Flash fiction prompt 21 was another challenge to write from a perspective that is nothing like anything I have ever experienced or will ever experience. Having grown up literally never hearing the words “When you get married”, I tripped and fell in love with my best friend when I was twenty and got married when I was twenty one. In spite of the impression that may be given by all the dodgy relationships that seem to come up in my writing, we’re still happily married fifteen years later.
From one man’s house to another man’s house, handed over, cut and pasted. Given away. Isn’t that the tradition? My father gives me away to my husband. I stop being one man’s responsibility and become another’s. The crazy thing is, I never even questioned it. This is just what happens. People do this every day, thousands, millions of people and it just is what it is.
For as long as I can remember, my mother has talked about when I would get married. Not if, but when. Because there was never any question. It was simply what was expected of me. It’s what she did. It’s what her mother did. It’s what every other woman I know has done or will do. My mother has also talked a lot about when I will have children. Again not if, but when. Because I don’t really have a choice in the matter. Get married, have children.
Of course there are other steps that must be elegantly danced through. Go to school, go to university, be accomplished. Be beautiful, get married, move into a big house filled with furniture I don’t really want, have children I don’t really want. Go on expensive holidays to places I have no interest in, attend events on my husband’s arm like a sweetly smiling decoration. Spend money, make sure people know how much money I spend without ever specifically telling them. Don’t age, stay thin, stay perfect.
I’m well aware of the bubble of privilege I’ve grown up in. Obviously I have little practical experience of life outside the bubble but I know it exists and I know I’m on the inside. “Don’t you know how lucky you are?” was my parents’ favourite retort on the odd occasion when I dared to express distaste at anything that was expected of me. I learned to do as I was told because I did know how lucky I was. I do know.
It’s not that I have a vision for a different life. The truth is, I can’t even imagine a different life, not really. I’ve grown up with this, all of this, around me and within me forever and it’s all I know. I am part of it, it is part of me and this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be. When I look back on my life so far, all I see is a neat row of landmarks, reached at precisely the right time. Sometimes I feel like nothing more than a thread in a tapestry of someone else’s creation. I might be a bright golden thread but only because that’s what someone else made to suit their purpose.
I hope this doesn’t sound like I feel sorry for myself because I don’t, not at all. I’ve had everything I could ever have asked for, apart from choice. Perhaps choice is overrated and the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed really is the best option but just for once I would like to know what it feels like to decide something for myself. I don’t even know what I want beyond what I’ve been told I should want.
I can’t get rid of the nagging feeling that I’m somehow ungrateful for not wanting all of this, for not wanting you. And it’s not that I don’t want you. I don’t want you to take this personally because it really isn’t personal. Everyone I know has told me countless times how lucky I am to be marrying you. Handsome you. Rich you. Charismatic, educated, taking over the family business one day you. And you’re so genuinely lovely, so kind and polite and interesting. If we’d just met somewhere along paths that happened to converge and got to know each other, maybe we would be together anyway. But it didn’t happen like that. It’s not an arranged marriage but it may as well be.
I wonder if anyone has ever asked you if you were happy, if you wanted this. Did your father ever ask how you felt about being moulded into another version of him? Did you ever get to choose which subjects you studied? Did anyone ever ask you what you wanted to be when you grew up? If they did, what was your answer? Do you love me, really, deep down in the pit of your soul? Did you propose to me because your heart sang every time you saw my face or heard my voice and you couldn’t imagine waking up in the morning without me next to you? Did you choose that ridiculously huge diamond ring because you imagined me crying with joy when you slid it onto my finger or simply because a ridiculously huge diamond rind was what you knew you were supposed to choose?
When I think about tomorrow, I feel nothing but a profound emptiness. At my final dress fitting, my mother cried. I didn’t. I didn’t react at all. I said nothing. She thought I was just so happy that I couldn’t find the words to express my joy at the sight of my own reflection. I couldn’t find any words at all. None of the details of tomorrow were really anything to do with my desires because I didn’t have any. I knew what I was supposed to want, what I was supposed to like, what I was supposed to choose.
I’m not naïve enough to think that by doing this I’m giving you an unexpected gift of freedom. Of course I’m not. You will be embarrassed. Our families will be embarrassed. A lot of money will be wasted but the humiliation will be more meaningful than money because money is endless but scandal has power.
I’m sorry if this hurts you in whatever way you might be hurt. I don’t believe your heart will be broken. I don’t believe you will be alone for long. I honestly do believe you will be fine. And I know I will be too, but not like this. I’m sorry I waited until now to do this but I couldn’t have done it before. I needed to be right at the edge, looking down, before I could truly understand that instead of jumping or standing passively waiting to be pushed, I could just turn around and walk away.
I wish you the best, I really do. I wish you every good thing that I know will come your way. I hope that one day someone asks you what you want and that you can answer with your own truth. More than anything, I hope you can find your truth. I hope I can find mine. I know exactly what I’m walking away from but I also know that I need to start searching and I need to start now. I can’t wait until it’s too late. I can’t wait until I’m weighed down by regret and missed opportunities.
The sun is coming up and I need to go. The boat is waiting. The world is waiting.
About the photo
This photo was taken from a boat, although it was sunset rather than sunrise. It was taken when I was leaving the place where I grew up, although not when I was leaving it for the first time. And my husband was sitting beside me at the time, not reading a letter detailing why I was running away from him.