The Proposal

By James Heaton

Marriage is simple. You just love each other. This is what I always told myself.

The lake echoes with memories of the years. As far back as I can remember this small body of water has been at the center of every part of my life. It’s a very calm place, maybe that is why I remember it so fondly. Maybe that is why I brought her here, to this place I consider my sanctuary. I’ve prepared this speech in my head over and over, I think she expects something magical from me, but I don’t feel magical today. I feel like I am trying to convince her that a life with me is practical. But that’s not what she needs, she needs the part of me that brings a tear to her eyes when I talk about how much I need her, and I how much I love her.

We walk hand in hand across the brick path that leads to the little island where the bell tower sits. I don’t know what year this tower was built; I just know it has been a place of peace in my life. When I would run away from home as a child, I would come here. I would sit on the wooden benches with a favorite book and read that first sentence. It was always that first sentence that reeled me in. It all begins with those first few words, and if you want your reader to truly commit to your story, those first few words better grab them and hold them.

Today I told her I wanted to ask her a question, and that I wanted to ask her at my favorite place. Driving to the beach was out of the question, but she and I were drawn to water. We shared that love, among other things. I would have preferred the beach; I would have made a better impression if I had done this the last time we went to the coast. We took a photo of ourselves standing on the beach, with the ocean in the background. It was magical, and that’s what she deserved. That day was truly what every woman wants out of a relationship, to be admired and treated with a tender love and respect. There was no grand gesture, there weren’t fireworks, it was just the two of us. We walked on that beach for hours, talking and sharing our life stories with each other. We discovered more and more about ourselves, reveling who we really were to each other. But I knew the day I met her, the first moment my eyes found her, that I loved her. It was simple for me, but she had her walls. She had been hurt before. I had to make her feel safe and show her that she mattered to me. This is the essence of trust, time to examine a person and who they are. How they react to life’s complications and given the right amount of time they revel their true heart to you. A person can only pretend to be nice for so long before their true demons appear. I told her my story two weeks after meeting her, I told her all my truths. I wanted to establish trust immediately, I needed her to feel safe with me. Maybe it was the relationships leading up to this moment with her. Maybe all the times I thought I loved someone, but they showed their true selves after a few months, maybe that had scarred me. But I wasn’t the one with trust issues. I believe the easiest way to trust someone is to simply, trust them.

The warmth of her hand in mine had a soothing effect on me. I had never touched skin smoother than hers. I had her full attention; she wasn’t distracted by the geese or the swans that floated over the lake. The tree line that surrounded the lake was full of life and yet she didn’t notice. Her eyes, brown and full of stars, were fixed on me. She knew why we were here, she understood what this was. I asked her two nights ago if she would like to visit the lake with me, because I had something I wanted to talk about with her. At first she seemed a bit stressed, maybe thinking the worst. That I had intentions of ending this thing we had. But that was the farthest from my mind. We had met before the beginning of summer and nearing the end of the season, we had grown very close. I spent every night at her house, every moment together. She had enchanted me, in a way that brought a calming to my life. There was never a moment of negative energy between us, only a feeling of security and love. I felt safe with her, and she felt safe with me. She accepted my complexities, and I adored her frailty. She needed me as much as I needed her.

As we sat on the wooden benches with their strong metal end pieces, benches made to last for years, we drew close to each other. She sat as close to me as I sat to her. This was truly what the word intimacy meant, two people absorbed in each other. We simply enjoyed the presence of each other, and that is why we were here. The Bell Tower was hollow in the middle, with a circular staircase that climbed to the top section where the clock was housed. It was a locked gate at the top, to keep out the curious. The bricks formed a circle around the tower, joining to the path that led to the tower from the road. On the hour the bells would ring, loud enough to be heard across the lake. It was late afternoon on a day in the last of August. Soon the air would change, and the heat would subside, bringing on the cold days of winter. But the fall was just as magical as the summer. With all the leaves changing color and falling to the ground, leaving a trail of yellow and red specks on the grass that circled the lake. But we were still a few months away from that, and we were enjoying each day with one another. One day at a time, we lived second to second.

“I wanted to ask you a question. I wanted to ask you here, in this magical place that I have loved my entire life.” I said softly while looking at her face. She was holding onto every word I said, and it made me nervous. The expectation I had in my mind for this moment were grandiose and magnificent, but that wasn’t reality.

She simply smiled and looked into me with her starry eyes. Her head slightly turned, as her hair flowed to her shoulders. She had taken the time to put on her best makeup, as if it could make me find her even more attractive. I saw her from the inside, that endearing quality she had of being as innocent and pure as young girl, wrapped up in her external beauty. She didn’t show that to everyone, it had to be earned. She was guarded with strangers, but with me I was allowed to see the true brilliance of her soul.

“How do I put this. Marriage is simple. You find someone that you like, you develop a friendship and you become comfortable with being your true self in front of them. You eat together, you sleep together, you make love with each other and over time you grow old together. What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine. Society makes it difficult and adds so much unnecessary baggage to two people being together. They add religion and rules and then they try to control who can love each other. I don’t subscribe to that nonsensical mythology. I just believe that simply, I love you and you love me, and we should be together.”

I had made my attempt at baring my soul, but it wasn’t how I truly felt. I tried to simplify, to be convincing in a desperate attempt at swaying her to be with me.

“Is that what you truly believe? That marriage is simple? I expected a little more from you. Tell me what you truly believe. Tell me, in the way you really mean it.” She knew I was holding back, and she could see that I wanted to open up and express myself. But I wanted to be as real and authentic as I could.

“What I mean to say, is it should be simple. It should be as easy as finding that person who you love to be with and connecting. It should be as simple as; we should just always be together. But you are right, it isn’t simple. You and I have had our fair shares of disappointment in the past. Of connections that we thought were absolute only to discover they were unworthy of our time. But that’s not how I feel about you. I wake up next to you and see your face beside me. It brings me peace. When we are together I’m thinking of how much I enjoy you, and when we are apart I’m longing for your company. That moment when I make dinner and I watch you eating the meal I have prepared, and I see your happiness, it fills me with joy. Your happiness is directly linked to my happiness. It gives life a new purpose, and it has nothing to do with self, instead I find joy from knowing you are happy and safe.” I explained as she softly smiled.

“Go on, I’m enjoying this. But there is more isn’t there?” She pushed me to give more. She knew what I needed to say, and she wasn’t going to be satisfied until I spilt it all out for her.

“You like this? Me bearing my soul to you.” I asked with a soft refrain.

“Well, you are asking a question that deserves an answer, but I need you to really ask the question. I want to hear what is really deep inside your soul. Why should we take this next step and be together for the rest of our lives?” She was a bit more assertive this time. I understood what she wanted.

“I was content. I had made peace that I would be alone for the rest of my life. But then I found you and all that changed. I was weary of becoming attached in the beginning, but it was the most satisfying feeling. I tried to deny it at first, deny that I was truly in love with you. But why should I? Maybe I was afraid of being hurt again. Afraid of failure, of rejection. But you lit up the room when you came into my life. The air changed; it was easier to breath. I felt like our particles aligned and we went from being two separate units to a combined unit.” I took a breath only to have her interrupt my grand speech.

“So, I’m a unit to you? We are units with particles. Come on, say what you really mean. I want to hear you, everyday you say the sweetest things to me, and this is the moment that counts. I want to hear that song your heart sings.” She ran her hand across my face, tracing my cheek with her thumb.

She had made the challenge, I accepted. I took a breath, smelling a touch of her perfume. I felt it throughout my entire body. I looked deep into those starry eyes.

“I can’t imagine a day without you. I can’t imagine a life without you. This attachment, this joining we have, it removed all the materialistic parts from my world. I can only think of you. I don’t want to grow old without you. And the thought of you with anyone else drives me mad. When you leave the house to go to work, I feel that emptiness from your absence. The house is quiet and lonely. But when you get home, and you walk in the door I am alive again. Your scent, your essence it surrounds me. The thought of life without you is agonizing. I lied; marriage isn’t simple. It’s the most difficult thing in the world. Finding that person, that fits into your life, is tedious. Billions of people on this earth and I just want to be with one of them. If it was just you and I left all alone on this planet, I would be content. I would never long for another human’s company, I would spend my days in bliss knowing that you and I were together. I love you. I have always loved you. I didn’t know you but longed for you. I always felt that you were there, and it saddens me to think that we just met. All those years wasted; with people I didn’t love. Giving my heart to people who didn’t deserve my time, when it was you that I wanted.”

She smiled as a tiny tear formed in the corner of her eye. I had hit a nerve, touched the place in her heart that only I could touch. I reached in the pocket of my pants and pulled out a small box. Black and covered in soft velvet with a gold accent around the opening. I put the box in front of her and opened it, revealing a ring of white gold with diamonds. Neither of us liked yellow gold, it never felt right. We loved silver and the purity of white gold. I found it comforting to know that we had so many similarities and we shared a taste for things that weren’t quite normal. Our love of the ocean, and our taste for exotic food were just a few things that made us compatible. But the more we spent time together the more we discovered we were alike. Our music choices, jewelry, movies, and color combinations were so very similar. We felt a comradery that usually only happens with best friends. But neither of us had a best friend, we simply had each other.

“What is this?” She asked as I showed her the ring.

“Its just a ring, a token of my love for you. A symbol of my desire to marry you.” She had kept her hands on her lap, refraining from touching the ring or the box.

“You’re lying again… it’s not just a ring. Its special. Isn’t it?” She studied the cut and placement of the diamonds. She knew it was old and not just the typical ring that someone would pick up at a jewelry store on Main Street. She knew me so well, and she knew that I wouldn’t just give her any store-bought concoction.

“You’ve caught me again. I can’t get anything past you. This is the ring my grandfather gave my grandmother when he proposed. He would skip lunch everyday to save his money, and he took odd jobs after work to earn enough to buy this ring for her. Its close to sixty years old, white gold like you like. My grandmother wore if for years after he passed, and when she died my mother saved it. It’s been in my family for a long time. It is worthless to me without you, but on your hand it becomes priceless.” I pulled the ring out of the box and slipped it on her finger. I had the ring sized to fit her finger the week prior, wanting it to be perfect for her today.

“Well, you have done a very convincing job. But you still haven’t asked me the question. A ring and a speech are worthless without the question.” I held her hand and slipped the ring onto her finger. It looked amazing on her finger, as if it was made for her. She deserved so much more, but I gave her all I had.

“Will you go on a journey with me? Through years and over millions of miles together, will you be my partner? Will you let me love you until the day I close my eyes and drift into darkness? Will you wake up with me everyday and fall asleep beside me every night? Will you hold my hand through the tough days and kiss me on the happiest days? Will you tell me how we met when I get too old to remember?”

The stars in her eyes twinkled and the tear rolled down her cheek.

“Will you marry me and be my best friend and my partner in crime for all the days to come?” I had slipped off the bench to kneeling on the pathway in front of her. One knee on the ground, her hands in mine.

“I will be your wife. I will walk the earth with you, together for the rest of time. We will have today, tomorrow, and forever. So yes, I will marry you. And thank you for truly asking.” I pulled myself up from the ground and sat beside her. I embraced her, pulling her close and kissing her gently. Her lips were soft and warm as her hands held me tight. It was like holding the sun, my hands burned from the light that was inside her.

A swan drifted by the tiny island watching us as we sat holding hands, lost in each other. I’m sure that it must have been a sign of good luck to have such a majestic animal grace us with its presence. We spent another hour sitting and talking about life beside that lake. I can’t recall everything we talked about; I try sometimes to remember everything she said.

We were married that November next to the lake. We had our honeymoon at the beach, a week of nightly walks in the sand listening to the waves crashing on the moonlit sand. We spent most of the time either on the beach or curled up in bed. She brought out the best in me, the hopeless romantic that would shower her with gifts and food. Our love only grew over the years, everyday we simply enjoyed each other’s company. I always felt that my life revolved around her, and I felt it was a privilege to be in her company. It took years but she found her voice and she learned to express herself in a way that showed me that I mattered as much to her as she mattered to me.

A year ago, we celebrated forty-two years with each other. Over the years we traveled and eventually settled in a little house by the beach. This was her dream, a cozy little home within walking distance to the beach and a life with me. It was our nightly routine to sit outside and look at the stars. We sometimes built a small fire and listened to the waves crashing in the distance. My only regret was not telling her how much I loved her each and every day. After forty plus years you just take it for granted that they know you love them. We always kissed good night and greeted each other with a hug in the morning. I fixed her dinner for years, always making sure she was happy. I never let her wait on me, I was there to take care of her. My biggest fear was growing old and leaving her to a life of isolation. I could never imagine leaving her sad and broken. Most of all I never wanted to leave her alone. Who would care for her and make her dinner?

This was the realization of old age. There comes a point in your life that you accept the end of all things. As a child death seems so distant and life is taken for granted. Once I turned seventy I accepted that life would one day stop for me. But she was eternal, I could never imagine her not existing. I had placed her on a pedestal in my life and given her forty-two years of companionship. Forty-two years of worshipping her in my own fashion. I had someone to live for, someone to die for and someone that was my reason to be.

Two months ago, she left this life behind. She died in her sleep. It broke me, she was my everything. My kids tried to comfort me, and our friends said nice things that were meant well, but nothing could take away that pain. I always told her I would love her or die trying.  She just laughed and told me that she wasn’t that hard to love. And she wasn’t, she was the opposite. I never had to try to love her, it just happened, like breathing. But now the air is hard to breath. Everyday since she left I fall deeper into the chasm of depression.

The day I proposed to her I walked out on a tightrope, to the edge of the unknown. Had she said no, I would have given up on love. I would have sold it all and traveled to an island in the Caribbean and lived out my days alone. But she said yes, and it made my life better than I could have ever imagined. She lit up the room, filled my heart with the intensity of the sun and then in a flash she was gone. I never believed in the afterlife. It was just fantasy and a lie to keep people in line. I never wasted time thinking she would be waiting for me in some paradise beyond death. She didn’t believe in that when she was alive, and I refused to insult her by accepting some bittersweet lie. She was my life, and I treasured every second I had with her.

Forty-two years ago, I fell in love with the most magical woman to ever walk the face of the earth. I have spent every second since then carrying this flame. Tonight, there was supposed to be a meteor shower, we loved to sit out in front of our house and watch the stars shooting across the sky. So tonight, I broke open a thirty-year-old bottle of rum. I poured a glass and walked out to the fire pit and sat down in my chair. I looked to my right and in her chair I could see the years pass by. The ghost of the love I carried through out the years, the many nights we sat staring up at the sky. I should have been looking at her. I took one last sip of the rum and sat the glass down on the table that sat between our chairs. I reached down and lifted a metal box from beside the chair. I unlatched the lock and opened the box on my lap. Inside was a picture of us, taking on our first trip to the beach together. She was so young, so full of life. I leaned the picture up against the glass of rum and pulled out the gun.

The stars shot across the sky. I took one last look at the picture, “Goodnight Kitten.”

The shot rang out across the beach. The gulls flew from the beach into the starry sky.

Marriage was never hard; with her it was easy. But if we are lucky, eventually we all die trying.

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