It was an out-of-body experience. His emotions came from a place so deep there was a delay in articulating them, as if they were radio signals from outer space. The strange sensation of being outside himself had been building for weeks.
His girlfriend had no idea he was going to ask her to marry him. She went about their morning routine, not suspecting a thing. He went along as normal, but in the back of his mind he sensed ripples from his decision stirring like a wave that would follow him the rest of his life. The morning energy in the soft breeze by the garden rose through him like steam from the coffee mug.
How would he ask her? He had only faint ideas. There was a simple gold ring in his desk drawer. It belonged to Mandi’s great-grandmother, but it bothered him that he didn’t have a diamond. Should he get a card? Flowers? He would have to come up with an excuse to go to the grocery store alone.
In the meantime there was still the garden to till. Every year, they’d done the work together since Mandi bought the place in 2010. The little patch of back-breaking soil had taken on a symbolic status. He wanted to ask her there, but how?
Mandi was already pulling weeds in the yard. He watched her from his office window. He told her he needed to work on some writing. That was sort of true. He was contemplating his words for the question.
“I’m never going to get married,” he told his dad when he was 13 years old, witnessing divorce all around him.
Yet here he was.
In the weeks leading up, he had asked Mandi’s parents if there was a family ring he could have. He was too far in debt to buy a diamond — going into further debt wouldn’t be much of a present from a future husband.
The ring was mailed to a different address so Mandi wouldn’t intercept it. In the letter he’d told her parents he wasn’t sure how or when he’d pop the question, but he wanted to do it “sooner than later.” He needed a ring to feel worthy.
“What is this, an engagement ring?” his co-worker ribbed, handing him a small package one Tuesday.
He didn’t know how to respond. His buttoned lips formed a grin.
“It is? It is!” yelped his colleague.
Once he had the ring in his hand, he knew he was ready. ASAP. He and Mandi already planned to dig the garden that weekend. Yes. That was when he would do it.
The rest of the week, he saw the relationship through new eyes. He noticed how they argued, resolved things, laughed together and confided in each other. Every flutter of doubt was replaced with a firm reassurance, and now the feeling had intensified to that very moment, sitting at his desk Saturday morning. He watched her in the garden, enchanted. The air seemed to swell with trumpeting angels.
He was grateful to savor the golden taste as he worked all day, swinging the pickax into the red clay at his feet. He stole smiling glances at her as they worked, and by 5 o’clock the sweaty labor was done.
“I’m going to the store,” he hollered up the stairs. So far, all she knew is that he wanted to make a special dinner. He did such things often enough that she didn’t suspect anything very unusual.
He returned and tiptoed to the kitchen. Mandi was in the shower as hoped. He fetched the flowers and card. Not wasting a second, he snipped the roses and Baby’s Breath into the fastest arrangement he’d ever done, stabbing thumbs on thorns in the haste.
The shower shut off upstairs. Time was draining. He wrote in the card: “My Dear Love, please meet me in the garden ...” and placed it by the roses.
At the sound of footsteps on the stairs, he grabbed his journal and snuck outside barefoot.
Suddenly he realized she might not open the card without him there. For the second time that day, he crossed his fingers until she found him.
Everything I was feeling caught up to me as I read my words to her. My tongue felt thick and heavy. Some of the feeling squeezed into tears. Lost for what else to do, I dropped to a knee, sinking into the black soil. I pulled the ring from my pocket ...
Mandi swayed back. Her face flushed white. There was a pause. Then it caught up to her. Tears came.
“Yes ... yes,” she said, shaking.
And since then, dear readers, I’m still shaking. I suspect I will never feel the same as before, and that is a beautiful thought.
Here’s to Love. It continues to bring me all the best in life!
— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Derek Franz lives in Carbondale and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.