her shameless drunken exploits) knocked red wine onto my dress, leaving the glass to shatter around my foot.
The most touching moment of our wedding came not on our wedding day, but during the rehearsal the evening before. That was the day we spoke our vows to one another for the first time – Ben’s eyes turning red with emotion, my smile turning to wonder. That, I think, was our first heady moment of marriage: words spoken between us, witnessed by a handful of people, suddenly airborne and floating like dust caught in a beam of sunlight.
My aunt died today. She had a massive heart attack earlier this morning, and went, just like that. She had a crap life. She started out badly, marrying an alcoholic who beat her. She’d defied her mother to marry him, and lived with the burden of his abuse for decades after. She cared for him until he died.
Her eldest son was also an alcoholic. He stole the family’s money, verbally abused his mother and is probably wanted by the police in at least two countries. His addiction has left him physically destroyed. The last I heard, he was in nappies and living with his mother, my aunt. She cared for him until she died.
I didn’t know her that well. She’s my godmother, but I’ve only met her a handful of times. She was a petite woman, gaunt, worn out by worry. I know it’s a cliche, but in her case, I think it’s true: she’s in a better place now. I’ll always remember that slightly demented laugh she had, the bug eyes and tiny bat’s face. She was like an Indonesian shadow puppet – a stick figure gesturing here and there, while all anyone saw were the shadows she threw at the wall.
Rest in peace.
This was the song we chose as our first dance on our wedding night. It is still just as relevant, not just to Ben and me, but to my late aunt as well.