I was 21 when my boyfriend popped the question.
“Will you marry me?” he asked me one afternoon. We had been talking about our dreams that day, wondering out loud where we wanted to be in the next five, even ten, years of our lives. Before that day, we were simply happy to coast along the easy confines of our two-year relationship.
Ah, the question caught me off guard. As much as I loved the young man before me, until that day, I was never quite sure of where we were really going. And so I pulled out my default response from the wellspring of my insecurities — I giggled. I didn’t quite know what to say right away. Was he serious? Or was he jesting? Did he really mean it?
I looked at his big, earnest eyes and tried to scrutinize the smile lightly playing on his lips. Inside, I was trying to manage the avalanche of emotions that washed over me. And because I hadn’t really yet learned how to love myself then, I threw my weight on the side of levity. I decided he must be joking.
I punched him lightly on the arm — the same arm that has probably received a million punches from me since we were fourteen — and laughed again. “Sure, why not?” I played along.
The truth was, in my heart, I wanted it to be real and I felt disappointed at myself. I wished I had been more courageous. I wished I had possessed his unyielding certainty that we were meant to be. Then again, looking back, perhaps I was the more pragmatic one. We were both just 21. I was still in medical school and he had barely started his first job straight out of college. What did we really know of life then?
If there was one thing, however, that made him different from any other man I had known before, it was his overwhelmingly steadfast belief in the inevitability of our relationship. Despite my fears, my caution, and my always holding back, he never stopped trying to convince me that a “happily ever after” existed for us. In that moment, when my pretend laughter hurt him, he didn’t even seem fazed. He brushed his lips gently against my cheek. “You know I won’t stop asking,” was all he said.
As it turns out, he would finally get his answer a little more than two years later. On September 20 this year, it would be 21 years since that day.
When I look back at those years that stretch all the way to the time we first became friends, I think of all the things that led us to this moment. High school at Pisay. The debate competitions. Junior year’s classroom seating. School council elections (alas, bitter rivals!). High school crushes. College. Separation. Migration. Reunion. In each of these seemingly random life events, we were held together by a friendship that has lasted all of 31 years. Yet beyond the friendship, much of what we have accomplished in our lives is all because of his unwavering belief in who and what we could be together. Such is the strength of his convictions that I have no cause to believe anything else but his love for me.
I don’t know what else lies ahead in the story of our lives. I am grateful for each and every second of the last 21 years. It hasn’t always been an easy journey for us but whenever I see a stormy patch ahead, I think of this conversation we had a couple of years ago. On our 19th anniversary, I asked my husband this question: What do you like best about the last 19 years?
He mulled over the question. Then, he looked at me straight in the eyes as he raised a finger and another. “Alex… and Alphonse,” he finally said. Our sons.
He must have seen a hint of disappointment through my wary smile. Was I expecting another answer? Something more romantic and more “over the moon,” maybe? Just as I was about to jump on what I perceived to be a “safe” answer, he said with a patient smile, “You and I are a constant. That would have been the easy answer.”
Thank you for never ever letting me forget, Anthony.
(Originally published in HerWord.com, September 12, 2012)