Those of you who have read what I’ve been posting for almost two years now know that Maggie and I became engaged four months after I was discharged from the Army – and you know the story of how that engagement happened. However, because there has been a significant increase in the number of readers of my post, many of whom may not have taken the time to read previous entries, I would like to repeat that story. I do believe it is a touching story and will help you understand why I could never tell Maggie “I love you” in all the letters I sent her. If you already know this, I apologize for telling it again.
If it is new to you, I hope you enjoy it.
A couple of months prior to the day I was to be discharged from the Army , my commanding officer informed me that if I added three months to my “tour of duty,” I would be promoted from First Lieutenant to Captain with a significant increase in pay. I could then take what was called a “European discharge” and remain in Europe for several more months, giving me the opportunity to tour so many beautiful countries. He couldn’t believe me when I refused his offer. Europe was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to get home to Maggie as soon as I could. I returned to Chicago immediately in April, 1968.
I had been home for several months and Maggie’s birthday was quickly approaching. I knew she was hoping for an engagement ring on that day and I also knew that she still didn’t fully believe that our relationship could lead to marriage. If I didn’t give her the ring then, I was sure she would conclude that the engagement wasn’t going to happen this year, and maybe never. But to propose to Maggie on her birthday would be my asking her to accept me as my gift to her. And that’s not how I saw it. Wednesday, July 3, 1968, came and went without even a hint of a ring.
I wanted to propose to Maggie on my birthday in August. I was sure she wouldn’t be expecting it and by doing so, I would be asking her to accept my proposal as her gift to me. And she was my gift far more than I was hers.
On Wednesday, August 21, 1968, Maggie and I planned to celebrate my birthday at my brother’s new house. I informed her that prior to going there, we had to pick up my parents to drive them to the party. We entered my parents’ house up the back porch stairs that led to the kitchen. As I opened the door, the kitchen looked like it would any other day. Directly in front of and perpendicular to the wall was a gray Formica kitchen table with chrome legs and two gray vinyl upholstered chrome-legged chairs on either side. To the left was a short hallway that led to the front room, and to the right, a walk-in pantry with the always-opened, half-window door. The light gray speckled linoleum floor was worn in familiar places and spotless from almost daily scrubbing, while the walls were a pale yellow from frequent washing.
The house seemed empty and Maggie immediately asked where my parents were. Although I knew they were already at my brother’s house, I told her that they were probably in the front room. Maggie slowly walked down the short hallway, cautiously peering ahead in anticipation of seeing them sitting on the couch. With her back turned to me, I quickly reached into the right pocket of my pants and nervously fumbled for the tiny black felt box. My hands were so shaky; I almost dropped it as it caught on the upper edge of my pocket. I quickly gathered myself and pulled it completely out, almost dropping it again. Hurriedly opening the box to display the diamond ring, I softly whispered, “Maggie.”
Maggie paused and slowly turned her head to my whisper. Upon looking back, she glanced down at my hands. Then her eyes darted from the ring in my right hand, to my face, then back to my hand again. Her face was ashen as she turned fully toward me.
Then I quietly said what I have never said to any woman before, “I love you.”
Maggie knew the full meaning of those three words:
“When I say “I love you,” it will mean I want you for my wife; I want you to be the mother of my children; I want you to stand by my side as long as life permits. It will mean that you are the one who complements me, who makes me whole. When I say “I love you,” it will mean that my life is yours. Everything I do, everything I hope to do, all my wildest dreams, all my fondest desires are for you. When I say “I love you,” it will mean that there is no other and far more important, that there will be no other.”
Maggie continued staring up at me, then down at the ring, then up again. Her hands shook as she quickly brought them to her lips. Her eyes covered half her face and glistened with tears. Suddenly she screamed. She grabbed the ring from my outstretched hand, box and all, and screaming and crying, ran around the kitchen table into the pantry, slamming the door behind her. I waited, expecting Maggie to soon emerge after composing herself. Twenty seconds passed and the door remained shut.
I walked to the pantry door and looked through the window. Maggie was sitting on the floor in the right-hand corner, under the shelves of canned foods, legs pulled tight to her chest, her head buried in her knees—sobbing. As I slowly opened the door, she looked up at me, tears streaming down her face. I gently lifted her to her feet and held her tight in my arms.
We both stand there—trembling.