October 27, 2005

A Proposal to Make

To be perfectly honest, I'd had my eye on the R. W. Norton Art Gallery in Shreveport (specifically, the beautiful gardens attached thereto) for months. Exactly one year before, Fall Break 2004, I had planned a visit to this same gallery with Anna, Scholl, and Randy as a fun break activity which would allow me the chance to see a page from a Gutenberg Bible. At the time I was taking History of the English Language, taught by Dr. Watson, and he offered extra credit for a one-page summary of the experience. The expedition was planned for October 26th, and, as Rachel and I had had DTR the day before, I asked her along. It was our first date, and I rather enjoyed myself.

By Fall 2005, marriage had already been a topic of serious conversation with Rachel. I had visited her family in California. She had played a role in the ring selection process. We were both well-aware of the approaching one-year-of-dating mark on October 25th, and she had stated a number of times that she rather expected me to propose on that day. I wanted to propose on that day, it seemed fitting somehow . . . and I wanted to do it in this great location I'd had my eye on due to its significance to us personally, its beauty, and the fact that it is outside of Longview, and even Texas. But how on earth was I to do that without giving away the game? It's not any fun if it's not a surprise.

Well, I by now I was enrolled in Reading the Bible as Literature, again with Dr. Watson, and once again he offered extra credit for a pilgrimage to visit the Gutenberg page. Gallagher and Randy were in the class with me, and the following idea occurred: If I framed this journey in the form of a quest for extra credit with friends along (and Gallagher actually doing the driving), while hinting that I still had business to attend to before I could propose (ring acquisition, parental consent), perhaps she wouldn't see it coming. Parental consent had, in actuality, been acquired nine days previously, and the ring had arrived the day after that, so everything was in place. I passed my Fall Break in a state of high anticipation, wishing I didn't have to wait until Tuesday.

We set out shortly after lunch on the 25th. Gallagher had the ring secured in his pocket so that its presence would not be detected on my person by accident. We had a pleasant drive to Shreveport, waving a gleeful goodbye to Texas at the border, and arrived at the art gallery in due time. Of course, before I could lead Rachel out into the gardens and do the deed, we had to tour the entire gallery.

It seemed much smaller the last time I was there, and every time I thought we had seen the last room, we found a new wing to explore. Finally, though, we had seen everything. When Rachel paused to tie her shoe, Gallagher hauled me around a corner on the pretext of re-examining a bronze sculpture called "The Puritan" which we had both previously admired and stuffed the box with the shiny in my left jacket pocket.

Suddenly, it seemed to be nearly impossible to get Rachel to leave the gallery. She stopped in every room on the way out to look at things we had already seen, and discovered another room we hadn't visited before we reached the exit. At the front door, she paused to slowly peruse the brochures and selected several to take with her. The instant we stepped outside and made for the gardens around the back of the building, she spotted a bench and sat down. All the while, I had my left hand in my jacket pocket, and I felt that it was starting to become noticeable.

Gallagher and Randy took the opportunity of her pausing at the bench to get a headstart towards the gardens, and left us completely in their dust. As we approached the first divide in the path and I attempted to steer her down towards the central pond, she stubbornly pulled towards the direction they had taken and I had to talk her into going a different way. To their credit, Randy and Gallagher went completely to ground, disappearing quickly and remaining out of sight for quite some time.

Rachel, meanwhile, (and, in retrospect, neither of us are certain of how the conversation took this turn) regailed me with the details of a recent conversation with her roommate, wherein they had both resolved to say "No" the first time some hapless fellow proposed to them. I still can't believe she did that to me. Here she was turning me down a full 2-5 minutes before I even planned to ask. Too late to change plans (were I to take her threat seriously), and too early to know whether she was serious, I chose to take this in the most positive possible light: as a sign that she had no idea what I was about to do.

Before long we had arrived at an isolated bridge over a trickling stream. The only people in sight were a pair of landscapers a few hundred feet upstream, totally absorbed in moving rocks, or digging, or something. I stopped mid-bridge, much to Rachel's confusion, and started talking. I'll probably never be able to remember exactly what I said . . . I got out a few semi-romantic and heartfelt, though probably platitudinous, statements. I was having a little trouble piercing directly to the heart of the matter, so I attempted to bridge the remaining gap with a private joke.

Every now and then during the previous year of dating, I'd say something to Rachel like, "I have a proposal . . ." and she'd immediately interrupt with, "No! You can't do that yet! You have to have a ring first!" This response has become standard and automatic whenever the word "proposal" creeps into the conversation. So I said, "I have a proposal to make . . ." and my voice trailed off, waiting for the standard response so I could pull out the ring and proceed in proper fashion. I didn't get the standard response. I got Rachel's mouth dropping wide open, and a breathless, "You're not serious! Here? Now?" I guess I must have said it a bit differently than normal.

A combination of this unexpected response and the recent revelation that her answer would be "No" anyway caused me to hesitate. I had my hand out of my pocket by now, the small, padded box nestled in it, and I was standing there, vascillating. That would have been a good time to simply dive in, but I chose instead to make sure that it was, in fact, a good time. "I've got the ring. You want me to do it here?"

*mouth still agape*

"Well? Shall I?"

"Ummm . . . I . . . Uhhh . . ."

Somehow I got the idea that I could go for it, so I did: I hit one knee (a startlingly awkward position, it turns out) and popped the question. She was too shocked to do anything but say yes, and I suddenly realized that this must be the real reason that proposals ought to come as a surprise. It's not important so that she can have a pleasant surprise; it's important so she'll be caught completely off-guard and won't have time to think about doing anything stupid . . . like not accepting. I offered her the ring, box and all, only to be met with: "I'm not putting it on! That's your job!"

"Oh." Well, it was all the excuse I needed to stand back up, anyway. I fumbled it out, slipped it almost-deftly onto her finger, and we continued with our walk while she stared at the shiny-ness and tried to recover. We reached the bottom of the hill, and the center of the garden, only to find that it was even more isolated, and more beautiful, than the location I had picked. I had jumped the gun, snatching at the first hint of complete isolation for fear of somehow running into a large group of people around the next bend and being completely unable to proceed. Rachel looked around sadly, "This is a pretty spot, too."

*sigh* "You want me to ask again?"

*large grin, nod*

*sigh* "Okay, gimme the ring back."

We selected a new spot together. I really can't do it justice without a lengthy and awkward description, but it was very pretty: a shady flagstone island in the center of a largeish pond fed by small watefalls and surrounded by bronze sculptures. I asked for the second time in much the same manner as I had pictured myself asking for the first time. "See?" I said, as I slid the ring back on. "I improve with practice."

Rachel has two proposal stories to choose between, and personally I rather prefer my second attempt . . . but the historian within constrains me to accuracy. And the storyteller within says that this version has a higher entertainment value. And maybe neither story is truly complete without its other half.

Gallagher and Randy finally reappeared as Rachel was talking to her parents on her cell phone. Her first words to both her father and her mother had been some variation of, "How could you not tell me?!" She claims to hate surprises . . . and definitely hates being "the last to know." Gallagher amused himself by listing off everyone else who had known of my plans beforehand, including Uncle Doug and his (Gallagher's) parents. Oh, I feel should note somewhere the oddity of Randy's presence on both my first date and at the scene of my engagement a year later. I guess I'll file that away under "Random Wheeler Trivia." We returned to Longview in high spirits, allowing the conversation to roam here and there. One particularly memorable exchange comes to mind.

Randy (from the front seat, after a pause in the conversation): Rachel, are you looking at your ring?

Rachel (gaze flying guiltily upwards as right hand protectively covers ring): No!

When we got back on-campus, I walked Rachel back to her apartment and turned her over to Paige, then left before the squealing could begin in earnest. I called my parents, my siblings, my grandparents, Andy, and Scholl, and tried a few other people, but couldn't get through. Then I cleaned up, dressed up, and went to the Olive Garden for supper with Rachel. By then she was quite drained from talking to people herself, but food cheered us both up a great deal before we crossed the street to meet up with our friends at Marble Slab.

There was quite a crowd waiting when we arrived: Gallagher, Randy, Martinez, Uncle Doug, Anna, Scholl, Sharon, Moore, Sarah, Tim, Brian, Jonathan (my future brother-in-law), and a surprise appearance by Ardith, who had fortuitously blown into town for Thursday's Career Fair. The effect was only slightly overwhelming, and I had a wonderful time joking and laughing. And Gallagher bought me and Rachel ice cream. Gallagher is the man. Rachel and I spent the last few hours before sleep at the Mayes' apartment with Morgan, Caleb, Ashley and Audra, and then I dropped Rachel off on her porch and returned to collapse with exhaustion.


The past few days have been equally enjoyable. Rachel and I went around to tell all of our professors, and random people I barely know keep congratulating me in class or in the hallways. Word travels like a brushfire around here. Oh, and we got on the waiting list yesterday for Married Student Housing for next fall. We are couple #5. We beat couple #6 by about five minutes. Ah, yes, and I didn't mention that Rachel's finger wasn't properly sized when we investigated that aspect of the purchase some time ago, so the ring is a bit big. We wandered around for an hour this afternoon looking for someplace that had a ring guard that could help hold it in place, and made arrangements to have it sized down a bit. I'm supposed to take it back in tomorrow.

Anyway, now it's time to settle down into some semblance of normalcy again as we try to catch up on homework. I've got two or three major papers to write in the coming month, and I'm really hoping to do a good job on them because the topics interest me. And I'll be holding out for December 14th when I can escape to Guatemala for the first time in two years, this time with my fiancée in tow.

Posted by Jared at October 27, 2005 10:23 PM | TrackBack