Unlike Archer (No. 91) a ring was on the cards. Niall and I took a taxi to Hatton Garden and I chose a vintage emerald and diamond ring. A visit to both sets of parents was planned to celebrate our engagement. I felt like a princess.
“Lovely” my Mum said as she took my hand and studied my ring “It’s just like Granny Bentley’s”. I missed Granny Bentley and hadn’t been aware I’d chosen a ring just like hers.
Mum presented Niall and I with a full set of Botanic Garden Portmierion dinner plates, cups, saucers and a gravy jug. This wasn’t cheap stuff, they were taking us more seriously than my previous attempt at engagement. All were excited and happy in the Bentley household.
In Cork, Barbara and Tom welcomed us too. Barbara also studied my ring and showed me other engagement rings from her deceased family. I was touched and thought the visit had gone well until we were back at Cork airport. Niall had just bought me a Barbour jacket from one of the duty free shops, I was delighted and we’d gone to the bar to have a drink while waiting for our flight.
“Mum said she had a friend with MS” Niall said.
“Oh?” I hated it when people talked about MS third party.
“She said that when her friend had a baby she couldn’t hold it.”
I didn’t know how to respond to this, I couldn’t find my usual humour – I just felt like a knife had gone straight through my heart. Why hadn’t she talked with me about MS? I could have reassured her like I’d done with Niall. We sat in silence, by the look on Niall’s face there was probably more to tell, but he’d learned quickly to keep anymore of the conversation he’d had with his mother to himself. Something changed right there and then and I began to think more about the Cork visit. I had been excluded, like when Barbara had visited London, no one’s fault, it was just how it was, I couldn’t walk round art galleries. Niall’s parents lived in a 5 storey house, I slept on one floor and Niall on another. I understood that because they were Catholic and we were only engaged, why should we sleep together? But I would go to bed and he and his parents would stay up drinking. I wondered now what else they’d been talking about – me? our engagement? Again, I didn’t blame them, why would anyone want their son to marry someone with such a condition? It raised so many questions about everything, I felt overwhelmed.
I went back to the bar to get more drinks, more conscious than ever of gliding like a Goddess, this wasn’t going to get to me, fuck them, fuck everyone. I ordered us both double gin and tonics. The flight was delayed, we ordered more, and more. I felt sick but the gin allowed me to forget about the visit, the comment and that Niall perhaps had a responsibility to stick up for me as his fiancé. Alcohol helped me to focus on denying there was a problem with his family, with me, with us or perhaps with him and his family.
A few weeks later I was sitting at our desk at home, calculating Niall’s quarterly dividends. He stood behind me and massaged my shoulders, he had a soft, gentle touch, one of the many things I loved about him.
“Let’s go away and get married” he said.
“I was thinking of something more exotic.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I want to visit Russel in New Zealand, I want to do a trip round the world. We could get married at the same time.”
Before the week was out, Niall had spent a fair few thousand pounds on a four week trip around the world, Bangkok, Sydney, Auckland, half way through getting married Christmas day in Fiji, followed by a week honeymoon on ‘Treasure Island’ (a Fijian island) before a final stop in Los Angeles.
“Please don’t tell your folks,” I asked Niall with my new awareness that they may not be best pleased.
“You’re telling yours aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but they wouldn’t care where we got married, they just want us to be happy. Your folks are different, different culture, everything.”
“That’s not fair.”
“What about if I don’t tell mine either? We’ll keep it a secret, as much as one can when we’re taking a month away from work and friends.”
Secrets are always shite, I almost knew before I said it, but I was desperate to marry and it seemed like a good plan, perhaps the only plan available to us.
“Do you think this is posh enough for a Fiji wedding?” I asked Niall, holding against my body a cheesecloth purple and green full length beach dress. It was a week before our trip and I’d been counting the days down before I would be a Mrs.
“It’s perfect” he said, there was a pause as he looked at me and I knew it was coming “I can’t do it.” Niall had spilled the beans to his father, since he’d made the mistake of telling me what his mother had said about MS, he’d been keeping all contact with his folk’s away from me. “But we can still have an amazing time, and we’ll still stop off in New Zealand and see Russell.”
“My second honeymoon without getting married, the dress will be great for the beach.” My humour miraculously returning, making light of the reality and the reality was that I felt unworthy of Niall, he didn’t love me enough to stand up to his parents. Or was it just me?
With this doubt in mind I went along with it. I hadn’t told anyone about our wedding plans, including Ian my therapist, everyone just thought we were having an extended break. There was no shame around upsetting anyone, or looking like an idiot – again. It wasn’t until we arrived in Bangkok that my internal shame and rejection began working its way out of my system. My MS symptoms didn’t like the new reasoning behind our worldwide trip so my shite walking meant I was restricted to hanging out in the 5 star hotel pools. I tried, mildly successfully, to focus on sunbathing and swimming, ticking off the countries we visited, feeling privileged to be where I was, but the reality was that Niall and I were on the slippery slope to the ending of our relationship. I was lonely when Niall was site seeing and we argued when we were together. My skin getting darker with each sunny day, my mood darker with each moon.
We arrived in Fiji on Christmas Eve. One of the most beautiful places I had ever been to, palm lined beaches, coral reefs, clear lagoons and the people were so happy and friendly it made it worse, I wouldn’t have believed it could get any worse, but the isolation I felt became intolerable, I hadn’t been sleeping and was exhausted.
The hotel was beautifully decorated for Christmas and filled with large family groups from all over the world settling down for Christmas dinner. Niall and I walked passed the room where we would have been married, neither of us bearing to peak in. We sat down to eat, we were the odd ones out, the only couple, not speaking with each other because we didn’t want to argue in front of the celebrating groups. We would have been married now. I had no idea what Niall had told the hotel, how he had cancelled the wedding, did all the staff know? I wished I was back in Goa with Gill, this was far, far worse, I couldn’t laugh about it. It felt too tragic.
When we’d finished the Christmas meal Niall went to the bar and I went to our room. It was best we weren’t alone in our room together, arguing over the elephant in the room ‘the wedding’ never to be talked about. I’d decided to do the trip, my internal voice repeating ‘you’ve made your bed, now lie in it’. So I lay in the beautifully made bed with crisp white sheets, shifting the origami towel birds over to Niall’s side of the bed, trying not to disturb their heart shape. I didn’t want to be here, I didn’t want to be anywhere, I felt out of my depth in a country I didn’t understand, where I thought no one could understand. I wanted to be back in London but I couldn’t be further away, I wanted to be on Ian’s couch, telling him how rejected I felt. While I was away I would be paying for the sessions I was missing, I wondered if I could just get home now, take the next flight home. I didn’t feel I could get through another night of insomnia, feeling worthless with Niall asleep by my side. I picked up the phone from the bedside table and dialled 0 for reception.
“I need to speak with the emergency doctor please.”