Usually I write my column on a Thursday night after I get in from work having mused on it somewhat during the week. Sometimes I tear articles out of the Sunday paper but that is usually the extent of my planning. So when things crop up, I’m little prepared.
The deadline for my PhD thesis is Thursday 31st March so I was a week away but not only that, I had yesterday and today booked off work to head up to Durham to hand it in so my true deadline was the weekend. But one of my best friends was marrying another of my best friends on the Sunday so the deadline was really Saturday. Except that I’d agreed to make them their wedding cake...
On Thursday I realised that despite having spent 4½ years on the damn thing I was going to be pulling something of an all-nighter. It wasn’t quite that bad but between leaving work at 5pm on Thursday and arriving back in the office at 9am on Friday I put in 8 hours. Needless to say, the column didn’t happen. Friday night I was shattered and then I made a wedding cake on the Saturday morning before we had to drive to Chester.
The wedding came with a little extra stress. I saw my ex-husband for the first time in two years. I divorced him on the grounds of emotional abuse and was very aware of not wanting to slip back into my old patterns around him. I was torn between wanting to seem happy and successful and not wanting to care what he thought (what better would demonstrate his power over me than my wanting to appear amazing?). It was frustrating because prior to the run up to the wedding I’d gone months at a time without thinking about him. In fact the only reminder of him in my present was that I’d started my PhD while still with him.
As my deadline doomed and I began to worry about the standard of my work I found myself doubting myself in general as the huge amount of pressure I felt under seemed to push me back to the mental state I existed in during the years I was with him. The fiancé took the brunt of this as I faded before his eyes to being a brittle and bitchy creature wrecked with doubt and self-loathing. It was almost as though I went back to rock bottom and I wondered whether people can really change or whether the last few years of love and fulfilment had been an illusion.
But around midnight last Thursday I turned a corner; I suddenly saw how my thesis should conclude. I didn’t rush in but instead poured myself a whisky and walked a few laps of the living room, letting my ideas develop. I then sat and started to write. I got a few hours sleep before rising at six to read through everything. It worked. I’ve no idea how good it really is but everything fit together. My thesis was complete!
I felt exhausted but the fiancé insisted I was glowing. I put in a good day at work and returned shattered. But I had a boost that made me feel capable.
I’ve never made a wedding cake before and this was to be no ordinary cake. The groom had requested a bat. Yes, the small winged animal. So I had bought a large square plate to create a starry sky background and created a bat out of sponge covered in ganache and because I worry about under catering, I made a batch of cupcakes with a white chocolate ganache topping with a starry sky design. Thankfully they made the journey to Chester without incident.
So a PhD thesis written. A wedding cake designed, baked and delivered. So far so Charlie Sheen.* Just the ex-husband to face.
As it happens, he is trying to make it as a photographer and was doing the photos for the wedding. My friend didn’t have bridesmaids in the official sense but myself and another friend of hers did the hen weekend, travelled in the car with her to the ceremony and had pre-wedding pictures so it felt quite a bridesmaidy day for me.
I walked into the room as he was taking pictures of my best friend and welled up. She looked so beautiful! Oh yeah he was in the room but my heart just ached. I’ve known Samantha for five years and have known her as a single girl, I introduced her to her husband and saw them fall in love, move in together, get engaged and now she was standing in a corset and floor length skirt, a fur wrap about her shoulders and looking like a 1940s film star. My friend was getting married!
When I saw my ex-husband two years ago (when he showed up unannounced with the intention of upsetting me) he still had a fair amount of influence over me and I hadn’t appreciated what two years can achieve. In that time I have started a career, I have moved in with the fiancé and become a stepmother and look to the future that thrills and excites me. It was easy to be pleasant to my ex husband. He could have been anyone. It was a little surreal actually; rather like my past life was a film I had seen rather than something real. I suppose that is what moving on is.
Not that I’m totally serene. He made a disparaging comment about the cake which pissed me off but rather than take it to heart, from my table I made a gesture at his back which made my table companions laugh. I’m far from perfect but I delighted in realising it didn’t matter. He was wrong. He is a not terribly nice person who builds his self-esteem by putting others down. I have known this in an intellectual sense for years but suddenly I was viewing him with the same eyes as my fiancé, fellow non-bridesmaid and her partner. There was no offence to be taken, he was just a bit sad and trying to build rapport with the people he was trying to photograph. Meh!
I had a fantastic time at the wedding (and cried throughout the ceremony). The two non-bridesmaids and our partners even got to spend a couple of hours with the bride and groom walking around Chester Zoo. We were all dressed to the nines and drinking white wine as we looked at the animals. It was memorable for all the right reasons. The six of us get on well and plan to meet up again.
Early the next morning the fiancé and I drove up to Durham to submit my thesis. There was no end of drama as two print companies’ printers had broken, I then dropped the printed copies at the binders only to discover my supervisor was having a minor crisis that meant he’d had to go home. We drove to his house so he could sign off my paperwork only to return to find that the binders had closed early! We had to book a hotel room and collect them this morning (we might have been a little bit cross about this!) before driving South again.
But it is concluded. I’m not really a student any more but more than that, I’m not the person I used to be any more. I have the benefit of my experiences and will never forget but all is forgiven. I guess I just don’t have anything to be angry about. The fiancé has been a pillar of strength and all I can think about is where I am now and where I am going.
For the first time I can honestly say I wish my ex-husband well. For a long time I found the song Bittersweet by Eva Avila helpful; sitting here today, it sounds like the closing credits.
* Winning, not coke and hookers obviously!