Lots of people have stories about carefully orchestrated marriage proposals, where they asked their partner to marry them (or were asked) in the middle of a fancy dinner, or at the top of a mountain after a hike, or on the Jumbotron at a sporting event. The question would be popped, someone would whip out a big diamond solitaire, and there'd be tears and applause all around. Romantic.
Now, when P and first talked about marriage, I was still in college and it didn't seem like the right time to get officially engaged, so instead, he bought me what amounted to a promise ring. It looked like this:
We were young and broke, so this ring only cost $99, but I was really pleased with it. I could have chosen one with a more diamondlike stone, but I didn't want to create a big fuss since it wasn't an official engagement, so I got a blue topaz, which is my birthstone. My clever plan only worked halfway, because some people assumed it was an engagement ring anyway, but we managed to keep it pretty quiet.
Anyway, we carried on this way for another six months, and we might have gone on longer than that, but in April 1995, P nearly died from a bleeding ulcer. He was in intensive care for most of a week, and I was there the whole time, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, sleeping in the waiting room, sitting beside his bed, holding his hand while he slept.
When he finally stepped down to a regular room, after visiting hours had ended for the evening and everyone else had gone away, he asked me to pull the curtain around his bed shut so I could hide from the nurses and stay a little longer, and there, in the half-darkness, he said that everything we had been through that week had made him realize he didn't want to wait. He knew I was the person he wanted to be with forever, and he had talked to his parents earlier, while I was out of the room, and told them we were going to get married. He asked me formally to marry him, then, and I said "of course!" We were both nearly crying with happiness and excitement, and even though it was the least romantic setting you can imagine, full of hospital sounds and smells and totally devoid of champagne and roses and diamonds, it was, without a doubt, one of the most romantic moments I've ever experienced or ever expect to.
P said that he would to get me a "real" engagement ring, but I said that I liked the ring I had and wanted to keep it, and that's what I did. Since it wasn't designed to fit with another ring, when we actually got married, I switched it to my right hand and wore just a wedding band on my left. We had it sized, but it never came out quite right, so to keep it from slipping, he bought me an anniversary band for my birthday the following year.
We chose our wedding bands not to match, but to coordinate, so mine was yellow gold in the middle and white gold around the edges, and P's was white gold in the middle and yellow gold around the edges. He wore his ring every single day for the rest of his life, and when he died, it was still on his finger. The nurse at the emergency room brought it out and gave it to me in a red plastic bag, and I took it out and put it on the middle finger of my left hand, right next to my own rings. And that's where it is to this day, almost four years later.
So when Valentine's Day rolls around every year, and I see people (mostly women) getting upset and disappointed because there wasn't enough romance in their day - because no one filled their bathtub with rose petals or whisked them off to Paris - I think about my hundred-dollar ring that wasn't a real engagement ring, and my proposal that happened on the spur of the moment in a hospital room after hours, and I feel lucky, because we didn't need "romance." We had love.