I met my husband on a Wednesday, and we got engaged the following Saturday. Well, actually, I had known him longer than that, having corresponded with him for all of six weeks before our actual meeting — if that somehow counts as knowing. Looking back, I’m not sure what we were thinking, and I certainly wouldn’t condone such rashness now. All I can say is that at the time, it seemed to make sense.
I was a young widow, living in suburban Chicago with a two-year-old son. My first husband had died suddenly at age 32 of a massive heart attack while hurrying to the commuter train from work.
Any death has a way of ripping many things away and exposing raw places, some of which are impossible to cover. Mostly you become the subject of too much pity, though on other days, not enough. Lots of things are stripped away, like any preconceived notions of where your life was headed or even your identity. In some ways, it makes you tighten your hold on what still remains, but in other ways, it makes you less risk-averse. Looking at the world from the bottom of the barrel, you’re perhaps more willing to take a chance because you have nothing much else to lose.
When Ben died, I fervently believed I would remain alone forever. Just one year later, however, forever seemed like it might stretch on, well…forever. Was this really what I wanted? To be alone for life? But, even if I did want to, say, meet someone, death had stripped away my previous confidence as well as my interpretation of myself, and I faltered over who would want a 31-year-old widow with a three-year-old in tow.
A Long-Distance Love
Fortunately, my good friend, Otto, convinced me that I had more to bring to the proverbial table than I realized. Trust him, he said. In fact, he informed me, he knew of just the perfect person for me and proposed that I meet a friend of his friend, Barbra. A part of me was hesitant to meet anyone at all, but when he further explained that the man in question was a lonely chemist living in Oxford, England who had thus far in life been unlucky in love, it became decidedly out of the question (despite the fact that I’m a secret Anglophile; Otto knew this about me, however, so I considered this a rather underhanded tactic on his part).
If…if…I were going to date someone again, I proclaimed, I certainly didn’t want a long-distance relationship. I already sort of had that now with Ben, in a weird way. No, I wanted someone to go out to a movie with, someone to go out to dinner with — a real person sitting beside me. What good was a man a thousand miles away?
Clearly, however, Otto and Barbra could see something I couldn’t, at least initially, and persisted in suggesting that I “meet” the lonely Phil. Still, I resisted. It was not until Barbra whispered to me over a glass of white wine that Phil was the type of guy that would woo me for the rest of my life that I began to be more than a little bit curious. Wooing sounded like something I could use a bit of, to be honest.
The following week, polite emails were then exchanged between myself and this Phil, followed by increasingly longer and more telling ones. Phone calls followed these, during which he charmed me, not only with his Liverpudlian accent but with his hilarious, self-deprecating stories of his previous attempts at wooing gone wrong. Never had I laughed so hard, which led me to believe he was either an idiot or a comic genius. This, plus Otto and Barbra’s addendum stories of what a “natural” he was with Barbra’s daughter, of his many talents in the kitchen, and how he drove back to Liverpool from Oxford to spend an occasional weekend with his parents, helped me to begin to fall in love with him.
A Simple Question
So it’s not really surprising that when I finally flew to London and met him in Heathrow, I felt like I already knew him. We spent three blissful days lounging around centuries-old Oxford pubs while he endured my endless grilling regarding his beliefs — from faith to politics, child-rearing to literature — and finally, the ultimate question, whether he loved himself. Enough to love another.
He was taken aback by that question, I think, but eventually answered it in the affirmative, that he did and he could. Which finally prompted a question from him, which was: Would I marry him? It seemed, after all of the above, to be the most natural thing in the world to answer with a yes, therefore making it perhaps the shortest courtship in history.
Well, there probably have been shorter ones, but none that I know of personally. Would I recommend it? Probably not. But after16 years, we’re still happily married. We still look back from time to time and say, “What the hell were we thinking?” But at the time, it all made sense.
This essay was written by Michelle Cox, author of the award-winning Henrietta and Inspector Howard series. A Promise Given, the third book in the series, will release in April 2018, with She Writes Press. Cox is also known for her charmingly popular Novel Notes of Local Lore, a blog dedicated to Chicago’s forgotten residents. She lives with her husband and three children in the Chicago suburbs.