An anniversary is the annual recurrence of a date on which a notable event occurred in some previous year. An anniversary can commemorate or celebrate an important historical event, the birth or death of an honoured public person, a peace treaty, an armistice day, a natural or man made disaster, the beginning or the end of a war, a famous victory, a memorable sporting event, an outstanding individual or team achievement, or indeed almost any event that is deemed to be significant by an individual, a couple, a state an organisation, or a community.
The 14th of July. The 195th day (or 196th in a leap year) in the Gregorian calendar;
“Quatorze Juillet” is Bastille Day, the French national holiday, celebrating the Fête de la Fédération in 1790, during the French Revolution (14 July 1789 Citizens of Paris storm the Bastille and free seven citizens). It is also the anniversary of numerous other historically significant events, (such as: 1223 – Louis VIII becomes King of France, 1798 - the Sedition Act U.S.A., 1865 - First ascent of the Matterhorn, 1902 - the collapse of the Campanile in Venice, 1933 – All political parties, except the Nazi Party outlawed in Germany, 1948 – the assassination of Palmiro Togliatti, leader of the Italian Communist Party, etc.) as well as numerous births and deaths of historically significant persons.
It also happens to be my Wedding Anniversary and that is the anniversary I intend to talk about here. I or rather we – Erika and I - celebrated 52 of them until 2007. Then, in 2008, came the anniversary that never happened… It should have been the 53rd, but how can you celebrate a wedding anniversary when one party does not exist any more? I could not buy her flowers, a special gift, give her a greeting card, hug her, kiss her, take her out for a celebratory dinner, thank her for 53 years of steadfast loyalty and tell her that I loved her… We celebrated the 52nd anniversary last year together… the last anniversary… A year later on the 53rd anniversary day all I could think and say: “We’ve been married for 52 years”… and I wept… and from now on, no matter how long I might live, at every anniversary day I can only say the same: “We’ve been married for 52 years”… and I shall weep no more…
An anniversary is in memory of a significant day, in this instance the day I married the girl I loved… and what a day it was! A day without any “pomp and circumstances”, devoid of all customary traditional décor, anticipatory excitement, formal dressing, ceremony, invited guests, wedding presents, a wedding party or even the prospect of a honeymoon… Almost surreal!... so typical of my life in general… an odd wedding day, almost farcical…
July the 14th, Bastille Day… an odd coincidence too… Years later I often jested saying that was the day I lost my head… just like the French aristocrats in the wake of that fateful day in 1789… That day, on the 14th of July 1955 my neck and most of the upper part of my head was wrapped in a surgical bandage… For weeks leading up to that “fateful” day, I was in agony with several boils and carbuncles growing and spreading at the back of my neck. It was excruciatingly painful. I’ve been receiving daily injections of antibiotics, combined with intramuscular injections of my own blood, which was supposed to stimulate my immune system, and for good measure a number of radiation treatments. The combined effects of the pain, discomfort, the daily injections, the radiotherapy, sleepless nights, the intense summer heat and the fact that we’ve just completed the end of year exhausting examinations at the University, made me feel worn out and week… What the hell was I doing getting married on that day?
Having passed all the examinations, we just finished our third year a couple of days earlier, at the Dental Faculty of the Medical University of Budapest. We had two weeks break from work and study before we were to take up a month’s internship at a provincial hospital in Szombathely, a small town near the Austrian border. We were still students, with no income, no immediate prospect of any financial support from any corner and no independent means or accommodation of any sort. Surely no two sane people would wish to get married under such circumstances. Neither was there any seemingly valid reason why to get married in a hurry. She lived with her parents, I lived with mine. She was definitely not pregnant, our friendship and courtship never progressed to that intimacy hitherto; there was no compelling reason – at least on the surface – to take the plunge so hastily. So why were we getting married on that day? We could have waited. It would have been the sensible thing to do.
Well, nobody ever had any cause to accuse me of being sensible or doing the sensible thing, but the girl I was about to marry was famous for being a mature, steady, seriously sensible person. I even told her quite often and regularly that she always looked as serious as an acute appendicitis. To prove me right she never even smiled when I mentioned that fact.
So what was she doing standing by my side, holding my hand, in front of a desk, behind which an equally serious man stood, with a smileless face, ready to read out loud the “order of execution”?
There were only five people in that dim, Spartan office where the marriage ceremony took place that day. The unsmiling official on the other side of the desk, Erika by my side, I, looking like a half wrapped up “Mummy” and our two witnesses. No representatives from either family to support us. My mother and stepfather stayed away diplomatically to avoid any potential conflict with Erika’s parents, whilst they stayed away to demonstrate their disapproval. To be more precise, it was Erika’s mother who protested loudly and angrily, chasing me around the kitchen table with a drawn kitchen knife in her hand, a short while before Erika and I decided to take the plunge. And we only decided that enough was enough after she drawn the knife in an attempt to turf me out and separate us. But that’s another story, even though it was the very reason why we decided to get married on that day, come what may.
Erika’s mother, a strong willed and domineering woman, obviously decided that I was not the right person ever to marry her daughter and she went to extreme length to express her disapproval of me. Needlessly at that stage, as we had no intention to get married until we finished our studies and we had more than two years ahead of us to the final qualifying examination. After qualification we would also be both called up to serve in the Hungarian People’s Army, for at least another two years, before we would have any prospect of considering marriage.
Who knows, if my future mother in law was not so actively insistent of separating us, maybe we would never had married. Who could foresee later events, such as the Revolution and upheavals of 1956 that might have forced us to separate anyway? It was her manipulations and constant objections that forced our hands to stand up and defy her. Thus, on that “fateful” day we had a simple and somewhat lonely, odd, but very memorable wedding day, later to celebrate annually for 52 years.
As we came out of the municipal office after the brief “ceremony,” clutching the marriage certificate, we spotted Erika’s mother standing at the curb-side on the other side of the road, half hidden behind a tree. We bravely walked over to greet her, holding our hands out as a gesture of peace offering. She, having finally accepted the fait-accompli then invited us for a “celebratory” ice cream at the patisserie of a well known nearby hotel. We sat with her quietly for about half an hour on the terrace, enjoying the ice cream, but not the pregnant silence, then I kissed Erika goodbye, politely kissed my newly acquired mother in law on her cheek and Erika went home with her mother and I went home exhausted to mine. That was our memorable wedding day. A day that is burned in my memory forever, a day that acquired more significance in my life than my own birthday or any other memorable day that one would celebrate as an “anniversary”… The celebration of that day came to an abrupt halt after the 52nd anniversary… I can only remember now… and weep… I can no longer “celebrate”… or can I?
If I cannot add another year to the number of years we’ve been married and cannot celebrate, does it mean that the anniversaries stopped? An anniversary is in memory of a significant, memorable day, in this instance a life changing day, the day I married the girl I loved… She no longer exists; does it mean that the marriage is dissolved, the memory of the day is no longer significant, the anniversary day is no longer valid? Was last year’s anniversary effectively the last valid anniversary? There is no 53rd, there never be a 54th, 55th or any subsequent number… but I remember… From now on every anniversary, no matter how many more years I will live, can only be the memorial day of 52 married years. Am I no longer wed to the girl I loved? Why?
She does not exist any more; not in a physical sense, not the way I knew her. Her ashes are in an ornamental garden pot, in our garden, mixed with the soil that gives life to and nourishes roses and other flowers…
Oh yes, she exists… she exists beyond my memory… she is the soul of the roses, she is the whisper in the wind, she is in the clouds, in the sky, she is the sunshine on my face, she is the fragrance of the flowers in our garden, she is in the fabric of our home, she is in every ornament, every piece of furniture, every household item she ever touched, even the clothes I am wearing, she is the essence, the blood that runs through my arteries and veins, she is in every beat of my heart, in my every dream, in every thought… Oh yes, she exists… she reflects back from the eyes of my kids, my grandsons, I see her everywhere I look, I see her when I close my eyes, she is in every corner of our globe she ever visited… She left her footprints, her imprints everywhere and on everything she ever touched… She is in the smile of people she ever knew, some of whom flash an occasional smile back at me… She is everywhere… She exists…
Most of us live a life in a day to day existence, struggling against all odds, caught up in events that we have little or no control over. We have daily problems, daily struggles, we are humans, imperfect and fallible. We often tend to take the good things in our lives for granted, even belittling, moaning and groaning about them, if for no other reason, than to hide our fears of losing them, to disguise our weaknesses. It is at times when we lose what or whom we loved most, when we begin to realise just how much it all meant to us. I am human, week and fallible, I have often taken the best things in my life for granted too.
Having had her almost constantly around me for over fifty five years, I often taken her for granted. I now realise that she was the best thing in my life. Typically and paradoxically, it is since she passed away that her true image, her true nature and essence materialised and crystallised in a sharp focus, right inside my soul. She exists… and although the number of years we’ve been married will never be more than 52 from now, every anniversary will be a celebration. A celebration of her life and spirit…
A life that touched, filled and enriched mine… Now every day, every hour, every moment is a remembrance, a celebration of her life… from now on every day is an anniversary…
© P. J. Oszmann (August 2008)
© Illustration: Photo of Erika’s Memorial, containing her ashes, in our garden.
Today, 15 August 2008, is the first anniversary of Erika’s and the sixth of my Mother’s death.