Friday, January 6, 2017

engagement: the story

It's probably been a year or more since I wrote about more personal happenings on this space, instead choosing to focus on cinematic musings. But this chica's life has experienced a sudden dose of excitement, and I can't resist posting a bit about it here, perhaps planting the seeds for like-sharing in the future. Especially with what this new year will hold.

Nearly three months ago, in front of my closest friends and family, my boyfriend John became my fiancee. And made me the happiest woman in the world.

Yes, this is the story of that proposal.

My mother was planning a trip to visit that weekend. A bit suddenly, I'll admit, as she emailed me about a flight price she couldn't pass up, and we should plan a trip to Universal Studios Hollywood for that Sunday during her stay so she could experience The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Great timing, in fact, since John and I had been talking about breaking out our annual passes after a long summer of black-out dates. Sure Mom, come along!

I'd be lying if, in the back of my mind, I didn't consider what this might mean. Being in an adult relationship of 3.5 years means conversations about an eventual engagement and marriage were relatively frequent. When would the big question happen? It was anyone's guess, and by anyone, I mean me. But this sudden parental visit gave me that sneaking feeling of a subplot at work. It didn't help that the boyfriend seemed particularly curious about my mom's email... Why do you care?... I didn't ask. But I thought it. Even more so when John said he'd think of something for us to do on the Saturday she was here.

That was it. Wherever we went, whatever we did. Our Saturday excursion had to be it. I'd already scheduled a double date when my best friend, Shannon, and her boyfriend for Saturday night, so I hoped none of these new plans would hinder that. Tagging my mom along as a 5th wheel during our dinner plans wouldn't be so hard, since she's known Shannon for 15 years.

A few weeks later, the big Saturday arrived. John had suggested we visit the Huntington Library in nearby Pasadena—since I'd recently been, I suggested a different locale: The Getty Villa in Malibu. He agreed excitedly. Phew. Mom picked up from the airport, off we shuttled to the Pacific Coast Highway, me cautiously optimistic about the afternoon.

And what a beautiful afternoon it was. Meandering through the sunshine, herb gardens fragrant and the Greco-Roman marble statues glittering... but as the day wore on, I began to feel... bummed out. It wasn't happening. Walking through the stunning art exhibits, John led me out onto a sun-drenched balcony, free of any and all people that were crowding the grounds below. The Pacific Ocean in the distance, the fountain stretched out below. My mom asked me to turn around for a picture, and I spun around hopeful...? Nope, just a picture. John draped his arm around me, smiling.. and then inside we went.

What was going on? Am I crazy? (don't answer that) What more perfect moment could there have been? *sigh*

The day wore on, and soon, it was time to go home. I was wrong. And it felt sucky. Saying that I wasn't pouty about it would be a bit of a lie, but I tried to shake it off. Let's just say... the car ride home was quiet. John and my mom both asking me if I was alright, what for my sudden silence, and I said that of course I was.

It was several hours before our dinner plans with Shannon, and we grabbed a drink near our apartment to kill time. While my mom stepped away, I turned to John and admitted my surprise.

I was sure that was it, I said with a shrug.

But... he sighed. You picked that place. I want to be the one to plan something.

Fair enough! I recovered quickly, even whispering to my mom a few minutes later what I'd expected, and in shock she cried, Really?? Why would he do that while I was there?!?!


photo courtesy Idle Hour

As the sun started to set and some weirdly ominous storm clouds rolled over the San Fernando Valley, the three of us ventured off to meet my friends for dinner, thoughts of engagement sated by my mother's clear (and convincing) dismissal of her involvement. During the 3 minute drive down the road to one of our favorite restaurants, the newly refurbished Idle Hour (built in the 1940's and famously shaped like giant barrels), I gossiped with my mom and pointed out a house I desperately wished I had the money to buy, and all the fun fantasy talk that happens when you're adulting super hard.

At the restaurant, I—naturally—attempted to micro-manage where we were going to sit. Outside was too cold... gotta sit inside this time. The hostess greeted us, and I mentioned we were waiting for a couple people.

"What are the names?" she muttered.


"Oh, we seated them in the back patio."

"Shannon. My Shannon? She's here with a guy?"

"I think so," she nodded. "They thought it was a bit cold outside, and a larger party in the Bulldog cancelled. They asked if they could sit in there, and we allowed it."

Okay, I thought. She's gotta be thinking of the wrong Shannon. Though that does sound very 'Shannon.'

"Okay," I said, "but if it's not them, it's fine, we'll sit in the barrel."

SIDE NOTE: The back of Idle Hour, just outside the main barrel building, is a beautiful intimate patio with a towering tree in the middle, littered with lights. Very romantic, in and of itself. But further back, nestled in the back corner, is a building in the shape of a giant pipe-smoking Bulldog. If you've seen the movie The Rocketeer, you'd probably recognize him. This is the former, also refurbished, Bulldog Cafe, which now serves as a special event space at Idle Hour. This is where the hostess wanted to take us.

photo by William Bradford

As obvious as it may have been, I literally had no idea what I was walking into.

The hostess walked our small party through the courtyard, and in my head I was fully preparing myself to walk in on a group of complete strangers, apologize politely, and slowly back out of the room to go back inside the main restaurant to wait for my actual friends to arrive.

Then she opened the door. And there were my friends. ALL OF THEM. Well, a lot of them. More than just Shannon and her boyfriend, Greg. They were there too. But so were seven others, and even more on a hastily set-up Hangouts Video Call in the middle of the table.

My brain shut off, and I immediately started cursing, like you do. John, who had been oddly quiet yet calm up until this point, held onto my arms as everyone inside this weird room chuckled and smiled widely.

Then John spoke, and my heart ballooned in size and tears welled up in my eyes. Partially because I was so mad at myself for being such a grouch earlier, but also because I couldn't believe he'd surprised me. That I didn't actually see this coming. The other thing that I didn't see coming was that, instead of speaking to me all the words that he wanted to say, John broke out into American Sign Language. A language, I should stress, that he does not know—but that I do. In the months leading up to this night, he had learned (with the help of one of my closest friends, Cassie) his entire speech to me using only his hands.

I genuinely couldn't believe it. I still can't. This is easily the most romantic thing that's ever happened in my life, and John showed me just how well he knew me.

As he signed, I cried, trying to keep track of his meaning through my scrunched eyes, hands covering my face. The world slipped away, until he began to speak again.

And he knelt down. With a ring box clasped in his hands. "Will you marry me?"


The rest of the night feels like a blur, as the most beautiful ring I've ever seen was slipped onto my finger and I got to kiss John for the first time as my fiancee. My friends cheered. Strangers outside of the Bulldog applauded. And I fell into a world of champagne and tears and toothy grins that lasted long into the night...

I wanted to write down this story because I don't ever want to forget it. A day full of so many emotions, expectations, surprises, devious plans, friendly secrets & lies, and so much love.

I can't wait to spend the rest of my life with this incredibly generous, goofy man.


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