The Engagement

Written by Roy Hall

“Goodbye” I said with a smile as I stepped over the two bodies twitching on the ground.

Many years ago I almost married the absolutely wrong person. We had met when her boyfriend at the time asked me to give her guitar lessons. In those days, (late sixties) I was part of a folk group that occasionally played the clubs in Glasgow. We weren’t nearly as good as we thought we were but that never deterred us from performing. As a sideline I taught guitar. I was self-taught and my playing was good enough. I had picked up the guitar at the age of thirteen, after seeing an older friend playing guitar with his girlfriend sitting at his feet, gazing adoringly at him. I wanted to be that guy with women at my feet. This method worked wonderfully for years and I wooed many a lass. With the exception of the tale I am about to tell, it served me well as it was one of the ways I courted my wife of 48 years.

My fiancé (lets call her Marylyn) was from the start, not for me. She didn’t read much (just trash), wasn’t particularly attractive, had lots of phobias and lacked intellectual curiosity.  This last thing was very serious as most of my friends were smart, highly educated and articulate. But an animal magnetism drew me to her and one night, late in the evening after a romantic tryst, I stupidly asked her to marry me. She immediately said yes. This started a cascade of events that deteriorated so rapidly that I was popping Librium (similar to Valium) every day.

Marylyn’s parents were very successful. Her father, David, had been a major in world war two and had been awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth. A handsome imposing man, he ran a very successful garment business and was beloved by all.

Celia, her mother, was a different kettle of fish. She was attractive, clever, driven and devious. She was involved in all kinds of charities, which on the face of things seemed admirable. But her real motive (as I found out later) behind her good works was to also get a queens award to match her husband’s. Much as she loved him, she was jealous of him and resented his success. Marylyn was adopted and had a tortured relationship with her mom. One day, in the midst of a fight, Celia turned round to Marylyn and said, “I’m glad I’m not your real mother. I would have hated to give birth to you”.

Into this dynamic, I blithely entered.

My parents put on a good face when I told them of the engagement, but they were obviously not thrilled.  On the other hand her parents were delighted and immediately started to make plans. (Rich people do this). Within days an engagement party was arranged, announcements went out and presents started to arrive. There were so many presents  (mostly from her side) that my sister kindly offered her spare room to store them all. I counted more than 500 gifts.

In this whirlwind of activity, I seemed almost irrelevant. Other more insidious things were going on behind the scenes. Celia suggested that I use her husband’s hairdresser. This was the era of the Beatles and my hair was getting longer. Marylyn took me shopping to a store she liked (think Brooks Brothers) and I gave up my fashionable, Carnaby Street pastels for a blue blazer and beige slacks. I was star struck by their glamour and money and went along for the ride.

After about two or three weeks I developed a pain in my chest, which I recognized as anxiety. I also admitted to myself that I did not love Marylyn and that I had made a big mistake. Of course I told no one of this. I started jogging to ease the pain but apart from making me leaner, it didn’t help. I visited my doctor who prescribed two things: Librium and ending the engagement. I felt trapped. The Glasgow society I was raised in was very judgmental and I didn’t yet have the balls to break it off.

The engagement party was massive with hundreds of guests and plans were being made for the wedding, an afternoon tea for 500 guests. My parents were livid about this because they wanted a more traditional evening wedding with fewer guests. But Celia was running the show. The coup de gras was the phone call informing me that they had bought us the, “sweetest little house you could ever imagine”. What they had actually done was to put a deposit down on a house and taken out a mortgage in my name with monthly payments greater than twice my salary. I surmised from this that I would soon be brought into the family business.

I was going crazy when fate intervened. Marylyn became pregnant and we had to tell her parents. In those days it was a big deal to be pregnant out of wedlock. It was considered immoral and shameful. The meeting with her folks was one of the most difficult conversations I have ever had. Celia wanted to murder me and David was heartbroken. I suggested we move the wedding forward but that idea fell on deaf ears. We decided to continue the conversation on the next day and I went home to face my parents and listen to their disappointment.

The next day I drove over to see Marylyn but she wasn’t there. Her father did not know where she was. None of her friends or relatives had seen her and Celia was also gone. I suspected foul play but with no way of contacting her, I had to sit tight and wait. She returned a week later and told me that it was all a mistake, she was never pregnant and had seen a doctor who had given her, “a wee clean out”. In those days abortion was illegal so this Scottish euphemism was appropriate. This really was the end. To have an abortion without consulting me was wrong and I let her know this.

A few days later at around 2a.m. after an evening of crying and arguing, she returned the ring and I drove her home. I returned to my house, woke up my folks who were delighted by the news. By the time we finished talking (celebrating) and had gone to bed, it was around 4a.m. At 7o’clock the phone rang and my sister informed me that a truck was outside her house wanting to take away all the gifts. My first thought was how did Celia manage to arrange a truck between 2.a.m and 7a.m? My second thought was to tell the trucker to leave. I was no longer under Celia’s control and she would have to wait.

I did allow the presents to be taken away at a later date.

After a few weeks had passed I decided to have a talk with David. He was a really good guy and I had hurt him deeply. I called him up and arranged to visit him that afternoon. When I saw him I returned two gifts he had given me. One was a gold Star of David and the other, an 18 carat, rose gold, Patek Philippe watch. (It would be worth a fortune today.) I told him how sorry I was for all the grief I had caused the family. He was grateful and thanked me for coming over. As I opened the door to leave his office, two bodies, his sister and his nephew, fell down in front of me. They had been leaning on the office door listening.

“Goodbye” I said with a smile as I stepped over the two bodies twitching on the ground.

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