Mark and Dionna
How We Met
I met Dionna in October 1999, one month after her 19th birthday. I was an Accountant in Washington, DC and she was a student at the University of Maryland and worked two jobs; Medical Office Assistant and Sales Clerk at Blockbuster Video. Remember them? I’d go to the wall every Friday after work and stare for 30-40 minutes, trying to decide between “Boyz n the Hood” or “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.” One evening, I decided to try a new release, but of course, they were all rented, so I stood by the girl scanning all the returns and was like, “Hey, you got blah, blah, blah?” She said, “No!” Then I heard a tape fall through the slot and was like, “Hey Cutie, can you check that.” I repeated this for almost an hour until she finally gave me her phone number.
We broke up in August 2001, one month before her 21st birthday. She was too young. I acted too young. For the first time in my life, I felt like a criminal, because I knew I was stabbing my very best friend in the back after so many promises. I felt intense loneliness because I was losing the person whom I said “good morning” and “good night” every single day. Then I met a nice girl, got married on a nice boat in New York, and moved 700 miles south to a nice suburb of Atlanta, Georgia to start a family.
Fast forward 17 years later. Maybe it was the nostalgia of aging that made me “Google” her name on New Year’s Eve. I unknowingly entered my information into a networking site. You know the site (mylife.com) that tells you when someone is searching for you. She received the following email, “A 42-year-old man who lives in Atlanta, Georgia and attended the University of Maryland is looking for you.” Little did I know that what I was searching for, was also searching for me. I received a Facebook inbox message the following day, “Happy New Year Mark! It has definitely been a long time. While I do not recall registering for MyLife, I received an email stating you searched for me? On a really rough day, it brought about a smile.” We reunited a month later, on Valentine’s Day in Baltimore.
how they asked
So this has been 19 years in the making. October 19th is the day I finally get to ask my best friend to marry me! But how do you give the best person you know, the best proposal ever? She moved back home to Crisfield, Maryland and started a Dance Outreach Ministry for young girls in her home-town. October would be their 10th anniversary. I had a plan. I would reunite the original group members, who are all adults now and have them perform a special dance.
I started on plan #1. But there was just one problem. You see, Dionna is a very smart woman, and she is impossible to fool. I live across the bridge in Potomac, Maryland and would need to meet up in her home-town with the young ladies to plan the proposal. She knows my movement. This would not work.
I started on plan #2. We visit Ocean City frequently. October is “off” season. I had a plan. I would enlist my real estate colleague, Lynette Catha to be my accomplice. I pictured the two of us walking on an empty beach, listening to the rolling waves. As we walk along, we come to a spot with a heart drawn in the sand. Of course, I would pretend I have never seen it before but, in fact, I had drawn it earlier, and buried her ring there. But there was just one problem. It was a Corvette weekend. The beach was crowded. This would not work.
I started on plan #3. Dionna is an incredible teacher. I had a plan. She has helped to make the world a better place for her students and her schools by going far beyond what is asked of her as an educator, so let’s acknowledge her work with something I called the “Teachers are Heroes” award. I reached out to the ABC-affiliated television station in her area. Kristina Stull, the Morning Producer said, “Sounds like a great plan! I’ll be in touch!”
Friday morning arrives, and Dionna headed to the WMDT studio at 6 am, believing she was appearing on “Good Morning Delmarva” for a teaching award. Little did she know, that she’d be getting the surprise of a lifetime instead. The travel time from Potomac to Salisbury was more than 2 hours. I did not sleep that night in fear of not waking up in time and got on the road at 4 o’clock in the morning. I arrived at the studio at 6:20 am, seven minutes before her “interview” with 47 ABC’s Brandon Bossert started. I quickly threw on my jacket and put the ring box in my pocket. Kristina met me outside and I reminded her that Dionna was a very smart woman and she’s very hard to fool. She pats me on the back and said, “Breath.” We walked inside the studio and I greeted the morning production staff. I could see her through the two-way window as the interview started.
Brandon: “Welcome back. Well, today I’m joined by Dionna Sterling, who is a full-time Teacher at Holly Grove Christian School and a part-time Professor at UMES (University of Maryland Eastern Shore). Today we would like to honor Miss Sterling for her contribution to education in her community after being chosen for a very special award. Do you know who nominated you for this award?”
Dionna: “I have no clue. I assumed initially that it was my mom because she is the biggest supporter of my career in education, but no clue.”
Brandon: “Well we actually have a very special guest joining us in the studio, the one who actually nominated you for this award. Take a look.”
I then walked on-set, handed her *47* long-stem red roses, and took over the interview: “Well first, the bad news. You did not win an award. I made that up. But you won my heart. Honestly, I didn’t realize that 19 years ago was when I was going to meet that someone special. When we reunited two years ago, I realize that you’re my someone special, and I thank GOD that I met you, and I’m thankful that HE brought you back into my life. And I promised myself that when the day comes for me to ask you this ONE question, I would climb to the top of a mountain, and yell it to the world. Well, I couldn’t find a mountain in Maryland, but I found ABC 47.”
“You are beautiful.”
“You are kind.”
“You are compassionate.”
“You are loving.”
“You are the best person I know.”
Right then, I stood up, reached into my pocket, and pulled out her ring. She was speechless, shaking, and crying. I dropped down on one knee, opened the box, and said, “Dionna Shae Sterling, will you make me the happiest man in the world… Will You Marry Me?”