This time last year I woke up for the last time a single man in the eyes of the law. We had been friends for nearly 37 years and most of that time we had lived together. Our relationship hurtled from friendship to rushed and fumbled sex to deciding we would move out of our digs together and start a new life in the space of a mere 4 months.
Once our relationship became a threesome with lung cancer as the unwanted interloper, we decided we couldn’t put off getting married (or, if you have to be pernickety, be joined in a Civil Partnership). We arranged to see the Registrar the afternoon after the first of what were to be several visits to the oncologist, none of which happened at the appointed hour, on the 30th March 2012, less than two weeks after the diagnosis. We hummed and hahed over when we would have it, and also decided it would be a form signing exercise as we didn’t want a ridiculous fuss and pointless expense over it. We had lived together so long, this was merely the formal legal moment on nearly 37 years.
The chemotherapy took a lot out of him and getting married was seen as less important, as we also planned one hell of a holiday, three weeks in our favourite part of the world, south-east Asia. Eventually we decided on this day in 2013. It would be a Saturday, so nobody had to take time off to turn up for a rubber stamp job. “Sign here” off we would go. That was my attitude to it. It was a legal formality that was necessary. The writing of a will would then be something we could spend time thinking about.
A bone scan the week before had revealed, not to my surprise, the cancer had spread to his bones. The day before our marriage we saw the oncologist who booked Laing in to be measured up to pinpoint the pelvic area for a 10 minute blast of radiotherapy the Tuesday after.
We woke up on the 12th January 2013, as usual in our bed, but at an earlier hour than normal, had coffee, then got up for breakfast. I had spotted a shirt in March or April of 2012 that I wanted to wear for our marriage. I had also bought new chinos and shoes (they were a very uncomfortable compromise purchase and haven’t been worn since) for the event. As time approached, I went to Barkingside station to meet my cousin and her husband who were to be our two witnesses. Ours was a quiet, unostentatious marriage. Just the final legal seal on what had been a glorious life together, despite the inevitable ups and downs.
The Reigstrar who performed the ceremony was the same person who had taken our details when we registered our intention in the same room we met her nearly 10 months earlier. She was bright and cheerful and chatty. Your truly was wishing all this would be over and done with. “Let me sign and get out of here” was the romantic association I had with the whole farago.
We finally came to the bit of the formal declaration. We could read it to ourselves or out loud if we wanted. I looked at Laing. We smiled at each other. This was it. I said something like, “OK, I’ll read it out.” I was reading it in a matter of fact way and then, oh Hubris, how you make us stumble even in small moments of insignificant lives, “I declare that I know of no legal reason why we may not register as each other’s civil partner” or something like that read the first sentence.
I didn’t make it to the end. My voice cracked, a tear rapidly rose in my right eye. Laing and I reached out for each other’s hand. I felt a small squeeze from him, that beautiful loving touch couples the world over share that says so much than mere words. I looked round to our witnesses. They were smiling. My cousin’s smile took me back to the days of our innocence when we played in the large garden of her parent’s home some 50 years ago. I felt so foolish. I was the one who had down played the whole event and here I was, the emotional wreck. I think I apologised and re-read the sentence and continued. Laing read the same words faultlessly, as though he were reciting the week’s shopping list, and yet with a beautiful tenderness I don’t think I realised until now how tender his voice was. Well we all signed, went outside, took a few photos of us in various combinations since David and Tony (Bailey and Snowden if you really have to have it spelt out for you) were not available for our snaps, and who wants second rate photos? Better go for the family album photos.
Off we went in the glorious wedding carriage of the bus to Gants Hill station to connect with the Central Line to Stratford for a coffee at Cafe Nero at Westfield, then onto the Overground and a walk to Fredericks, possibly one of our favourite eateries. We had a great time. The wine flowed the conversation was good (though my hearing problems made the experience hell for me).
Later, when reviewing the photos, Laing said “I’ve never seen you look so happy.”
I’ve never been as happy since.