Somewhere around the middle of March 1992 I decided that Kolette was the right one for me and I was going to ask her to marry me. I have been raised in such a way I knew before I could ask Kolette her opinion on the matter, I needed to get her fathers permission.
One afternoon in between classes at BYU, I called Gary Coleman (Kolette’s dad) and tried my best to make some small talk. Once we had reviewed everything happening with the local sports teams and there was nothing else to review, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind meeting me at a restaurant for lunch (as if he had absolutely no idea why we were getting together).
Kolette’s dad was a man of some note in our community, and someone I have a great deal of respect for. Therefore, I was at the least a little fearful and at most scared out of my shorts to have such a meeting. It wasn’t anything that he had done, he had always been genuinely kind and easy to talk to when we had spoken before. But, this was a different matter altogether and I was nervous that he might not think I measured up.
I picked a restaurant called Garcia’s. It was about halfway between where he and I lived. I was too anxious to go one-on-one with him at his house where he would have home-field advantage, and so I tried to pick a place that was more of a neutral site. He agreed to location and now all I had to do was try to find a way to sleep until the day of the meeting arrived
Finally, the day came. I got in my handicap accessible van and made the trip to the restaurant. I’m not exactly a person known for his punctuality, but that day was no ordinary day and I was not going to be late. I arrived at the restaurant a half-hour before we were scheduled to meet. Sitting in my, van feeling like my brain could explode, I thought it would be a good idea to take my mind off the situation. Trying to do so, I used the car phone in my van to call a man interested in helping me with a writing project. This was a big project for me, and I was sure that it would take my mind off the matter at hand.
What I didn’t know, was that the man interested in helping me was also quite a talker. This was great for the first 25 minutes, but as time continued to move on my nerves came back times ten. The clock kept inching closer and closer to our meeting time and I could not get him off the phone. Eventually, the man I hoped to convince to be my father-in-law pulled up. He got out of his car, saw me still sitting in my van and began to walk over to where I was parked. Still, I could not get this man off the phone. Mr. Coleman was now standing outside my window looking at his watch. I made one more attempt at getting the man off the phone and when that didn’t work I simply hung up. I figured he’d understand.
We went into the restaurant and for reasons that I cannot explain I was scared silly, and sweating profusely. I couldn’t do a thing to stop it. It seemed as though my nerves opened every pore in my body and released the floodgates. Even though it looked like I had just been dropped in a dunk tank at the local carnival I kept wiping my brow hoping he wouldn’t notice.
The hostess sat us at our table, gave us our menus and left. Normally, I’m a pretty talkative person. People who know me would not describe me as someone who quietly kept to themselves. But sitting there across the table from this man I couldn’t think of a thing to say. So, I did what any normal person would do and asked him what he thought about the graphic design work on the menus.
I told him that I felt the work was incredible. Not sure where this was going, he halfheartedly agreed. I couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of my mouth. I was trying to tell this man I wanted to marry his daughter and the best I could come up with was the artwork on the menus. I knew if I was going to have any real chance I had to come up with something better than that, so I began to ask him about his family.
I started with his wife and then asked about every child from oldest to youngest. Not quite ready to broach the subject of Kolette I skipped her altogether. Mr. Coleman gave me an odd look wondering if I had forgotten about the very daughter he thought we were there to talk about (although at this point I’m sure he was rethinking why we were there at all).
Finally, I knew it was time to get to the point. The look on his face told me that if I brought up the decorations on the wall I might lose the deal completely.
I mustered up every ounce of courage I could put together and said, “Mr. Coleman, I love…” And before I could even finish the sentence, a waitress came up and asked if we are ready to order. I gave her the dirtiest look I had given any one in a long time. “I was there,” I thought, “I was almost finished.” But, knowing that things were tenuous already, I placed my order.
This was something I had given a lot of thought to. Without the use of my hands I often require help when I eat at restaurants. Sometimes, if the dishes particularly large or messy I need someone to cut up the food or reposition the meal. And, because I was here trying to convince the man across the table that I could take care of his daughter I didn’t think having him reach over at the table to cut up my food would set the right tone.
When the waitress asked, I ordered a cheese quesadilla and asked her if she would have the people in the back cut it up for me. It would be hard for me to spill a cheese quesadilla, and if the waitress cut it up before she brought it out than I could eat it all by myself.
She took the order and I knew that it was now or never and I blurted out, “Mr. Coleman, I love your daughter and I’d like your permission to marry her.” It seemed like an eternity before he answered. I sat there for what I’m sure was at least two seconds, waiting for his answer.
He looked at me with his kind eyes and told me that he and his wife had been expecting this for some time. He told me that they were excited for the news and that I had his blessing. You can imagine the weight that was lifted off my shoulders. All I had to do now was make it through the rest of the meal and I can ask my girlfriend to be my fiancé.
As we talked about our future plans, and what types of things filled my hopes and dreams, the waitress brought out the food. The quesadilla had been cut exactly as I asked. She placed the plate in front of me she warned me that it might still be hot. My future father-in-law began to dig into his food and so I did the same.
I stuck my fork into one of the corner pieces and began to lift it to my mouth. As I did I realized that the waitress wasn’t lying, and that the plate was in fact hot. It was so hot that it had melted cheese in the quesadilla back together. When I went to lift the single bite to my mouth I picked up the entire plate of food.
I had done everything in my power to avoid it but now I had no other option. I had to ask Mr. Coleman to cut up my food. He agreed and as he leaned over the table to slice up my food like I was four years old I remember thinking in my head, “Sure I can take care of your daughter, but, will you purée my food?”
The meal was finally over, and I remember thinking that if I had any brains at all I would get the check and get out of there before anything else could go wrong. The waitress brought the check and when she did Mr. Coleman offered to go Dutch and pay for his half of the meal. I told him I wouldn’t hear of it. This was my meeting, I had invited him, and an effort to show that things in my life were financially sound, I would pay.
I reached behind my wheelchair to grab the black bag that holds my wallet, and much to my dismay, it was gone. Just before I left, my roommate borrowed my black bag to grab something out of my wallet, and had forgotten to put it back. I didn’t have a penny to my name. I wondered how long it would take someone who could not move their hands to wash enough dishes to pay for our meal.
Knowing this wasn’t an option, I turned to him and explained what had happened, apologizing profusely and committing to him that if it were the last thing I ever did I would pay him back. He agreed, and the waitress picked up his credit card with the check. He paid the bill, and it seemed as though lunch was over. I was so excited I would’ve done a backflip if I could have.
Because I was still sweating, my mouth was parched. And so before we left, I reached out to get one last drink. I steadied the glass between my two hands, lifted up and began to salivate as the water looked so crisp, clean and refreshing. Then, just before I put the cup to my lips I lost control of the glass and spilled water all over my lap. I couldn’t have aimed worse if I tried. Sitting there, I looked as though I had just wet my pants.
We left the restaurant, and as we stood in the parking lot at about to go to our separate cars, I looked up at him and said, “It’s not too late to change your mind.” He chuckled, and told me that everything was fine.
As I think about that day I think about the many opportunities that I had to quit, to give up, and just try again some other time. From the very beginning to the very end everything went awry. There are regular days in our regular lives they go the same way. Nothing goes right and everything goes wrong. On those days, we have the same choice that I had on that fateful day at Garcia’s asking for Kolette’s hand.
If we quit, there’s a good chance things will get easier. But at what cost? There’s little question that my day would have been easier had I left when I couldn’t get the man off the phone, started sweating, reviewed the menu, had to have my food cut up, forgot my wallet, or spilt the water. Quitting anywhere along the way would have saved me a lot of embarrassment, and a ton of discomfort. The cost however would have been unthinkable.
The years that I have been married to my wife have been the best years I have spent on the face of this earth. She makes every day brighter, every color more beautiful, and every experience more sweet. She truly is my reason for living. Giving up that day in that restaurant across from her father might have cost me Kolette.
Similarly, when we endure the difficult days that present themselves as we move through our lives when we think of giving up we have to also consider the cost. Who knows what experiences await you through the adversities each day brings.
So move forward and remember that the rewards that await you are worth the struggle. Who knows, without Garcia’s I may never have had Kolette’s hand.