By Sue Conant
This is the day. Our 40th Anniversary. I love Anniversaries. I love Danial. 40 years together, I guess it is almost 43 counting the dating years. It’s still dark, must still be early. Why is bed always so much more comfortable in the morning then when I’m trying to get to sleep? I don’t have to get up just yet.
I remember the first time I saw him. A blind date! What are the odds of finding a soul mate on a blind date? A Navy man. Not sure what mom thought about the date. I was a senior in high school and had not dated. I think I was good looking enough but somehow couldn’t talk to the boys. I felt invisible. A blind date was just what I needed. What he needed too! If I think I was shy, he was 10 times worse. I did 99% of the talking. He was a very good listener. I liked his brown eyes and the feeling of peace I had and still have in his presence. He gave me a feeling of ease and balance. How did I know that? He still does. Love that man. Mmm, I also love this pillow!
He had not dated either. I think it’s funny our first date was going to a rodeo. Neither of us had ever been to a rodeo. Never thought about going to a rodeo! I need to ask him if he paid for the tickets. We will do it again one year. It was first date, first kiss for both of us. It was a hell of a first kiss too! Not just a casual thing. I wonder if he thought I was easy. I should ask him. I wonder how he learned to French kiss like that? I should ask him! It was my friend’s boyfriend that set up date number two. I’m not sure he would have asked me himself. Second date was dinner at Valentino’s and parking and more kissing. I guess I was easy!
Then those years of letters. My mom must have loved the fact my boyfriend was in Florida and I was in Nebraska. We had two dates. Then it was letters. I remember the first dozen roses I got on my birthday a month after the two dates. By the time he was home on leave two months later we were writing every day. They read like a diary. I had Chile for dinner and a test in biology. Had to. Long distance in the “old days”, ka ching ka ching. Who was going to pay for that? Him on a pay phone. Our kids don’t even know what a pay phone is!
I have all those letters. I read them now and don’t even remember some of the events we wrote to each other about. We really learned so much about each other. I think I learned more than if we had been together. I remember learning that he doesn’t like raisins. I never make him eat raisins. I am his raisin protector. He had to eat raisin oatmeal cookies and milk in kindergarten. He was forced to eat the cookies and soon learned how to sneak the crumbled cookie into the carton. I told him about my big imaginary life as a kid. My bike was never a bike. It was Stormy, the gleaming black horse with a streaming mane and tail. I never told anyone that. When he told me he liked the movie Airplane I should have run the other way, but I love that dorky sense of humor. We need to watch that again. Maybe tonight!
He knows my favorite song is “Time in a Bottle”. It was the first song I learned to play on the guitar. I have never sung for anyone, but I sang it for him. He knows why I don’t sing in public. After I met him the song seemed to sum things up for us. Never enough time together. I never knew this bed was so comfortable.
Then there was that year at sea. A year of just letters. No phone calls, no leave. I met him in Norfolk with his parents. Nimitz came slowly into port with sailboats surrounding it, water cannons shooting streams of water at it! at a safe distance of course! It was a beautiful, majestic site. Aircraft carriers are huge! What a feeling waiting to see him after a year. All the sailors were in white dress uniforms standing at attention lining the deck of the ship and he was one of them. They all looked alike!
Somehow, we found each other. What did we do without cell phones? Another first kiss. He did it then and there. The whole one knee bit. He is a dork. He had saved and had a diamond ring for me. Yes, it was small, but I love it to this day.
It is still early. Still dark outside. I must really have woken early. I ordered a cake for him, of course it has hearts on it and am making lasagna, his favorite. I love to remember our wedding day. We planned it six months after he returned from sea. Of course, he had to go back to Florida. I was in college now. He was going to be out of the service by then. That was the logical thing to do. I would finish college and he could go on his GI bill. Instead of waiting we got married right away. I guess we followed our hearts. We did make our lives a bit more challenging. He worked and does work so hard. Oh, to be in love! I think I am still getting butterflies in my stomach! We added the days we had been together over the two and a half years we had been dating and had 60 days face to face. Not many. So, we got married.
I quit school. Moved to Florida. I wonder to this day what it would have been like to have had a career. We did not have much of a wedding. Couldn’t afford much. Mom blessed me when she gave me dad’s wedding band. They exchanged vows and rings on their 50th anniversary and she gave me dad’s first ring. I loved seeing that ring on Danial’s hand. It fit perfectly too!
Then came kids. I love our kids. Danial loves them too. We both love being parents. Being a family. We celebrated anniversary one with a two-month-old Grace and anniversary two waiting on the arrival of Kyle. He came three weeks after anniversary two. We didn’t have much time for being just the two of us either dating or early married life. The kids kept us so busy. Football games and softball games. Band concerts, friends over and carpooling. Then the revolving door of kids moving in and out it has just been the last two years we have been enjoying life as Danial and Naomi, just us two. Dinner together with candlelight. Evening walks. Doing what we want to do. Everyday. I love our kids and our life but what a blast it has been to just be Danial and Naomi. Forty plus years! I really do love him and the kids. Love my life… .
Naomi felt at peace and happy. Her bed had never been so comfortable. Memories of vacations, birthdays, walks on the beach candlelight dinners, and hundreds of others continued to flash through her mind.
Danial stood grasping her hand. Her face was swollen beyond recognition, that face he had kissed and stroked and loved for over 40 years. He had left early for work that morning. He had not wanted to wake her but left a dozen roses on the pillow beside her. He had been watching the clock all day. He had researched and shopped for this ring for over a year now. He had secretly been squirreling every spare dollar away into a separate saving account for five years. He wanted it to be special. He was sure she would love it. Grace and Kyle both gave their approval. They were both on their way. “Hang on Naomi, we all love you! The kids are coming!”
The monitor beside the bed ceased its steady beep beeping and emitted a long continuous tone. Immediately the room swarmed with white coats and equipment.
A nurse took Danial by the elbow trying to guide him from the room. He continued to grasp her hand, tears streaming down his face. “Naomi! Naomi! Stay with me! I love you! I’ll love you forever!”
“Danial, come, please, let them do what they can” the nurse said. Danial let himself be led out of the room and stood watching from the door pleading with God to give them more time, more time. He turned the small square box over and over in his hand.
A doctor that looked like he was in high school looked at the clock. “Ok, that’s it folks. I’ll call it. Time of death, 3:30 P.M.” He scribbled something on a chart and turned to the door and crossed the room.
“I’m sorry Mr. Campbell. The injuries she sustained in the car accident were too severe. There was nothing we could do. I’m so sorry,” the Dr cleared his throat. “You can sit with her as long as you like.”
He placed his hand on Danial’s shoulder as he walked by giving a squeeze. “I really am sorry.”
Danial stood in stunned silence. He gripped the ring box in his hand. There was a huge lump in his throat, and he was afraid if he took a breath that would be all it would take to shake loose the screams of anguish, loss and torrents of tears he was struggling to hold back.
A nurse touched his arm. “Mr. Campbell…. Mr. Campbell? I’m so so sorry. Come, there is a chair by the bed. Sit with her. Are the children on their way?” She gently guided him back into the room. He wasn’t aware his feet were moving as he stumbled with the nurses help into the room. He collapsed into the chair beside the bed.
The nurse walked to the door, her white shoes squeaking on the shiny floor. She gave one look over her shoulder and closed the door. Danial’s breath left him in a gulp and gasp. He rubbed at the tears streaking his face. “It’s our 40th Naomi. It’s always been a special day for us. Every single one since the first. Since I saw you walk down that church aisle. My God! You took my breath away. You have for more than 40 years. You deserved so much more. I wanted you to have a beautiful ring on that day but just couldn’t do it. But I can now.” A sob ripped from his throat. He opened the box and sat looking at the 1 carrot chocolate diamond. It was beautiful. She loved chocolate diamonds. He took the ring from the box. It sparkled in the bright overhead lights. He sat looking at the ring remembering exchanging vows many years ago. Till death do us part. So, this was it. He knew there was no one else for him. He picked up her hand, the hand he had held on that first date, on their wedding day, during and after the births of their children. The hand he had held when they were happy, sad, scared or just watching tv. He slowly slid the ring on her finger. His tears were falling on both of their hands. He bent and kissed the hand, letting his head rest there and let the tears flow.
The door opened and the kind nurse entered. “I’m sorry to bother you Mr. Campbell. The paramedics found this on the floor of the car. They left it at the desk rather than let it go with the car. I’m sorry for your loss.” She gave him a small box, a ring box, and card.
Danial sat looking at the box for several minutes. He could hear the clock on the wall ticking away the seconds that would add up to hours and days without her. This would be her last gift to him. He took a deep breath and opened it. It was his ring. His ring and her father’s ring before it had been his. He had worn it for 39 years, until he lost it in a snowbank. He had slammed the lid of the trunk that day. The ring had flown off his finger and landed in a snowbank. They had both looked for the ring in the bitter cold, pawing at the deep snow. It was like a needle in a haystack but soooo much colder. It was hopeless. They had both watched and looked as the snow melted and retreated that spring. It never turned up. Danial had a habit of twisting his finger absent mindedly and often found himself touching that finger only to find the ring gone. The tan line had not yet disappeared, always a reminder of the missing ring. It had meant so much to both of them. Where and when had she found it?
He placed the simple gold band in the palm of his hand. It looked as good as new. There was something different. Danial picked up the ring between his thumb and fore finger. Squinting, he held it up to the light. There was a new inscription engraved inside the band. “My box is empty”. What does that mean?
He took a deep shaking breath in and opened the card.
Happy Anniversary My Love,
I know how heartbroken you were when you accidently lost the ring. The ring meant a lot to us both; but it was only a ring. I told you over and over again. I know you never believed me when I told you repeatedly that It was ok.
I was putting flowers in the flower bed by the driveway and by now you know what I found. It was nearly impossible to wait until our anniversary to give this back to you. Your hand seemed naked without it. I took it to the jeweler and added something.
Our first years we spent so much time apart. You know my favorite song is Time in a Bottle. I guess that is how I feel. I always will. There will never be enough time for me to spend with you. I will love you forever.
“If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were Answered by you.”
You know the song Danial. We have danced to it every anniversary for 39 years. Tonight, it will be 40.