The following passage was excerpted from "Almost," an essay by Stephanie Hallett in "Here Come the Brides!: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage," edited by Audrey Bilger and Michele Kort and published Monday.
I never considered myself the “marrying kind.” And despite my own parents’ 36-year-long partnership, they never pressured me to get married or have children. I didn’t dream of a perfect mate, plan my special day or even fantasize about my ideal dress (despite a colorful personal style; I was voted “Most Creative Dresser’ in my eighth grade yearbook -- middle-school code for “weirdo”). I knew exactly what I wanted from life: a cool job, a beagle named Charlie and a house with a red front door on one of the Toronto Islands. Marriage? Who needs it.
I knew from the age of 13 that I liked both boys and girls, and as a high school student and college freshman, I dated both. One boyfriend, a sweet and simple guy, was desperately seeking a wife, kids and a house in the suburbs. Since I swore up and down that I would never get married, we couldn’t help but fall apart. Well, that was his problem, I declared, I had a life to lead and it didn’t include marriage!
That was, until I met Meredith.
She was a red-bicycle-riding, women’s-studies-minor-ing, vegetarian, dog-loving babe from just north of Toronto, my hometown. But we became acquainted thousands of miles away, while students at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I had a crush on her the day after we met. And I was determined to be with her, despite my roommate’s kind warning that my love-interest didn’t fancy the ladies.
One chilly February evening at an on-campus, 80’s-themed party, I awkwardly kissed my crush on the dance floor. After I chased her down the hall when she subsequently ran away, and convinced her that I wasn’t drunk, Meredith and I became inseparable. Turns out she did fancy the ladies, but at that point she only kind-of knew it.
We U-Haul’d after two months and shared a “character” apartment, complete with decorative, non-working brick fireplace and an almost-view of the Coast Mountains from our tiny kitchen window. We were the cool, property-value-raising, “creative class,” new queer couple on the block, and we loved it.
Almost from day one, Meredith and I were serious about our relationship. We took weekend trips around B.C. and planned nice surprises for each other, like the time she made me a picnic on the roof of our school’s library. We wanted to make each other happy. And we talked a lot about marriage; sometimes in theory, sometimes not.
One Thursday morning, four months into our relationship, I got out of bed after she had left for work and realized I wanted to marry her, for real. For the first time in my life, I wanted to get married. I decided I would propose to her that day.
I set to work immediately: First, I had to find the perfect engagement ring. I biked all over town, from jewelry shop to jewelry shop. Finally, in a boutique on West Broadway, I found it: two sterling silver leaves with a mother-of-pearl inlay that wrapped around the finger. It was perfect.
Then I rushed home to make dinner: spanakopita, my favorite Greek dish. It was the same meal I’d made on our first Valentine’s Day together; Meredith had been horrified by the amount of olive oil the recipe required, but ate a second helping anyway.
Finally, I lit the giant pillar candles in our decorative, non-working brick fireplace, stuck the ring in the pocket of my oversized zip-up hoodie, and waited anxiously for her to arrive home at six o’clock.
When she walked in the door, Meredith was happily overwhelmed. I think she almost cried twice before I even proposed. After dinner, she said that she loved the surprise, the dim lighting, the candles, the meal, everything. As I listened to her wax poetic while washing the dishes, I casually leaned against the kitchen doorjamb and pulled the ring out of my pocket.
“Will you marry me?”
The words fell out of my mouth more easily than when I asked her out on our first date.
A stunned silence ensued. Then, “Are you serious? Of course I’ll marry you!” she practically screamed.
And just like that, we were engaged. I was elated. I couldn’t stop smiling at her for days; I wanted to show her off like a prize. To seal the deal, we spent the weekend searching for my engagement ring -- we were both spoken for and wanted the world to know.
In the next few weeks, as we began to plan our wedding, we enjoyed some awkward moments in formal bridal shops. The sales girls couldn’t understand who exactly was marrying whom, or why we both needed bridal gowns. We got a lot of: “Isn’t one of you the maid-of-honor?” Sure, gay marriage may be legal in Canada, but that doesn't mean everyone has adjusted -- especially those working in conventional bridal shops, which tend to be traditional and heternormative.
Later that summer, we spent a blissful weekend celebrating with family and friends back home in Toronto. My Dad was so excited about the engagement he insisted on taking me all over town to find a dress (I found it eventually, at a very loud shop on Queen St. West: a pinkish, cocktail-length, be-sequined number that screamed diva bride). Meredith found her (much more appropriate) white strapless dress a few months later, at a shop not far from our apartment.
The whole relationship had happened very, very quickly. And perhaps just as quickly things began to change. First I withdrew, spending more time in the dance studio creating choreography than at home with my bride-to-be. The more I withdrew, the more Meredith tried to pull me back. In turn, I slunk away somewhere dark inside myself.
The biggest fracture in our relationship had to do with our future plans. Meredith was accepted to grad school in Toronto, I was accepted in Vancouver; neither of us could or would defer. We fought about it. We were both disappointed. Eventually, our mutual resentment drove a wedge between us.
But we carried on with the wedding plans. We didn’t know what else to do.
We had decided on a caterer, a DJ and a photographer. We had an ever-expanding guest list. And we had a vision: Green gingham table cloths, local wine and beer, jazz music from the ‘20s.
One Saturday morning, there was an ominous sign of where things were headed. I was in the dance studio, teaching ballet to three- and four-year-old girls, when Meredith called, sounding shaken. She confessed that she had a habit of wearing her wedding dress around the apartment when she was home alone, and that she had been doing just that when she exhaled too sharply and burst the zipper.
I wanted to laugh; it was a cute image. But I withheld my chuckles and tried to sound reassuring. We could easily get the zipper fixed before the wedding. What I didn’t realize quite yet was that me and my girl were kind of like that zipper: holding together something beautiful, but ready to burst apart at any moment.
It was April 2009 when we finally split, less than four months before our wedding was to take place. The End amounted to a long night of crying, then silence, then fitful ten-minute intervals of sleep, screaming and still more crying. It didn’t start out as a break-up talk, but the more we said to each other the more our relationship fell apart.
To read more, pick up "Here Come the Brides!," which is available now.
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