This post is a memory, a precious one that I want to record here for my own benefit and because it was beautiful, and I believe beauty should be shared. Honestly, grief feels much closer than hope right now. As the one year anniversary of this event is two days away, it seems to be all I can think about. I’m attempting to purge the mental replay by getting it out of my head and onto a post – kind of like getting rid of an earworm by listening to the song (well, it works for me anyway). So, this is what happened a year ago.
One year ago…
I was going through the last Christmas season I would get to spend with my family, or so I thought. Everything was tinged with finality: this is the last time I’ll get to go to this concert we all go to together every year. This is the last year I’ll get to take my niece and nephew Christmas shopping for gifts from them for everyone else. This is the last time I’ll play a piano duet with my sister at a community concert. This is the last time I’ll decorate our live Christmas tree, and adorn our halls with all the festive trimmings. This is the last year I’ll go up and decorate my adopted grandmother’s house for Christmas. This is the last year I’ll go to the nursing home and play piano for my grandmother and her friends. “This is the last year for all of this” was what I was thinking a year ago.
I was grieving already a year ago.
One year ago…
Trent and I were very much in love. We told each other so every day. We had been discussing marriage a lot, seeking advice about it from wise people around us. Trent’s best friend and accountability partner advised us to get through the holidays before we got engaged, to see how we handled that stressful season. I desperately wanted to be engaged, since we talked so much about being married already, but knowing Trent put a massive amount of trust in what his best friend said, was trying very hard not to expect a proposal any time soon. I was trying to be patient, and was almost succeeding. We went back and forth to each other’s houses for Thanksgiving. I celebrated Christmas with his family the week I was there in early December. It was lovely. Then we had three weeks apart before Trent came back to South Dakota for New Year’s.
I still remember him marching into the library on a bitterly cold Thursday, December 28, 2017, with his confident stride, slightly startling me because I was focused on putting a vinyl mural up on the wall. So I looked up from where I was sitting with a jerk, then a smile. Our greeting kiss was quick and chaste – we were in the middle of the public library after all (I did have a spot picked out in the library for a make-out session, but we never used it). He gave me a gift – an amaryllis bulb that was just about to bloom. I had a few minutes left on my shift so he went and cleaned 14 hours’ worth of travel clutter out of his car while I finished working. Then we decided to leave my car at the library while we took his car and went to eat at Ruby Tuesday’s. There were many people dining there that we knew, including my brother, sister-in-law, and three month old niece. We greeted them of course, and they invited us over after supper to play games at their apartment. We agreed, then went and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner.
Well, I enjoyed it. Trent seemed distracted. Conversation didn’t flow the way it usually did, which slightly concerned me, but I brushed it off as reconnection jitters. We went over to my brother and sister-in-law’s after supper, shivering all the way. We played a few games and Trent fared poorly in each game. I felt sorry for him. “Poor guy,” I remember thinking, “he must be so tired from the long drive.” We didn’t stay very long at my brother’s, but then we had to go back to the library to get my car. I didn’t want to leave it sitting out at the library, especially since I didn’t have to work the next day.
It was so cold. Have I mentioned that fact? I was shivering, even though I was dressed warmly and Trent had the heater on full blast.
“I’ll go start your car to get it warm,” he said, and gallantly braved the cold to run over to my car to start it. I sat in his car and shivered, then I noticed something gold peeking out of the driver’s side door pocket. I snooped. I reached over and pulled it out. I saw this:
I know it’s hard to read, it was then too, in the dim light of the library parking lot. It says “My Darling” on it. “Hm,” I mused, “I wonder if this is for me (I can be very dense at times, and at that time did not know how to recognize when it was the liar whispering to me. I was slightly insecure about our relationship, because I knew that I was pushing, and he was scared of marriage). Oh well, it must be something for Christmas, he’ll give it to me when he wants to.” and I put the card back in his door pocket.
A minute later he opened the door with a rush of frigid air and slid back in. “Let’s sit here and let it get a little warmer,” he said. So we exclaimed about how cold it was and I huddled into his shoulder like I liked to do. He was nervous.
“I have something for you.” he said, and reached down to pull out the bulky gold envelope.
“Already?” I thought, “Ok, I can roll with this.”
I pulled my gloves off and opened the card. He had written a lot. So I started reading at the top of the card, not really noticing that Trent’s eyes were fixed on my face. This is what I read:
It was taking a while to read, especially with twisting the card to read everything on the second page, so I skipped to the end and gasped. I had been telling myself not to expect that question for weeks, possibly even months. And suddenly, it was here. Trent didn’t give me time to answer it before he pulled a wrapped box out from another hiding place – one that I hadn’t discovered – and thrust it at me, saying “open this.”
My hands were shaking, and not just from cold, as I tore the wrapping paper to reveal this box:
Not a ring box, but we had talked about it and I decided I would like to us to pick out my ring together. So I opened it and found this:
The most perfect diamond necklace I had ever seen. Elegant and dainty, it was exactly what I had been hoping for, for a decade. I had always wanted a small diamond necklace, even going so far as buying one for myself when I got my first real job, but I was persuaded to return it by my coworkers and family. “Let a guy buy you a diamond necklace” they all said, “Someday, the right guy who will do that for you will come along.”
Back in the car thoughts were whirling through my head. He had asked. He had actually asked! I knew he was scared of marriage but he faced his fear and he asked.
Someone wanted to marry me! Someone, but not just anyone, my best friend, the man who made me laugh almost every day, the one whose dreams and goals matched mine so perfectly, wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
The next thought was more sobering. A little voice inside my head said “he’s asking you to leave, Anessa. Are you sure you want to say yes? Saying yes will mean leaving your family and your home here. Realize what you’re agreeing to before you say yes.”
“Well,” Trent said anxiously, “Will you?” His face was hopeful and nervous. I didn’t think I had been thinking that long, but one look at his face and I knew what my answer was.
He knew I was scared of leaving. But he had been brave and faced his fear. Now it was my turn. “Yes, of course!” I blurted out and threw my arms around him. Well, as much as I could. We were in a car, both bundled up in heavy coats. We kissed and laughed. I read the rest of the card that I had skipped over, chattering away to him over all the precious things he had written about me.
“Do you want to put your necklace on?” he asked, and I agreed at once. We both fumbled with the dainty chain, one end slipping from his cold fingers and the diamond pendant sliding off the end of the chain onto my seat. I scrambled for it, not wanting to lose the beautiful diamond. The clasp on this necklace is so tiny that it slipped again, and once more we searched the nooks and crannies of his car for the diamond. “Let’s wait until we get home,” I suggested, “so we don’t lose it in your car.”
He agreed and I carefully put the re-intact necklace back in the box.
“Is it alright?” he asked.
“It is perfect,” I assured him, and gave him another kiss.
I don’t remember how long we sat talking and kissing in the library parking lot while we shivered. We were happy though, ecstatic, and that joy made it seem not so cold. Finally we knew it was time to drive home, so with one last kiss I braved the cold, taking the necklace with me, and ran to my car.
Then came telling people. I was worried about my family’s reaction, judging from their lackluster opinion of our relationship so far. So I called one of my best friends first, the one with whom I had consulted way back in January about whether it was alright for me to pursue a relationship with Trent at all. Since she was the first one who had given us a blessing, I felt like she should be the first one to know our good news. She was thrilled for us.
We went ring shopping two days after we got engaged, Saturday. I was supposed to work, but the attacks had already started in the form of the flu, and I felt awful enough that they said I could leave early. Instead of going home though, we went to a local jewelry store. The salesclerk showed us what he had for simple and elegant rings, which was the style I wanted. Nothing there really appealed to me, but there was one I kind of liked. So we decided to go to a chain jewelry store, based in South Dakota, but not locally owned. I was kind of hoping to support a local business, but not so much I would get a ring that I didn’t love.
We walked into the second jewelry store and browsed for a little while, assisted by the location manager. We were in high spirits, laughing and joking. “You guys make a great couple,” he told us. Then Trent got a phone call and stepped out of the store to answer it. While he was away I spotted it. Simple, elegant, inset diamond, a twist to make it unique. I asked to try it and as soon as I put it on, I knew. I knew I would be happy to wear that ring for the rest of my life. Trent came back and I showed it to him. He was worried that the diamond wasn’t big enough, despite my insistence that I didn’t want big. It was more inexpensive than he was expecting. He worried that it wasn’t enough to properly reflect his commitment to me – he didn’t want to look cheap. We discussed options for a wedding band, which raised the price enough that he voiced concerns about being able to pay for it.
We talked and decided that we would take it and worry about the wedding band later, as it would have to be hand-cast to fit properly with the ring anyway. The manager offered to resize it for us right then, so we went to a nearby restaurant and got pizza for lunch. We were excited. So many things to plan and do! Before lunch was over Trent got a call that the ring was done, so we stopped back at the jewelry store to pick it up. Since I’d be wearing it out of the store and from then on, it didn’t seem right for me to put it on my own finger. So I gave the box to Trent, he got down on one knee right there in the store, and said, “Anessa Marie, will you marry me?” in a joking manner. The salespeople were all standing around with their mouths open, thinking they were witnessing the actual engagement. I laughed and said “yes” again and we both laughed as Trent slid my engagement ring on my finger. Trent then explained that the actual proposal had happened two days prior while I checked the fit of my ring with the manager. It was perfect.
We walked out of that store hand in hand, feeling like everything was going our way, and that we were doing what God wanted us to do, what He had been leading us toward for a year.
That was a year ago.
I loved that ring. I don’t know what happened to it; Trent had it last I knew, but I told him that if he sent it back to me I would return it and send him the money, or maybe he could give it to someone who might not be able to afford a ring. I don’t know how I could handle getting it back without a re-proposal, honestly. That ring meant so much to me because it was the perfect symbol of our love and commitment to each other. At first the ring was uncomfortable, and if my fingers swelled even slightly I felt like I had to get it off. But after a week or two, I wore it constantly and I only took it off to shower or do dishes. The first time we broke up, I sent it back to Trent, thinking that when we got reengaged he would give it back to me. Sometimes I still feel like I’m forgetting my ring when I get dressed in the morning – I call it phantom ring pain. I have to remind myself that I don’t have a ring anymore. I still have the necklace, which I feel slightly guilty about. I feel like I should send it back to Trent. But I also really love it. I’ve been wearing it more with the anniversary of it’s gifting to me approaching. Even though I no longer have the man’s love, it reminds me that at one time I did. At one point in time, his love was stronger than his fear, and mine was too.
In that moment, things were going right.
Then the attacks started, but that’s another post…