Friday, 13 February 2015

The night before the day that changed everything


Tonight I travel back thirty-two years, to 1983. To the evening before I was married. My wedding was on St Valentine's Day. It had been my own idea. I had committed myself to a legal bonding process, to prove to the whole world, to my partner, to my parents, most of all to myself, that I was grown up and all the time-wasting was now over, all the old vague reservations were done with. It would be my entry not so much to the real world, but to an inner world of marriage secrets.

It was an expression of faith and hope for the future. A public giving up of freedom, or at least such freedom as one could have with a job to attend to, and a mortgage to pay off. I had convinced myself that I was doing the right thing. I had set about making the necessary arrangements with my usual efficiency. I had reconciled myself to determined parental interference in such matters as the guest list. Any annoyance on that score would pass. It was just part of the marriage ritual. I knew that the first day of the honeymoon would be the first day of an entirely new stage of my life. What came before couldn't affect what would now be mine: a new start, in a changed world, with a changed status. I was looking forward to being married.

It was going to work. I was completely confident that it would. I meant to give it my very best shot. I knew no better. There was no private room in my brain with this written on the door: 'Meltdown Control Room - Escape Device Within'.

And my marriage did work, for a while. We had four good years together. Then four more, less good, four increasingly fretful years of gradually growing estrangement as our mutual incompatibilities prized us apart, and found verbal expression in pointless argument.

There was a TV programme tonight on the development of the symphony, on BBC4, covering roughly the fifty years 1864 to 1914. One of the composers featured was Sibelius. My wife introduced me to Sibelius' Symphony No. 1 shortly before we decided to part in early 1991. A man she knew at work had introduced her to it - I did not enquire in what circumstances - and she had been listening to it endlessly at home, while smoking and drinking neat Martini Bianco. It was a powerful composition. Its grand melodic surges and changes of mood perfectly reflected the way we related to each other in the dying days of our marriage. The periods of calm. Of normality. Of boredom. Then the genesis of another silly argument about nothing, that became horrible and exhausting. It contained parts that overwhelmed me with pain. The pain of having lost someone who had been dear. The pain of strife. The pain of failure.

Hearing Sibelius now, in 2015, I could not help feeling that pain again, and I wept.

But I wept not only in mourning for a relationship that had consumed my entire will to marry. The screen showed the lakes and woods of Finland, the Karelian homeland that Sibelius was so strongly bound to, and I wept therefore for a Scandinavian dream still unfulfilled in which I would stand by waters like that in Sweden, and finally understand something fundamental about where I had come from, where I was bound, and the point of my existence.

If you have followed me so far, you will see that I must always and forever travel alone. Only in that way will I be ready for the destination that is revealed, by surprise, around the next bend in the road, or the one after that.

That programme didn't actually play Sibelius' symphony No. 1. It played his Symphony No. 2. After we had separated, I discovered the second symphony by myself. It seemed to be a hopeful antidote to the first. Really they were one long symphony, the first (for me) dealing with pain, the second its possible healing. And I can rationalise them now by thinking of them in that way. But the pain never entirely goes.

Don't misunderstand me. My marriage withered and died. It could never be revived. I have never wanted to revive it. I have long ago moved on from regrets. I have deeply learned the lessons. The experience did not prevent me embarking on fresh relationships to come, and indeed in due time finding (but ultimately losing) the love of my life. But I would now fight tooth and claw not to be dragged into a relationship, let alone a marriage. It's all over. It's not what I'm here for.

I'm saying these things on the eve of the day devoted to ardent lovers, on fire with mutual attraction, and to couples who have never lost their romantic attachment to each other. Perhaps I should be quiet, and not spoil the show.

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