The first time she walked down the aisle had been magical. Sunlight streamed through the church's high-paned, mosaic windows, casting an orange glow over the guests' beaming faces. Her dress was a dream made of silk; pearl-white and long-trained, trailing behind her on the red carpet. A symphony of sweet-sounding violins accompanied her parade down the aisle. She held lilac flowers in her hands; fresh-smelling and full of life.
She had seen the photographs later, and she could never understand how the camera had captured her in a way that made her seem to radiate light. They had chosen the date—July 8th—to ensure sunlight; or else what was the point of an afternoon wedding? But Thomas told her after the ceremony that throughout the whole thing, she had shined brighter than the sun itself.
She reached his side on the altar and had her breath taken away by the pure, undiluted joy in Thomas' smile. She beamed back. The priest had said many things, none of which she remembers now; her undivided attention had been on the groom; on the way there was nothing but warmth in his brown eyes as he looked at her.
They had said their vows then. She had practiced them front and back and had been nervous that it would make her delivery stiff; robotic. But it hadn't. You could hear her smiling as she said the words.
"Thomas, ever since the day I saw you hanging upside down from our tree in your backyard, superhero cape falling behind your head, and I had to help pull you down because you were terrified to fall, I knew this is where we'd end up." She laughs; the sound rich and clear over the chuckles of the guests in the audience. "Maybe I didn't picture marriage specifically. But I did know at that moment that I wanted to stay by your side forever. That I wanted to be the person you called when you had to get down from a particularly high tree. The person you'd trust to help with your problems, who came up with solutions by your side. A partner. I don't think you knew then. But I did. And I don't think it was by coincidence that we never grew apart, that we were never forced to move away from each other. I think it was always meant to be this way. You and me against the world. I love you. More than I could ever say."
The speech was followed by awws from the audience and the occasional sniffle of an over-emotional guest. Thomas looked like he was seconds away from tearing up. He cleared his throat, swallowing nervously before delivering his own vows.
"Sarah, I don't know if you'll remember this, but the memory has been ingrained in my brain ever since the day it happened. I had always seen you as my best friend. Our friendship bloomed during afternoon playtime, during tag and hide and seek; years later we'd talk to each other almost exclusively in high school; and as fate would have it, we'd end up going to the same college. Through it all, you were my one constant. My partner. But once, on a day like any other, I picked you up like I did every morning to drive us to whatever lecture we had that day. And we were talking about something inconsequential, but in that single conversation, it hit me. It was like I had never seen you before. The second I opened my eyes I finally acknowledged I was in love with you. I had been all this time. I couldn't wait much longer after that realization until I proposed. And by some miracle, you said yes. Today, you make me the luckiest man alive, Sarah Blake. I love you, with all that I am."
The priest went on with the ceremony and after a pause in which no one dared oppose the union of Thomas and Sarah, he declared them man and wife. Before the priest had even finished uttering the words, "You may kiss the bride," Sarah's arms were around Thomas' neck and they were sharing their first kiss as a married couple, basked in the afternoon sunlight and in the company of all their family and friends. The cheers were drowned out in Sarah's head, she felt like she was separated from everything else by a rose-tinted glass screen. Even time seemed to slow down. As she kissed her husband, she knew with utmost certainty that this was the best day of her life.
Their house was small by Salt Lake standards but it was theirs for them to do whatever they wanted.
Sarah kept herself occupied with the seemingly endless task of picking out the furniture and wallpapers and anything house-related. Thomas had to show houses almost every day for their entire 'newlyweds period.' He spent more time in other people's houses than his own. He'd come home late sometimes, read the tension in Sarah's body at the sight of him and go straight to sleep. He woke up early the next morning and left before Sarah opened her eyes.
She knew the nights Thomas came home late weren't from open houses. Those events took place during the morning or in the afternoon. Sarah bristled with the knowledge that Thomas chose to spend all his free time indulging himself in local bars instead of spending it with his new wife. Sarah found herself questioning their entire relationship. Had his vows merely been honeyed words strung together for the sake of keeping up appearances? Had he ever meant it, all those time he told her he loved her? She couldn't figure out what had gone wrong so prematurely. Many times, from the bitter looks in her direction and his general lack of interest in anything to do with her since they had moved in together, Sarah got the distinct impression that he regretted their marriage.
Precisely two months after their wedding night, though, Sarah learned of something that changed everything.
She had expected Thomas to be disappointed, exasperated, stressed out, or quite honestly, all three at the same time. But when she told him the news, it was like a light switch had gone on in his eyes, and to Sarah's surprise, he started taking interest in her again.
They looked at cribs and strollers, deciding which ones they both liked; they went together to the appointed checkups at the hospital, and when the time came and they found it was going to be a boy, they painted the small nursery a light blue.
They laughed as they painted and reminisced about the old times of their college days. Sarah felt dizzy with joy. After months of iciness from Thomas, her husband was holding her hand and kissing her pregnant belly. Their paint rollers moved up and down the walls in perfect synchronization. She knew the bad part was over.
Turns out Sarah had been wrong. Their wedding hadn't been the highlight of her life. Because the second she and Thomas walked into their house, her newborn baby in her arms, she knew she had never been happier than she was at that moment.
The next few days, however, she couldn't help glancing somewhat hesitantly at Thomas, waiting for him to lose interest again. Waiting for him to leave. He didn't though. Sam had become their world; finally, something they permanently shared.
While watching him grow up, and watching Thomas be such a wonderful father to Sam, Sarah eventually forgot all the distasteful parts of their early marriage. Everything became rose-tinted again. She came to love Thomas once more; as wholeheartedly as she had on her wedding day.
One morning, when Sam was five, both Sarah and Thomas were taking their son to school, Thomas at the wheel. He was making a turn down a busy street when something blue came out of nowhere. Sarah could only make out the blurry shape of a midnight-blue van driving itself straight into their car's left side before she lost consciousness. Thomas didn't even have time to scream.
The second time she walks down the aisle is nauseating. There's no sunlight to illuminate the decaying pews of the church, only the muted darkness of a starless night. The church is eerie in its emptiness; no smiling faces trail her as she slowly makes her way down to the altar. Her dress is torn and shredded, the once-white skirt now stained with the muted brown colour of dried blood. The only sounds are a cacophony of owl hoots and the creaking floorboards she walks on. She holds dead branches in her hands.
All she can think about as she makes her way forward is how fast time has gone by. The events of what seems like yesterday happened six years ago now.
She stops before the altar. Hers is the figure of a ghost in every sense of the word: lonely, wandering, lost. Fading. Like a ghost, too, she clings to the past as her lifeline. She lives trapped in the warm hues and sweet tastes of her memory, trying her best to remain oblivious of the bleakness of her reality. It almost works.
At first, she imagines she can see him standing at the altar next to her. She smiles now too; like she did then. Only the image of the person next to her is an illusion. The real Thomas is dead. Has been for seven years now.
Still, every July 8th, she does this. It's a death march, of a sort. She clads herself in her wedding dress; torn and filthy as if she just can't bring herself to care about how she looks anymore. She places a black veil over her dark hair; an indication of her grief. It signifies she's not here as a white bride anymore but as a widow. And she walks down the aisle, like she did on her wedding day, almost ten years ago.
It's an act of love as well as an act of torture; of mourning. No matter how hard she tries to move on, she finds herself in the church, without fail, on the anniversary of her wedding to a dead man. She tries to see it with her old eyes. For a moment, she can see the flowers, hear the violins, drown herself in the richness of her fiancé's brown eyes. But every time, the illusion breaks before it can fully take hold.
Sarah stands alone in the darkness of the abandoned church all through the night. She wonders if she'll ever stop feeling like a restless spirit; a shell of a person with no purpose or direction. Doomed to forever try and fail to watch her new, terrible life through the rose-tinted glasses of the past.
She keeps thinking that one of these days, she'll rediscover the happiness that comes from living. That she'll accept her reality and move on from the past.
Tonight, all she sees are echoes.