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.
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 good friend and a very trustworthy person. She didn't tell anyone about the ring, not even a whisper. 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, Jennie and I made our engagement official, or rather, we made it public. 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, to be more precise, 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. It was in the Tower of the Americas, a restaurant perched on top of a monolithic pillar above the city of San Antonio. It rotated, giving a beautiful view of the city.
After we ate, 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”, “little”, these euphemisms are best translated “as cheap enough for kids to afford”. We were married by the pier of the lake not from the town where we both grew up. 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 either way. 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 what it meant was that we had to be worlds apart. I knew that I had responsibilities then. I had a young wife who would be 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. The military, you see, doesn’t really mind so much that you are unskilled and young. As long as you are smart and hardworking, they pay quite well and even provide all the benefits and amenities a young couple needs to start a life together, providing you are willing to endure a few sacrifices. I joined the Marines.
On our honeymoon we were signing paperwork in preparation to my departure for boot camp a few days later. This is a fact Jennie was very aware of at the time. 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.
That moment when I first walked away from her is etched in my memory, special from all the others. She was so strong in that moment when I said good-bye. Through tears in her eyes, she hugged me tightly and looked at me and told me to do great. She never resented the Marines. She embraced it as few women could have. She was one of the few proud to serve as a wife of one in the service of othes.
Our courtship was a fairytale, but at some point, every good fairytale ends. The children who read them must grow and they must deal with the real obstacles that all adults must. For Jennie and I, those obstacles were time and space. In the years to come, I would be gone more than I was with her. Sometimes I would be in California while she was in Oklahoma, still with our parents. Other times, I would be much farther. There would be months where we would never see, nor hear from one another. When we were able to talk either on our little track phones, paying for every minute, or in a plywood cubical six thousand miles away , for those melancholy moments of bliss, no matter where I was, I was home. I would spend more than half of our first four years in marriage in either training for war, or taking part in it. 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, to live, as they say, as man and wife, but that is a whole other story altogether.
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I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm MarriedNon-Fiction
***Ranked #4 in Non-fiction - "It's a thing of beautiful nonsense to be young." ***Featured original non-fiction for Pivot TV's Secret Lives of Americans. I Drew a Monkey in a Math Book and Now I'm Married is the true story of how I met my wife Jenn...