The Story of Us
I met her by chance four years ago when she was only a name. It was a humid summer night on a college campus in Long Island when her name came up in conversation. My questions to learn more about her were answered with, “… she’s taken”. I unknowingly waited almost four years until I found her again. Thank you Mark Zuckerberg. She had visited her cousin in Southern California and I used that as an opportunity to see if she was worth it, far too often I invested my time and energy in women that I simply was better off leaving out of my life rather than keeping in. With her, it started off as a curiosity and it became an infatuation. What began as terse ten minute conversations when she had time, became adrenaline driven, sleep deprived nights of intimate confessions and childhood stories in which we both looked forward to. She stubbornly committed herself to the stereotypical “independent female” façade; the “i-don’t-need-anyone-i-just-want-to-be-friends” treatment. It was the trademark of self-respecting, self-reliant women everywhere. Despite her best efforts to dissuade me, her poor attempt to emotional separation was met by my relentless pursuit to reveal who she really was rather than who she was pretending to be. I saw right through it all. She told me she was only interested in conversation. In the beginning, our conversations would only go for a few minutes at a time but then minutes would grow into hours, hours turned into days, days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months became a lifelong commitment to one another. It was reminiscent of a Nicholas Sparks book: the love between a Marine and a beautiful, young woman, separated by hundreds of miles, living on two different coasts, only to find each other after several years of never speaking. The unknown, the overwhelming uncertainty was feared but delightful. We both took turns visiting each other; I flew to New York City or she would fly to California. The first time I ever laid my eyes on her, was the day I landed in LaGuardia, on my first trip to see her. She was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator by the baggage claim; her hair beautifully straight down, her clothes neatly pressed, her eyes alit with both anxiety and excitement. What would have seemed as an apprehensive first impression was in fact graceful and enchanting, as if we knew each other forever. When we would see each other, it was as if we had never left to begin with. That first night I visited her, it seemed as if we walked to every possible destination the city had to offer: Times Square, Five Points, Astoria, Harlem, the West Side and East Side of Manhattan. We explored the city, while exploring the qualities of each other. One evening in particular we found an empty table in Herald Square. The square was eerily void of people, it was only her and I and a box of Cupcakes by Melissa. As we went back and forth sharing stories and which flavors were the best, the words “I Love You” slipped out of my mouth. Those words were as genuine as the night itself; they were not crowded, they were not rushed, they were simply the perfect words to highlight a perfect evening. Time stood still at that very moment and my heart took a picture of a memory that will last forever. Our love for each other grew, with all of its imperfections and with every passing day; until the day that I almost lost her. Nine o’clock in the morning in New York City is six o’clock in the morning in California. That morning, her mother’s phone call awoke me and her words of trepidation destroyed me. As her mother went into detail, I was driven closer to emotional collapse: the woman that I loved was stabbed and I was helpless. The moment she needed me the most I was not there. When her mother finally hung up, I basically fell to the floor; my knees raised towards me, sitting with my back against the wall and I wept. I cried out of anger, I also cried out of fear; fear that I would lose her, anger in the fact that someone tried to take her away. As a Marine it is engrained into you that emotion is a show of weakness however I am also a man. As a man, on that day my soul was taken from me. However, I would stop at nothing to get it back. Within the hour I was on the first plane from San Diego to New York City. The flights to New York City were always filled with excitement and the flights never seemed long enough. On that day that I raced across the country to get to her, that flight was the most challenging moment of my life because for six long arduous hours I had no idea what had become of her. When I landed in LaGuardia, a FDNY paramedic truck was standing by to take me to her hospital. As the streetlights flashed across my face as we sped through the city, I prayed in silence asking God to save her. The truck stopped in the hospital entrance, I raced up the stairs to her floor. Still in uniform, with combat boots tightly laced, I was met by the comforting embrace of her parents, followed with the words “… She’s okay”. I opened the door to her room and there she laid, her body in pain but her spirit stronger than mine could ever hope to be. I walked to her bedside and put my arms around her, my head nestled against her neck, kissing her cheek, whispering, “… Ilove you”. I told her, “I thought I almost lost you” and she replied, “I know. I thought I almost lost you too”. It was at that very moment that I knew I was meant to spend the rest of my life with her. I was convinced that it was God, not chance, that saved her for me. I promised myself that I would never leave her side again. Her family left the hospital and in her room I remained. I washed her hair with a small cup of water and towel, I changed the heat packs that ran cold so that she would not be in pain, I woke up at any hour of the night to call the nurse to tend to her; love is not just simply words, but it is defined by action. That moment in our lives, despite the emotional anguish it caused, taught me what the meaning of love is. Love is almost losing the one you care for the most, to see them be given a second chance and to be blessed with a lifetime spent with the one you can never live without. Outside her hospital room, I asked her mother and father for their blessing, for their daughter’s hand in marriage. They replied, “We could never imagine her with anyone else”. She finally regained her strength back, was discharged from the hospital and I was scheduled to leave back to California. However, before I left New York that day, I had already planned what was going to happen when I eventually would return: I would ask her to marry me. Several months passed and it was Thanksgiving weekend. After visiting our families in upstate New York and Connecticut, we returned to her apartment in Queens and I acted as if were just another trip to visit her. With scrabble pieces in hand; I had only several hours to place two letters, in seven different locations, all before having to take the uptown train to Manhattan to walk her home from work. When I met up with her, the words “scavenger hunt” made her suspicious but she was up to the task, then I made it more interesting: she had only three hours to find all of the pieces. The letters were in small sealed white envelopes, each with a corresponding number written on it indicating the sequence of the spelling: 14 letters in “Will You Marry Me”, seven envelopes, two letters in each envelope. Our first stop was Herald Square; it was where I first said “I love you”. The MoMa was our second stop, it was our first trip together to the one place we both always wanted to go to but never had the chance to visit; we took pictures in its fountain garden and visited all the galleries. The MoMa is a memory that was both serene and captivating, not so much based on the exhibits as it was on how we looked at each other. We then raced to Washington Square Park, where on one summer night, having just finished leaving a jazz club in Greenwich Village, we walked through the Washington Square Arch and promised to always love and respect one another. The trains were running late forcing a change of plans, (our feet did not mind), therefore we had to skip the last three locations and get to Central Park.For those that are curious, the fourth location was the Love Street Café in Astoria, where we both fell in love with their vanilla chai lattes and nutella/banana slice sandwiches that had become synonymous with her morning commute when I would walk her to the train station. The café was less “café” than it was a sanctuary from the world, where we could sit for hours and simply get lost in conversation. The fifth location, “Five Points”, is where she surprised me on my first visit to see her; she knew my adoration for street art and it was symbolic of not only her thoughtfulness but her intuitive willingness to make lasting memories. The sixth location was Cornell Presbyterian Hospital, in which its significance is more profound than just her stay there. It was significant for the walks that I took with her to regain her strength, the adventure I took her on (without her mother knowing) to the basement cafeteria so that she could try food that was not of the “hospital” variety and sneaking her into the courtyard that secluded her from the news cameras and allowed her to see the outside world again. We finally made it to the Conservatory Garden of Central Park, where I walked her to an empty fountain’s edge, all seven envelopes in hand. She opened each envelope in numerical order, placing the wooden letters across the granite edge, stopping at the word “you”. She looked at me and I teased her to keep going. At “marry” she placed her left hand across her mouth. At “me” she began to cry. I then dropped to one knee. Even though I practiced this moment endlessly, I struggled to find the words to say as I fought back the sudden rush of emotion. Finally, I found the words to say, “Sabatha, never in my life have I ever been so in love with someone as I am with you. I cannot see myself without you, will you marry me?” to which she replied with a tearful, “Yes”. I opened the red jewelry box and in it was her custom designed ring. A white gold band with diamonds along the band, a brilliantly cut, vibrant blue Sapphire centered on top, flanked by two round cut diamond solitaires. She always spoke of her idea of what the “perfect” ring would be; little did she know I was taking note of every detail. I made a promise to myself that I was not leaving to California without her; three days later we were married in City Hall, in a private ceremony. That night we had a farewell dinner with our families, at our favorite restaurant in Queens. My father made toasts over glasses of sangria and plates of pernil and mofongo; he blessed our marriage and shed tears of happiness, my mother followed suit. It was a moment that will remain with me for the rest of my life; the moment that my parents loved me for the man that I had become, due to the woman that made me a better man. The next morning we packed her things and said farewell to our family, friends and a city that helped us fall in love with each other. I had spent an entire lifetime never knowing what it meant to truly love someone, yet here I was holding her hand. We met in the most unconventional of designs, we experienced unthinkable hardships and incredible bliss yet through it all we remained true to ourselves and to each other.