Thursday, December 18th, today, is the 9 year anniversary of the day that Don proposed marriage to me underneath the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree in NYC. (You are reading this on Friday, but I'm writing it and posting it on Thursday evening, and it is right now, as I write this, my proposal anniversary.) The first Christmas after he died, going within even blocks of that tree made me panic and gave me anxiety and awful, horrible pains. My stomach would go into knots and I would literally go in a different direction and walk detours just to avoid even seeing that tree by accident, rising in between the buildings that make up the NYC skyline. The second Christmas, I went back there way before I was ready, and had a pretty epic emotional breakdown while sitting under those lights. I sobbed until I couldn't sob any more, and then I sobbed a little bit more. Last year my grief therapist came with me to the tree, and we talked and remembered Don and I cried and it was very hard and very sad. This year, yesterday, one day before the actual anniversary, I was in the audience for the taping of The Meredith Viera Show, and afterwards, the plan was to meet Caitlin again by the tree so she could be beside me for whatever emotions I needed to get through.
Got out of the taping, and the sky was looking very dark, and it was starting to rain. Knowing she was coming right from her other job as a guidance counselor to meet me there, I called her cell phone and let her off the hook for meeting me, telling her the sky looks weird and she should go home. She said: "Are you sure, sweetie? Because I will come if you feel like you don't want to be alone there. Whatever you need." I assured her I was okay, and that I was just going to take a quick look at the tree and remember my amazing day there 9 years ago, and then go home. She said: "Well I hope you can feel his love while you're there and I hope he makes himself known to you that he's there like he always seems to."
I hung up and started walking to the tree. Seconds before staring into it's beautiful glowing lights, a man and his wife and their little boy came toward me. It was a couple I hadn't seen since Don's funeral -literally. Years ago, when I had my own wedding planning business, I planned their wedding with Don's help. The guy and Don used to work together on the ambulance in New Jersey. They were coworkers, colleagues, friends. Of ALL the people for me to run into ,at this tree, I ran into him.
"Kelley? Holy shit! No way! This is so weird. We were JUST passing by this tree, and this stranger came up to us nervously and started telling us how he was going to propose to his girlfriend tonight here. Immediately thought of you and Don. " I replied: "That is beyond weird, because I just made the last second decision to walk here alone after telling my counselor not to come. She usually meets me here. It's 9 years tomorrow that he proposed." "Wow! No way!" "Yup. He is obviously saying hello to us."
After they left, I sat under the lights and just remembered. I remembered that night 9 years ago, and how nervous he was and how he kept adjusting his jacket pockets and fidgeting and I didn't know why. I remembered him slowly going down to one knee in the 25 degree weather, screaming out his beautiful and well-thought out words to me, over the hundreds of clapping and cheering tourists. I remembered my frozen fingers shaking as the ring went on, I remembered drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows in Rockefeller Center afterwards, and I remembered never ever knowing a happier or more joyful moment. My heart sort of skipped a few beats, and I felt an overwhelming sadness, and this weird sensation of unbalance and lightheaded-ness, as I remembered all of these things. But I was okay. I was okay.
And then, I remembered something else. Amongst the chaos and the crowd that night, 9 years ago, there was a little boy and little girl. Siblings. Seconds after Don proposed, the boy tugged on his jacket and asked: "Are you marrying her?" "Yes, I am", Don said, smiling and laughing. "Eww! Gross!" He then turned to his sister and started to "mock-propose" to her: "Will you marrryyyy meeee??? Yuck!!!" Don and I and the children's parents were all cracking up, and then we asked their parents if they would take our picture underneath the tree. They did.
Coming out of my time-warp and back in present day, I stood up to leave the tree area and go home, and just then,, I saw them. Two children. A boy and a girl. Friends, or maybe siblings. I don't know. As I walked by, the girl's mom (I'm assuming) said to her little girl: "Honey, show him how much you love him for us! Let us take your picture!" The adults all snapped pictures as the girl leaned on and hugged the boy, and the boy moved away. "Eww!" he said. "Yuck!" The little girl gave it one more shot. "We're gonna get maaaarrrrieddd!", she said knowingly. The boy laughed nervously and fidgeted with his jacket pocket.
The mom gathered up her bags and said to the children: "Alright guys, let's get going. We have to meet Donny for hot chocolate, and you know he doesn't like to miss his hot chocolate."
Everything up until this point was surreal and unbelievable enough, but this last sentence said by this woman, was my proof that Don was with me yesterday, and always, but especially yesterday. "We have to meet Donny for hot chocolate, and you know he doesn't like to miss his hot chocolate." Two things about this. First of all, Donny. My husband's name was Don, or Donald, but the only thing he hated more than being called Donald, was being called Donny. The only person who he would let teasingly call him Donny, was his nephew Mark, because he loved that kid. So we had a running joke about calling him Donny to piss him off. Now, secondly, the hot chocolate. Not only did we drink hot chocolate with marshmallows and candy canes and whipped cream right after the marriage proposal that night, but we also had the venue where we got married serve the same thing to our guests. Peppermint hot chocolate with marshmallow and whipped cream and a candy cane. Everyone raved about the hot chocolate at our wedding. For YEARS, literally, friends would just mention it out of nowhere to us. "That hot chocolate at your wedding was the best hot chocolate I've ever had in my life! What was in that?"
But we didn't know. BECAUSE WE NEVER GOT ANY. Somehow, with all the chaos of the reception and us being up dancing and everything, the bride and groom never got served any hot chocolate. So, the running joke for years was how Don loved his hot chocolate and he never got any at his own damn wedding. He would randomly say to me sometimes, out of nowhere: "I still cant believe we never got any of that hot chocolate." So for this woman to not only mention hot chocolate, but to use the term "he doesnt like to MISS his hot chocolate" , was beyond weird. It was a sign. That whole place was filled with signs. It was as if Don was talking to me and laughing with me through each one of those brightly lit Christmas tree lights.