On Wednesday evening, May 15, 1991, after three straight days of driving, and with three red roses in my hand, a door opened and I met Betsy Brazy in person for the first time. One hundred hours later, about 3:00 AM the following Monday, I asked her to marry me and she accepted. Although I am still struggling to understand exactly how this happened, in all my 33 years of searching I have never been more certain about a decision. And I have never been happier than I am right now.
I met Betsy from the inside out: first watching her words scroll across my computer screen, then hearing her voice on the phone, and finally counting, and later kissing, the freckles on her face. We met on America Online about a month before I showed up on her doorstep.
We had what I consider to be our first date on April 19th. Previous to this I had chatted with her casually once or twice. I knew only her screen name, BzMouse, and that she was witty and had a wide circle of friends.
On April 19th I eventually wandered into a public room (I believe it was called "Neil's friends") and began to chat and flirt in a casual sort of way. Initially there were 6 or 7 people in the room but, as sometimes happens, the others drifted away one by one until only Betsy and I were left. Our conversation became deeper and more interesting. Finally I switched on the recording option so that I could save a transcript, something I rarely do. Unbeknownst to me, Betsy did the same thing.
[Editor's note: The entire transcript appears unaltered in the next card.]
Eventually we transferred into a private room, another unusual step for both of us. The transcript of our conversation can only hint at what it is like to encounter another soul, in real time, while floating disembodied in the vast online ether. Although we were 1300 miles apart, we managed to convince ourselves that we were sitting on the same couch, snuggling under a comforter, inside the vague outlines of a mountain cabin. What appears on the transcript as a colon and an asterisk feels remarkably like a real kiss. There is the same rush of Adrenalin and the same warm fuzzy feeling.
At some point in the conversation I rather cavalierly suggested that she should visit me in Montana. I have extended this offer to many people but very few have ever accepted (and those few were invariably interesting). So I was quietly astonished when, after some prodding, Betsy accepted. When Betsy said "Yes, I will come to Montana," some deep sleepy part of me suddenly sat up wide awake. Who is this woman? Is she crazy or is she brave? Brave enough to fall in love?
By the end of that first remarkable conversation, I was hooked. This was clearly no ordinary woman. And although flirting is common online and should not be taken too seriously, I sensed a warm and generous spirit behind Betsy's words. When she seemed to show some interest, and even affection for me, I felt genuinely honored.
About a week later I gave her a call and found myself talking to a warm, funny, intelligent woman. And now I could attach an actual voice to the words I had been reading on my screen. A BEAUTIFUL voice!
I believe that a person's voice is very important. It is the one physical trait that remains relatively constant even as the rest of the body slides into wrinkles and decay. When the lights are out there is only a warmth, a soft touch of skin, and the sound of a voice. Nothing can compare to a truly musical voice in laughter. And when one considers the millions of words that might be spoken over the course of a lifetime, how much better it is to hear those words forever flowing in a smooth, soft, mellifluous voice!
So now I was seriously hooked. Over the course of the next few weeks, on the computer and on the phone, we got to know each other and began to plan Betsy's trip to Montana. We agreed to wait until the middle of June so that I could show her Glacier National Park. I sent her part of my fairy tale and a digitized photograph. She sent me a vague self-portrait in the form of a drawing. I began to grow curious as to what she looked like and asked several online friends who had met her in person what she was like. The reports varied widely and only fueled my curiousity. At the same time, however, I was becoming so fond of Betsy-the-person that I didn't much care what she looked like. (OK! I did care just a little.)
On Sunday Evening, May 12th, I went online with the intention of staying on for just a few minutes. But I soon bumped into Betsy, one thing led to another, and once again we found ourselves in a private room. It was another incredible conversation. We both talked about how impatient we were to actually meet each other. "Hmmm," said I, "Maybe I should just hop in the car and head south."
The idea scared both of us. "Ohmygod" was Betsy's reaction. I asked Betsy to be the sensible one and come up with reasons why I shouldn't come. She came up with 12 and I countered each one. "Smog. I'll bring a gasmask. No water. I'll bring a canteen. Ohmygod." And so on. finally I asked "Are we really going to do this?" and, in a very tiny, frightened voice, Betsy said "yes. I think we are."
The next morning I threw some luggage (and the cats) into the car and started driving. The first night I made it to my amazed parent's house in Idaho Falls, where I dropped off the cats. The second night I made it all the way down to St. George in southern Utah, pausing in Salt Lake only long enough to leave a cryptic note lodged in Paul's doorhandle. And the third night I showed up on Betsy's doorstep.
This three day trip was a remarkable experience. The desert, especially in southern Utah, was dreamlike, and there was a kind of profound stillness all around me. I felt as if I was balancing on the fulcrum of my life. Behind me lay the long years of painful searching. Ahead lay a whole new life, as yet unseen but full of promise.
Every night I called Betsy and every night she said "Ohmygod. I can't believe you're actually doing this!" I think we both felt as if we were on a threshold of some sort. As I drove south there were omens aplenty including a cloud of Monarch butterflies and the most magnificent rainbow I have ever seen.
So anyway, on Wednesday evening, I finally took a deep breath and rang her doorbell. The door opened to reveal a very attractive woman in a red dress. She had a wonderful spray of freckles and a shy grin. We gave each other a big hug, a rather awkward little kiss, and I handed her the roses. A wonderful smell was coming from the kitchen.
As she walked me to my car to fetch my luggage I put my arm around her as if I'd known her for a lifetime. We kept stealing furtive glances at each other. She was cuter than I had dared to hope.
We were soon back in the kitchen where a superb Mexican meal slowly evolved. Almost immediately we began to cuddle. She swayed gently in my arms as she stirred her sauces. Five minutes after meeting her I felt completely at home: warm and comfortable. Looking back on it now I am almost in awe. This immediate rapport is the most remarkable thing that has ever happened to me. It was effortless. We fit together hand in glove, as if we'd been made for each other.
After dinner we took her dog out for a walk under the stars and somehow ended up in a baseball field lying in the tall grass looking up. At times we would talk in hushed voices, and at times we would just hold each other.
The days and nights melted and ran together, each moment flawless. One moment we were walking on the beach and the next we were dancing at an elegant party. And then we were alone in a hot tub. And then somehow we were in Disneyland, necking shamelessly in the Pirates of the Carribean. We were feeding each other Thai food out of paper cartons. We were falling asleep in each other's arms.
All the while we kept holding onto each other saying "Ohmygod. Is this really happening?" Rather casually we began to talk about marriage and how many kids we would have and what their names would be. In order to calm ourselves we would speak in "Hypothetical terms." But by the weekend, in my mind, it was not so much a question of IF we would get married, but when, and how.
Deep in the middle of our last night together we began to talk about it openly. Betsy was unusually ticklish, and to calm her I said I would grant her any wish. But this only frightened her all the more and at last she confessed that there were only two words in her head at that moment, two very scary words: "marry me." And then I became very scared because the very same two words were in my head. "Marry me." I said it aloud. Betsy was almost too scared to speak. "Is that a proposal?"
I sat up. To Betsy it must have seemed that I paused for only about five seconds. But a whole lifetime of thought and feeling was pressed into those five seconds. I was not exactly thinking during that brief pause; rather, I was traveling down down into my very center and feeling with every pore. Inside myself I spun around and asked "Is this it? Is this right?" And the answer, which came not as a word but as an intense feeling, was "Absolutely."
"Yes," I said out loud, "it IS a proposal. Betsy, will you marry me?" And Betsy held onto me tight and said "I'm not sure." And now she was spinning inside herself just as I had done. I laughed. "But Betsy," I said a second time, "will you marry me?" "I think so," she said. "I WANT to marry you." And then a third time I asked. "Betsy. Will you marry me?" And she looked up at me with astonishment and said "YES!"
We held onto each other in the dark for a few more minutes, both of us in a daze, talking about the future and the past and how strange this all was. Betsy took a ring off her finger and put it on mine. And then, even though it was three in the morning, she picked up the phone and woke up her best friend and said "This is Betsy. You owe me a wedding quilt!"
After that we stumbled down to the kitchen and Betsy sat on my lap and we shared a shot of Tequila. I was babbling incoherently about nothing in particular and she hugged me and said my babbling was good to hear, that it calmed her down. I think we were both stunned by what had just happened, and yet we both felt a deep and abiding certainty about it all. Later, after I had returned to Montana, Betsy wrote me the most beautiful letter I have ever received, and she expressed perfectly what we were both feeling at that moment.
"By day I am in shock over the suddenness of it all and at times my fears outweigh my hopes. You know the old curse -- may you get what you want. I wanted a kind, romantic, sensitive, patient man who would accept and love me as I am. You are everything I ever wished for but was sure I would never get. That is what is frightening; as if you will disappear poof! back into my dreams.
Ah, but when in the evening I talk to you or tell my many friends about you, well then. All confidence is apparent, and I can feel deep in my heart: This is it.
Loving you is not gut-wrenching butterflies. Loving you is the strength and cool serenity of the forest, the peace of a canoe paddling on the lake."
And that, my dear friends, is how I fell in love.