“I’ve got a flat, I’ve got a fucking flat!”
“You’re beautiful Liz. Will you marry me, yah?”
“Yes, will you help me move in?”
Within two weeks Archer had moved into my one bedroom council flat, on the second floor of Dhonau House, a block on the Longfield Estate in Bermondsey.
I’d known Archer two weeks and one day when the vicar visited us and we booked the wedding in St Anne’s church for a Saturday in November, seven weeks away. We also booked a West African restaurant in New Cross for the reception, for our close family with food that Mr and Mrs Bentley and Lord Meredith and Lady Petronella Livingstone would hate.
Those seven weeks went by quickly, we were so loved up, I was so happy, he was so happy, I felt loved, adored and not so jealous of my sister who was now married and had recently given birth to my beautiful niece.
I took Archer to Essex to meet my parents before the wedding.
“Are you sure about getting married?” My father asked, mimicking what the vicar had said in our meeting.
“Yes.” I said, un-wrapping spaghetti bowls my Aunt had given my dad to give to us for an engagement present. That was family acknowledgment enough for me, even though I didn’t eat spaghetti.
That same week we visited Archer’s mother and step father in their mansion in Hampshire. We stayed alone together in the summer-house at the bottom of the mansion’s 2/3 acre lush garden. We drank bottles of champagne and crashed the night there where we dropped. At breakfast we ascended into the main house and his mother, Lady Petronella, seemed very happy with me as his chosen bride and she gave Archer a cheque as we left after a help yourself stand up breakfast.
Mary took me to Selfridges and I bought a dress, not a proper wedding dress, but it was reduced in price, cream coloured, longer than a mini, and it would double up as a fun dress to wear on honeymoon in Goa.
The week before the wedding I was sorting out a seating plan for our small reception when there was a knock on my flat door. Nothing unusual, next door were drug dealers and sometimes people got the wrong door in the dark.
“Where is he?”
“He owes me money.”
“He’s working late”
“Bullshitting little twat. He’ll be in the pub, he’s usually there but he’s changed pubs cause he owes half the pub. And we don’t know what pub. Bet he ain’t paying you rent neither.”
Then it dawned on me, the engagement ring he said he’d bought and was at the jewellers probably didn’t exist, all the money he said he had probably didn’t exist and if Archer was prepared to lie about everything else, I guessed that meant he probably didn’t love me. I’d been carried away in a nugget of love I was so desperate for. This man standing before me was like my superego, ticking me off and my relationship was all bullshit. I felt shamefully stupid, ridiculously embarrassed.
When Archer returned late that night he crept into bed, me pretending to be asleep. We slept back to back. When the alarm went I got up and went into work as usual, leaving him sleeping.
“Go home Liz,” the Annexe manager said when she caught me in tears in the office. “You need to sort it out – now.”
Archer was still in bed when I got back to the flat, he knew it was over.
“You have to go.” And that’s all that was said.
He got up slowly and began packing 3 bin liners and a rucksack, each taking about an hour, I watched him while he put one item in, then sat on the bed with his head in his hands, and so on, I couldn’t bear it any longer and went into the kitchen and chain smoked, popping my head round the door every so often. I had mixed feelings and felt bad for him, he’d been with me when I got my new flat, he’d helped me clean layers and layers of grease off the kitchen walls, he’d tried to clean the chimney (even though the neighbour called the fire brigade as we filled the block with smoke) and he’d helped carry the double mattress from the second-hand shop on the Old Kent Road through the estate and up the stairs of the block, into my little 1940’s flat. He’d even stayed in to let in BT to put the phone in, at the time me thinking it was easier for him to have the day off work than me.
“The wedding’s off,” I told my mother on the phone “will you tell everyone please?” Despite the new realisation of my mother’s emotional neglect, right now I was able to forgive her, I needed her practical help, it wasn’t her fault, she’d been evacuated age 8, her father in both wars, her older brother died of lung cancer post WW2, her sister put in a mental hospital after ineffectual ECT and that was before starting on her relationship with my father. She’d had it tough and at this point in my life I was able to value my family’s non-judgmental and non- intrusive approach to my boyfriends and my life. “And Gill’s coming with me on the honeymoon.” Gill was a friend I’d met at the Samaritans and she’d agreed to split the cost of the trip I’d already paid for.
“You have a lovely time” Mum said.
That night was the first I’d been alone in my new flat, this was also the first time I’d had a proper place I could call home since leaving Essex. I cried myself to sleep on the soft double mattress, it was comforting to know I couldn’t disturb anyone. My relationship with Archer was nothing in comparison to the ten years on and off with Fraser. I knew I would get over him quicker, we weren’t so entrenched, but the pain was as intense and the shame I felt continued until Gill and I got on the plane to Goa. My more empathic friends were kind and somewhat relieved of the outcome, they’d been concerned how quickly and how alcoholic things were heading with my new fiancé. My less empathic friends took the piss which added to my shame, but it was ridiculous, and I didn’t blame them either, why would they understand my pain, my loneliness and the loss of a loving relationship I thought I could, might have?
The person who knew nothing was Ian. Maybe it was just as well there was never an engagement ring, like my cut eye from Fraser, I’d got away with it. I was no worse than Archer, I was keeping so much from my therapist, but unlike Archer I had no escape, I was locked into a relationship with Ian for at least three years while I was training. The shit would come out soon enough.