For the final 30 days of my twenties, I am writing one personal narrative a day that has impacted my life until now. To read more about my challenge, feel free to check out the first post.
Also, this 30-day challenge is to support a wonderful charity, Zara Aina. Please check out my fundraiser here and if you’re able, please consider throwing a few dollars toward this amazing cause. It would mean the world!
The morning and afternoon leading up to Ben’s proposal was one of the worst days as a temp to date. At the time, I was assisting a married couple’s computer business in a small office on 18th street. For several weeks, I was greeted each morning by passive-aggressive comments about how my days as their assistant might be numbered, and that we should explore different online personality tests to figure out if we were really compatible–so you know, healthy work environment.
Somewhat contradictory to their mistrust in my abilities, they decided to leave me in charge of the business for the first time (note that this is two weeks after I started). On this day, I believe the phone rang approximately 100 times. This is not, be any means, an exaggeration. By noon it had become a joke. Today was the day whenever every wealthy person’s computer decided to die, explode, fall off their desks, mysteriously self-destruct. Interspersed with the panicked, entitled-rich-person phone calls came the, “Hiiiiii, I just wanted to have a nice slow chat about what your company does. Are you the owner?”
By lunch time–or lack of lunch time–I had spent no more than five minutes looking at my email, which was now overflowing with emotional meltdowns. Now, I swear to you, though most days were busy, they were never like this by any stretch of the imagination. By the time my bosses called to check in, I had scheduled 9 new clients, set up over 15 meeting for fixing computers, and personally put out several fires by just looking up computer-y things on Google. For once, thank the Lord, they were impressed with me. Unfortunately for them, this madness put the nail in the coffin of whether I would ever accept this as a permanent position.
I glanced at my cell phone to see I had missed several text messages from my dad and a few friends. All of them, oddly, had the same sentiment, “I hope you have fun on your date tonight, no matter what happens,” one read. “Don’t fall while you’re ice skating! I’m sure it will be great either way.” Either way? Some context:
Six months prior, while searching for the wires that connect the Wii to the television, I decided to rustle through Ben’s sock drawer–since this is where were shoved a lot of random items during our move to Jersey City. I did not find the wires, but I did find an engagement ring. I called my friend Helen, “Do you have alcohol?” she asked.
“I do. I have a chocolate stout from Trader Joes.”
“Good, drink that.”
Helen was my first sounding board for the talk of pending marriage. Ben and I have always joked about how ridiculous it is that the man traditionally has months to consider proposing and the woman has approximately 5 second to give an answer. Though I had no intention of saying no, finding the ring was my way of beginning the processing stage. In other words, I don’t regret finding it.
From here on out, Helen (who is a fine friend) and Ben worked in tandem to throw me off his trail. Months passed and the topic dissipated. I began to get suspicious again when Ben suggested we go out to dinner and then ice skate at Rockefeller Center afterwards. I love ice skating, and we have never done it together. Red flag though: Ben doesn’t plan all that much. The fact that he even knew there was after-hours skating available told me something was up. I told Helen I was suspicious and she relayed the message to Ben to distract me again. The night before our date, Ben said he wasn’t feeling great and that maybe it was a better idea to put off the night. Well played, team. I was officially skeptical of my suspicions.
I have to say that this flood of texts put me back on track. Apparently an entire army of people had been sent to throw me off, and they texted me all around the same time. The “no matter what happens” and “call me if you need to” sentiment was repeated so often that I started to wonder if Ben was breaking up with me. Wouldn’t that be a turn of events! “I took your dad out to lunch and sent a message to your friends to announce I’m breaking it off.” Woo-eeee.
Anyway, by 5pm, I was ready to keel over. All I wanted in the whole wide world was a very strong drink.
Ben and I decided to keep the date, and met at a snazzy little Thai BYOB in Flatiron. We split a bottle of wine. Since we had some more time to kill before the rink opened to the late-night crowd, we decided to grab one more drink before heading uptown. So, Ben and I have a habit of drinking a little too much on our dates. After six years, we are capable of having a silly drunk night to the point where we befriend half the bar and make a ruckus on the train. We pass Beecher’s Cheese down by Union Square and realize there’s a bar downstairs– a pretty swanky one. Little did I know, Ben was drinking for liquid courage. I on the other hand, was drinking to forget my horrible workday. We were both succeeding a little too much.
To this day, we still call that bar Cheese Basement. Mmmmm Cheese Basement. After the first manhattan (which remember, had followed a bottle of wine), I asked Ben if he wanted another. He later told me that it was his deciding moment between the whether the proposal was going to happen that night or not. He declined the drink.
We head out into the polar vortex, warm from bourbon and wine, and hop on the F train. Though it was chilly, it was a stunning night. We skated for a long time, with probably about 30 other New Yorkers and tourists, nothing stressful, nothing crazy, just peaceful and delightfully fun. I hadn’t noticed this at the moment, but late-night skating in Rockefeller Center only plays loud techno and clubbing pop songs–not exactly the Frank Sinatra crooning you hope for behind a proposal. Every time we slowed down, I wondered if he was going to say something. But as the night went on, I accepted that maybe it wasn’t the right time, and that was okay.
I stopped at the wall right by the Prometheus statue and said I was getting tired. Let’s do one more loop and then go home. And then the world went silent. Ben took my hands, reached for something in his coat pocket, and then I have no memory whatsoever of what he said. Not a clue. For all I know, he said, “Your father has paid me a dowry of three cats and his finest horse, and we shall be married tomorrow.” I do know that the poor thing had to delicately get down on one knee in ice skates and I know that I said yes. I also know that our public-yet-personal moment was noticed by a group of tourists standing above the rink, who hooted and hollered lovingly as we kissed.
Dazed, happy, and having no idea what to do next, we turned to see a shocked and frozen group of skaters staring at us. We decided to do a shaky victory lap before heading back to the benches. I wanted to tell everyone we passed, and I did.
Now here’s where things get funny. I am sure that all of my friends and family were waiting to know what happened, and it was nearly 10pm at this point. You’re also supposed to take loads of photos and post them online to “enjoy the moment later.” Instead, both of our phones–I kid you not–just died. Like, they DIED. Perhaps it was all the texting, or weird service on the ice that zapped our batteries, but the moment we needed to tell our loved ones about the engagement, our phones turned themselves off. And so it was, just us, with the cold NYC night to ourselves without interruption.
We decided to end the night at our favorite speakeasy bar, The Campbell Apartment, which I am sad to say recently closed. If you went into Grand Central Station, found an elevator, and hit B for balcony, you would emerge on a small floor that lead to a 1920’s-style lounge serving vintage cocktails and requiring classy dress. Unbeknownst to us, this was the first evening of the centennial celebration for Grand Central, and everyone in the Campbell apartment was dressed to the nines, flapper outfits with feathered headpieces, sequined gowns, tuxes. I felt like I was dreaming and had stumbled upon a secret Gatsby party. We announced to the bartenders, the flappers, the men from another century–that we were engaged, and we toasted with a glass of champagne.
The night ended with a quiet walk down Madison Avenue, where we swung into a CVS to buy bandaids. The engagement ring belonged to Ben’s great-grandmother and it had yet to be resized. I longed to wear it on the correct finger (and was TERRIFIED) of losing it, so I quite literally taped it to my hand.
The day had begun as one of the most stressful, discouraging workdays in NYC that I have had thus far. And now it was extraordinary.
A year and a half later, I sat on a Cape May beach, overtired and overwhelmed, with coffee and a corn muffin, staring out into the morning tide. I was getting married in six hours, and still hadn’t nailed down vows that I felt good about. And then I thought about our stories together–about the way I viewed NYC (before and after Ben), about the way I viewed the Jersey Shore (before and after Ben), and most importantly, the way I viewed relationships and love…you guessed it, before and after Ben.
About a month before the wedding, Ben and I drove down to my Plainfield house to collect dirt for our unity ceremony. There is a Buddhist wedding tradition that entails combining soil from all the homes where you grew up. You mix the dirt together and plant something new during your wedding. And thus, life is born from both your pasts. My trip to Plainfield, the first time back since we moved in 1998, was terrifying. I shook for most of it. But after we collected the dirt, we drove to a nearby pub and cuddled in a booth with a comforting beer, hidden away from the afternoon rainstorm. My last memory of Plainfield–which originally had entailed turning my back on the house in anger and exhaustion–was replaced with holding Ben’s hand and drinking a beer in a comfy pub on a rainy day. Our relationship was quite literally replacing the bad stories with the good, the angry with the peaceful.
My vows were just this–that I would continue to try and provide Ben with as many good memories and joyful associations with every aspect of our lives as I could, and help him through the harder ones. And I would continue to celebrate changes he had made in mine.
And that is the story of how we got married.