A-Z Gaiden: Proposal

As I stare across the very short span that separates me from 30, I’m the first to admit that there are things I haven’t done. I haven’t published the novels I would like, or the sweeping campaign world epics that gamers the world over could thrill to. I haven’t built the resume I might like, or even lived anywhere I’ve ever wanted to live.

But on Friday the 13th of May, 2011, I accomplished something of which I am very proud, and by which I am truly blessed. That was the day I proposed to my special lady friend, and she said yes. And, while the story has very little to do with the fine art of tabletop gaming, I’ve been promising to write it out for a while—my people are scattered throughout the civilized lands of the world, and it’s much easier to point them to the proposal story than try to get every one on the horn.

So as a bit of background: I’ve been in a relationship with my special lady friend cum fiancée for 4 years as of today (so long as I have this whole thing typed out in the next 30 minutes, that is). I met her when she strolled her fine ass into the small (5-ish employees) independent bookstore I worked at. I sold her two books: The Attack, by Yasmina Khadra, and Rant, by the man who gave us Fight Club. It’s worth noting that while I love both of these books, Stacey didn’t like either of them. But by dammit, she still bought them from me! Rant wasn’t in-store, so she actually had to order it…which was my clever way of getting the statuesque Amazon back in my store.

Still, the risk that I wouldn’t be working—a ridiculous risk, given that I was always working at the bookstore, since if I wasn’t working they lost money—meant that I didn’t want to rely on being around for her to pick it up. We chatted whilst I plied her with goods, and I gleaned sufficient information from our conversation that the second she left I was up in them facebooks, trying to locate her.

Problem was, there were TWO Staceys with the same last name, both from similarly-named schools. So it seriously came down to a blind message that felt much smoother when I wrote it than it (she’s had me re-read it at several intervals in our relationship and…well, I’m lucky she responded). I was apprehensive going into the relationship because she’s a statuesque beauty with a voice that sounds like honey steaming atop raw sex-rock, and I’m a nebbish mulatto who maintains a blog about gaming things. I spent a few weeks pursuing her, navigating the challenging scenario that was living with a straight playa and hanging out with a guy she’d had a crush on in high school. Finally, though, I asked her to be my lady…she’d brought me Hardee’s breakfast and that was more than I could take.

Anyway, fast-forward almost four years. We’ve weathered some business, including being in different cities for the majority of our relationship. The last two years had us about a thousand miles away, each attending a different graduate program…and the deal was always that I could not propose to her during grad school. She made that rule and then tried several times to convince me that I could ignore it, but Homey don’t play dat. That meant I had a pretty clear timer in operation, counting down to the day she held a Master’s degree (and thus matched me in degrees, since we both have two Bachelor’s but my program ended the summer after it started, so I had one year with that extra piece of paper) and needed a ring on the hand holding said degree.

Now, a few things increased the stakes surrounding this proposal:

  • Stacey is fucking impossible for me to surprise. There is no living being with a better grasp of the whys and wherefores of my labyrinthine mind. For an earlier anniversary I took time, during my lunch break from my shifting slinging books at a different literary repository, to set up some heart-shaped pizzas from a delicious local pizza joint. I did this on my lunch break, during a full 8-hour shift, and did not see Stacey until sometime around 10 that evening. I did this on maybe a Wednesday, when our actual anniversary wasn’t until that weekend. And I played that shit cold, ultimately (on the day) making the argument that pizza was cheap relative to other restaurants, and thus would leave us more lucre for seeing a film. When we got to the restaurant, I bade her hold a table while I placed the order, playing the chivalrous. I sat down, and the first fucking thing she said was “Wouldn’t it be great if they brought out heart-shaped pizzas?”

    Impossible. To. Surprise.

    The approach I ultimately went with was just one proposal plan, of which I had several; including the “Paper Rock Gambit” and the “Planner Surprise.” Here’s the thing, though: Stacey actually guessed the latter approach (which would have involved giving her a planner with sweet things written in it on various days, hook being that since we were going to start a new phase of our lives together I wanted to be a part of the run-up; when she opened said planner the ring would have been on a golden chain—or dental floss, depending on resources—threaded through the spine) (Stacey’s really into planners, guys. She buys them like one might crack Magic boosters) after I’d been sitting on it for at least four months. Ultimately my success was largely predicated on improvisation and, as I’ll mention in another list point, extreme poverty.

  • Stakes be high. Stacey’s the kind of classy lady who reads Penny Arcade, and thus knows about this. Though I’ve yet to get her to play Borderlands, her affection for another wisecracking robot meant that I had to put her onto Claptrap, which meant she’d seen this. And, of course, all her fucking facebook friends be getting engaged and married left and right. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times she’d drop a chat line—perhaps while we were enjoying a rousing battle in PoxNora, which she awesomely plays—informing me that she was leafing through someone’s engagement photo album or wedding pics.

    The woman worked at a bridal store. Worked it like a boss, too; she’d straight run a dozen dresses off on first-time customers in a week, plying them with veils and…tiaras…and scepters? I’ma be honest, I tried to never go into the store because it emitted testicular-shrinking rays. But she was straight up in that wedding biz, and knew her shit, and magnificently never pressured me with naggery and the like. At the same time, though, she was seeing all these ladies roll up in the midst of their own love stories…or in the midst of their own wretched and terrible relationships. Either way, they were dropping ducats on some mad white lace and so forth.

    And rings…I’ve seen some rings. Which leads me to…

  • I’m a man with ideas. This is significant because I have ideas about damn near everything, including how a wedding/proposal/etc ought to go down. There are men out there—many men, I imagine—who would just be fine to fling cash at a ring from Jared’s and a dress from David’s Bridal, and call it good. These same men are probably full-willing to let their blushing bride plan the entirety of the wedding, perhaps while watching “the big game” and “slamming a brew.”

    I am not these bros.

    So while I’ve looked at scores of rings over the last four years, there was never any doubt in my mind that I’d be having Stacey’s ring hand- (well, as it turns out, laser-) crafted. I was not going to be walking into some mall joint where a smarmy dude or blandly attractive lady tried to force melee diamonds (seriously, fuck melee diamonds) on me.

    No, instead I went through Nora Fagan of Casper, Wyoming. Nora had already crafted two of the rings Stacey wore; one of them was a gift to me for graduation that I let her wear after we started dating, in part because wearing gold frightens me since I keep expecting someone to cut my finger off and steal my bling. The other was a ring crafted to match the former, but out of white gold because that’s what Stacey’s into. I have a hard time accepting white gold…it’s like accepting drow elves, really. But she’s into it, so I had a ring made for her undergraduate graduation. It was in no way an engagement ring because of her aforementioned ruling, but it’s still a fresh ring.

    So I went to Nora, and she made the magic happen. Except…

  • I am thoroughly broke. Mad broke. I just went through a graduate program that necessitated me taking out my very first student loans of my entire educational career. My undergrad studies, and the previous master’s program I briefly participated in, were both paid for wholesale by people who wanted to stroke my massive brain. After I got my Master’s, I jumped into a well-paying job that regrettably withered on the vine about 3 days before I was due a significant 6-month bonus (and, you know, regular paychecks for the next several months). That shit went down in March. By the time May rolled around I was hurting pretty raw, and trying to scrape together the cost of a ring was a deep-set challenge.

    Also, Stacey and I are very different in terms of things like “planning” and “organization.” Having no job and no clue what I was doing next isn’t actually that horrifying for me, but the prospect is brutal for her. So the weeks leading up to the actual proposal were not our best display, and I had to gnaw down hard on my tongue to keep from dropping the “Shit woman! I done bought you a blinky ring!” This stress that was only further compounded by my trying to save up for a ring on 0 income.

  • In addition…and this somewhat ties into the previous two points…it was very important to Stacey that her ring include her grandmother, Mary’s, diamond. I was all for this—I actually had a plan to incorporate some of Mary’s ring itself into the ring that was ultimately crafted—but it necessitated me having that diamond. Like, having it well, well in advance of the actual proposal. Partially this was a question of my not knowing when I’d be able to buy a ring.

    However, it was mostly about me being a man of ideas, and the most critical idea being that a proposal ought to be a surprise. I didn’t even want to tell Stacey’s mother that I was proposing…asking her blessing (her father could not be contacted for said request without some high-level Rituals) was something important to Stacey, though, so I would have. I didn’t say much of anything to my own family, purely out of distrust for secret keeping—my brother knew every little thing that was up, because he’s a vault inside the mind of an android, hidden inside the frame of a 7′ balla. Luckily, Denise went ahead and hit me with the pre-emptive blessing when she flew out to Wyoming, Mary’s diamond in tow, a few months back. I needed the ring early enough that my possession of it—well, my parents’ possession of it, who took it to my grandparents, who took it to Nora—could fade into a distant memory.

If you were just wanting the actual proposal story, start reading here

So come the week of the 13th, everything was finally mostly in place. I’d talked to Nora the previous weekend and explained that I needed the ring to be in Wichita so as to allow me to propose. I was prepared, on Thursday the 12th, to board a flight out of Albuquerque at something like 8 in the morning. Shit was about to get real.

I made it to ABQ in my customary 40ish minutes—crazy to be so close to such a major metropolitan area. I printed my boarding passes.

I noticed that my first flight, instead of leaving at 8, was scheduled for 1:30 pm. This was an issue, among other reasons, because my connecting flight out of Denver was due to leave at about 10:30. Apparently, the blizzard that had hit Denver the night before done fucked everything up.

Unfortunately, Stacey’s graduation reception was set to begin approximately 15 minutes before my new flight would get me to Wichita. Stacey’s from a small family, with two only children for parents, and a single brother who wouldn’t be making it to her graduation. Her grandfathers had both passed away, her grandmother Elaine wasn’t in a state to travel, and her other grandmother (Mary, of the diamond) and father (Big Jim) were no longer with us. My mother and father, who both love Stacey very much, were teaching a class and literally locked in contract negotiations with the teacher’s union, respectively. My failure to make the reception would make it a two-person deal, and that was not cool.

Additionally, I’d learned the day previous that a miscommunication meant that Nora thought I needed her to have the ring by Friday, rather than my having it in Wichita. That meant I might not have it until Saturday, and I was flying back on Sunday. I was attempting to resolve this while also making my flights.

Tensions were high.

Luckily, I’m an excellent traveler. I owe this mostly to having to fly back from Indiana to Denver during college; a flight that usually went through Chicago, and thus was usually delayed. Similarly, flying out of Wyoming to visit colleges rarely involved less than a 6-hour delay somewhere along the chain. When shit goes pear-shaped, I pop in some headphones and, in the case of this trip, watch Doctor Who while openly weeping at how he foils the Master after said Master takes over the world with a bunch of evil alien orbs. The ticket lass had managed to shuffle me to another airline (though it still ended up necessitating me trying to go through security once, then back to said airline to get actual boarding passes) and I’d now be routed through Houston, but at least I was getting there.

After a few episodes—and liters of saline due to the machinations of Tennant’s 10th Doctor—I decided to double-check that everything was on point for my one pm flight to Houston. It was perhaps 9am at this point. I showed my boarding pass to the gate agent…she looked at it and said “Let me just put you on this 10 am flight.” She also fiddled my connecting flight so that I’d have a shot at a much earlier (like, a few minutes after landing) flight to Wichita but still have my seat on the 5pmish connection the previous agent put me on.

Things were looking up! I closed my laptop, popped in line, boarded a plane, and was on my way to Texas–which I’d just been explaining to my grandmother I thought of as a desert where black people went to be murdered. Turns out there are trees and shit there, and I was shocked (and duly humbled) and how beautiful it was. ‘Owever, it was also suffering torrential thunderstorms. Storms bad enough that the only reason I didn’t miss my connection is that it was cancelled and de-boarded when lightning started dancing about the airport.

About this time, I got ahold of Nora, who had the ring (she does the settings, but had a crack crew of superheroes build the ring with computers and science). However, my debit card was not being accepted for payment. This was due to the Playstation Network being hacked; I canceled all of my cards and got new ones the previous week, stressing to the fine young gentlemen I spoke with that I needed cards in order said ring. Awesomely, all but one of the four people I talked to during that process immediately knew what was up when I said “Are you a Playstation man?”

So I had a card, but I hadn’t adjusted the spending cap. I immediately called my brother to give him my information, in case I couldn’t navigate customer service in time to make things happen. Unfortunately, Wells Fargo absopantsly refused to listen to him…so I was on the horn with their customer service as my flight re-boarded.

I managed to stay polite as I spoke with a lovely young woman (Amanda, I believe) but I did have to cut her opening spiel off and explain that:

  1. Stakes be high
  2. Shit be real
  3. I was currently on a plane that had already been de-boarded, and was now re-boarded, and lightning swept the sky in a glittering curtain.
  4. I needed to place an additional call to Nora in order to get that ring going, so please see points 1-3

Amanda made things happen, and Nora got the cash in time to mail the ring.

I got on the plane.

I got to Wichita, saw my magic lady, did the reception thing, and all was well.

The next day, however, shit became more thoroughly real than it had previously been. This was because I had one hour to put together a proposal, while Stacey and Denise got a 9 am morning massage.

I did not have a ring, during this hour. The ring was due to arrive anywhere between nine and noon. The front desk ladies knew what was up, because I’d called back on Tuesday and Denise had snuck down earlier in the morning to ensure they were down with the action.

As soon as Stacey and Denise left, I sprang into action. We were near a shopping center that happened to have a chocolate shop Stacey and D were both big fans of. My bat-hearing had noted, the previous day, that they’d attempted to purchase salted caramels from said joint but Cocoa Dolce was out.

Thus a plan was born! I sprinted…literally, though after running in every possible wrong direction from the front door of the hotel, as I’m terrible with directions…to Cocoa Dolce. I introduced myself to the ladies, and explained that two women had come in to purchase caramels the day before, placed an order to be filled today, and could I please have an empty chocolate shell to put a ring in so I could propose to the younger of the two (Stacey and her mother straight up look like sisters)?

Unfortunately, the way Cocoa gets down was not commensurate with such a request; they fill them chocolates with sweet ganache through tiny-ass holes. However, the crew was on it. They offered suggestions, and we ultimately settled on my purchasing a 24-karat gold flake chocolate (because yes, that’s a thing you can do) which I would present to Stacey later, with the ring hidden beneath its supple ebon flanks. Remember folks, I still had no ring at this point. I had also never seen the ring I purchased.

I bought the chocolate, as well as the caramels, intending to further throw off suspicion by seeming like I’d done a sweet thing by buying my lady and her mom caramels. I was about to put the chocolate in my pocket when the ladies explained that it would immediately melt, due to its so so fresh artisan nature. Thus, after a scene reminiscent of Love Actually, I left the store with a bag full of taffeta paper and one chocolate. I hid the bag behind my back, underneath my blazer, and sprinted back to the hotel (I didn’t know if the massage ended early, I couldn’t risk being seen clutching sweet chocolate). I gave the bag to the front desk ladies at the Hilton, explaining that shit done changed. Now they would open my ring-related parcel, and slip the ring underneath the chocolate inside the bag. Cocoa D had hit me with a carefully cut and measured roll of ribbon, which could be used to tie the chocolate box after the ring was inserted. They’d tried to show me how to tie it, but I explained that as a man I had no ability to tie bows, and would be trusting the front desk ladies to make it fresh.

After dropping off my gleaming black burden, I sprinted back across the entire shopping center to the Barnes and Noble (which is where I was supposed to be when Stacey was done with her massage). Please let me stress that I do not run, ever, under any circumstance. I roll and stroll and amble and strut. But now I was sprinting. I made it to the book store, picked up a graphic novel about an aged Wolverine and his family living under the constant threat of hillbilly rape by the children of the Hulk, and got three pages in before my cell rang: the ring was in!

This meant I sprinted back to the hotel, where the good ladies of the Hilton had set my shits up, and took the bag with the chocolate and ring (still never saw it, mind you) back to Cocoa Dolce. Having the ring meant I could just secrete the package with the caramels, so that it seemed like nothing more than a noble boyfriend gesture in light of graduation. In the time I’d been gone, the number of staffers at Cocoa D had doubled. The ladies were very excited. They asked how the ring was, and I explained I had no idea; shit was tied with a bow, I wasn’t going to fuck that up. They asked if they could look at it, and I said sure, so long as they didn’t mind re-tying the bow. The ring was freed of its chocolate burden, examined, and repositioned and tied in an even more elaborate fashion.

At that point, I explained to the ladies that I would be at the bookstore. They asked what would happen if Stacey came to get her caramels before she got me, and I explained that there was nothing I could do—remember, she’s impossible to surprise so I was trying to stay as far from the ring as pantsible. I then sprinted back to Barnes and Noble, read two more pages of the comic (someone had taken my seat but I gave him a hard look and picked up my picture books), and then got the call from Stacey that they were done with the massage.

She came to pick me up…giving me exactly enough time to start getting nervous for the first time in the entire process. I actually did the awkward middle-school hug, where your body angles as far away from the person as possible, because I knew that if she felt the pounding of my heart through my chest she’d recognize something was up. I crafted an argument for why I was so sweaty—something involving rapidly shifting weather patterns and humidity. And when she said she needed a sweater from the Gap, I suggested we “fortify ourselves with chocolates.”

We hit Cocoa D, where the staff played it so cool. I grabbed a seat while Stacey and Denise learned that they shit done been paid for, and oh, what’s this, a bag!

Stacey took the bag and said “Oh, what’s this?” and prepared to leave the store. I watched the faces of four women fall. They made valiant attempts to keep Stacey in the store, to pique her curiosity about what was in the bag. But I know my lady, and she was thinking about a sweater at the Gap. So we left the store.

We then embarked unto Pearl (Stacey’s SUV, which Denise was driving, which put me in the back seat). Stacey finally opened the bag…took out the chocolate…turned to me with tears in her eyes and asked if I was proposing. I said yes, asked her to marry me, and she responded: “But…you’re in the back seat.”

I disembarked from the back, opened her door, kissed her and held her hand as she said “Yes.”

Then the people parked in the car right next to us needed to get in their car. As they approached I yelled “I just got engaged!” They did not care, so I got back in the back seat.

Eventually I was allowed to stand at my full height next to my unseated fiancée and embrace her as God intended. We then went back into Cocoa Dolce, so that the ladies could share in the excitement. After that, honestly, we were busy bees with Stacey getting her multiple sets of cords and Master’s degree (with a 4.0, I might add) and so on and so forth.

But that’s the proposal story, and my finest of works. Now, a picture of a pretty girl with a ring! Also I am there!

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Thanks for these four years, dove. Thanks for saying yes. Thanks for Poxnora and Harry Dresden and Brick. I love you. I love us. I love the future we’re building.

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