I am not a smooth practitioner of checking my mail. I go out to my mailbox reluctantly maybe twice a week, and never do so with pleasure. Last month when I opened my mailbox and saw the letter from her I was not surprised: she sent me a birthday card every year around the end of May. But I left the letter in the mailbox with a bill or two that I did not wish to read quite yet.
After three days of knowing somewhere in the back of my mind it sat in my mailbox, I went down almost against my will and brought the letter up to my apartment. I opened it and read the usual, "Happy Birthday, old man!" I then read how she had important news with respect to a certain day in November about which she did not want to go into detail in a letter. She then proceeded to go into detail anyway. I read the rest of her words mechanically and then let the paper drop to the floor where it remained untouched next to my front door for almost six weeks. I had been waiting subconsciously for this letter for years, and now it had finally come: she was going to marry a man other than myself, and would make a life and start a family with him. It had finally happened.
I had long since reconciled myself to this fact. I had met her boyfriend, who was many things that I patently was not: a salesman with a head for money and business, fast friends with her very close-knit immigrant family, a solid middle-class man from the Midwest who would make a solid husband. I myself liked him very much when I met him. I could of course think of the many rational reasons I should never marry her, but they are too numerous to list. Still... There is that old Irish drinking cheer which runs, "Here's to all the women we loved, but who went on to marry other men!" I thought that was nothing but hogwash! If I did not want to marry her, I did not want that she marry someone else! But I knew she would eventually marry someone else, and the reality of that fact had finally arrived in the form of this letter. That I had been expecting it for so long made it no less sobering. Long had it been since she regularly entered my thoughts, but somewhere I was dimly aware that I still dreamt about her.
by Matthew Arnold
Over many years we had found a way into each other's lives once every six months or so, almost as if it were a biological necessity our bodies would not let us overlook. Whether we were committed to other boyfriends or girlfriends at the time didn't seem to matter. But I could see the final end of that in the finality of marriage, a word I have come to hate. As Jorge Luis Borges has said, "To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god"; and the truth of the matter is that the great love of your life is not always the one which ends in matrimony -- marriage being a social compact as much as a love bargain. Family, religion, careers, compatabilities, the manner of life you desire to lead - that is one thing, and love quite another; the two do not necessarily coincide, and love does not conquer all. But if true, I find this to be unacceptable. Rather than walk alone in this world where love fails and people travel in pairs, I would make a bitter meal out of my heart and eat of it.
She wrote that I should make no plans on this particular day in November. I asked my woman friends what I should do, the advice of men being next to meaningless in such matters. They told me to make an excuse and tell her I couldn't attend that day. Some even suggested I go to the wedding! But I would be damned if I'd go watch her marry some other man! And she and I had been telling each other the often painful truth for too long to start lying now. So I would tell her the plain truth:
"Thank you very much for the kind invitation to your wedding, but I must respectfully decline. Believe me when I say that I wish you much luck and happiness in your union and life together with ----------, and hope to be a part of your life always, no matter how peripheral that part may be. Believe me also when I say I wish you all the bliss and joy in the world on your wedding day. But in honor of what we once were, I cannot and will not be present to watch you stand at the alter with someone else. Please allow me to spend that day blessing your union in my own special way alone; but rest assured that I will be with you in spirit then and always in whatever you do, wherever you go, and with whomever you find yourself. I know you will understand."
I would then proceed to feast on my heart.
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