"She already knows, you know."
My friend Aubrey seemed to think that my girlfriend knew about my plan to propose to her. My grand scheme to get her the perfect engagement ring, to hand her a Viewmaster with the last picture on the reel being of me kneeling in front of her (picture and real life matching in location and my attire), to surprise her with a dinner whose guests included my close family, our close friends, and her mom and sister from out of town.
So began the game of cloak and daggers: the secret meetings with friends and family, the late-night phone call to her parents in a grocery-store parking lot, the quick glances over my shoulder when I was writing emails, and extra chairs for the dinner hidden in between my winter coats.
There were times when I thought my cover was blown. My girlfriend is very observant and likes to ask a lot of questions. When I took my road bike to use in a photograph of how we first met on a bike ride in Galveston, she called me and asked why my bike was missing from the guest room. A hasty answer about having to get my bike fixed after my triathlon season was sufficient but I thought I still heard a tinge of suspicion in her voice. And how many times does someone ask you if we have plans the weekend of the proposal? Certainly not as many times as she asked the weekdays leading up to the it.
The jig was up! She knew everything! She found the engagement ring in my North Face Apex jacket, tried it on, and put it back so I wouldn’t know she was on to me. She had cracked my Gmail account and was reading each and every email I sent to Aubrey, Catherine, and my sister—my main agents on this mission. She had tapped my phone and knew what to expect on Saturday.
In fact, it was all in my head. She had no idea what was in store for her that day, and my subterfuge made for a perfect proposal.
We woke up on Saturday with her thinking we had no plans other than to do our workouts in the morning, eat lunch at our favorite restaurant Ruggles Green, and then go to the mall. Aubrey had the mission of taking photographs of the actual proposal at the Japanese Gardens in Hermann Park, and I told him to be in his hiding spot at 5:45pm. So, I had plenty of time to kill before then.
The physical act of killing time is easy. It’s the mental toll that’s the hard part. There’s the thousands of glances at the watch. There’s the constant thought stream of “okay, if we leave here at X time, then we’ll arrive there at Y time.” And, of course, there are the doubts that everything planned will fall apart or be found out. But with everything set for the proposal, I could do nothing but hope that everything worked out.
It was hot that afternoon at Hermann Park. Hot and humid. Which was bad because I was sweating like crazy, but it was good because that made my excuse of carrying a bag with bottled waters and a towel plausible to Laya. In fact, the bag held my personalized Viewmaster. As we walked onto the bridge in the Japanese Gardens of Hermann Park, and as Aubrey stood by behind a tree ready to take pictures, the one thousand and one voices of my conscience shouted in unison, “This is it!”
As Laya was clicking through each picture of the Viewmaster, slowly understanding what its purpose was, I knelt down on one knee. I fumbled for the ring in my pocket, hoping what I picked out would match how I felt about her. When she finished going through the pictures, she said, “I think I’m at the last picture…is this for real?”
I had to assure Laya, that, yes, this was for real. That my increasingly shaky hands were holding a ring, that the promise I made to her that I’d love her forever, that the question I was about to ask her—all of it was real. Even after my assurances, she was in shock, but she said yes.
And even on our way home from the park, she couldn’t believe it was real. Honestly, I couldn’t believe it was all real either. That all that secret scheming had come down to a “yes”—it hadn’t hit either of us that we were engaged.
But that all changed when Laya opened the door of our apartment. We were greeted by our family and friends. Greeted with words of congratulations, hugs, and tears. It became real at that point because it wasn’t just me and Laya in our own world anymore—other people knew about it too.
So it all worked out. She said yes and she knew nothing about it until it was happening. Aubrey was wrong.