Daniel “Danny” Stowe, 19, got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Amanda, that they get married in exactly 6 years, five months and three days. He held out his hand carrying a slim metal ring that shone in the light. “I promise you, Amanda 'Mandy' Skye Miller, to be here as your friend and more, if you’ll have me.”
Amanda and Danny had been dating since they were fourteen. They met when they bumped into each other at the water fountain at school, and had been inseparable ever since. Everyone knew them as a couple, and everyone knew that they would get married and have a big, big family like they always talked about.
Except they didn’t.
Danny wanted to be an electrical engineer. He excelled at building things and liked to use his hands. He was forever ripping apart electronic gadgets and dissecting their innards. He could fix anything that had an electronic pulse.
But he couldn’t fix his own heart. Its electronic pulses were sending shockwaves into his body that no amount of wiring could repair.
Mandy wanted to be a nurse. She truly enjoyed helping people feel better and was a nurturer at heart. Every time anyone needed comforting, Amanda was there with open arms, and an open heart.
Until she couldn’t comfort the one person who needed her most.
Danny enrolled in community college after high school. He was in his sophomore year when he gave the promise ring to Amanda. They wanted to get married on the same day that his beloved grandmother and grandfather had gotten married: June 7, 1944. His own parents had died in an automobile accident when Danny was four, so his memories of childhood were mostly about his grandparents who had raised him.
Danny’s Grandfather had passed away from a heart attack, and his Grandmother, despite loving Danny with all her heart, felt her own give away without her beloved husband by her side and she passed away within the year.
So Danny knew that heart trouble ran in his family. He first had the palpitations and sweats when he was watching a scary movie. They had attributed it to being ‘excitable’ and that he shouldn’t watch frightening movies any more.
But then the attacks would pccur randomly - in school, in church, on the playing field. Tests showed that Danny had an abnormally large heart and it was pumping blood way too fast and irregularly for his body size, a congenital condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This condition is believed to inhibit heart cells' ability to contract. The cells react by releasing more calcium, which stimulates contractions but also makes the heart grow so big that parts of it can't get enough oxygen. Arrhythmias follow, which can lead to heart failure.
When diagnosed, the first thing that he did was apologize to Mandy. She was everything to him, and here he was disappointing her with a faulty heart. He told her to “find someone else. Find someone with a good heart who can take care of you.” Of course Amanda laughed at that and told him that the only person she wanted to be with was him.
Amanda likes to say that she walked into this relationship with her eyes wide open. At nineteen, however, death seems a long, long way away and immortality seems natural. “I didn’t really think about anything other than our future. When you’re that age, what else do you think about?”
“It remains one of those strange mysteries that make people shrug and wonder whether some higher power was doing them a favor or playing a trick on all of them.”
Danny was playing baseball with some friends when the unthinkable happened. His heart gave out, and Danny fell face forward in the pitching mound. He was gone. At first his friends thought he was teasing. Once they realized he was dead, they reacted with disbelief, hostility, rage, fear and grief.
“I remember the knock on the door,” says Amanda. “I was with my mother and we were baking cookies for the local veterans' fund raiser. A boy, another friend from high school, came by and I remember him just standing there in the backdoor so that the sun was behind him. He was just a dark shadow. I thought it was Danny at first.”
The friend gave them the terrible news and as soon as the words struggled out of his mouth, Amanda was racing towards the playing field. She could see the ambulance’s lights and as she ran her eyes followed the rotating red and yellow beams until she was dizzy. Gasping for air, she saw a figure being loaded into the van and she struggled towards them. Slamming the doors they ambulance peeled away and she was left standing there.
Danny’s friends wouldn’t look at her. They knew he was gone. That he’d been down too long to revive him. They couldn’t meet her eyes. They wouldn’t.
Amanda’s mother appeared behind her and caught her collapsing daughter. Together they went to the hospital where they were met by Danny’s weeping parents. Inconsolable, they leaned on each other for support.
That night Amanda sat on her porch, her eyes rimmed and red, while people stopped by to check in on her and offer their condolences.
“Such a tragedy…”
“Terrific loss to the community…”
“A fine young man….”
In the midst of this, Amanda’s fingers pulled at her hands, rotating the promise ring as was her habit. Only, the ring wasn’t there!
Frantic, Amanda screamed and her parents came rushing out. Friends sitting on the porch convened and everyone got flashlights and together they traced their way back to the playing field. They called the hospital. They tore through the house searching for the ring. They even searched the ambulance that had hauled its precious cargo away.
At that moment, there was nothing more important than Amanda finding that ring. She panicked and felt that if she had truly lost the ring then she truly had lost Danny. She had to find the ring. Obsessively she ripped apart the house searching for it. One by one her friends, tired and suffering in their own grief, quietly exited the house while Amanda became more and more frantic. Finally, exhausted, she fell into a quivering mass on the floor where she wept herself to sleep.
Funeral arrangements were made. Tributes bestowed. Funds raised. Through it all, Amanda was numb, her fingers constantly going to the empty space on her finger.
Danny had been well liked. His loss was a blow to the tight knit community and friends who’d all grown up together. Amanda was a walking ghost, not even knowing what day it was or when was the last time she’d eaten. All she could think about was that lost ring. Where could she have lost it? She traced her steps back to the fields dozens of times.
Tracing her footsteps for the umpteenth time, she walked back into the house empty handed yet again. The phone rang. It was the medical examiner’s office. They had performed an autopsy on Danny, and in an x-ray they had found an object in his stomach. Was she missing a ring by any chance? Did she have any idea how or why a ring was in his stomach?
Amanda grabbed the phone and asked them to keep it for her. She slumped against the wall and sat there, sobbing. To this day she has no idea how or why the promise ring was in Danny’s stomach. No one does. It remains one of those strange mysteries that make people shrug and wonder if some higher power was doing them a favor or playing a trick on all of them.
Amanda is now married with children. Not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of Danny and keeps his ring tucked away in her jewelry box. Her will states that she is to be buried with that ring when her time to leave this earthly habitat arrives.
Thank you Amanda, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Adara Bernstein and Story of My Life ®