Khadijah and I were married on May 20th, 1993. It was at City Hall, in our hometown of New Orleans. I was 19 and “Dijah,” as I call her, was 18.
The only family member in attendance was my oldest sister, Sonji; and that’s only because she happened to call that day to ask what we were doing. It was a lot more than she’d expected, so she excitedly joined in our low-key nuptials.
Two weeks later, our beautiful daughter was born. I guess you could say that unconsciously we’d thrown caution — and condoms — to the wind.
To be crystal clear, we didn’t rush into marriage because she was pregnant. We became pregnant because we knew we wanted to be together.
I had no idea what I was doing. The one thing I was absolutely certain about though was that I wanted her as my life partner. A proposal? A fancy ring? A wedding ceremony? None of that was even on my radar at the time.
I was a young man at the time and just plain oblivious about the importance and meaning of such customs and traditions. I was just in love and wanted my child to grow up in a home with two loving parents who were married to each other.
So, I bought her a $200 ring from a kiosk at Oakwood Mall and slipped it onto her finger one morning while she was asleep. She awoke soon thereafter, quickly noticed the new bling on her finger, and cried and hugged and kissed me.
The deed was done. We were engaged.
We had discussed wanting marriage before, so I didn’t think that I needed to say the actual words: “Will you marry me?”
So that was it: a ring from the mall and a courthouse wedding with only our unborn child and my sister in attendance. Years later I would begin to wonder if I had done enough.
Over the years that question would play over and over in my head, especially as we watched our friends, family, and colleagues’ proposals, weddings, and honeymoons grow more elaborate and with considerably more pomp and circumstances than our humble nuptials.
It definitely added to my concerns. At the same time though, sadly we also began to notice that our marriage was outlasting many.
Our relationship was far from perfect, but the longer we stuck it out, the more we began to affirm for ourselves and the love we somehow had managed to capture as naïve, optimistic, darn near Similac-breathed teenagers.
Despite skipping the marriage proposal, dress, invitations, ceremony, and honeymoon, we had managed to accomplish what many couples apparently don’t: simply choosing the right person. We centred our marriage around growing together not apart.
We quietly loved each other and poured everything we had into our daughters, Nailah and Asante, and our love grew stronger each year.
We have always enjoyed each other’s company, but I attribute the success of our marriage to the fact that we have always found a way to grow closer with every challenging situation we face.
That’s easier said than done because let’s face it, being young and poor certainly doesn’t give a marriage any advantages. The support and love of friends and family always rooting for us has helped tremendously.
So here I was 27 years in, our kids are grown, I’m successful in my career and I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Now is the perfect time to correct the big mistakes that I made at 19 years old.”
Now I can properly pay homage to the mother of my children, the life that we’ve created together, and the beautiful love that we still share.
But would I be able to pivot and carry off a heart-warming proposal? I wasn’t convinced yet, so I sort of dipped my toe in a bit and started off by surprising her, for her birthday with an appointment to design the wedding ring of her dreams.
I wanted it to reflect her unique personality. After seeing her excitement over that, I finally knew in my gut that it was time for me to plan the elaborate surprise proposal that she’d long deserved but had not received.
I knew everything had to happen in New Orleans, the city where we both grew up and fell in love, but that also meant having to get the jeweller to lie to my wife (sorry, babe) about when the new ring would be ready. I would stash it away and present it on the big day.
We arrived in the Crescent City on a Sunday for what she thought was a much-needed “getaway’ trip.”
She had no idea that our daughters would be coming to town the next day for the festivities that would be taking place along the beautiful New Orleans Riverfront, overlooking the mighty Mississippi River.
So I had to get her there looking her absolute best because if there’s anything I’ve learned from nearly three decades of marriage, is that you’d better make your woman is ready for her close up, as they say, if you’re going to surprise her with professional photography.
A fake invite, a pretty convincing one I might add, to a prestigious, but small art show that would be attended by the Mayor of New Orleans ended up doing the trick.
My plan was going pretty well until we were getting ready for the show and my wife expressed that she was unhappy with her outfit. She even suggested that maybe she shouldn’t go and just stay back at the hotel.
I really had to think on my feet to convince her to change her mind without seeming too eager or just plain odd. Thankfully, a few well-targeted compliments provided enough reassurance to get the plans back on track.
As we made our way to the location, my mind was all over the place trying to figure out: one, how I was going to be able to hide this bulky ring box in my back pocket the whole way without her noticing, and two, how to get her into her strappy heels before my professional photographer friend Saddi Khali ended up immortalizing her long-overdue special moment with her in an elegant dress and teal Reeboks.
As we strolled closer toward the rendezvous point, I could barely contain my excitement. Suddenly, I was overcome with the realization that our whole lives had led up to this very moment. Somehow, my mind was racing, yet blank at the same time.
Just as we were about 10 feet away, she spotted our daughters and immediately burst into tears and those ugly tears, too.
By the time she noticed Saddi standing there photographing everything, she seemed genuinely confused about what was happening.
Fortunately for me, that kept her distracted long enough for me to get down on one knee and take out the ring box. I grabbed her hand and gently turned her around towards me. When she saw me, as R&B crooners Boyz II Men famously called it “on bended knee,” she began sobbing uncontrollably.
Her emotions became contagious, rendering my speaking abilities almost useless. I knew I wanted to speak from the heart, but all I managed to do was babble and ramble something about loving her and wanting to thank her for being a great mom.
I did manage to get out the one line that I had prepared: “WE GREW UP TOGETHER, I’M ASKING YOU NOW, CAN WE GROW OLD TOGETHER?”
She yelled “YES” repeatedly, while also nodding her head in agreement, (I guess she just wanted to be thorough). I gently slipped her new ring onto her finger and we embraced for what felt like an eternity as our daughters looked on with tears in their eyes.
It was a beautiful moment and so much better than what I had dreamed up in my head. I knew that all the hard work and secret planning had been so worth it!
In the days that followed, I would come to understand why this had become so important to me. It was because in those first pivotal moments of us agreeing to share our lives together, I had not adequately expressed how important she was to me and this time I did that and more.
I feel so blessed because life doesn’t often offer you many do-overs. This was mine and I’m so grateful, that after 27 years of marriage, my wife finally got the engagement she deserved!
– Muhammad Yungai