It takes a bit of the excitement away from the proposal when one knows the answer, when one's soon-to-be fiancée helped pick out the ring and engraving ("mutual weirdness"), told you the wedding date a month ago, has selected the officiant (Rhianna, in whose backyard we met), has picked out a venue and the theme (potluck barbecue before the wedding, then then the ceremony, then cake and drinks), and is now busying herself scrutinizing which paper straws we will be using. Amber told me about a week ago, while finishing up a book on affordable weddings, that there was no longer even a need for me to propose. In her eyes, we were already affianced.
I declined this generous offer, because I am a writer and because I cannot stomach having all of these elements lying around my house and not weaving them into a story.
A week ago, Amber had asked me to drive us over an hour away to look at one of the few venues that was in our theoretical price range and willing to allow a wedding. Of course, every venue that heard mention of the wedding massively inflated their prices, though this one only by a thousand dollars. "Only by a thousand dollars" still sounds like a ridiculous phrase, as I spent years being very poor, but I am reliably assured that the entire wedding industry exists to successfully squeeze pennies from couples who would do well to save a few for the marriage that comes after. In a way, I am still in this starvation mode. I spent two years being poor, having my bank balance on the forefront of my mind, fighting the state over unemployment benefits whenever schools were closed and I did not have a way to make money for a month. Being married is a costly proposition, a massive expenditure of resources for something that lasts a few days (since the costliness of weddings has no positive bearing on the quality of the subsequent marriage; I have a cousin who rode a white stallions up to a castle for his wedding and was divorced within a few months).
I was exhausted as I drove there, having not slept well the prior night and having spent my day to this point dealing with my literal (and not literary) juvenile delinquents. I was in a foul mood and want nothing more than a nap, but Amber seemed so delighted at the potential for having found a site for our presumptive wedding that I couldn't deny her.
Amber's plan was to rent a cabin and yard for four days in order to prepare for the wedding proper and then clean up afterward, also giving us a place to house friends and helpers who do not wish to make the commute to a hotel. When we arrived at the end of a bumpy, gravel driveway to a faded cabin, I grumbled, "This place had better be amazing..."
The owner and his excitable dog greeted us as we exited the car. He is former military, but he came off as warm. He showed us around the cabin, which is both rustic in appearance and modern in convenience. The yard features a garden he assured us would be in lush bloom when we intended to have the wedding and a large pond that had played host to a Chinese wedding earlier in the year, and in which we are encouraged to fish and boat. He mentioned how, when he got home from his last deployment, they threw a massive party on the property with a bonfire and tables made from cable spools. When the party was winding down, they rolled the tables onto the fire for easier clean-up. It was this story that cemented in my mind that this could be the right location for our wedding, since I can likely roll unruly guests into fires without paying an additional damage deposit.
For the proposal, I considered the complex, bribing our friends to wait in significant locations around Red Hook to give her clues for an hours-long scavenger hunt that would end back at our apartment for an engagement party. I weighed whether I ought to be funny about it, popping the question during the proposal scene in Rocky Horror Picture Show in a week, conspiring with the cast, but nix this as being too public and potentially embarrassing (one of the prohibitions of proposals is asking anywhere around too many strangers). I mused on the torridly romantic, the lavish, the obscure.
I settled on a sushi picnic at Poet's Walk, a public park whose hills overlook the Hudson River, watching the sunset before a lunar eclipse. Given that she selected our wedding date based on the moon cycles, this seemed fitting symbolism, a prelude to the event to come.
Yesterday, I rushed after work to a chocolate shop in Rhinebeck, a town away. To my way of thinking, proposals require chocolate covered strawberries. After neglecting to see the shop four times, I finally found it, only to discover that strawberries had not been in season for about a month. I paced the street in frustration because the very laws of nature and chocolatiers should bend for my sense of romance. I called Amber, who refused to suggest an alternate candy (she knew about the picnic and likely the potential for a proposal, though she was too bright to mention it to me for fear I will leave this as a picnic and contrive something else). I asked her to hand the phone to her mother, who implied that something containing nuts would be a fine replacement. Amber then texted that she would like chocolate covered pretzels, which I bought in addition with a candy necklace.
When I got home, I hid this parcel under some vegetables in the crisper, feeling as though Amber would be able to guess my marital intentions if she saw three chocolate dipped pretzel sticks and a candy necklace.
I barely taste the sushi on our picnic, but it is a small sacrifice to make. Amber feeds me her Philadelphia roll, tainted with a schmear of wasabi from the hike here. We talk affably and innocuously through dinner, watching the lush sunset, the hues matching and exceeding that of the turning leaves. The day has been warm, but we still huddle together. I offer her one of the chocolate covered pretzels and, after she expresses disappointment that they are not smaller but eats one anyway, I ask if she could stand to eat something else.
"That depends on what."
I pull the candy necklace out of my pocket. "You once told me I was allowed to propose with one of these. Does that stand?"
She nods and puts out her hand for it. As I release it, she sees I have fastened the ring onto the necklace. "Will you marry me?"
She says, "I guess..."
"Nope," I say, reaching for the necklace, "taking it back. You did that wrong."
"Unacceptable. My two proposals ever cannot have netted me an 'If you are kidding, I will fucking kill you,' and an 'I guess.' I can't have it. We'll try again when you can be a bit more definitive about the whole thing."
She kisses me long and hard to shut me up. "Of course I'll marry you."
I place the ring on her finger and it twinkles in the last of the sunlight. I then realize that I am waiting for the moment of panic that does not come, because I panicked after proposing to Emily all those years ago. I'm older now, it's true, and much more closely in the position to be proposing to anyone. As with so much between us, there is an inevitability and a calmness to the proceeding that borders on fate.
As we leave, trying to get to the entrance before we are locked in, I see the penumbra of the Earth grace the edge of the moon. We return home for an impromptu dance party to a romantic mix (she has been auditioning a playlist for the wedding) and romantic comedies.
I have chosen wisely.
Soon in Xenology: Something witching this way comes.