One of my favorite parts of my day is after my boys fall asleep and I go into Claire’s room and sit on her bed. Sometimes we both read silently, and other times she tells me about the dramas of fourth grade or other things that are on her mind. One day last week, when we were quietly reading, she looked up from her book and said, “Mama, tell me about the day that Daddy asked you to marry him.”
I smiled. I have told her the story many times, but she loves to hear it.
“Well, baby, we were in Costa Rica, where we were living at the time,” I said. “We were staying in a little hotel on the beach.”
“Is that where you lived?” she asked.
“No,” I told her, “we lived in the mountains, but we were at the beach on a vacation. Daddy was acting a bit funny on that trip, and I found out later it was because he was nervous about asking me to marry him.”
“How did he ask you?” Claire looked at me earnestly. She knew this part of the story, but I smiled and indulged her.
“Well, we woke up really early to watch the sunrise. We never did that, because Daddy wasn’t a morning person. But he said he really wanted to see it. So we walked out on the beach and he wasn’t talking very much. Then he took both my hands in his and took a big breath.”
Claire’s eyes were shining. I could see her picturing it in her mind.
I was picturing it in my mind too. “Then he got down on one knee and told me that he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. And then he said, ‘will you be my wife?'”
I looked at Claire. “And I said yes!” I said with a smile. I loved this part of the story. She knew what was coming next.
“And then he gave you a ring!” she said.
“Well, it wasn’t just any ring,” I said. “Dad couldn’t get the real ring down to Costa Rica, so he bought a ring on the side of the road for $1.25. It was made out of a coconut shell.”
She laughed. “A coconut!?”
“Yep,” I said, “and I loved it. I wore it for a long time. It was special to me because it stood for what really mattered – that Daddy wanted to marry me and I wanted to marry him.”
She laughed a little longer about the fact that I wore around a coconut ring and we talked about what it feels like when you decide to get married. Then she looked at me with big eyes and asked, “Did Dad cry too when he asked you to marry him?”
I paused. I saw the scene in my mind – the one from my life more than a decade and a half ago – and I thought about what Shawn’s face looked like. I could see his expression, earnest, looking at me. I could feel his sweaty hands holding mine.
But I did not know if he was crying.
“I don’t know,” I told Claire, “I can’t remember.”
She let it go. But I couldn’t. I left her room that night and thought again about that moment on the beach in Costa Rica. Had he been crying? Had I been crying? Or were we both just smiling and giddy?
I’m a bit more emotional than usual this month, so it sent me into a tailspin that night. I started to cry thinking about that night on the beach and then the haziness that surrounded the memory. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I remember this anymore? Why didn’t I relive this moment more often with Shawn, in the way that we relived the births of our children or the first night we did karaoke together?
Try as I could, I didn’t remember.
I felt terrible. Because here’s the thing – if I forget, it’s gone. There was no one else there, except him. If I lose that day in my mind, I lose another piece of him.
So I sat in my bed and I replayed the moment that he got down on one knee. I did it again and again and again.
You know what?
I realized I really, truly couldn’t remember. That tiny detail – that small piece of the story – it is gone. Maybe forever.