‘I was left at the altar. Instead of ‘I do’ I got 5 gut-wrenching words. ‘I just can’t do it.’ He didn’t look me in the eye. I caught him in a half-run and collapsed to the ground, sobbing.’

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“It was an early Spring day and I stood there in my glistening pumps, embellished veil, and white gown. I felt like a princess, but I didn’t know my fairy tale ending was about to come crumbling down around me.

I remember feeling anxious that day. Not the bad kind, but that giddy, nervous excitement where you can’t seem to get that darn ear-to-ear smile off your face no matter how hard you try. Maybe my nerves knew before I did.

I was beyond ready to hear the infamous two words that would seal the deal. The words that would be both a perfect ending to the previous chapter of our lives, but also the beginning of a new one, as husband and wife. To hear the words, ‘I do.’ Well, as it turns out, I didn’t.

Instead, I got five gut-wrenching ones. ‘I just can’t do it.’ My groom, or runaway I should call him, didn’t even look me in the eye as he said it. I caught him in a half-turn, a half-run. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense. He had just been smiling, gazing at me lovingly moments before. I looked out at a blurry sea of concerned faces. The shock was a loud buzzing noise in my ear. It was deafening. All I could make out was, ‘What? What did he just say?’ I heard his words, but couldn’t comprehend them. It was every girl’s nightmare, and my reality.

The priest gave me a pat on the back and said, ‘He said he couldn’t do–’ I lifted my finger as if the hush him (sorry, priest) and pinched my eyes tight in pain. I opened them. Still not a dream. Before I could respond, I saw my mother rise up. She said something like, ‘OH, I AM GOING TO KILL HIM!’ She released my baby boy from her lap. He came teetering over to me, a blank expression on his face as if he could sense my hurt from afar.

I collapsed to the ground and placed my face in my hands, sobbing. My face felt red from the embarrassment. I remember my boy dancing on the pools of white fabric around me like it was a rainy day and my dress was a puddle. I didn’t care. Why get mad at little footprints on a wedding dress when there was no longer a wedding, right? At this point, it was the least of my worries.

Seconds later, the crowd was all standing. There was an eerie silence now. Someone said, ‘Well, someone go after him!’ Almost instantly, I shouted, ‘NO!’ My sister and my mother ran over, got on their knees, and held me. I wept like a baby in their arms. My makeup was ruined, my perfect wedding day ruined, my heart ruined. They tried to get me back in my dressing room, but I was too numb to move, so my father shooed all the guests away and told them to give me some space.

I stayed at my sister’s place for the coming days. My parents took care of my baby boy, no questions. I barely moved. I barely ate. My sister had to force-feed me grapes, and later coffee. She gave me the distance I begged for, checking in on me every few hours, only to be shooed away again and again. There was no contact between me and the runaway. I was too angry to text him. I was too proud to text him. I thought to myself, ‘If he has the audacity to walk away, then he should at least have the courage to text me.’ That’s a much nicer version of my thought, believe me.

But it never came. At least not directly. When I returned to my house, all of the runaway’s things were gone. He was a self-proclaimed minimalist, but yet I was able to see the absence of his presence in every inch of our house. The absence of all of his belongings. There was one lonely toothbrush in the stand now, not two, intertwined. It felt like a metaphorical mockery of my life. I hated my mind for being so poetic. I kept looking for his things but, truthfully, all I really wanted to find was him. I felt like if I could just see him standing there, see his face again, I could somehow fix things.

His pillow was gone. His silly hat collection that once lined our bedroom wall. His favorite cereal in the pantry beside the fridge. His dirty sneakers he always left by the door. Gone. By this point, I was almost searching for his things. Hell, I was. I was obsessed and crazed, looking for any trace of him. I found none.

Then it came. Two days later. One week after he left me at the altar. A message to my sister. Short. ‘I’m so sorry. You’d want me to be happy, right? I want that for her, too. I’m just not the one.’ I’m not sure what my sister replied. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to know who she was. The girl. The reason my heart was blown to pieces.

Unfortunately for my heart, I had to find out the hard way. Yep, through Facebook. 3 months, 1 week, and 4 days later a new relationship status popped up on my feed. The runaway and the monster. Or was the monster me? After all, I was apparently unmarriable. You’d think he’d have the decency to block me. Or I’d have the brains to unfollow him and stop periodically snooping around on his profile. But can you blame me?

It’s been nearly two years since he left me. What angers me and hurts most is not that I was left alone without a partner. It’s not even that he left me at the altar. I mean, I would’ve also appreciated if he could have just gone through with the wedding at least and walked out in a not-so-public way. But the worst part is that he walked out on this beautiful little life I’m blessed to share every day with. A life that will feel his absence way stronger than I ever will. I know my heart will mend itself someway, somehow. But can a child ever stop mourning the loss of their father? And, even worse, a father that still walks this earth.

Just last week, my son looked up at me with those beautiful brown, heart-melting eyes. ‘Mama, I want daddy back.’ We’ve been through this a few times now. I take him into my lap. ‘I know, baby. But daddy is sleeping. Look up.’ He looks up and I see those brown, unknowing eyes again. ‘That’s heaven. That’s where daddy is.’

Sometimes I worry about what I’ll tell him when he’s older. I hate to have to lie to him now, but I know he’s too young to comprehend it all. I also fear that one day, somehow, the runaway will run into him. Or worse, he will look for him. That he’ll try to take away my baby, all I have left.

But, at the end of the day, I push these thoughts aside and try to focus on doing what really matters: loving him. Teaching him. Holding him. Making him smile. Making sure his hair is combed clean after we love-wrestle on the couch, and his knee is kissed when he gets a booboo. Being both his mommy AND his daddy.

I wish I could be a good enough mommy to the point where he wouldn’t ever feel like he needs a father figure, but I know that’s just unrealistic. In a world of mommies and daddies, he’s destined for the desire. So, I’ve waited these two long years to let myself heal. To be ready again to date. I did it for myself, but mainly for my son. I think of him every step of the way.

I know I can raise him by myself, but I also know that he deserves a father. He deserves to be around two parents that love each other unconditionally. I’ve opened up my heart up again and I’m ready. In two weeks from today, I am going on a date with a charming young man that my sister set me up with.

Believe me, I went full mommy protective mode before saying yes. I bombarded her with questions. ‘What does he do?’ ‘Does he have anything on his record?’ ‘Why is he still single?’ ‘Does he know I have a son?’ ‘Is this man a serial killer?!’ My sister told me to relax and reassured me that he’s a kind and caring gentleman she’s known for years. Accountant. Two sons. Widow looking for love again. Clear record. I breathed a sigh of relief.

I don’t know if we’ll hit it off or what the future holds. All I know is that I can mold my present. Right now, I am focused on molding a kingdom and paradise for my special boy. I am facing my problems head on and making room for humor in my life. But I also know that I can take steps towards my future. I am keeping my heart open and I’m ready to love hard again. Who knows? Maybe this time I’ll actually get to cut the wedding cake!

Today, I can look at my wedding dress, covered in little dirt footprints, and laugh. Yes, I still keep it in my closet. And I still look damn good in it.

I refuse to be the woman who got left at the altar. The single mom who got abandoned. I am slowly reclaiming my life and taking back MY title. Everyday, I remind myself that I am the strong woman who endured the biggest heartbreak. That got through it even when she thought she couldn’t. The woman that IS and continues to be a kick-ass mommy. The warrior woman full of love. The woman who is rewriting her own narrative.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by a woman from Houston, Texas who wishes to remain anonymous. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more from strong women overcoming abandonment:

‘Hours shy of our wedding, at 5 months pregnant, I was assaulted. My fiancé sat in the fetal position, berating himself. ‘I don’t know what is wrong with me,’ he said, begging me to forgive him.’

‘My child’s father was leaving me. I was a new mother to a 3-month-old baby girl. The only items I had were a bag of clothes and a computer. She didn’t deserve any of this.’

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