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L.A. Affairs: Why I called off my big wedding

Illustration of an isolated island with a palm tree.
Better, we thought, to wait until “all this” was over.
(Marisol Ortega / For The Times)

Hari and I weren’t a couple that anyone could accuse of rushing into things. Over nearly a decade, our relationship has progressed as slowly and gracefully as a climbing vine. After we became engaged in December 2018 during a trip to Morocco, we gave ourselves as much space as we needed to plan our wedding. We had all the time in the world, we thought.

Coronavirus changed all that, just as it changed so much about the world.

In the before times, Hari, a high school history teacher in Los Angeles, would get up early for work and then his own classes. My day would be spent writing, teaching and babysitting in our Echo Park neighborhood. Weekends we went dancing or into the Angeles National Forest for hikes with friends.

Time spent in this way felt both meaningful and knowable, oriented around a kind of specific future. I was working on my second novel. He was working toward a second graduate degree that would get him the salary bump we needed to buy a home. We squeezed in wedding planning when we could. We tasted tacos from backyard vendors and visited a horse ranch in Joshua Tree as a potential venue. My mother and I went to the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles to buy fabric for the wedding dress we were going to sew together. We picked a tentative date, June 20, 2020.

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Our lives throughout 2019 were oriented toward an external something, that feeling that as time passed we were growing closer to the fulfillment of our future selves.

The coronavirus erased that easy feeling of progress.

In the chaos of the outside world, everything we had been working toward seemed to disappear, just as it did for so many others. Hari’s school announced budget cuts that meant his anticipated salary bump was slashed, the hard work he had put in erased with a flick of the pen. It wasn’t safe for me to spend time in other people’s houses, teaching and watching children. I coped by disappearing into my novel, writing for huge chunks of the day, spending more and more time in an imaginary world.

We didn’t worry about the wedding. A wedding is a commitment to the future, a promise we make with our future selves. And with the future so uncertain, it was hard for us to imagine a celebration that felt appropriate and safe. Better, we thought, to wait until “all this” was over.

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As the quarantine continued, though, it became increasingly difficult to imagine what “over” could mean. But even on my darkest days, I could see a kind of hope reflected in my fiancé’s eyes. I felt it every time I looked at him, no matter how stressed I was about money or sickness or the seemingly constant doom scroll of bad news dragging us down into the new life of endless screen time.

For me, he was the future. The one unchanging thing in a constantly shifting landscape. And so, one evening, I proposed.

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I had made us a special “It’s Saturday night!” dinner that began with my grandfather’s top secret martini recipe. There was prosciutto and melon, handmade pasta and two individual chocolate mousse tarts with strawberry roses perched on top. We sat close on our battered leather couch. It felt special. The first distinctive day we’d had in months. Coming out of the kitchen with a plate full of tarts and seeing my fiancé, looking impossibly beautiful in the floor lamp’s low light, I was overcome with a sudden urge.

“We should just get married!” I said.

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I loved this man with all my heart. In the time we had spent marooned together on this strange island of an apartment, I had grown to love him even more. And it made me realize: We shouldn’t wait. Because what is marriage but an act of hope? I still wanted nothing more than to commit to this man on the the day we had chosen, the summer solstice of 2020, the longest day of the longest year.

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There was only one problem: June 20th was a week away.

The passing of time took on a new meaning, the setting sun signaling five days left until the wedding, then four, three, two. Our families threw themselves into planning with remarkable dedication and enthusiasm.

We drew up a guest list of 26 close family members and friends, all of whom had been quarantining strictly. When we called our guests to tell them about our surprise, we covered our COVID-19 protocols in detail. Guests agreed to get tested, wore fancy masks with their party outfits, and sat spread out across an expansive lawn.

By late December I no longer heard from him unless I initiated. Instead of accepting this as his way of saying ‘It’s over,’ I remembered him saying, ‘I think this is rare.’ So I kept waiting.

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We have two entertainment industry producers in the family who swung into high gear — my Aunt Kate, who let us have the wedding in her backyard in Altadena, and my sister Lauren. My sister not only served as our minister but cashed in on countless professional favors to get us seating, a caterer and industrial-size fans to fight the heat, and rallied her partner, R.J., to photograph every detail of the day. My dear friend Juliet took care of the bouquet — a tangle of California natives including blooming poppies, little white starbursts of wild carrot and eucalyptus sprigs that filled the air with their herbal scent. Juliet also sourced a lace sheath wedding dress with long sleeves and a mermaid skirt that fit me like a glove.

My aunt commemorated the occasion with themed hand sanitizers, masks printed with a photo of us as souvenirs, and individual bottles of champagne so we could toast in socially distanced safety. The one risk we did take? Hugging our parents. Even masked up, it felt good to hold our loved ones close after months of Zoom-only contact.

The day of the wedding was, as wedding days tend to be, magical. More than anything, I will remember that day for the bright spark of hope it offered. That even in such strange times, we could look to the future with anticipation. That maybe, in some small, personal way, those lost days could be the beginning of a better life to come.

Beyda is a novelist and the author of “The Body Double.” She is on Instagram @emilybeyda

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L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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