On October 25, 2003, I was left at the altar. Not literally, of course. My fiancé, Brad, was kind enough to telephone me the evening before and inform me that the wedding we'd been planning for over a year was not going to happen.
"I'm sorry, Casey. I just can't do it," he whined.
I was shocked, of course, and speechless. Since I said nothing, Brad continued.
"I'm so, so sorry. I think you're a wonderful girl, and I only want the best for you in life. I hope you know that."
Still, I said nothing, and he kept going.
"I know you're probably mad at me now, but I hope with time we can become friends again."
"What?" I finally gasped. "What are you talking about, Brad?"
"Uh. Look, I know this is hard for you. I know you have a lot invested in this thing."
"This THING? Are you out of your fucking mind?" Here's where I turned into Bridezilla. "This THING is our wedding, you asshole! I have spent the last year planning and making arrangements. I've spent hours and hours of my time and every dime I had—oh my God! Do you realize how much money we're going to lose?"
"W-well, um, I was actually hoping I could get some of that back..."
"WHAT?" I screamed. "Are you kidding me?"
My voice echoed in my head, and from somewhere another voice, another calmer, more rational Casey was telling me to stop screaming and think.
"No. I ... I think I deserve some of it back. It's my money."
"No, Brad. Fuck you." He was only worried about the money? "It's too late.'
"Well, what about from the gifts? Won't you return the gifts?"
I hung up on him then, shaking with rage, but didn't cry until five minutes later, when I called my mom. I opened my mouth to tell her what happened, but the words wouldn't come. She and my sister came over right away. Mom made coffee, and we all made phone calls. I didn't allow sympathy from anyone, saying I had a million calls to make and that I'd be in touch later. Three hundred guests and a few hours later, we all sat on my couch exhausted.
The florist, caterer, reception hall, and minister had been contacted, but I wasn't able to reach anyone at the travel agency where we'd booked the honeymoon. It was after 10 p.m. by then, and I announced I'd have to call them in the morning.
"Wait a minute, Case," said my sister, Amber. "I think you should go anyway."
"To New Orleans? Oh, I couldn't do that."
"You should go, honey," Mom agreed. "You've already got the time off from work, and what will you do here anyway? People will be calling. That little twit will be hounding you for money. You should get away and try to enjoy yourself. It might turn out to be a good thing."
So I did.
Two days later, I found myself in a room at the Place D'Armes Hotel. We'd specifically chosen the hotel for its charming and casual atmosphere, not to mention its location in the French Quarter. I was at a loss as I stood on the balcony overlooking a lovely courtyard. The excitement was over, and I was finally alone. All alone. I leaned on the ivy-covered wrought-iron railing, unsure of what to do next. I had nearly a week in this amazing city to get my head together and figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Tears stung my eyes, but I was tired of crying. I decided to take a walk and find someplace to eat.
Having never been to New Orleans before, I'd researched this trip for months, poring over maps and pictures on the Internet and guidebooks. I figured I'd be able to find my way around. Actually being there was different though, so, armed with a small map and guidebook in my purse, I set off.
Strolling down Decatur Street, I let the sights and sounds of the Big Easy envelope me. The very air there was so different from home. It was heavier, more sensuous, pregnant with foreign sounds and scents of humanity and food and the sea. I stopped outside the Café Maspero and peered through the open French doors at the diners inside. The guidebook said the café was known for its homemade soups and overstuffed sandwiches, both of which sounded wonderful to me, so I stepped inside.
The tantalizing scent of food nearly caused me to faint. I hadn't realized how hungry I was; could not remember when I had last eaten. In spite of a long line, I was surprised to be seated rather quickly. I am one of those people who is exceedingly uncomfortable dining alone in a restaurant and pretended to immerse myself in my guidebook while I waited for my food. When it arrived, my face must have shown my astonishment at the size of the portions, because the waitress laughed and patted me on the shoulder and then refilled my iced tea glass.
I was just tearing in into the second half of my enormous sandwich and licking my fingers, when I noticed a man watching me. He sat back in his chair, legs crossed, and held a pale gray fedora with one hand over his knee. His dark eyes squinted at me through the haze of smoke from his thin cigar, and when he saw me returning his stare, he inclined his head slightly and winked. The light shown on his slicked-back dark hair, and his eyes seemed to twinkle and dance with amusement. A pencil-thin mustache sat atop full sensuous lips that curled up at one side into a sardonic grin. He was wearing a gray pinstripe suit, which seemed rather formal for the casual eatery, but appeared, nonetheless, timeless in this place.
Having been entirely engrossed in my food, I felt sure my table manners had flown out into the sultry night. My cheeks flamed, and I lowered my head, returned the sandwich to my plate, and wiped my hands and mouth carefully on my napkin. I tried looking everywhere except at the man for a few moments, but I needn't have bothered, because when I looked back in his direction, he was gone. A young couple were seating themselves at his table, and no trace of the man remained. Scanning the crowd for him, I realized I felt a bit disappointed. Though horrified that he'd caught me gobbling my food with abandon, I felt he hadn't been put off by my lack of grace. On the contrary, he had seemed interested¬¬? ¬Odd. Had I imagined it? I'd always fancied myself ordinary and plain, with my mousy brown hair and nondescript features. In an odd way, Brad had endorsed my opinion of myself or, at least, never refuted it. So, this unexpected attention from such a handsome man induced a giddiness in me that I hadn't felt in a long, long time.
Laughing at my own silliness, I finished my food and drained my glass. Feeling a whole lot better than before my meal, I paid my check and returned to the voluptuous New Orleans evening. I felt revived and almost buoyant as I sauntered along Toulouse Street and turned on to Chartres. To my delight, horse-drawn carriages clopped along the street, and I imagined people walking along that same street a hundred years ago. In fact, time seemed to pause and mix and weave itself together in such a way that I seemed to be walking in the past, as well as the present. More silliness, I thought.
The low roar of people and music beckoned to me from Bourbon Street, but I wasn't in the mood for crowds. As I reached Jackson Square, the lonely, soulful singing of a saxophone wrapped itself around me like smoky silk, pulling me toward it. Mesmerized, I walked into the park and found the source of the music. A man with dreadlocks stood weaving and gyrating as he played, his silver saxophone glinting in the streetlights. The case from his instrument stood open before him, and a small crowd had gathered round. The mellow notes seemed to tell a story of life—love and sex, people, friends, happiness, grief, more love, and more sex. A young woman danced and swayed to the music, her diaphanous skirt floating and swirling about her long legs. She seemed the embodiment of the melody itself. I envied her the freedom of movement and lack of inhibition and almost wished I could join her.
The song ended on a long, tremulous note, and the little crowd applauded and tossed money into the musician's case. I fished a few bills from my purse, adding them to the take, and was rewarded with a warm smile.
"Thank you," I murmured, smiling myself.
"My pleasure, chère. And thank you."
Happiness and light accompanied me like unseen friends on the walk back to the hotel. This was new, this feeling of contentment in my own company. I didn't feel alone at all. A nearly tangible presence wrapped me in its arms and held me up. It made me feel protected and almost, well, loved. It made me feel like I'd be alright. It made me feel peace for the first time in a long while.
I sat in the wicker chair on my little balcony and listened to the night sounds of the city. Brad intruded on my thoughts. He never had explained why he called off the wedding. The wedding. The huge loss crushed my heart with its weight. I'd been dreaming of my wedding ever since I was a little girl. My mother had been in the dressing room as I tried on wedding gowns all those months ago. She'd cried as she fastened scores of tiny pearl buttons down the back of the dress. I'd been planning on something more plain, but my mother's tears had convinced me this was the one. I'd never get to wear it now. It still hung, still covered in plastic, from a plant hook in the corner of my living room.
The creamy satin shoes, the dainty veil, the wedding bands, the special wedding night lingerie—all wasted. Hot tears coursed down my face at the loss. I was thirty-four years old and truly felt like an old maid. I thought about the "belonging" wearing my engagement ring had always afforded me. I thought about the babies I might have had and the beautiful home I might have kept, and their loss hurt most of all.
.... There is more of this story ...