15. Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye Bath, 15th May 2004
There’s a photograph of him from that day that snap framed the exact moment between being lost and found, taken in the pause as every pair of eyes in the room looked away, looked towards the entering bride and momentarily left the groom. That moment of waiting, anticipating the conclusion of the long procession along the Assembly Rooms’ corridor; it must have been no more than two minutes but it stretched out and back across the five years that had brought them to this point.
New Year’s Eve in 1999 and a short break in Scotland, invited to see in the new millennium with a group of friends. It had been a full on black tie big bash with a free, help yourself bar. That last point had seemed particularly important at the time. There’s a photo of him on the night, grinning, holding aloft two bottles of spirits, concocting some poison. They’d gotten happily drunk and she’d ended up falling into the side of the marquee attempting to spin a small girl round in a whirling dance. The child had burst into tears and retreated to look for its parents. She’d sat enveloped in tent and guy ropes and they’d laughed helplessly at each other.
New York in February 2000, snow underfoot, tramping their way across Central Park, picking their way down 6th, then Broadway, all the way to Battery Park beneath the long, twin shadows of the World Trade Center. They’d taken the ferry across to Ellis Island, snatching time on deck to gaze back at chrome and steel rising from the sea, before retreating back inside against the biting chill. There’s a photo of him atop deck, hat pulled down over his ears, pointing gleefully at that glorious skyline. The hat and the grin make him look a little unhinged. He feels a little unhinged: giddy with happiness and hope.
Carefree days living in West London, first in a small rented place – friends crashing on the pull out futon in the front room, having to tiptoe through their bedroom to use the bathroom – and then in a marginally less small place that they’d bought. Long walks up the King’s Road. Short walks to Ciao at the end of the road, evenings spent eating, drinking, talking and laughing. His 30th, she’d surprised him with a party in town and friendly faces, past and present, had gathered to share the celebration: a photo of him on the night showing his delight that someone would take the trouble to arrange this for him. And finally back to that botched engagement, back in New York, 2002… But not too botched because here they were.
Everything in place. Friends and family assembled to bear witness to their promise to each other; a promise that, in reality, they’d made in private years before. All gathered amid Georgian elegance, their day continuing the long tradition of celebration in this venue; he could imagine the ghostly fragments of functions past. He knew how it was supposed to go; the service, signing the register, walking out as husband and wife, drinks, photos, more drinks, dinner, the speeches, and the first dance. A simple set of steps but a million details, each seemingly carrying the threat of catastrophe: they wanted it to be perfect. His speech was ready and they’d picked a fine song as their first dance; full of love, sass, desire, confidence, and fun. It spoke of the promise of setting out on something. It was perfect for them, for the day.
Later on there would be photos of them locked together in that dance, mouthing the words, making each other laugh with pulled faces and jokey moves. Not taking it too seriously whilst knowing it was the most important thing in the world.
Afterwards they’d told him that he’d looked uncomfortable in those moments before she appeared. Had been pacing the floor restlessly, unable to settle – fidgety and anxious. Told him in that good natured banter about worrying whether she would turn up; he took it in the spirit it was intended. He hadn’t been worried; he’d been terrified. Not because he had any doubts that she would be there but because she was a part of him now and to be apart left him feeling less than he was.
She appeared and he exhaled a breath he hadn’t been aware he was holding, a broad and natural smile breaking out on his face. The missing piece returned to him, slotted back together, made whole.