2: A Case of Cold Feet

2: A Case of Cold Feet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

A Case of Cold Feet

We learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself.

~Lloyd Alexander

You’ve heard the old saying that if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Well, that pretty much applied to how I proposed to the woman who would eventually become my wife. I tried and tried, and again and again she told me no. In fact, she told me no so many different times that any ordinary person would have gotten the idea she didn’t want to marry me!

I had known Ann for two years. We’d met on the job, and had been first co-workers, then close friends, and finally, in a relationship. What began as shy glances at each other became spending every moment together at work and then finally dating.

Ann told me on that first date that she was not anxious to get married. She’d gone down that road, and the heartache and misery it had brought to her and her children was not something she was willing to risk again. I told her I wasn’t interested in a serious relationship either, and, for a while, that was the truth.

But feelings deepen, and after growing closer to her and the kids, I knew I wanted to be part of such a wonderful family. I loved Ann, and I couldn’t envision my life without her. But the shadow of her previous marriage was a long one, and every time I turned our conversation in the direction of marriage, she changed the subject or cut short our date. One day, I just came right out and asked her to marry me.

“I can’t marry you,” she said, tears in her eyes. “I’m too afraid of marriage. But I do love you. Please don’t leave me.”

I sighed and took her hand. “I’m here to stay.”

That seemed to settle it for a while, but then one day I blurted out the question again. This time, she smiled and said, “I’m sorry, darling, but you know the answer is no.”

So began a scene that was played out over the next days, weeks, and months. Time would pass, and then I’d be overcome with love for this woman and ask her to marry me, and she’d say no. She never said it angrily, but with the understanding that she loved me deeply and wanted me in her life. It made me want to marry her even more.

And so I kept asking her. I asked her while we danced, while we hiked, and while we shared a fine meal at a French restaurant. She told me, “No, no, and non.” I proposed to her while we stood on the roof of an elegant hotel and counted down the seconds to the New Year, while we watched a close friend and his fiancée exchange vows at their wedding, and as we waved goodbye to her daughter and her boyfriend as she went out to enjoy her prom. Her answers were “Sorry, no, but Happy New Year!” and “No, now sshh, you’ll spoil the wedding,” and “Nuh-uh. Did her boyfriend say he was nineteen?”

Then one day when I was getting ready to ask her in the parking lot on our way to our cars, Ann turned and stopped me. I realized she had the saddest expression on her face. She took me by the hand and shook her head.

“I love you more than life itself. You know that. But I can’t marry you. It isn’t fair to keep giving you hope for something that will never happen. Maybe it’s time we moved on with our lives.” Then she took a deep breath and added, “Without each other.”

I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to argue the point, to make her see we could be great together, but the fear and sadness in her face were so great that I knew I’d be pushing her farther away. I released her hand, and the two of us walked away from each other.

A couple of months went by. Working together was heartbreaking, but I gave her the space she needed and pretended everything was all right. She seemed less stressed, a little happier. Life for me was an empty, yawning chasm that I couldn’t fill. I went home each night numb from the pain. I told myself this was the price you sometimes paid for love. I would love Ann forever, but from a distance, far from her life.

Then one day I saw a note on my desk. It read, “Meet me at the café on the corner after work.” There was no signature, and I figured it was one of the guys who wanted to grab dinner or just hang out at the end of a long day. I didn’t feel like going, but I didn’t want to go home to my empty apartment. So I went.

It was hard to be in that particular café. Ann and I had spent a lot of time there. As I went in, I wondered if this was a good idea. Then I looked at the table where the two of us usually sat. There was Ann, smiling and waving at me to join her. I nearly stumbled over a waiter getting to her.

“Ask me,” she said softly as she reached out and took my hand.

“What?” was all I could manage. I took a drink of water. “Ask you what?”

Her eyes were big and bright and full of love. “All I needed was to know what it felt like to not have you in my life. It’s not a feeling I ever want to feel again. Ask me.”

I almost broke my kneecap dropping to the floor. “Will you marry me?”

She nodded, and then she started to cry. I pulled her into my arms.

“Of course, I will,” she whispered, holding me tight. “What took you so long?”

~John P. Buentello

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