VAMP, which stands for Visual Audio Monologue Performace, just celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary in February. Each month, a new theme is selected and submissions received from a diverse range of writers and storytellers.
For March’s theme, You Only Had One Job, I submitted the story of breaking my face on my wedding day and the inevitable ending of my marriage to a man I’ve loved for the better of 10 years. It was a tragic expression of a day that has defined so much of my life, including the dismantling of life as I have known it to be. You can read the full transcript here.
This performance was featured on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune on April 7, 2019. You can read the full story here.
A Broken Face and the End of Our Marriage
By: Hayli Nicole
There are two things you don’t expect to happen on your wedding day—to end up seriously injured and for it to be the beginning of the end of your marriage. My Jewish friends who were in attendance that night assured me breaking something on your wedding day is good luck but I don’t think the same rule applies to your face. In fact, after suffering from a concussion paired with a lingering black eye and getting divorced exactly a year later, I assure you, breaking your face on your wedding day is the kiss of death for a marriage. At least it was for ours.
I’ve known my husband since we were teenagers. Our love was rooted in the wildness of our youth despite being different people at our core. He worked for a major tech corporation in San Francisco. I owned a karaoke company and often traveled to countries people deem too dangerous. So when I moved to Sumatra to study orangutans in 2015 and he flew to Bali five months later to take me on our first date, I thought I found the man who would never expect me to be anything other than a free spirit.
In 2017, we were trying to move to Ireland for his job, but the only way we could was if we were married. I planned to spend my life with him anyways, so we expedited our “I do’s”. The thing about eloping is it pisses off alot of people. I never wanted a wedding, so an intimate exchanging of vows with a handful of loved ones felt like the closest thing to not having a wedding at all. I didn’t want the attention or the fuss. I just wanted him.
My husband’s father’s side of the family hated me the day they discovered we eloped. I remember his aunt calling under the guise of saying congratulations and screamed at me about how terrible of a person I was to corrupt her nephew. Threatening to write him out of her will, I cried on the garage floor while I listened to my husband apologize to his aunt instead of defending me. He said, “I’m sorry we disappointed you,” when he should have said, “You don’t speak to my wife that way.” Perhaps this should have been my first warning that my new husband had no idea how to be a supportive husband at all.
To quell the heat and anger we felt from every direction, we promised to throw a party the following February. Except my husband was a fraternity boy, so our small party turned into a 200 person guest list. This meant throwing a full-blown shindig with all the wedding bells and whistles. What I didn’t agree to, and what ultimately happened, was I carried the burden of the planning and the financial responsibility alone. I paid for a wedding I didn’t even want and I planned the entire thing without any of his help. I’m not an angry person but I was fucking pissed. The only thing that was mine was the dress.
When I flew to San Diego at the end of January, I had a total of 32 days to put together a wedding for 180 people. I came home to dozens of boxes of things I had ordered and a laundry list of tasks still needing to be done. With my husband staying in Ireland until three days before the ceremony, his only responsibility was to show up, say a few words, and enjoy the party he was relying on me to create. I can say with clarity, this second wedding day is the worst day of my life.
The first sign of immediate danger should have been how uncomfortable I felt when I woke up in the morning. As people started arriving for hair and makeup and all the fuss I give no fucks about in my day to day life, I couldn’t help but think of all the people I was about to see who have never actually respected me. Most of my husband’s friends didn’t even like me that much or never bothered to get to know me. Even some of his groomsmen were less than thrilled by our being together. I tried to stay grounded through the chaos of the morning, but the more I put on and the closer we got to leaving, the less like myself I was feeling. At one point, I remember thinking that I looked like a clown in a dress. This was all a giant production to me and I had no interest in being one of the lead performers.
The second thing to go wrong involved the photographer’s assistant and should have been foreshadowing for the remainder of the evening. The four of us wandered out during cocktail hour for our last few photos together. Refusing to let go of my first drink of the day, I brought my beer along and passed it to the assistant to hold. Forgetting the dark porter sloshing around in her hand, she dipped down to fix my train for a picture and spilled my beer all over my dress. Any bride’s first reaction would have been anger, but I let out a burst of laughter at the absurdity of my luck instead. There was a bum urinating just 500 feet from where we were taking our photos so I didn’t feel like the spilled beer was the thing to be getting upset over. She apologized profusely and I assured her the brown beer stain wouldn’t be the thing to ruin my wedding. Famous last words.
Before the grand entrance, we tried to bustle the train of my gown to keep me from tripping. Weeks prior at my final fitting, my mother was the only one who was shown how to loop the fabric onto the buttons. Except she’s the type of person who doesn’t listen intently, so when she told the seamstress she understood, her nods were empty of the knowledge so vital to this task. When she became too frustrated, I draped the beer-stained train awkwardly around my wrist and danced my way into the reception hall.
After the first dances were done, I was carrying on a conversation with my coordinator. The train of my gown collected in a puddle of fabric at my feet as we spoke. I remember I turned to go talk to the DJ about making an announcement. That single forward step proved to be the most fatal decision of the night. The beading on my dress against the perfectly polished hardwood made for a zero-gravity effect and a rate of impact, not even my arms could brace myself for. I’ve never seen the human body fall to the earth as quickly as the time it took for my face to hit the floor. The sound of my skull cracking violently had me contemplating if I was even going to be able to stand.
As I pushed myself off the floor, a significant pool of blood had already formed underneath me. My dress, the most beautiful thing I will ever own, was now covered in a scarlet red seeping into the lace between the intricate beadwork. I cupped one hand over my eye which was already beginning to swell and used the other to try and catch the blood gushing from the wound, dripping down my cheek, and leaving a trail for my tears to follow. I didn’t know where the blood was coming from, but it was coming fast, and I couldn’t get to the bathroom fast enough. Horribly frightened, I pleaded for someone to get my husband. When he turned the corner to the bathroom, his face reflected the terror of seeing his bride covered in copious amounts of her own blood. Soon there was a swarm of people trying to calm me down while simultaneously trying to rub the blood from out of the front of my dress.
The photographer lingered in the doorway wondering if she should document the destruction she was witnessing. I shouted to her, “You might as well get photos of this. It perfectly sums up my existence.”
We had a doctor and two paramedics as guests at our wedding. Only one of those three people was sober and it was not the person who checked to see if I had a concussion. The doctor groomsman set his whiskey and beer on the bathroom counter and slurred his way through a few concussion tests.
“The cut isn’t deep enough to need stitches,” he assured me. “Your zygomatic could be fractured, but they can’t put your face in a cast. Let’s get you some Advil and something else to drink.”
Even after he cleared me of a concussion, which I most definitely had, I couldn’t stop crying with bursts of laughter sprinkled inbetween. Not only was I in the most excruciating pain of my life, but I was under the impression 200 people just witnessed me face plant with the gravitational force of a thousand suns. My ego was as shattered as my face felt and I experienced every phase of grief for what this day was supposed to be.
My dad made a comment about how my falling came as no surprise to him because I’ve been accident-prone since the day I could walk. He even weaved it into his speech 20 minutes later, literally adding insult to the injury. The last photo the photographer delivered in our gallery is of my father taking a picture of me crying with his phone.
That first glance of myself in the mirror after they got the bleeding to stop, felt like my mask had finally been removed. I was pretending to be this person I never wanted to be, and it was like every burden I had been carrying because of this day was finally staring back at me. My makeup, which I never wear, had completely run off. My magnetic lashes, which no one told me were way too extreme for my face, were barely clinging on. I looked like a hot mess, but I felt strangely more like myself than at any other point of the day. I washed the dried blood from my hands and vowed to take back the night. Except, my jumbled brain and busted face had different plans for me that evening. I blacked out as soon as I sat down at our sweetheart’s table to start the speeches.
Though five hours of my life are completely unaccounted for, there are three distinct memories I have that no concussion will ever take from me. The first is when I shoved a bottle of Smirnoff Ice up my dress before the garter toss so I could ice my husband in front of all of his fraternity brothers. It’s the only time he has ever called me a bitch. The entire room went apeshit and I felt like it was a moment of sweet revenge for everything I had gone through for his day.
The second memory is when one of the guests pulled me into the storage room full of chairs after she found me sobbing on the ground in the parking garage and offered me cocaine (sorry Dad). One line of that quality dime bag goodness was enough to bring me out of my pain and back to being the life of the party. There was hardly an hour left to the evening, but I became a coked-up dancing machine.
The third memory is a terrible one and one I have yet to share with anybody until today. After cleaning the entire venue by ourselves, we returned to the Airbnb and I peeled the dress from my aching body. I stood naked, crying hysterically. The weight of the dress was somehow different now, and I felt relieved to be free of its confines. When I zipped up the garment bag, I remember feeling as if I were zipping up the dead body of the person I was pretending to be for him. As I sobbed in bed over the failure of the day, I told my husband two things: that I didn’t want to be his wife and that I wish I were dead. While my words came from a place of significant physical and emotional pain, I can’t imagine how devastating it must have been to hear something so terrible. Instead of lashing out in response to what I said, he held me until I cried myself to sleep. In the final minutes of our wedding day, he finally showed up for me the way I needed, but in my heart, I knew there was no going back to the way things were. We would never speak of that conversation again, though it would continue to resonate in the space which grew between us in the following months.
I will never forget the day we decided to end our marriage. We walked home from couples therapy holding hands, crying together and agreed the wedding was the beginning of the end for us. We were ashamed we allowed the expectations of others to make us do something neither of us wanted, but in doing so we allowed those expectations to change our relationship with each other. He didn’t know how to be a nurturing husband to a free spirit, in the same way, I wasn’t ready to assume my domesticated role as his housewife. We couldn’t be what be the other person needed without sacrificing the core of who we are, so we decided to set each other free in our journeys.
There is no guidebook to navigating divorce when you still deeply love a person. There’s no finesse in handling divorce before you’re 30 and the shame that surrounds having a marriage fail so quickly. I don’t think I will ever get used to the gut reaction people have when they find out I’m a divorcée. While I may have failed in the eyes of this world as his wife, at the very least I can say I know how to break gracefully.