DC widow blog writer Marjorie Brimley at kitchen counter with partner
Love and Chris

Kitchen Counter

The kitchen is my favorite room in my house.

About a year before Shawn died, we remodeled part of the house, putting in a new kitchen with more light and a few more cabinets. I had never been a big cook, but I was excited about the project. I thought that having a nicer space might help me improve my culinary skills.

Things didn’t quite go as planned. The kids were still so small and Shawn was working on building a new business and my teaching job was picking up, and there wasn’t any time. I figured once Tommy was in full-time preschool, I’d be able to really work on my new goal. But then Shawn got sick and food became an afterthought. As he was dying, the kitchen was the place where I’d meet Michelle and Becky and try and figure out the logistics of my life. It was where I told my dad that Shawn was going to die and it was where my friends were standing late that night when I came home once he was gone. The first year of widowhood, it was where I often cried with my friends and my dad.

But it hasn’t been only sadness permeating my kitchen over the past three years. It’s also been the place where I grew, bit by bit. It was where I first applied to a new job. I didn’t get it, but it was a start. It was where I first signed up for online dating, which was a disaster, but it was an important step in reclaiming my personal life. It was where I did my finances and called the repair men and learned to unclog a drain on YouTube. It was also where, slowly, I started to cook a bit more, re-discovering the smells and tastes I knew I once loved.

I healed in my kitchen.

It was never a perfect healing, of course, but in some ways, as the kitchen became mine – as I cooked and cleaned and did informal therapy with my friends in that space – I realized that I had arrived in a place that was mostly happy. The kitchen was the place I liked to be after a long day of teaching and the spot where I sat as I wrote in the pre-dawn hours last winter. In the spring, as Covid ravaged the world, I found refuge in my kitchen. It was a space where I played the music as loud as I could, wrapped my arms around my kids, and cooked them something warm.

It was also where I sat many nights as I talked on the phone to Chris in the early days of our relationship. It was where I danced by myself as I felt the dizziness of new love and it was where the kids FaceTimed with Chris in the weeks before he arrived. It was where he picked me up, that first night he was here, spun me around and said, “I love you.”

And it is where every Friday night since the start of the pandemic, I’ve made pizza. First, just for the kids, but then for Chris as well.

There’s something about the ritual that I love. The dust of the flour always hangs in the air as I stretch out the dough, and the cheese usually burns a bit on the pizza stone, but I love the feel and the smell of all of it. And though I’m often covered in tomato sauce and exhausted from a week of online teaching and homeschool learning, Chris and I find refuge in those evenings. In fact, we have made it our weekly date night throughout the pandemic. I make the pizzas and he serves me a gin and tonic, and then we feed the kids before setting places at the counter just for the two of us.

It is my favorite time every week.

Three weeks ago, as I was finishing the meal for the kids, I looked in our fridge and realized that I didn’t really have any toppings for the pizza. “Um….we’ve got some old pepperoni,” I offered to Chris.

He smiled at me and said, “I’m so in love with you.”

I laughed a bit, because it was a funny response to my statement.
“Pepperoni it is!” I said, “I love you too.”

I made the pizza and as we waited for it to cool, we sat down at the counter. “Should we make a toast?” I asked.

“Yes, we should,” he said and smirked, just a little.

“I love that we’re here, right now,” he began. I was confused, a bit. Weren’t we always here on Friday night?

And then he said a million sweet things to me about our love and our lives. How he had never been happier and how our love was different from anything he’d ever felt and how he wanted to be with me forever and ever and it was only at the end of the speech – right before he said it – that I realized what he was saying.

“Will you marry me?”

I cried and I laughed and I managed to choke out, “yes, I will!”

(Yes, there are photos. I just found out about them on Christmas morning. Chris’s sister Becky stood in the neighbor’s yard in the rain with her husband Josh and took them that night.)

I was dumbstruck, really. How was this even real? How was it that this man – the one who I’d laughed with for years before confessing my long-standing crush, the one who I’d always considered was off-limits because he was my best friend’s brother – how was he now asking me to marry him? How had he hung on through the early day of the pandemic and the chaos of joining a house with three young kids and the difficult conversations about loss that we had, and he still wanted to be with me? How had I gotten so lucky to find him – someone who made me this happy – and how was it that he loved me back….and also wanted to marry me?

It left me mostly speechless.

He picked me up and spun me around the kitchen and we were both so full of each other that three weeks later, neither of us can really remember all the things that we said.

But I remember what came next. “Should we tell the kids?” I asked him. Without saying anything, Chris got up and yelled down the stairs, “she said yes!”

Wait. Did they already know? I asked him and he said, “Claire did.”

Before I could react, the three of them bounded up the stairs, smashing us into one big hug in the kitchen. Everyone was jumping up and down and screaming and hanging on us so much that I could barely stand.

Later, when I asked Chris about the proposal, he said that he’d told Claire the night before. “You asked an 11-year-old girl to keep this proposal a secret for 24 hours?” I was incredulous. “She was my co-conspirator,” he said, a smile on his face. “I wanted her to be a part of it. I knew I couldn’t tell the boys, but I wanted her to know that I trusted her with this big secret. For the whole day, it was our surprise together.”

I think if I had imagined what a proposal would look like at age 11, I would have imagined someone getting down on one knee in front of the Eiffel Tower, or something similarly picturesque. I think I’d imagine that the perfect scene would unfold in a certain cliched romantic way. And yes, those sorts of proposals are beautiful and I’m sure everyone feels joyful in the moments after an engagement.

But my daughter will forever have a different image in her mind when she thinks about marriage. She will know that perfect happiness can be right there in front of you, right there in the kitchen.

After we all calmed down a little bit, Claire looked at me and at Chris, and with the biggest smile on her face, she said, “you’re getting married!”

Chris gripped my hand and we laughed and kissed and then the five of us jumped up and down again in the kitchen, with the smell of pepperoni pizza in the air.

Image Credit: Becky Hale Photography.

40 Comments

  • Eva Spiegel

    I just love this with all of my heart ❤️ and my tears are flowing in happiness for you and with hope that my widow life will bring such love

    • M Brimley

      Thank you! And yes, I hope that my story lets other widows see that there are many paths forward to happiness, including the one I took.

    • Emily Boggs

      Marjorie, you are a beautiful writer, with a beautiful story that has touched the lives of so many. Thank you for sharing your grief and your joy over the past few years and making it okay to express emotions publicly. You are an inspiration and deserve the greatest happiness in your next chapter.

  • Ufuoma

    Congrats to you Marjorie. This is so beautiful and lovely. I am so happy for you.
    I enjoy that you have shared your story and heart since your loss.

    Merry Christmas to you and your lovely family.

  • Marlene Manto

    Congratulations…I am so happy for you. We have walked this grieving journey alongside each other as the time frames are similar, but I cannot imagine I will have another shot at being married. That’s OK…..you quite a few years younger than me, and so much of your life is still ahead of you.
    All the best for making new memories, and slowly building your new life. You deserve every moment of happiness.
    Marlene
    (aftertheheartbreak.com)

    • M Brimley

      Thank you so much! I know you’ve also been on your own journey and I really appreciate you sharing it with the world as well.

  • Marcia

    This is the loveliest life affirming moment of my holiday season. And maybe the same for Covid 2020. Congratulations to your entire family as you take the next step into the future (wipes tears).

  • marge_dmv

    Congratulations! This brought me to tears of joy and hope for you and Chris and your kids, as well as perhaps a bit of my own hope for the future as a fellow young widow with kids, wondering if or how it will ever happen again… Big hugs and lots of love to you and the new family you are forming!

    • M Brimley

      Thank you! And yes, I hope that whatever I write can be somewhat helpful. Everyone’s story is different, but there is so much that can be good after tragedy.

  • Henry

    Somehow, since the episode of the diamond earrings, I have rather expected that something like this would happen eventually. How beautiful!!!!!!!!!! What I particularly liked was how Chris made Claire a co-conspirator. It says a lot about their relationship. You, Marjorie, are not the only one Chris is in love with!

  • Carol Murray

    Well, someone is cutting onions in here.

    Beyond thrilled for all of you! Congratulations. Finally, something good to come out of 2020!!

  • Dolores

    I am so, so happy for you and your lovely family, and I just know that so many of your readers are, too. I can’t stop crying….Claire keeping the secret, Chris’s cryptic “speechifying,” Becky taking the amazing photos. All in the kitchen. The kitchen you built with Shawn. I know it’s what he wanted for you. He wanted you to be happy and cared for again. He wanted many, many more Merry Christmases for you. Happy New Year, Marjorie.

  • Babetet

    Wow! I am so happy you found each other. You are a gifted storyteller and I love reading your stories. Sometimes I go back in case I might have missed one. I have learned so much from you since I am in the illness phase. I have learned to treasure every minute, especially cooking together and simple silence. We often do not even need words to communicate. One look says it all.

  • Mariya

    Hi Marjorie, this is my very first comment on your blog although it’s been my lifeline for most of 2020 since becoming a widow and a solo parent. I am sincerely happy for you and your family. You have put in so much effort to rebuild. No need to ask how you got this lucky. This is all you.
    Thank you for bravely sharing your most vulnerable moments to help this community. You are an inspiration.

  • Sharyn Peavey

    I am so glad you wrote this. It gives me a huge insight into your relationship with Chris. As your soon to be wedding photographer I want to know you and understand the story behind the faces. This blog post just did that! Oh man, if only more people would do this, have blogs. It is like the modern way to share the moments of our hearts, like the way people, myself included, used to write letters to loved ones. But your blog is a letter to all who care to read, not addressed to just one person. I read this while sitting at my kitchen table with my Imac on the table, where it has lived since the pandemic started. So glad Becky was able to capture the shots. I asked Chris on FB who did. The last picture he posted of your daughter hugging you all, really hit me in my soul. I am a divorced mom, and not remarried. And wow. I look forward to reading more from you. I look forward meeting you and your kids. I already have deep appreciation for the Hales! Now I have the good fortune to be able to know your family, even if for just one big long intimate day!

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