Two small words caught my whirling mind like a fishhook. "What was that?" I stammered. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills. "For what?" I didn't understand. "For saying yes," he replied. "For saying yes, for marrying me." Without meaning to, I laughed out loud, my mirth echoing against the rock and hills and falling leaves. "Thank you? After today - all you've done - you're the one saying thank you?" I laughed and giggled and guffawed and punched him in the arm.
It had been, as a coworker later described it, a "fourteen hour tour de force." An expedition that uncharacteristically took me several days of reflection before I could even sit to type these words. How do you describe a before and after that some take reams of paper to elucidate?
Saturday morning started out like any other - sleeping in. I awoke briefly around eight, called John to wish him well at work, and rolled over to continue my symphony of drooling and slumber. To my surprise, he later entered my room to wish me good morning. "How sweet," I thought, "he stopped by on his way to work." But even without my glasses I noticed a distinct lack of suit jacket and tie. I rolled over and looked at the clock. "9:45? I thought he had to be at work an hour ago..." My fingers brushed against something lying atop the coverlet. That's when the tour de force began. For me, anyway. A parchment letter sealed with red wax waited for me to open it. I tore it open. Words of tenderness and love stared back at me; they had been in on the surprise for some time now. I bounded downstairs to the kitchen, where the kettle was beginning to hiss and pop. "Get dressed and put on tennis shoes," John commanded, avoiding my quizzical eyes. I bounded upstairs, and upon returning, found tea and another letter ready for me. It, too, a tender, if mysterious, epistle. I drained my cup, and it was Time To Go. We followed the winding road to the nearby town that has hosted several dates, pulling up to an antique store. I smiled. One of the first times we spent together was browsing around the last century's books, tools, and hats. I greeted the resident cat and we spent happy time attempting to discover the uses of unfamiliar utensils. As we prepared to purchase a couple of dusty tomes, the owner smiled. "I believe this is for you." Another parchment letter, sealed in red wax. At our beloved old-time, small-town drugstore up the street, the same thing. Root beer float, and a beaming proprietor, parchment in hand. Next we hit the river, swinging out on a rope from a tree, Huck Finn style, then settling down on a rocky beach for a game of Scrabble. But not before discovering an additional parchment declaration of affection in the Scrabble box. It was at this point, by the riverside, that an extremely large, unfamiliar bird swam up to us in the midst of the epic battle for verbal victory. We christened it the John and Elizabeth Duck Turkey, mostly because he thought it resembled a duck and I thought I detected some recessive turkey genes. (Later it turned out he was right. It was a duck.) After being sorely beaten at Scrabble, I gathered the tiles and was further surprised when we headed back towards town. Now, the following demonstrates one of my (pseudo-nerdy) loves: he took me to see the cabin in which Abraham Lincoln's parents were married. This was like giving me crack and taking me to a rock concert. Next we toured the old fort which comprised the original settlement of the state's oldest town, and browsed around a museum gleefully looking at original Lincoln letters, 19th century weaponry and a large grammar chart that I made John take my picture in front of. Oh yes, and a sly looking cashier at the gift shop handed me - in unison, now - a sealed parchment. I was beginning to wonder how vast this conspiracy was. Step aside, JFK. We drove home, my soul happy with antiques and Scrabble and arguments with John about states' rights versus unification that had been spurred on by my negative visceral reaction to the sight of Confederate bullets. When we arrived home I was instructed to get gussied up (my words, not his) and off we went again, in time for supper. Instead of traversing a main thoroughfare, however, we snaked along narrow, curving back lanes until he pulled over at what appeared to be a completely random spot. I did spy Angie's car pulled to the side up ahead, though. "Here, put these on." John handed me my running shoes. I looked down at my cute dress, shrugged, and slipped my heels off. We rambled along a path that looked like it had been formed by hobbits until I heard the sound of water. Ahead, I caught glimpses of a large, flat rock protruding out into the river, and adorned with candles and a blanket spread ready for supper. This "picnic" featured warm lemon rosemary chicken in a crock pot that melted deliciously with the serene autumn surroundings.
Now, by this time I knew it was a special day. Okay, that morning, it had been apparent that this was not the time to be a foolish virgin, because the bridegroom cometh. John had been focused but relaxed all day. I looked with raised eyebrow, though, when he abandoned his half-eaten dinner and stood. "Ready?" he asked. I looked at my partially consumed bread and nodded. We climbed up a rock path that wound around to a flat overlook about twenty feet above our dining area. Here, I discovered cheesecake and hot cappuchino, the desserts we had shared one of the first times we'd hung out. As I sipped french vanilla cappuchino from a large mug, I moved closer to the edge. "Hey look, the candles are so pretty from up here, next to the water." But I heard my name called, and turned, and found my beloved on one knee, ring in hand. He said something - my mind turned the consistency of tapioca - and I found myself hearing the famous words. I heard myself answer "yes" a trembling moment later. He slid a ring on my finger and kissed me, and so far, I hadn't cried. But then he led me over, to my surprise, to a communion set. "One of the first things I want to do now that we're officially engaged is to take communion." Now the tears came, and wouldn't stop. We served each other bread, and juice, and he held me. "Thank you," he choked, still looking a bit shaky and green around the gills.
After that brilliant day, those were the words he uttered when it was all over, and it is that tendency that I couldn't get away from when we were dating. Thank you? After presenting me with surprise and delight tumbled on top of each other, thank you was the first thing out of his mouth.
Those two words will lead to two new words - I will - in the wedding vows.
I don't know how to be a fiance. I don't know how to be a wife. I have tried to develop a spirit that shines as a woman, hoping that this will carry over into these new roles, still as foreign to me as the ring that shines on my finger. My hope is that the beauty these roles enable a woman to display will come close, some day, to matching the round emblem on my hand. I don't know how to be a Christlike wife. I hope I've had good practice by being a Christlike girlfriend, sister, daughter, and comrade. I don't know how to live with another as one. I don't know how to share lives.
I don't know how. But I will.