Prince of Darkness

By Hope Katz Gibbs • Tropic magazine

Illustration by Michael Glenwood Gibbs

He proposed on Valentine’s Day, 1991. After a candlelit dinner, he gave me a homemade valentine with a map of our apartment hidden inside. He kissed me very softly on the lips before sending me off to look for the treasure.

I found it inside a pink velvet box that was tucked under one of his neatly folded navy blue socks. A big, shiny round diamond mounted on a thin gold band sparkled up at me. From the moment he slipped it on my finger, I sparkled, too.

My little girl dream of discovering the prince who would carry me off to the altar became my reality. Every day, I would caress the band on the palm of my hand, and it felt so very real. He was an artist, after all. Our love would last forever.

We set the wedding for August. Six months to plan and prepare. I happily trotted off to buy a romantic wedding gown that kissed the floor when I walked, off to arrange the hall and the caterer and the rabbi that would marry mixed couples.

We made the invitations ourselves. In wedding text font, we invited his relatives from Kentucky, mine from Philadelphia, and all of our friends in between. We rolled each piece of fancy paper into a scroll and tied it with a red ribbon. He took the mass of them off to the post office, choosing the LOVE stamp as postage.

At the jewelry shop, we picked out his and hers matching wedding bands of gold. I inscribed his: “All my love, always.” Inside mine he wrote, “Now there is Hope in my life.”

It was on a sunny July Saturday, a week after my bridal shower, that the fairy tale started to melt. I had gone out with my best friend Kevin to buy $1000 worth of champagne and hors d’oeuvres at Costco for our do-it-yourself reception.

When I got home, a three-page letter scribbled on loose-leaf paper greeted me instead of my fiancé.

The note said he was sorry, that he just couldn’t go through with it. All this hurt him, too, he said, but it wasn’t going to work out. It wasn’t what he wanted. I wasn’t what he wanted. He signed it, with love.

I fell to the floor clutching the pages. I looked down at my ring, still sparkling. And then I took it off. What had I done? What had I said? Had I made love to him for the last time? Would I ever see him again? Please, let this be a nightmare that I’d wake up from. Someone, please wake me up. Please.

He returned a few hours later and quietly unpacked the suitcase he’d taken. He said he was so confused, wasn’t sure what he really wanted. Maybe it was just cold feet. I walked numbly through the next two days of his indecision, not realizing I also had a decision to make.

He decided, though. The verdict came the Wednesday night before the Saturday wedding, the night my mother arrived. Unaware of the tribulation, she unpacked a Lladro bride and groom to top the wedding cake, and a negligee for me for the wedding night. She kissed us both before heading for her hotel room.

I sat down to make place cards for the rehearsal dinner, still holding on to a whisper of hope. He was standing by the window watching our apartment lights shine on Biscayne Bay. Speaking to my reflection, he made his declaration: “I can’t marry you. I just can’t.”

I remember trying to take one breath at a time, figuring I’d eventually remember how to do it without thinking. The room went silent, except for the sound of the door closing behind him.

I think I slept that night, but I can’t remember. In a trance the next morning, I called off the plans that had taken me six months to organize. Amazingly, that took less than 30 minutes. Then I packed.

The dishes. Which ones were mine? And the books. Why hadn’t we marked our names inside the covers? No matter. Nothing seemed to matter just then.

Before I left our apartment for the last time, I took my turn to write a note. I told him I was sorry, too. That I still didn’t understand, really, but I asked him to remember me with love, and remember what Dylan Thomas said: “Though lovers be lost love shall not.” I’ll be remembering that too, I wrote.

I wonder now if the words I’d write today would be the same sweet ones I left him with so many months ago. Do I really forgive him for breaking my heart and his promise? Will I ever credit him for the courage it took to back out instead of going through with a marriage he didn’t want? For making me become a new person, one that isn’t quite so trusting and sentimental? I’m still not sure.

I do know that it has gotten easier now that I have moved away from the place where the possibility of seeing him would haunt me. Instead of basking in the breeze of warm Miami nights, I spend sleepless night jogging along the Reflecting Pond in downtown Washington, DC. Graduate school has been a salvation. I can think without feeling. And in moments of silence, I struggle to understand how I got to this place — and where I want to go next.

When sleep comes, he still creeps into my dreams. It is always the same dream. “Why?” I ask. But before he answers, I awake.

All the self-help books and trying-to-help friends talk about closure. For a while, I thought about throwing his damn engagement ring down the toilet. Instead, I traded it in for the sleek and efficient Macintosh Classic II on which I’m typing out this account. Poetic justice seems to be the only justice I’m going to get.

I have probably spent more than enough time trying to understand it all. I don’t. I should have seen the signs, should have known he was unhappy. How could I have lived with him for two years without suspecting his ambivalence? How can I ever trust anyone again? How can I ever trust myself again?

I know, deep down, that I will.

I also know that I have survived, and learned from one of those horribly wonderful life lessons that you get when you are too stubborn to know better. The next time around, I tell myself, I hope to be more grounded in reality and less dreamy. Maybe it is good to have doubts. Maybe that’s what it means to be a grown-up. Too bad.

I am guessing, though, there will always be a part of me that will dream the romantic dream that Prince Charming will promise her forever—and mean it.

But today, on the anniversary of the day we were to stand at the alter and promise forever, I hold onto the still lovely memory of a homemade card with a map, and a treasure waiting to be found.

HOPE KATZ GIBBS was assistant editor for special publications at The Miami Herald 1987-1988. This article was published in Tropic magazine, February 14, 1992.