So we were engaged.
On the 19th January, 1991.
19-1-91. Even the date had a beautiful symmetry.
We visited a lovely jeweler in Riccarton (west of Christchurch, New Zealand) and Neil encouraged me to choose a sparkling diamond ring without consulting the price tag. Wow!
And, ever the Gentleman, he phoned and “asked permission” from both sets of parents.
Next step – official photos in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
So this was real. A commitment to our future.
Or, at least, to give “the future” a chance. Having only met 3 months previously, we may have been starry-eyed but we were not totally naive. Plans were hatched.
Neil would continue to Concordia Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as planned. I would return to Adelaide to a contract position I had been offered with the Music Branch of the Education Department. In July we would converge from two different directions on England, where Neil had one further year of study (in Cambridge) to complete.
After the year – if I liked the country, and the relationship worked out – we would get married. If not – I would have had an interesting “Gap Year” and have spread my proverbial wings abroad.
All too soon it was airport time again and so, newly engaged and still dewy-eyed, we parted, with many promises of letter-writing and phone calls, until we met again.
On arrival home in Adelaide with a ring on my finger, of course everyone wanted to meet the new Boyfriend – ah, Fiancé. My long-term Piano Teacher Clemens Leske and his gorgeous wife Beryl, ever the matchmaker, immediately offered to host an Engagement Party.
They were all somewhat confused to learn that the never-met Boyfriend was 16191 kilometres away. I suspect some of my friends and family wondered if the mysterious Neil actually existed.
So then began the six months apart.
The ever-faithful Martin was entrusted with “looking after me” as a “Clayton’s Boyfriend” in the interim, a task he carried out with great sincerity, even patiently attempting to teach me to play squash.
While Neil studied Hebrew, Greek and Old Testament History, while devouring the latest “Star Trek” episodes amongst rabid Trekkie American students, I quietly established a string teaching routine which took in 7 Primary and 1 High school over a 5-day week, with typically a lunch catch-up and debrief with a trusted friend each Friday (my one afternoon off).
Correspondence did flow back and forth, both from Neil – who wrote meticulous handwritten letters, describing the minutiae of American Seminary life, and my Mum, Carlein, who wrote detailed typewritten news, and from me who wrote largely irrelevant trivia. (Recently, I found such an old letter which genuinely began: “Dear Neil, Mum will write you the actual news”…)
And I gradually packed up my life.
Worked on finding my students new teachers. Cleared out my wardrobe. Tidied up my belongings.
Carefully chose what I would take with me – clothes, books, sheet music, trinkets. An album of favourite photographs. Everything I imagined I might need for the start of my “New Life” in Cambridge.
Reduced my entire life to the contents of two suitcases and two boxes.
A Flight Adelaide-London Heathrow was found on 19th July – six months to the day since we were engaged.
It seemed like providence.
But, one day, I checked the calendar and realised that our time apart had exceeded the amount of time we had known each other in the first place.
Family and friends were supportive and looked out for me. And made well-meaning remarks like: “If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back. We’ll be here for you”.
But the one person I wanted to “be there for me” was on the other side of the world.
I hung onto the dream, but the dream was fading.
Was it too good to be true? Had it just been a Holiday Romance? Was I fooling myself?
And I began to doubt.