Michael Edwards—fiancé of one year, perfect boyfriend of two—had left me, Lilly Swanson, just ten minutes before I was scheduled to walk down the aisle. The bottle of perfume that he’d wanted me to wear today, insisted I wear, because “it was his favorite,” mocked me from the dressing table. So I picked it up and threw it against the wall, watching it shatter into a million pieces, just like my life. I was hit by the sickly sweet smell of jasmine and felt sick to my stomach.
What was I going to tell the five-hundred guests who were sitting in the church waiting for me? Some had even flown here to South Africa all the way from Australia.
Hi everyone. Thanks for coming. Guess what? SURPRISE! No wedding!
A wedding that my father had spent a small fortune on.
A wedding that was going to be perfect.
Perfect, dammit. Perfect!
I’d made sure of that. I had painstakingly handled every single tiny detail. It had taken months and months of meticulous planning to create this day, and now what?
Things went very blurry all of a sudden. I vaguely remember my brother James bursting into the room, screaming insults and then vowing to kill him. He even punched the best man when he claimed to have no knowledge of Michael’s whereabouts. My rational, logical father tried to find a legitimate motive for Michael’s behavior, insisting we speak to him before jumping to any rash conclusions. Hundreds of phone calls followed: where was he? Who had seen him? Where did he go?
At some stage the guests were told, and the rumor mill went into full swing…
He’d had an affair.
He’d eloped with someone else.
He was a criminal on the run.
He was gay.
He’d been beamed up by aliens and was being experimented on. (Hopefully it was painful.)
People threw around bad words like bastard, asshole and liar. They also threw around words like shame, sorry and pity. They wondered whether they should take their wedding gifts back, or leave them. What was the correct protocol in a situation like this?
While the world around me was going mad, I felt a strange calm descend. Nothing seemed real anymore, and I began to feel like a voyeur looking at my life from a distance. I didn’t care that I was sitting on the floor in my bra and panties. I didn’t care that my mascara and lipstick were so smudged I looked like Batman’s Joker. I just didn’t care.
Some minutes later my other brother Adam, the doctor, burst in and insisted I drink a Coke and swallow the little white pill he was forcing down my throat. It would calm me, he said.
Shortly after that, my overly dramatic, theater-actress mother rushed in to give the performance of her life.
“Why, why, why?” She placed her hand across her heart.
“What is this, a madness most discreet? A stench most foul?” She held her head and cried out, “Whyyy?!”
“For heaven’s sake, Ida, this isn’t some Shakespearean bloody play.” I could hear the anger in my father’s voice. Even after 18 years of divorce, they still couldn’t be civil to each other.
“Lest I remind you that all the world is a stage.” My mother shouted back, the deep timbre in her voice quivering for added dramatic tension as she tilted her head upward and clenched her jaw.
“There you go again with your crap! Clearly you still haven’t learned to separate fantasy from reality!”
“Well, I managed to do that with our marriage!”
My brother jumped between them. “Stop it. This isn’t the time!”
And then all pandemonium broke out.
The priest came around to offer some kind of spiritual guidance but exited quickly, and very red-faced, when he saw my state of undress. Some inquisitive relatives stuck their heads through the door, painted with sad, sorry puppy-dog looks, but they, too, left when they saw me spread-eagled on the floor.
An enormous ruckus ensued when the photographer burst in and started talking photos of me—no one had told him. The ruckus became a total freak show when my favorite cousin Annie, who had designed my dress for free as a wedding gift, saw the state of her “best creation” lying crumpled and torn on the floor. She looked like she was about to cry.
Then everything went very blurry and the noises around me combined into one strange drone.
I closed my eyes and everything went black.