The Memories We Find

Friday, October 24, 2003

The other day, I was sitting on my couch, browsing through the books on the bookshelf. I’m always looking for new recipes to try, so I picked up the Macomb FBLA Community Cookbook that I helped put together when I was in high school. As I flipped through 12 different recipes for chili, I stopped thinking about recipes and started thinking about those years. My trip down memory lane stopped when a folded piece of paper fell in my lap.

Kraft Barbecue Oven Tender Chicken

Barbecue Chicken

Blackened Chicken

Spinach and Artichoke Au Gratin

It was a list of recipes — dishes I was considering making for the night I asked Angela to marry me. A fork in the road appeared on memory lane, and I decided to follow it.

The first time Angela & I talked about marriage was long before we started dating. We were sitting in a little gazebo-style enclosure on the OBU campus. At the time, I thought I just wanted to be friends. She was the one person I could actually talk to — why would I want to screw that up by asking her out? When she started telling me how the guy she married
would have to have a “left-handed” last name — composed entirely of letters from the left side of the keyboard, for easy logging in — I made a mental note. Not for myself, though: If someone ever asked how they should propose to her, I had an idea I could give them.

We started dating a couple of years later. I immediately started trying to figure out the minimum amount of time I had to wait before proposing. I started thinking about when, where, and how. I knew she had reservations about marriage — her brother and sister had both been through divorces. I didn’t want to say anything too soon, for fear of losing her.

One night, we were driving around Oklahoma City and talking about our plans to own our own businesses. It was dark, and there was a good bit of traffic on the interstate. My attention was split between the road and our dreams for the future.

You can own your business,” Angela said, “And I’ll own mine, and we can sell the same things at the same prices.”

I don’t think that’s allowed.”

Married people aren’t allowed to own separate businesses?”

Suddenly, she had my full attention. This was the first time marriage had come up. A thousand thoughts raced through my mind in a period of about two seconds. Do I comment on her comment? Do I let it pass? What would I say? Hey, look, I’m still driving! I knew my time was up, I had to respond.

No, separate businesses aren’t allowed to collaborate on pricing.”

Marriage kept coming up. Hypothetical discussions became wedding plans became shopping for a ring. Angela wanted to help pick out her ring — which was good, because I desperately needed help. I had looked on my own and tried to get some ideas of what to get. I understood the 4 Cs, but it was the 1 S that I could not guess: What style ring would she want to wear for the rest of her life? When we went together, I learned an important lesson — all my ideas were wrong. We made a deal: She could help pick out the ring, but she couldn’t know when I would give it to her.

We ordered a ring. It was ready a few days before Angela was to come to my house for dinner. That ring instantly became the most valuable thing I owned. I kept it with me wherever I went. I hid it when I went to sleep at night. Its value was irrelevant — it was The Ring. In that little box was the key to every dream I had ever had.

Angela came to my house for dinner. I had decided on the Blackened Chicken. I had also bought a computer keyboard. I waited till she arrived, then put the chicken on to cook. By the time the chicken was done, we had filled the entire house with smoke. We opened every door and window we could, and it was still difficult to breathe. What can I say; I know how to make an impression.

After dinner, I told Angela I had a present for her. I retrieved the keyboard, which I had gift wrapped, and gave it to her. She opened it, and looked at the box with a puzzled expression.

Open the box,” I said.

No doubt expecting to find something other than a keyboard, she opened the box and found… a keyboard. The puzzled expression continued.

This is so I will qualify,” I said.

She continued to look at the keyboard, and finally noticed. I had rearranged the keys so that M, A, B, R, and Y were the left-most characters on the center line of text.

She smiled — that smile that was the first thing I ever noticed about her. I reached into the end table next to me and pulled out the ring box.

No, I did not get on one knee. I had made the conscious decision not to. This moment was not about grand gestures or clichés; it was about honest-to-goodness feelings between two equals who had taken a slow, winding road to love. So, I sat next to her on the couch, held her hands, and looked her in the eyes. I had prepared two different speeches, and in that moment, what came out was a barely comprehensible combination of the two. I told her how much I love her, how much better my life is with her, how I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. And, somewhere in there, I asked her to marry me.

She told me, “Yeah.”

The memories we find are not always the ones we go looking for.