The first time---or maybe it was the second time---that Don asked me to marry him we were on a playground riding bouncing, pink elephants and not doing a very good job of it since they were designed for children and we were in our late twenties at the time. It was four o’clock in the morning. There might have been a little alcohol involved and we ended up staying up all night. Right from the beginning of our relationship, Don has kept me sleep deprived.
Another time in our early courtship that Don kept me sleep deprived started when we were standing in a line at a local movie theater with another couple. Don looked at his watch and said, “If we leave right now, we can get to Chicago before last call.” We all looked at each other and someone said, “Let’s do it.” As simple as that we hopped in Don’s yellow Chevy convertible and made the three-four hour drive ending up at the Playboy Club.
Then there was the night I got a call from Don well after midnight. It was hot; he couldn’t sleep and he wanted to go over to Lake Michigan with a couple of sleeping bags and sleep on the beach so that we could wake up to the sound of waves lapping the shore. We did it but instead of waking up to the sound of the big lake, we woke up to the sound of my little ten pound poodle, Sarah, warding off two Great Danes on their early dawn walk. They scared the heck out of us until we woke up enough to figure out what kind of ‘monsters’ had poked their giant heads down our sleeping bags. Gosh, those dogs sure ran fast once Sarah come shooting out from her brown cocoon where she'd been sleeping at my feet!
Back in those days it was easy to be carefree and impulsive. People often say that having children is what settles a person down and all but wipes out their impulsiveness. We never had kids so I can’t buy that as the sole explanation. For us, it was a combination of increased career/job obligations and growing responsibilities to help care for aging parents. It’s just part of the process: you’re born, you die and in between you march along a timeline as old as human life on earth. Now, some thirty-five years after Don and I first met, being carefree is sitting on the deck with a cup of coffee watching the moonflowers open and being impulsive is taking the scenic route home from the grocery store. We’re settled but in a comfortable, old slippers kind of way.
The last time Don asked me to marry him was the year after his stroke. We were living in an accessible apartment while I was getting his house ready to sell and I was also in the process of getting an auction organized at a large pole barn that he had rented for years. My house was sitting empty, waiting its turn on the sales block. I had been fretting about the high cost of my health insurance and we were having major cash flow problems. Don’s aphasia and apraxia, at that point in time, had his speech limited to a few nouns that often took as long as four hours for him to get out. So, by the time he finally got the word “marry” out I had no idea what he was talking about, how it related to what I had been talking about earlier.
“You’re merry?" I asked. "You’re happy?” which, of course, upset him because I misunderstood.
Besides the fact that it took me a while to recognize this single word proposal as a proposal, another thing that was different from the time he asked while we were riding pink elephants in the park was his reasons for asking. This last time, Don was asking because getting married would get me covered by his health insurance and pension plan. I don’t know why he asked that first time, but my answer was: “We barely know each other!”
Over the years between his first and last proposals, when ever people would press for a reason why we didn’t get married, one of us would repeat that line---we barely know each other!
Jean Riva ©
Computer art at the top by Nevit Dimen