Excerpt From Sara Braca’s “When The Church Burns Down, Cancel The Wedding.”

The following is an excerpt from Sara E. Braca and her hilarious debut memoir, ‘When the Church Burns Down, Cancel the Wedding: Adventures from the Other Half of Single‘.

When the church burned down a week before her wedding, Sara Braca somehow did not perceive this as an omen. Six years after marrying (in a different church), an errant call from 1-800-Flowers alerted her to her then-husband’s affair. And as one unhappy chapter ended, she found herself writing a very different, much happier story.

An aspiring globe-trotter, Braca realized this was her opportunity to see the world. Solo travel became her first step to finding happiness, strength, and peace in her new life. Hilarious, inspiring, and thoroughly authentic, Sara E. Braca’s debut memoir takes readers along on her post-divorce adventures around the world, sharing a life lived fully – if untraditionally – and proving that joy can always be found in unexpected places.


Altars Ablaze!

It was my last day at work before my wedding, a little more than a week before the Big Day. Between Christmas, the wedding, and my honeymoon in Tahiti, I was planning to be out of the office for nearly four weeks and was trying to stay focused on wrapping up my projects so I could enjoy my time away when my desk phone rang. I was surprised to see my mom’s name on the caller ID. My mom never called my office; I didn’t think she even knew my office phone number. And why would she be calling me when she knew how much work I needed to finish? Slightly alarmed, I answered the phone.

“Hi, Sara.” She sounded quiet and nervous, neither of which are adjectives that have ever been used to describe my mother. Something was definitely wrong.

“What’s wrong?”

“Well, it’s just the church,” she said, stammering. My mother does not stammer.

“What about the church?” My voice was hitting a higher pitch.

“Well, there was a small fire. . .”

What?” My cube mates turned away from their screens and stared at me.

“Well, you know how Father Nick likes to decorate the church with all the trees and lights? This year, it was so beautiful. He had so many trees! And you should have seen how beautiful the altar looked.”

I noticed she was speaking in the past tense.
“So, last night, one of the extension cords shorted out from all the Christmas lights and there was a fire.”
“Okay.”

I was trying to sound calm. I mean, how bad could a fire caused by Christmas lights be?

“How bad was the fire?”

“Well, your uncle was driving past the church last night and saw the smoke and then waited and saw the fire trucks come. He called me when he got home and said that there were fire trucks. I tried to call Father Nick, but you know how busy he is.” What?

“How bad was the fire, Mom?”

“Well, there were fire trucks . . . so I called the president of the Ladies Guild.” She wasn’t making any sense.

“How bad was it, Mom?”

“Well, I finally reached Father Nick, and he said that the altar, and well, pretty much the whole interior of the church was kind of destroyed and the church will be closed for about nine or ten months.”

Did I mention that my wedding was just over a week away? Or, more specifically, my wedding scheduled to be in the now-burned-down church was just over a week away?

Whaaaat?”

“Well, there was a wedding this weekend, honey. It could be worse.”

I think I was now hyperventilating. My colleagues had formed a semicircle around my cube. I had been planning my wedding for almost two years. Lots of things had changed and morphed throughout the planning process, but the one constant was the church. The plan had always been to get married at the church where I had grown up, and the one thing I was most looking forward to was how beautiful the church looked during the holidays. Father Nick had a great eye for design, if not electrical engineering.

Luckily, Mom had a plan. My hometown in Connecticut is generally pretty eclectic. The New York Times recently described it as “part suburb, part historic village, part gritty downtown, part industrial complex, part commercial corridor, part open space.”

As diverse as it may be in terms of lifestyle options, it’s strangely homogenous when it comes to religion. According to Best Places to Live, more than 70 percent of residents who identify as religious also identify as Catholic. Growing up, I felt like everyone I knew in town was Catholic. I think this was because so many of my classmates were first- or second-generation Americans like me—the children and grandchildren of European immigrants. I had little appreciation for the fact that the rest of the world included people who were not Catholic European American immigrants until I went away to college.

But anyway, there was a benefit to living in an all-Catholic town: When your Catholic church burns down the week before your wedding, you can move your wedding to one of several other Catholic churches in town. So that’s what my mom and I did. We called the other Catholic churches, found the one that could accommodate the rest of the wedding-day schedule, and moved the wedding. Then, I called all 125 guests and told them about the changes:

“Hi [Insert Wedding Guest Name Here], it’s Sara.”

“Hi Sara! Why are you calling me? You must be going crazy with the last-minute wedding details!”

“Well, that’s actually why I’m calling. There was a fire at St. Lawrence and we are moving the wedding to St. Joseph’s.”

“What do you mean? There was a fire in the church?”

“It was the Christmas lights.”

“Why do such crazy things always happen to you?”

“I’ve been asking myself that for years.”

The consistency of that last point was pretty noteworthy. Crazy situations and inexplicable events had always followed me around. I don’t think I realized this was obvious to other people until every single person I called thought my church burning down the week before my wedding sort of made sense given that it was me and my wedding. I made a mental note to reflect on this from the beach in Tahiti.

The wedding, now at St. Joseph’s, went off without a hitch, save for a minor bridezilla freakout about how dark that church was with so few Christmas lights, and a nagging, low- grade but constant nausea that I attributed to wedding-fire-re- lated stress, but which might have actually been my gut trying to tell me something. . .

Six Years Later

“Sara, it’s Amy. We have to catch up. It’s been too long! Call me!”

“Hey, Sara! It’s me again! Why didn’t you call me back? Hope you are doing something amazing! Call me! We have to talk!”

“Sara, where are you? Selling ketchup cannot be this consuming! Call me!”

The truth was I had been avoiding Amy. I had been avoiding all of my friends, actually. I was so stunned by the turn of events my life had taken that I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t want to say the words aloud.

I was getting divorced.

My husband had had an affair with someone over five years my junior and was leaving me to be with her. I found out when 1-800-Flowers called our house to ask about a flower delivery order—red roses for the other woman—red roses from the man I had been with for nine years, married for six, and who had sent me flowers only once, on our first Valentine’s Day together.

“Sending flowers is inefficient,” he would always tell me. He was an economist; he viewed everything in terms of money and efficiency. “Flowers are too expensive.” “The cats will try to eat them, anyway.” Yet he had sent roses to this other woman. Ironically, she had cats, too, but I guess not the kind that would try to eat flowers sent from her married boyfriend.

Initially, I didn’t believe it was possible that he had actually sent another woman flowers, or that this meant something. I came up with all sorts of “rational” explanations. Maybe she had a bad day or suffered some terrible tragedy. It just couldn’t be what it sounded like. So, when he got home that night, I asked him about the flowers.

“I got a strange phone call today.”

My husband barely acknowledged me as he continued to unpack his bag and followed one of our cats into the living room. Following him, I continued talking. “It was from 1-800-Flowers.”

He looked up slightly from petting the cat.

“They said that they weren’t able to deliver the roses you sent to one of your students? What was that all about?”

We both came from very Catholic families. Divorces were nearly unheard of. It just wasn’t possible that this meant something. But it did. His face went grey. He sat down heavily on our new tawny microfiber armchair and started rubbing his eyes, as if to stop seeing the moment that was now happening.

“One of my students was having a bad day yesterday and was telling me about it after the economics club happy hour. And, well, one thing led to another and so I, uh . . . I sent her flowers today.”

“One thing led to another?” I repeated back slowly. “What exactly does that mean? What did you do?”

I could hear the pitch of my voice rising, the panic in my words.

“What do you think it means?” he snapped, going from contrite to angry in one sentence. “We slept together.”

I don’t remember what I said, if I said anything. I know I was standing by the armchair when the conversation began and, somehow, I found myself sitting on the floor, crumpled at his feet, like a servant.

“It’s just . . . she’s special. I can’t explain it. But I think I love her. I feel the same way I felt when I first met you.”

I felt my heart explode in my chest. My stomach dropped through the floor as the knife twisted deeper.

“But I don’t understand. How could you do this? What about me? Don’t you love me?”

“It just happened; I couldn’t stop it . . . so, no, I don’t think I love you anymore. I don’t think I have for a while.”

And somehow I found myself crying and hugging him. It was this intense feeling of pure metaphysical confusion— confusion about where to seek comfort when my world was falling apart precisely because of the person from whom I had sought comfort for the past nine years of my life. It was the first of many moments when I felt like the foundation of my being was irreparably cracked and I’d never be solid again.

Not long after, he moved out of our house. The house we had bought not even a year earlier when we both found jobs near the same city, a feat that had required extreme focus given our two divergent careers. The house he insisted we buy when I wanted to rent as we adjusted to a new city. The house where he left his wedding ring, in the kitchen cabinet next to the coffee so he knew I’d see it that morning when I made my coffee like I did every morning. The house he would come back to during the days when I was at work, moving things around and threatening to take my cats, leaving me shaken and paranoid and terrified of what I’d find when I came home at night.

And I had told none of my friends. I was in denial, in shock. How could this charming, handsome man I trusted, whom I thought I’d spend my whole life with, do this to me?

I couldn’t keep ignoring Amy’s calls, though. Amy wasn’t the kind of person you could ignore. A passionate feminist and certified self-defense instructor trainer—yes, she trains self-defense instructors—Amy is a force of nature. She was likely one more missed call away from filing a missing person’s report. So, when she called again that night, I had to pick up.

“Where have you been?” she shouted at me when I answered the phone. “I was literally about to call the police!”

Somehow, I managed to tell her what was going on. After a long silence, which was strange because Amy also doesn’t do silence, she finally started talking and said the best thing anyone has ever said to me in my entire life:

“Sara, the next time you decide to get married, and God burns down the church, promise me you’ll call it off. Will you?” For the first time in what felt like an eternity, I laughed.

The sound of my own laughter, a sound I wasn’t certain I’d hear again, was the most reassuring sound I’d ever heard. It was the glimmer of hope I needed. If I could laugh despite all the pain and loneliness and sadness I was mired in, maybe I could find some light at the end of this long tunnel? And I resolved at that moment to take Amy’s advice.

Sara E. Braca has always been curious about pretty much everything, which almost explains how she accidentally became a Renaissance woman living in a medieval Italian city. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Wharton, she is now a solo traveler, marketing executive, yoga instructor, cat mom, and wine enthusiast. Her passion for finding joy in her single life and empowering others to do the same drove her to add “debut memoirist” to this list. She lives in Tuscany. Sara’s debut memoir, ‘When the Church Burns Down, Cancel the Wedding’, is available in bookstores, libraries, and wherever you buy books online. You can also follow Sara on Instagram.

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