Anna's Proposal at Petit Jean National Park

Words by Robert Brooks | Illustrations by Anna Hunter

The Beginning

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  I arrived at Hendrix College at Conway, Arkansas in 2008 and needed to overhaul my image and try to come into my own. One different method I wanted to try was to be more assertive and outgoing. One night I finally had my chance to not be the shy, silent boy I was and take that leap. Her name was Anna Hunter. Ever since that night, and one rather terrible pick-up line later, she would prove indispensable in making me the person I am today. Though we did have a rocky patch towards the end of our college days, she never left my thoughts. I often wandered, ‘how is Anna doing today?’ or ‘I wonder what she’s been up to recently’.


The Accident

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  Simultaneously, both of our personal lives both took a turn for the worst. I was involved in a workplace accident that nearly took my life. I was exposed to sulfuric acid and steam when our reactor failed. I was rushed to the hospital where I lost consciousness, awaking later in another hospital 12 days later. I spent the next month in the hospital undergoing surgery after surgery and wound care after wound care in order to stabilize and heal the burns I received. A complex process of grafting was used to help speed up my recovery. This involves taking skin from different areas of my body and applying it to the burned parts of my body. For the longest time, my back and legs were tender and unable to withstand prolonged exposure to pressure. This made lying in a hospital bed that much more severe. When the doctors deemed me stable enough to return home, I was discharged from the burn unit where care and recovery was a grueling process. On the average, baths and wound care would take upwards of 3 hours on a quick evening. Therapy to prevent the seizing of my effected limbs and appendages began shortly after my discharge.
  I spiraled into a dark place between a constant dull pain of my burns and the acute pains of wound care and therapy. Unfortunately it was around this time that Anna suffered the devastating loss of her brother to a natural disaster accident.  The pain we were both enduring through these dark times was deafening. We did everything we could to support each other. But I can definitely say that these tragedies were the catalyst that brought us together. It was in this darkness that I could really see the lights in my life. Family, friends, hobbies… and Anna.


The Recovery

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  The best part of my day was her. It was always her. I knew in my heart that she was the one. Just the thought of her was enough to bring me out of my slumps.   She would come over just to read to me while I was recovering. The books were usually Harry Potter. I often listened to her cite The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix, The Half Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows. I'd have to say the Goblet of Fire was always my favorite because Harry finally learned magic and became able to defend himself. It was the first time he started showing real maturity.


The Ring


  It took some persistence but I was finally able to get coffee with her one morning. At that time, I revealed how I felt and that I wanted to try again. It was do or die as Anna had just informed me that she might be moving away to Washington State. Thankfully, she remained in Arkansas, and after several dates and a couple months, we decided it was time to go all in. Later that year, I started designing the ring.


The Perfect Plan

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  We then began talking about the future. Myself, a pursuit in pharmacy, and Anna, the pursuit of her Masters in Illustration. After a tortuous time waiting for responses, we finally heard the good news from the Savannah College of Art and Design. I then resolved to propose to her before we left for Georgia. For anyone who’s seen The Office, in many ways, I felt similar to Jim. I couldn’t wait any longer as I was just too excited to be engaged and married to Anna, my Pam. I wanted her to know just how much she meant to me and how much I loved her. I knew it had to be perfect! I finally narrowed in on what was to be the proposal: a private event with the two of us and our favorite photographer. This was my chance to show Anna how serious I was about our future together. I knew Danielle was the one we wanted as our photographer so it was imperative that I snag her before she was booked. The serendipitous part of contacting Danielle is she had every intention of contacting us with a special project she was wanting to undertake. By May 2017, Danielle and I decided in on July 2nd to be the big day.
Now came the fun part, getting Anna involved. I was able to avoid suspicion to my plot AND secure the day in question. About a week later, Danielle reached out to Anna according to plan. We had the perfect cover. Danielle introduced Anna to the idea of doing a love story photo shoot as a set of ‘test subjects’ and though this was no lie, it did not give way to the secret. Anna read to me the conversation betwixt Danielle and herself. Trying to keep my joy and excitement from spilling out, I could only make the comment, ‘yeah, that sounds really fun’ as Anna kept describing the events of which I was very well aware. Things were moving smoothly toward the big day.


The Wait

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  Sunday finally came and I was all versions of happy, nervous, excited, and anxious. As I donned my outfit, I discreetly took the ring out of its cozy box and placed it into the pocket on my waist coat. Though I knew it was securely tucked away in the pocket, I couldn’t help but nervously check to make sure it was still there every 15 minutes. Every hug, embrace, or form of contact caused me anxiety as I was always scared it would give away my ultimate goal before I had the chance to pop the question. As the day pressed on, I began to calm down and get into a groove with my girlfriend and hopefully-soon-to-be-fiancé. After a full day of photos, our final shoot location was all that remained.


The Big Reveal

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  Anna unfurled her folded piece of paper, on which contained the reasons she loves me, or so I had planned with Danielle. What was actually on the piece of paper was a poem that encapsulated everything I ever needed to hear from Anna to know that what I was getting myself into was exactly what I’ve always wanted. As she finished up and I wiped the tears from my eyes, it was my turn. The words began to flow from one idea to the next. Each one building off the other, but through my nervousness and anxiety, I can’t recall most of what I said in the preamble but the one part I will never forget is the reaction I received when I gave her the line, “…and from the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.” At those words, her expression went from joy and cheer to confusion and worry. Knowing I had a very short time to keep happiness intact, I continued on. “I’m sorry that I lied to you one more time.” After that, I dropped to one knee and pulled the ring out of my pocket. As I presented the ring her eyes lit up and she was rendered speechless. When I finished speaking, there was a silence that continued for much longer than I anticipated. Pretty sure she was stunned! The moments dragged into what seemed like hours until her words finally caught up with her stuttering nod. She said ‘Yes’…. ‘Yes’, ‘Yes!’…. ‘Yes!’ and we embraced with Debussy’s Claire de Lune playing in the background. It is my belief that Anna deserves fun surprises for candid memories, pampering to her hearts content, and most of all, someone who will support her in all her endeavors with all their strength, all their heart and all their soul. That is what that ring represents. Until death do we part.


The Great Adventure

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  When people discuss a proposal, they always talk about how it’s one of the scariest things you will do in your life. As someone who has recently done such as that, they are correct! What they don’t tell you is the exhilaration and the elation you feel alongside those anxious worries that creep in. For all that I am and all that I will become walking side-by- side with Anna, this event is one I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Amber and Jeff's Alaskan Adventure

  On August 1st, 2014 I packed my car to the max and moved 1,027 miles across the country to Bethesda, Maryland to work as a travel nurse.  On that summer day I chose to leave my loving family, best friends and my job. I left behind the comfortable life I had in Arkansas in search of something more.  I wasn’t sure what that “something more” was and I was uncertain that I would ever find it. But I knew I had to travel. I had to get lost. I had to find myself and with a little luck I found him. 


  I was excited and absolutely terrified at the same time. What if I didn’t make it? But what if I flourished? I ended up staying in Maryland for eight months then traveled on to New York City where I explored for six months. While in these two cities, I learned more about myself than I ever thought imaginable. I loved and I lost. I fought and I failed. I learned what things I wanted in my life and what things I did not. The whole year was a whirlwind of emotions and lessons that I will forever be thankful for. Because of traveling I was able to recognize how strong I really am. 

There’s something about being surrounded by the unfamiliar that gives you strength. Maybe it’s because you are free to be the purest version of yourself or maybe it is just because you encounter more opportunities the farther you get from your doorstep.

The beauty of it, though, is that the world won’t judge you for your mistakes. And if the people in it do, it won’t matter because you’ll be on to the next place soon enough.

Amber noticed the roots of this tree and how closely they resembled the human heart.

I was finishing up my last week in New York and was all set to head to Texas next when my recruiter called me and told me that the hospital had canceled my contract. She told me not to worry, that it would all work out. By the end of the week she had me a job offer at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. A few weeks later, I was settled in my new apartment, only a two hour drive from home. I worked my first few days in a lab with people who left a good first impression of the place. And then, in the middle of all my chaos, there was Jeff. He was a full time nurse there in the cath lab where I was going to be for the next thirteen weeks. One of our first conversations was him rattling off a handful of jokes that actually made me laugh, even the stupid "knock knock" one. He claimed he had to get a feel for my sense of humor.  I could not tell you if I loved him the first moment I saw him or if it was the second, third or fourth time; but I do remember the first moment I looked at him and realized that somehow the rest of the world seemed to vanish when I was with him. It's amazing how love finds you when you least expect it. Jeff and I became buddies without expectations. Over the next few weeks he became my closest friend. We were constantly joking and sharing funny pictures and videos we found on the internet. I’m certainly sure our co-workers recognized what was happening before we did. We stood there in the room, just friends, while everyone could see that we were only existing for each other.  


As the weeks passed, our friendship grew deeper. We talked about our friends, family and our love of football and dogs. I filled him in on all the details of my past year traveling and he told me all about his busy life and his experience of owning a gym while still working at the hospital. We both knew that we had met someone special but neither of us were looking for anything serious. I had just recovered from an unhealthy relationship that left me doubting that love still existed. I believe that every painful love I have been through was just an incident to crack open the deepest parts of my core and allow me to explore a passion so rare that I would find a love that was almost never meant to be. I was only in Memphis for a short amount of time. My contract was nearing the end and they hadn't offered an extension yet. He was so busy between the gym ownership and the hospital that he didn’t have much spare time.  I knew there was no way this would ever work out.  


  The extension offer finally came and towards the end of December. At the time, Jeff was hosting an ugly Christmas sweater party at his house. Of course I helped him plan this shindig. We worked on our own ugly sweaters, Christmas decorations, lights and food. And it was during the crafting of a solo cup Christmas tree that our fate was set in stone. We were so unexpectedly compatible. We shared the same strong beliefs, a similar sense of humor, morals and values, and very close dreams and aspirations for the future. I knew right away that he was it. Was I ready for love again? When someone makes you feel alive again, well it is worth the risk. I could tell he was just as scared to love as I was, but yet we both carelessly climbed into each other's embrace and before we knew it love had found us. To say our love has been the greatest adventure would be an understatement.


“There’s something about being surrounded by the unfamiliar that gives you strength. Maybe it’s because you are free to be the purest version of yourself or maybe it is just because you encounter more opportunities the farther you get from your doorstep.”


There isn’t any questioning the fact that some people enter your life, at the exact point of need, want or desire - it’s sometimes a coincidence and most times fate, but whatever it is, I am certain it came to make me smile.
— Nikki Rowe