WE may not have it all together, but together we have it all. These words are used fittingly by Neil Hughes who, because he kept on forgetting that he’d already done it, proposed to Addo author and entrepreneur Belinda Walton five times – to which she answered “YES” every time.
Neil proposed on November 30 last year for the fifth and final time after a church service at Christ Church in Cape Town.
“When Neil proposed to me, I felt so special. I felt like, once again, I was being given a second chance – the first ‘second chance’ being the survival of my accident,” said Belinda.
“We’re together 24/7 anyway, so why not get married? We want to be together and we want to be recognised as husband and wife.”
Neil and Belinda were both involved in car accidents – Neil in 2003 and Belinda in 1998. Neil’s accident happened while making a U-turn in his car, while Belinda’s car collided with a truck that jumped a red robot on a main highway during lunch hour traffic.
“As Jackson Brown Junior says, we should ‘believe in love at first sight’. This is a very romantic notion, but to be honest, I fell in love with Neil before I ever laid eyes on him.
“The fact that he can not only listen to my problems, but also relate to them, means he is holding the trump card!”
Neil, whom Belinda affectionately calls her “Falconetti” – a TV character from the 1970s who also wears an eye patch – broke his neck and suffers from double vision and short-term memory loss.
Belinda cannot walk independently, talk clearly, or use her right arm but “we complement one another because I am Neil’s memory and he is my voice, my legs and my right hand man”.
“These two catastrophic events happened in two different places and cannot be seen as the reason we are together, however, they definitely led us to one another.”
The two were put into contact by mutual friends but, because Neil lived in Cape Town and Belinda in Addo, they communicated via e-mail. After a few months of what Belinda calls “cybernetting”, she invited Neil to be her partner at a friend’s wedding in 2007.
Belinda reminisced on how they met: “Neil arrived a few days before the wedding, which meant we could practise dancing together. As we both suffer from poor and unpredictable balance, dancing is a challenge for the both of us and a very special accomplishment.”
Neil continues the story: “that night we developed a dance that suited us. We call it ‘The Sway’!”
When Neil landed in Port Elizabeth, they both wore, as planned, T-shirts announcing, “I am brain-injured, what’s your problem?”
They regularly wear T-shirts that match each other or bear messages like “Chipped Lid” and “Cracked Pot” to show the connection to and commitment they have with each other.
“I love the fact that Neil is patient and can empathise. We can share frustrations. He is without a doubt, the missing puzzle piece in the jigsaw of my life.
“When I am with him I feel complete. Neil sees me as the most beautiful girl in the world and I think he is a total dish.
“I love being with Neil because he makes me feel valuable and we laugh a lot, every day.
“I help him to remember stuff and remain calm, he helps me to get from A to B and to make myself understood. See, we need one another!
“When you are disabled it is very important to be able to laugh (at yourself), we help each other do that.”
The couple “live as swallows” – always together and either with Belinda’s parents in the Eastern Cape on a farm in Addo, or with Neil’s father in Cape Town. They are both classified as unemployable as a result of the life-changing motor vehicle accidents they survived.
Belinda runs a very small computer generated stationery business called Bizzi B and they both do voluntary work at the Fitzpatrick Library in Addo, Kirstenbosch Gardens and the Warehouse, a church affiliated organisation, in Cape Town.
When she met Neil, she had just finished writing her autobiography Belinda: The Brave and Inspiring Story of The Girl Who Never Gave Up.
“It was 10 years, 10 chapters. However, I wrote about the love we share before I published and included an addendum in my book. I decided that the world needs good news, needs to know that prayers are answered,” Belinda said.