That’s how long I had known Charlie before he blurted out over the remnants of a trout almandine dinner, “Will you marry me?” There was no champagne and for that matter, no ring, because this guy I had met only six-weeks before had not really thought about his proposal before his life-altering question left his mouth.
I don’t remember what we had been talking about that might have made those indelible words escape his lips before he could recant them. As his question hung between us, it was a tense moment because there was no assurance of how I might react. My response came with a caveat.
“I don’t think you meant to say that,” I told him. “So if you can even remember the question in thirty minutes, I will give you an answer.”
He smiled. We drank a little wine. I tried not to show how desperately I wanted him to remember the question. He did. I said Yes.
It was a risky love for both of us. We were betting a lifetime on a perfect stranger.
When our parents answered their 1985 landlines, they were politely supportive as we gushed in the excitement of our news. I had never met Charlie’s parents and he had only once had a meal with mine. As my mom and dad hung up their phone in El Paso, Texas and his parents in Rye, New York, I imagine all four shook their heads with the exact same disbelief. They might have even asked the same question, “Do you think she’s pregnant?”
My sister was less tactful. “Really, Kathy, you don’t know a thing about him. Just live with the guy. Don’t marry him.”
To be fair, she was right. There was so much I didn’t know and we were a mismatch in many ways. Charlie was exactly a foot taller and one hundred pounds heavier than I was. He was accustomed to northern snow and I was at home in the western desert. He balanced his checkbook to the exact penny and I opened my monthly statements only if notified that I had bounced a check. But over the past six weeks, we had dinner every night after work and formal dates every weekend. Throughout the course of those meals, we had agreed on all of life’s pressing issues in an increasing order of seriousness.
Italian, yes. Sushi, no.
Dogs, yes. Cats, no.
Football, yes. Baseball, no.
A promise must be kept.
Trust requires no exceptions.
Children, yes. Lots of them.
Despite my sister’s warning, we were married within the year on March 8, 1986. At our rehearsal dinner, however, the brevity of our courtship did cross my mind. As groomsmen offered toasts to their good friend, I remember thinking, “Almost everyone here knows Charlie better than I do.”
I wonder how many of those guests kept the gift receipts for our wedding presents anticipating a quick return. Beyond all odds, we made it past the seven-year itch and by our eighth anniversary, we had been blessed with four daughters. The next two decades would roll by in a blur of diapers, Saturday morning pancakes, parent teacher conferences, soccer games, and graduations. There would be dinners our girls giggled milk through their noses and moments Charlie and I held our sides in laughter at some of their silliness.There would be times one of our daughters shrieked at her sister in fury as well as times Charlie and I could barely a muster a good night peck for each other. No matter how angry, we always ended every night with a kiss—marriage advice heeded from his parents.
All those years ago while I had waited impatiently for Charlie to re-issue his proposal, I didn’t know any of that. I only knew that the first time I saw Charlie at a crowded backyard keg party something inside me whispered, Yes. Him.
When I had solemnly whispered the words, ‘til death do us part, I know now, I did not understand them. It wasn’t until thirty years later when I witnessed Charlie’s cardiac monitor collapse to a flat green line that I realized my heart stopped as well. For seven minutes, which felt longer than the three decades we had been together, I believed Charlie, my soulmate, was gone. The nurse, who called a Code Blue and hurried Charlie’s still body away from me, believed so, too.
As his gurney disappeared down the white hallway, I plunged into a black, howling pit so deep that I was certain it was inescapable. Alone in the hospital room that had once held Charlie, I was still doubled over when the nurse rushed back to tell me, “We think he’s going to make it.”
Charlie’s heart was beating again thus, so was mine. Our risky love received a second chance but it came with no guarantees. We now know, Charlie has a rare disease which means it is more likely I will bury him before he might have to bury me. Inevitably, once two hearts are bound by love, when one stops beating, the other will break. For this, there is no cure.
Understanding it is unlikely we will celebrate a golden anniversary, I am grateful I didn’t wait longer than forty-two days and thirty minutes to say Yes. Understanding the fragility of his heart, I plan to savor every moment we have left together.
All love carries this same risk. Once someone steals our hearts, we are forever changed. If we are truly lucky, once in a lifetime, we find a rare love from which we will never recover.