Midway through the summer between Junior and Senior year of high school, Jennie and I found ourselves on a trip in South Texas. We had to drive back home to Oklahoma. It was just us; no parents, no adults, and just miles upon miles of open road running the central Texas prairie. We spent the whole day together, most of it submerged in torrential rains. There was a monster gulf storm that seemed to follow us the entire length of Texas. We laughed about it and talked for the whole trip. There are a lot of things we still talk about from that trip. After a nine hour drive that should have only taken five, thanks to the storm, and luck perhaps, we arrived back home. By the end of the day, though, we weren’t quite ready to part ways.
We stayed together for what was left of the day and we found ourselves talking again in her room. That night, I was laying on her bed after we had been talking for a long time. It was not a particularly special conversation. If my life relied upon retelling even a single word of it, I would be gone forever. It was just more of the same little nothings kids in love talk about late at night; music, movies, each other, the events of the day.
There was a moment of silence where I began to think back about the day. It was perfect. I had spent the whole thing just hanging out with this beautiful wonderful girl who made me happy. I wanted it to be like that forever. The seed of a notion began to take root and reach up toward the light in my mind.
“(What is going to happen to us after high school? Will we be able to stay together?)” I wondered.
“(We probably won’t be able to. Not in the real world. She’ll probably go to college and who knows where I will end up?)”
“(I don’t want to lose her. Probably, the only real way this could work is if we got married.)”
“(I wish we were old enough that getting married might be an option.)”
“(Why, exactly, aren’t we old enough? What really makes a person old enough to get married?)”
“(Why should I wait until I am older to find the girl I want spend the rest of my life with, anyway?)”
(Jennie is everything I want…)
Returning to reason, momentarily, I caught hold of the hazardous progression of thoughts taking place in my head.
“(This is crazy. I am only seventeen. I can’t know what I want in a woman. Why would I even be thinking is?)”
I laid in silence for a while longer, pensively staring at the ceiling. This idea of mine wouldn’t leave me. I kept on thinking about the inevitable reality that High School couples don’t last after High School.
I decided the only way to resolve the situation was to give her the responsibility of proving to me that this was supposed to happen. There would need to be some test to validate my inkling. It would have to be something difficult, but that a good wife would be able to do, at least by limited imagination of what it meant to be a good wife. If she somehow passed the test, then my mind would be made up. If she failed, perhaps it was never meant to be, anyway. I could be done with the emotionally charged internal debate and go back to being a seventeen year old kid, free of the ludicrous tugging of fanciful heartstrings. Fate would determine what I needed to know.
“(She is great, but there needs to be something else. I need a woman who gets me. I think that a good wife should be able to understand when something is wrong with her husband, even if he doesn’t say anything at all. I have probably been thinking about this for a while. If she asks me in the next minute if something is wrong I am going to ask her to marry me.)”
It was an impossible thing to ask. It wasn’t fair to her to ask such a question. I had based the future of our relationship on a belief that a wife needed to have a telepathic level of empathy toward her potential partner. It was wrong to do that to her, put so much of a burden on her that relied on her never even knowing she was being tested. It was a foolish thing to do. A wiser person would have realized that thoughts like mine were the types of ideas which ruined what would have otherwise been beautiful relationships. If I were a wiser man, I probably would have never said them, but that didn’t matter.
Had I had the time to consider my thought processes, I may have dismissed it as the uncontrolled daydreaming of an infatuated youth. I didn’t have the time, though. As I finished that fateful sentence in my mind, literally, as the period landed in the sentence of my thoughts, I heard a whisper from the other side of the bed.
“Jon, is everything alright?” Jennie said.
“(What? Seriously?)” These were only real thoughts I could muster. I was startled at the immediacy of which my test was passed. I didn’t even have time to realize what a stupid idea that was! To place one’s fate in the whims of miraculous luck! Perhaps, however, it wasn’t really luck. Perhaps it was exactly what I needed to do, and her reaction, was exactly what I needed to hear.
“(Umm… No. It is ok.)” I thought, gathering myself.
“(She is the perfect woman for me. And I did say that I would, so I am going to. I’m doing this.)”
I rolled over and looked at her. She was concerned by my apparent absence. I talked to her and told her what I felt. I told her what my mind had been up to and what I had decided. I told her how much the time we spent together meant to me and how I never really wanted this day to stop. I told her that I wanted to spend my life with her.
That’s when I asked her to marry me. That was it. That was all the thinking about it and planning that I done. I hadn’t ever really considered it before that, not really. At that moment, though, I made a choice that was by far the most important of either of our lives, and I did it almost completely on impulse. There was no planning; no consultations; and no time for hesitation.
In all honesty, if you find a woman who is sweet, smart, hardworking, and wonderful in all the ways you need, you should consider taking a few chances for her. If, however, you find a girl who does all this and also instinctively understands you so well that her abilities border on clairvoyance, you really need to drop everything and take the leap of faith. I was rash like a child and almost completely driven on emotion with only the slightest ounce of reason to back it up.
Her concern for my few minutes of silence from a few moments earlier could now, more easily, be described as a stunned silence.
She said she would have to think about it…
Think about it.
Those words hung in the air for a moment and my heart sank. Sank is perhaps the wrong word. It’s too soft of a word. It crashed to floor taking with it my raptured spirit. Both descended with an almost audible thud.
What had I just done?
I told her that thinking it over would be fine and that I understood. That was a lie. I was scared, terrified to be precise. I was struck sick. Once the cold realization of the brash actions and all the potential consequences were fully realized I was left with the feeling that you get that there is a deep, deep chasm in your chest when you suddenly realize that you have already lost something extremely important, but the actual event was yet to occur. It was the looming presence of doom. More than anything, at that moment, I was wishing so very, very much to have been afforded, just for one moment in my life, the ability to return three minutes back in time and forget the whole thing ever happened. Internally, I was a wreck. Outwardly… I said that I understood. As I said before, that was lie.
It was late, so I slept on her couch that night. That was one of the worst nights I have ever had. I knew that was one the most reckless things I had ever done.
“Oh God,” I thought. “She is going to get freaked out and break up with me.”
“She will tell the whole school and make a laughing stock of me.”
“I should just walk in there and take it back… Stupid.”
“Then again,” I considered. “She might say, ‘Yes”…”
I eventually went to sleep. The next morning I went to see her. We talked for a few minutes. She didn’t bring it up, as if neither of us must have been thinking about the giant, invisible thing sitting there in the room with us. We would probably still be sitting there if I didn’t work up the courage to ask, again. I asked her what she thought about last night. After the night I had just had, I have never been so afraid to ask a question, let alone, ask it again. All my worrying and the cold sweat I finally fell asleep in didn’t prepare me for what she said.
She said that she spent the whole night thinking of reasons why she shouldn’t do it. That was swift kick in the stomach. Then she opened her mouth, as if to finish the thought. The next thing she said was that she couldn’t come up with any.
She said, “Yes.”
That was how we decided we would get married. We were still seventeen.
We didn’t tell anyone because, frankly the community wouldn’t support two seventeen year olds considering the idea of marriage. We grew up in a small town, but this wasn’t the 1950’s, after all. It just wasn’t wise. It wasn’t normal. It was ludicrous by almost any standard you could logically imagine. The town would not be understanding. And then there would be our families.
We spent the next year “preparing” ourselves for it, it being a life of marriage directly following a life of childhood. After school we laid in bed talking about our fantastic plans and built up our dreams together. ‘How many kids would we want?’, ‘What type of house would we want to live in?’, ‘What jobs would we have?’, ‘Would we have dogs or cats? Or both? How many?’
I think that that year was actually much more important for us than the romantic story above. We really contemplated our situation and started to really grasp the things we had to do. We began to think like married people as we kept up our secret engagement.
That’s when, I think, “I” and “me” started to dissolve into the much greater solution that is “us” and “we”. It’s an important transition. I don’t think most couples appreciate the moment. You don’t really realize when it happened. There was just a moment when you stopped making plans for you. You instinctively wonder how your choices will affect not only yours, but her life. If you’re lucky, that other person will feel the same way. Everything is “we” from then on.
In keeping up with our tradition of secrecy, I went, on my own, to the local jewelry store. She may only be a girl to the eyes of many, but she was my fiancé. I wanted her to feel like a bride. I wanted her to feel like an adult and that I was serious about her. I wanted to give her a ring.
Something about me believed that a woman deserves enough respect from a
man for him to sacrifice his wages to show he loves her and wants others to know it, too. Those wages aren’t just some obligations. It is a symbol. Those lost wages are a symbol of something more. They symbolize the very real time that was given up working, doing jobs my not like, for people you may not enjoy. That means something. That means a real sacrifice. It means that that person is willing to suffer for you to be happy. It doesn’t matter if she was seventeen or seventy. It is a romantic gesture to be sure, but more than that, it is a gesture of deep love. I am old fashioned, obviously. I know it might be materialistic, but I wanted her to know that I would work for her. I saved up my money and I went to find a ring.
I wasn’t stupid about it, though. I may be reckless and haphazard with most major life decisions, but not with my money. We were too young and too poor to be stupid. I went right after Christmas to take advantage of one of the best sales of the year. (Thrift is important to young couples, by the way.) It was January and we still didn’t want anyone to know, but the girl who helped me just so happened to be in our class. We lived in a small town and gossip was still more of a hobby than the internet. Well… I walked in, saw her and decided that this was just how it was going to have to be. The girl behind the counter, Myka, was, however, a very trustworthy person, and a good friend. She didn’t tell anyone about the ring. She just held her hands up to her mouth, wide eyed with glee that comes from someone living vicariously through the experiences of a friend. It felt really good to have the first person I told be so genuinely supportive and happy for us. She helped me pick out a great one. It was $500, but perhaps a more precise measurement would be to say that, simply, it was everything I had.
A few months later, we made it official. By this time, our families knew that we would probably get married, but they didn’t know that we had already been planning for the better part of the year. I showed them the ring at moments when Jennie wasn’t around to see. She still didn’t know I had it for her. My mom and I went on a family trip to San Antonio and we invited Jennie to go, too.
As the week drew to a close, I took her out to a very nice dinner. It was March 20th and exactly one year to the day since we first went bowling, or rather, didn’t. It was the anniversary of that first awkward date, that first pizza, first movie, as well as the first of many other firsts. I formally presented the little band on the one year anniversary of our first date. We were sitting in the restaurant, looking out across the city in lights. I gently held her hand as she looked over the sparking cityscape. As subtly as I could, I slipped the ring around her finger. She didn’t look away from her view, but a large smile painted itself across her face. To ever receive a ring like that was a surprise to her. At least now we had a story we could tell to people about how we decided to get married, though. Jennie still polishes it lovingly with pride.
The important things that I remember about it was the complete sense of shocked support we received from the community. Basically, I think everyone loves a love story. You will always get support at the face value, but when they think about it, people thought we were silly kids, that we had a lot to learn, but mostly, they thought Jennie was pregnant. Well, it’s been over a decade since then and no little Jons or tiny Jennies are running around, so I hope that theory has been officially debunked. We were young and had a lot to learn about the real world, that much was true, but we would learn that together.
We were married on June 1st, two weeks after we graduated high school. The ceremony was a lovely little quaint affair. “Lovely”, “quaint”; these are euphemisms that are best translated as cheap enough for kids to afford. We were married by the pier of the lake. It was a perfect summer afternoon, except for the rain. It rained, of course. Nothing in our story is storybook, after all. Weather didn’t interrupt the ceremony, though. We were already at the reception when it started. We aren’t superstitious people, but it still makes you nervous. On the way to our honeymoon at a romantic little bed and breakfast near our hometown, there was a rainbow. Jennie saw it. You know, sometimes it’s important to forget the rain and remember the rainbows.
We were eighteen years old then. We were each other’s first real boyfriend and girlfriend, first loves, first… well, we were young and experienced a lot of firsts together. We had been dating for a bit over a year and a few months. We probably would have done the same thing as everyone else our age. We could have kept dating after we went to different colleges, tried the long distance thing and then either would have broken up or gotten married a few years later, anyway. That would have been the sensible thing to do, but that’s not the way the Davis house works. Some bets you just don’t hedge. You go all in or don’t play at all.
We went all in. We did whatever it took to stay together, even if it meant that we had to be worlds apart. I knew that I had responsibilities now. I had a young wife, going to college in a few months. I wanted her to have a good life. I knew that I didn’t want to rely on our parents to support us, now fully realized adults in every sense of the word. I had to make some difficult choices. The most difficult choice would be how we would support such a young marriage; two kids by most people’s standards, no skills, fresh out of high school. The solution was simple. I had to leave.
When I knew that we were going to get married, I felt that the only way I could ensure that we would have the things we needed, food, security, and a place to sleep, was if I joined the military. I joined the Marines. We were signing paperwork to on our honeymoon, a fact Jennie was very aware of. She was strong, though. She understood that this was something we needed to do. She was strong. She was always strong in those days. Perhaps it was her strength that kept me going through far more than I would have wanted to go through. We spent only one week together before I had to leave. I left for Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, California on June 6th.
It would be another two years, three deserts, two moves, three hundred phone calls and twelve time zones before we could ever really be together again after that, but that is a whole other story altogether.