Four weeks before our wedding, a splinter shaped like the end of a toothpick became lodged in the underside of my left ring finger knuckle. My fiancé and I were building a bar for our reception tent, inspired by a picture I pinned on Pinterest. The pallet bar was the culmination of a series of projects I had spent each weekend working on over two months. Not surprising that I’d fill that time, because every other weekend I was booked, too. My fiancé was wrapping up his last year of medical school, we both would turn thirty, and he would start residency in the summer. When we got engaged last April, we decided to sandwich our wedding between med school graduation and the first day of his residency program. Blinded by overachiever invincibility, we marked off every Saturday square on a calendar and crammed every major quarter-life event remaining for the two of us (except for offspring, thank God) into a three-month span of time. I used to think it was cute, and when people asked about our wedding, I would proudly rattle off all of the other exciting days that would be fenced around it.
When I felt a sharp pain and pulled my hand away from the splintery barn board topping our Pinterest bar, I reacted to the blood by yanking my engagement ring off my finger. This instinct probably saved my antique ring; the skin on the inside of my otherwise petite knuckle swelled around the piece of wood instantly. A week later, the puncture wound itself healed over, leaving the wood implanted under my skin like one of those lost pet computer chips. The engagement ring no longer fits over the knuckle, and the skinny platinum band we bought to accompany it is even more impossible. My primary care provider, the recipient of my first wedding freak-out, offered to send me to a hand surgeon. Fundamentally, however, the best course—all I could do—was wait and try not to stare at my naked finger, try not to touch it.
When I called my best friend from college to tell her this story, I prefaced it by saying that the splinter debacle was only the tip of the iceberg. The splinter story made us both laugh for a sec, and then I pulled out every ounce of grace I possessed to tell her that my fiancé had cold feet. Somehow, I did this without tears. I rationalized that cold feet are normal, and in fact, cold feet are a good thing, right? I pictured a bumper sticker: “If you don’t have cold feet, you’re not paying attention.” But in all reality, my fiancé’s cold feet were symptomatic of something more. He has suffered from mental illness for as long as I’ve known him, and after the ridiculous year we’d had, it was out of control again. He didn’t “just” have cold feet: he couldn’t marry me, he couldn’t ruin my life, he couldn’t have children, he couldn’t ever have children, he couldn’t fix all of this without being alone, and he couldn’t ever fix this. No amount of reassurance I might offer could save us from this. Three weeks before our wedding, he checked himself into an outpatient psychiatric program for two weeks. This was not a wedding snafu for us to “fix,” despite both our parents trying to hold it all together, begging us to consider just going forward as planned.
Two weeks before our wedding, just days before the final deposits were due to vendors, I woke up before work knowing that we, that I, had to let go. I called my fiancé, and we agreed that it was time. I called my officiant, our wedding spirit guide, who reminded me that we were living our vows in this decision. I called my sister, my maid of honor, who strapped her kids into the car and spent the rest of the afternoon driving me around as tears rolled down my face. I called my best friends from college and grad school, and they each called all of my other friends. All our out of town guests had rented big group-house cottages on a nearby lake for that weekend, and I wanted them to be able to cancel their reservations and recover their deposits. I made a few more calls and wrote an email to guests with my fiancé on the phone with me. The wedding in my hometown church and the beautiful party in my stepdad’s hayfield that had taken a year to plan evaporated in the span of four hours.
For two weeks I waited until June 1st—the day that would have been our wedding day. The 120 hand-embossed and string-tied invitations, the silver wire and pearl necklaces for my bridesmaids, and the hours on Spotify arranging and rearranging playlists now signified the process in which I lost my love, the days he began floating away from me. I spent the days alone in our apartment, buried in boxes of what was now just wedding junk, keeping a vigil for my love… and for my splinter. I would stare down at the splinter, and squeeze at the edges, and pray for it to just come out.
On June 1st something miraculous happened, although not what I had prayed on or expected. My friends still came. My fiancé’s friends still came. We each spent the weekend separately enveloped in the love that would have been there that day—“no matter what,” as they say. They meant it. Nothing happened the way we planned, but the day was something else entirely perfect in its own way. That night, my fiancé and I both snuck out of our respective encampments and stood out in the dark watching heat lighting out on the horizon. He felt for my splinter, and it was still there. Not ready yet, not time.
Photo by Leah Verwey for APW Sponsor Favor Jewelry