Stella’s Notes

Michele Garza & Nick O'Connor

Nick and I hadn’t been dating for very long when I introduced him to the family I was acting as a nanny for. A family I knew through other families I had worked for when I was younger, a family that like many others treated me as a member of their own. I had gone back to watching their three kids (Stella, then eight, Alexandra, then seven, and Matthew, then eleven) after leaving a desk job that my heart was no longer invested in. My heart was no longer invested in many things, partly because of a short but substantial battle with Lyme Disease (but that’s another story).
The kids’ mother had recently had back surgery so I was working occasional weekends to help manage their active schedules. Nick and I had only been dating a few months, a time when weekends are normally reserved for spending every second with the newness of a relationship. The kids’ parents welcomed the idea of having Nick tag along for some of our activities so I could spend time with him but also help them out in a pinch. I relished the idea of putting Nick to the “kid test” early on in our relationship.
The first kid Nick met was Stella. He and I had squeezed in a lunch before I was to pick her up at an Upper East Side birthday party at a country club. We were nearby so he walked me over and kept me company as we waited for the last of the games the kids were playing to finish. I pointed out Stella. She has no idea I was bringing Nick. We watched intently until she looked up and found us in the crowd. I mouthed “NICK!” pointing at him — she smiled with a look that conveyed, “I figured.” That night at dinner Stella loudly reported, “When Nick put us in the cab he kissed Michele on her forehead. Really, I saw it.”
The next time Nick accompanied me on nanny duty it was with the girls on a cancer walk in Central Park. Their mom could hardly sit up let alone embark on distant walking.The girls had their hearts set on attending the charitable event so instead of a boozy brunch downtown, Nick and I donned matching tee shirts and managed a small group of elementary school girls on a few loops of the lower part of the park. That night at dinner Stella and Alexandra made sure their parents and Matthew were aware, “Nick and Michele held hands the entire time!”
The kids had only met Nick a half a dozen times before Stella asked me, “So when are you going to tell him you L-O-V-E him?”
“What? I just met him. Love takes time. Just because you go on a bunch of dates does not mean you love someone. You don’t just throw the word love around. You need to be sure. Really sure.”
“He loves you too, I can tell by the way he looks at you.”
“What? No. What?”
“The way you look at each other — that’s love. You’re in love.”
A few nights later I was on the train home when I found a little note folded up in my purse. The note was address:
To: Nick From: Stella

I opened it. It read:
TO: Nick Michele Love’s you.

That Stella! She must have thought Nick would find the note himself and then declare his love for me.
I folded the note back how I found it and placed it securely in my wallet. I kept that note on me every day until I was really, really sure I loved him (which was after our first fight, on a corner in the West Village after day drinking at the Belmont, but that’s another story). When the time came (well… the second time the time came…the first time I chickened out) I give Nick the note. That’s how I told him I loved him for the first time.

When I moved in with Nick we framed Stella’s note and hung it in our bedroom as a daily reminder of the love a little girl saw in our eyes even before we admitted out loud.
Since then Stella and her family moved to Washington DC. Nick and I try to visit every few months. Sometimes I get the feeling they are more excited to see him than me. Our last visit in 2015 was for Halloween. When were leaving and saying our goodbyes Stella declared, “Well, you better call us,” to which I replied, “You can call us too. It works both ways.” She just smiled at me.
Then a handful of weeks later, on December 12, 2015, a Saturday, Nick came into our room and he knelt down beside our bed where I was still fighting with the idea of getting up. He stated he had something for me and handed me a piece of paper (technically two, but that’s another story). It was written in that same familiar little handwriting. This time it read:

To: Michele From: Stella

I opened it. Inside was:
Nick wants to Marry You.  From: Stella

When he cleared the lump in his throat Nick asked me to spend the rest of my life with him.

Their special dates

Michele Garza & Nick O'Connor were happily engaged on 12/12/2015 .

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