When I started learning French before a spontaneous move to Paris, I naively envisioned living a life in prose, entertaining thoughts as a modern day Anaïs Nin.
Never once during the laborious irregular verb conjugating did I think that one day I would have to explain to an entire family, my future in-laws, that my family called off their son’s wedding on the account of vandalism and theft. That by far was the most challenging conversation I had to have in French.
When my fiancé and I announced our engagement last summer while visiting my family on Long Island, my grandmother offered to host it under the condition that it would take place in New York, not Paris. Gleaming over her generous offer, we honored her fair request.
For us, the choice between having the wedding in Paris or New York was a coin-toss. Both options were enticing as the French share the same love affair with New York as many Americans do of Paris.
My grandmother, who was leaving for Florida for two months, left my mother and I to pummel through the first stages of planning while I was still in town. Comical DJ auditions were attended, guest lists were drafted, phone calls requesting home addresses were made, the location of my grandmother’s choosing was booked and finally, our save the dates were sent.
We had paved the foundation for an August 2013 wedding securing all major components, allowing me to go back to work in Paris and to continue the planning after the holidays.
Late summer in Paris turned into mid-autumn, and coming home one evening after from a long day of teaching French toddlers English, I received what seemed to be an urgent e-mail from my mother, requesting that I call her immediately.
On the phone, my mother disclosed that my grandmother had returned to her home (which is adjacent to my mother's house) and that someone had broken in.
My fiancé and I were the suspects.
Naturally, I was stunned that out of my entire family who all live in the neighborhood, me, the granddaughter that lives in France would be singled out. However, having been robbed myself, I do know that when your home is violated your judgment becomes distorted. The need to place blame is almost desperate -- regardless of how irrational it may be.
I tried to justify these misguided accusations to my mother, but she simply could not accept the absurdity of her own mother accusing of her daughter who had been out the country for two months.
After hanging up with my mom, I debated on whether or not to call my grandmother at that moment. I was hesitant not because I was worried about the false claims, but because I didn’t want to disturb her while she was filling out the police reports.
With confidence that this was going to blow over once the house was fingerprinted by the authorities, and out of genuine concern, I decided to call her.
The phone rang twice before she solemnly answered, and just as my mother forewarned me, she accused us of taking advantage of her home over the summer. Despite my efforts to defend myself, her mind was made up and because of our alleged behavior, she rescinded her offer to participate in the wedding.
Now you may be asking yourself: Did I ever go through a rough patch with my family, wild teenage years, imprisonment, a stealing phase or substance abuse -- anything that could possibly legitimize these accusations? No. My biggest teenage vice was indie rock Internet chat rooms, raspberry iced tea and magazines. And my awkward 20s were medicated with fiction novels, cheap wine, and travel.
Days after the initial phone call, the story began to unravel and I learned that the police in fact were never called. It turned out that the “crime” was that someone stayed at her house, didn’t fluff the pillows in the guest room, took a shower in her 1955 basement bathroom where a strand of black hair was “discovered,” and three bottles of moderately priced white wine was missing from the stocked wine fridge. Due to this “vandalism” and “grand larceny”, I no longer merited a wedding.
The proceeding weeks, reports began to filter in from family members and one neighbor (that I recall once creeping in the bushes), defending my grandmother’s unreasonable response to someone staying in her house.
The lurking neighbor noted that the behavior that my fiancé and I had demonstrated over the summer was peculiar. He had spotted us on several occasions walking into town, claiming that there was too much activity happening on their quiet street.
Aside from the host of reasons why walking is better than driving, ours was because my driver’s license is expired, and my European fiancé forgets that the right pedal on an automatic car is the accelerator, not the clutch. So instead of getting arrested for driving illegally or smashing into something as he maniacally slams on the gas pedal, we thought walking during our summer vacation was a lovely and safer option.
Two family members, who had stopped by my mother’s house one afternoon, caught my fiancé red-handedly making an organic rhubarb pie from scratch offered the next report. This piece of information was used in the case against us citing that “normal 30 year-olds” do not conduct themselves in this manner.
Clearly, they know very little about 30-somethings because we totally Instagrammed the pie, supported with an arrangement of obnoxious hashtags to document our domestic accomplishment.
The speculation was that we were bored, and decided to move the party over to my grandmother’s home. Her home, that when not filled with my large family and the warm flavors of her cooking is cavernous and eerie, not to mention that it is not equipped with Wi-Fi or cable.
Also, my mother who is a full-time international flight attendant was away every three days, so this debunked my grandmother’s claim that we were looking for a place to be alone to “practice” married life together. Gross.
When this story is repeated, the listener always exhibits complete disbelief. Adults think I’m omitting details in my favor, 20-somethings think I’m lying, and the French can’t be bothered with fabricated drama and let out one of their legendary breathy sighs. I can’t say I blame them.
Since being pronounced reckless thieves and vandals, there has been radio silence from the other members of my family, my supportive mother excluded. As far as my fiancé and I are concerned, we are no longer welcome in the family. That of course would change if we lie, and confess to something we didn’t do. To be honest I considered doing this, just to move on from this exhausting story.
This experience once again reinstated the wisdom that you cannot change others you can only change yourself. This handy tool guided me to shift my thinking from being the victim to someone who just had a change in plans.
There will always be questions that I expect never getting the answers to: Will I ever truly know if my grandmother believes that calling off our wedding was the right decision or if it was just a cruel way to renege on her offer? Will I ever understand why the younger members of my family are encouraging this by pretending that the story is not completely absurd? Most likely not, but I have no choice but to come to peace with circumstances that I have no control over.
We have since planned an intimate spring wedding in the countryside of France, which is hardly a second-rate compromise. Our small guest list is comprised of friends and family who took the time to reach out to us during this painful ordeal.
All things considered, I know how fortunate I am and it will take a lot more than a tale about an unfluffed pillow to take away my gratitude.