My grandparents met in 1958 in Havana. It was the end of a night out and as they were leaving separate nightclubs with their respective groups of friends, they ended up on the same street corner waiting to cross the same street. They spoke and as their friends realized they were still talking after they crossed, the rest intermingled. My grandma was 22 and had just finished college and my grandpa was in the military then; she didn’t even live in Havana then, she was just visiting with some friends. She had a boyfriend of almost two years but she gave my grandpa her phone number anyways. They had spoken for maybe ten minutes when they parted ways. Without knowing exactly why, she called the boyfriend when she got back to her hotel and ended things. A week later, he drove about 400 miles to Santiago to take her on their first date; three months later, they were married and exactly 40 weeks after that, my mother was born. They have been married for 54 years now.
Almost two years ago now, I tearfully walked off a plane into my grandma’s open arms. I’m a good few inches taller than her but she still managed to kiss the top of my head.
“Tell me everything,” she whispered.
I did and she smirked at my predicament, my tear-stained face. She told me this story and I shook my head.
“Things don’t happen like that anymore.” I set my jaw but my bottom lip quivered.
“They don’t really.” She half-smiled as she took a tissue to my face. “But whatever happens happens when you’re ready for it so don’t miss your whole life by worrying about the past. With some things, you can only mess them up if you want to. Don’t think your way out of what’s coming.” Haven’t, won’t.
In the same way that my grandma knew and broke up with her boyfriend before even going on a date with my grandpa, I knew that everything with Ian would eventually lead to where we are today. The thing is that knowing that and getting there are two very different things. It hasn’t even been that long but the work that has gone into being ready for this, for my life, has taken more work than I can possibly explain. I’ve been working on myself for a while, before I even met Ian, and it’s only now that I can see what that work has been for, that is, my life.
My issues weren’t even just with men but with my parents, losing my aunt, losing myself, the ever-painful past that I held onto for dear life because I couldn’t imagine opening myself up to new things that could be possibly worse. I was 23 when my aunt passed away and I can tell you that something inside me died that day, mostly a lot of the defenses I had built over several long, bitter years. When you lose the most important person to you in the world and you don’t immediately crumble, you realize that the world can’t really break you without your permission; you realize you’re the only thing holding you back from the things you want. I began working with the help of my loved ones and my godsend of a therapist to fix all the broken parts of me. I don’t say broken in any kind of negative sense but rather in the honest sense that life can mess us up and after a while the pieces of us don’t add up how they should anymore. I can honestly say that I am proud of myself for this work. It is so easy to be a victim, it is so easy to blame everyone else for your problems and not do a damn thing to make your life better. There comes a point where you have to recognize the ways you’ve been hurt by others but realize that you have the power and ability to change how you react to those things, to how you want to feel and live every day.
By the time I met Ian, I was on my way to working on myself. In the same way I believe that he’s my person, I also recognize that timing was perfect and I was ready for him, for this, in my life. In the past, I had hoped exes were my person and really tried to believe that despite the doubts I felt inside. With so little respect and understanding of myself then, I couldn’t imagine that there was someone perfect for me, that there could be someone who I knew without a shadow of a doubt was meant for me despite assurances from my grandma, from my best friend. When I tell you that I never saw him coming, I mean it; I couldn’t have imagined even after so much work on myself that I would be as happy as I am with him, with myself now that I’m with him. Ian didn’t fix me at all, I fixed myself but he was my final exam to prove to myself that I’m the woman I’ve always wanted to be, that I never thought I would be. That’s not to say we don’t have bad moments but at the end of the day, he’s the one I want to work through bad moments with, he’s the one I want to face the world with.
The first part of the proposal happened over time with Ian, as sweet as ever, often turning to me and saying, “I can’t wait to be your husband,” and me in the most me way possible replying, “Pfft, I haven’t been proposed to yet!” because, well, I’m difficult. He assured me that he had a plan and I left it alone for a while but as soon as I got to Canada, the banter about this seemed more and more real, more urgent. This whole part of it came to a head one night in which we were, well, high as kites, euphoric but absolutely lucid and remembering everything the next day. We got into a highly emotional conversation beginning with a misunderstanding and just leading into an outpouring of emotion, that was unexpected, of this basic sentiment: I think you’re beautiful but it’s impossible to make you understand that if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely.
“Please don’t shut me out,” he said.
I realized at that moment that sometimes that old habit of my defenses still reared its head and as I looked at Ian, I could feel it melt away forever because while I might not be perfect in many ways, I’m perfect for him and he wasn’t going anywhere. I shut up and let him talk and he said all of the things you say to the person you want to spend your life with. I won’t share those here because it belongs to us but when I tell you, as someone who is picky about words, that there has never been a more perfect proposal, a more perfect offer of love and life, I really mean it.
He told me what his plan had been so I could decide if I liked it, that he was going to take me to Lake Huron by his mom’s house at sunset, to the place he had taken photos of at sunset for me when we were first dating and he was going to show me the ring he had made for me and ask me to be his wife. He left it up to me and said we could still do that or he could go get the ring right then because he’d been dying to give it to me, to ask me to be his wife since the day he met me.
“Don’t give me the ring now, I’m so high!” I replied and we decided to go ahead with the plan. I can’t speak for Ian but I can honestly say that I fell asleep that night feeling closer to someone else than I ever have in my life.
We drove to Ian’s hometown the next day and had a great time looking at where he grew up and eating fish and chips and ruining everyone’s anticipation for the proposal which everyone knew about. I joked that I could still say no and Ian warned me that the ring was either going on my finger or into the lake. After a great day and evening, we awkwardly said goodbye to everyone and went down to the lake.
“Did you remember the ring?” I asked because even when someone is going to ask me to spend my life with him, I can’t not sass.
Ian’s plan of having me sit on a big beach chair was foiled when they weren’t where he expected them to be (“where are the fucking chairs?” he said a bit frantically) and so I sat on a big rock with my back to the setting sun. We quickly realized there was little to say that we hadn’t already said, that hadn’t been set in stone, that hadn’t been done for since day one and so he showed me the ring and asked me to marry him. I will say that I reached for the ring in the process of saying yes but Ian claims I tried to grab it before answering.
“YOU HAVE TO SAY YES FIRST,” he said, and I quickly answered yes, remembering his earlier threats of sending my beautiful grey diamond into Lake Huron.
We kissed and hugged and Ian swatted mosquitos out of his face and it was perfect. I’ve never been one for WILL YOU MARRY ME in skywriting or written in seashells or jelly beans or whatever. I’ve never cared about the spectacle as much as I have cared and hoped that I would get to spend my life with someone as wonderful as Ian. I called my family and my best friends and we changed our relationship status on Facebook (to so many alerts!!) and we had a lot of champagne with loved ones. Later that night, we had a midnight snack parked in the car together, just the two of us. It was exciting and it was perfect but it was mostly just right; I’m not sure anything else has felt as right.
After spending the next day at the Scottish festival, we drove back to Guelph and listened to Remain in Light while we talked about, well, everything and watched the sun set. I looked straight forward as one specific song played and squeezed Ian’s hand tight. The thing is, “you may find yourself” is a sentiment of not only surprise but hope. You may find yourself driving to what will soon be your home with your new fiancé in love not only with him but with your whole life. You may find yourself someone’s beautiful soon-to-be wife and believe it every time he says it. You may find yourself at peace, comfortable with but no longer attached to the past. You may find yourself in the most painful ways possible, all to make it somewhere entirely different than you ever expected. You may find yourself better and more yourself than you’ve been. You may find yourself home.