This very long story begins with part I, here…
And continues with part II, here…
And then on to part III, here. (But if you want to read part III, you need to request a password here) before catching up to the fourth and final installment which is where we are now…
In the spring of 1986, my sister’s wedding preparations were being finalized as she and my future brother-in-law looked forward to their big day on June 14th. I had managed to get through my first year of college and was relieved to be on break from classes. Ben and I had weathered yet another tumultuous year of our unhealthy relationship, but we were, at that time, experiencing a period of calm.
The day of the wedding arrived and it was perfect. The temperature was comfortably warm, the sky was clear and the sun shone brilliantly. I had a gorgeous, red, off-the-shoulder dress to wear and I felt like a princess that day. As a member of the bridal party, I was immersed in all the happy chaos that took place as we neared the time of the ceremony. I was relaxed and having fun, chatting and laughing with the others as the photographer posed us for picture after picture. Ben hung out in the church, waiting patiently and watching the goings on with mild curiosity.
The wedding was picture perfect and afterwards there were more photos for the wedding party. We took a trip down to Stillwater, Minnesota; a historic tourist hot spot that showed off the St. Croix River as a backdrop.
Finally the formal photos were completed and the wedding party strolled to one of the many bars in Stillwater for a celebratory drink before heading back to town for the reception where Ben had been hanging out with my brothers and waiting patiently for me. I was happy for my sister and enjoying being among family and friends for such a special occasion. Ben and I were on the same page for a change and I looked forward to enjoying an evening with him, without strain. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so content and at ease.
After dinner was served to all of the guests, the band began to play. We watched my sister and her new husband dance their first dance as husband and wife. As that first dance came to an end, the band rolled right into another song and invited the bridal party to come join the bride and groom on the dance floor before the dancing would be opened up to the rest of the guests. Each member of the bridal party paired up with their partner from the wedding ceremony. My partner, my brother-in-law’s younger brother met me on the dance floor and we danced along with all the others. My sister and her new husband looked so happy together and I wondered if Ben and I would ever arrive at that same place in life.
Soon the song came to an end and all of the guests were invited to come and celebrate with the happy couple. I thanked my partner for the dance and went in search of Ben to invite him to come enjoy the music and dance with me. When I arrived back at the table where he was sitting, I could see that his face had turned to stone in the time that I had been away.
“What’s the matter,” I asked him, frustrated and worried all at the same time. I didn’t want our issues to surface on what was supposed to be the happiest day of my sister’s life. It was one thing for him to mess with me, but I’d be damned if he was going to make a scene on her day.
“You were dancing with another guy,” he sulked. He had a way of pouting and a habit of refusing to be brought out of it once the mood had set in.
I tried to explain to him. “Ben, it’s a tradition for there to be a wedding party dance. You heard the leader of the band say it. You saw the rest of the wedding party dancing with each other. It’s all a part of the tradition. It doesn’t mean anything!”
“Well, I didn’t like it,” he continued to sulk, glaring sideways at me.
One too many times I had tried, unsuccessfully to pull Ben out of one of his moods. I knew exactly where we were headed and any other time I would have allowed myself to get sucked in. Any other time I would have foolishly believed that this would be the time it would be different. This would be the time I would figure out how to head off the anger and resentment. But on that day something snapped. I had no more energy for this losing battle that Ben and I constantly engaged in.
“Let’s go outside,” I suggested.
Ben followed me, his mouth a tight line across his face. When we stepped outside the reception hall, he stood in front of me in silent anger.
“I don’t want to do this tonight,” I said.
“Maybe I should just leave then,” he retorted.
“Maybe you should.” He glared at me for a moment, looking for some sign of surrender, but I gave him nothing.
“Fine. I’m going then,” he huffed and stomped off to his car. I watched him go, and then pulled the door to the hall open and returned to the reception, determined not to let this ruin my night. I forced myself to forget about Ben for the evening and spent my time socializing with relatives and friends of the family. More than once, my brother-in-law’s brother came and invited me to come dance with him. I was thinking about nothing but enjoying each moment. We talked and laughed, had a few drinks and enjoyed each others’ company.
During one dance, Howie, a friend of the groom’s family walked past as my partner and I were dancing and stopped. He looked at my partner and suggested, “You two look good together. You should take her out on a date.”
My partner looked a little embarrassed, but agreed, “We should go out some time. Do you want to maybe go out to dinner with me?”
“I think I’d like that,” I smiled and he smiled back at me.
The wedding reception came to an end all too soon. In the days that followed, I went about my business. I thought about calling Ben and trying to talk with him about what had transpired between us but I was just tired of it all. I didn’t plan on ignoring him forever, but as each day went by I had less and less desire to get in touch with him. Finally, after three days had passed, he called me.
“So are you still mad at me,” he asked?
“You know, I think I’m just tired of the whole routine,” I told him. “I just don’t think I want to do this any more.”
He was shocked. He wasn’t used to me taking a stand. He was used to having me cajole him out of his moods. He was used to me thinking I couldn’t live without him. He was accustomed to me walking on eggshells and doing whatever it took to try to make him happy for whatever short amount of time I could achieve it. This… this new found strength in me… he didn’t know what to do with it.
Suddenly he was remorseful. “I just thought you’d be mad for a few days and get over it like you usually do. I’m sorry. Don’t be mad,” he pleaded.
“I can’t do it anymore, Ben. I’m done.”
It was the hardest conversation I’d ever had in my life but I’d never felt more full of hope, never seen so much promise in the future as I did at that moment. It hurt like hell but I’d never been more confident that I’d done the right thing than at that moment.
The weeks that followed were a roller coaster of emotion. Ben hadn’t taken the break-up lying down. I had changed my role in our relationship and he was no longer sure of his own. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He made a few visits to me at work and spit words at me in anger. He called and begged me to reconsider, but I stood my ground. His friends even caught up with me to report that Ben had made a (mostly for show) suicide attempt and had spent a night in jail after being confronted by a police officer and taking a swing at him. These facts were presented to me in the hopes that I would take Ben back and make it all better again. But somehow I knew that if I tried to rescue him, I would only lose myself in the process. It was over for good.
Ben’s life did go on. Ironically enough, I never saw him again after those first weeks after our break-up. I didn’t stay in touch with any of his friends and didn’t know what might have happened to him. A few years ago, I saw his mother’s obituary in the local newspaper. I didn’t go to her wake or funeral. It just didn’t seem right, but I wondered about him at that time. Even more recently, a good friend of mine who had known me during the “Ben years” asked me what Ben’s last name was. I reminded her and asked what made her think of him.
“His wife runs a daycare and takes care of my sister’s baby,” she told me. It seems he was living in the city right next to the one where I live. How ironic. But I smiled at the news. So… he could live without me after all!
As for me, the months following my sister’s wedding were spent forging a new relationship with my brother-in-law’s brother. We got along great and I learned what it was like to exist in a give and take relationship. We had a great time for a few months and truly enjoyed each others’ company until the inevitable happened.
He asked me to marry him and we lived happily ever after.