I remember the exact moment I fell in love with Heidi. I looked up from brushing my teeth to find her standing in the doorway of my bathroom clad only in toe-nail polish and holding a bottle of my favorite beer.
Love, it seems to me, is fraught with perilous events, things over which we feel we have very little control, but are somehow propelled toward, which is why I think men try so hard to avoid it. I learned this first-hand when I became engaged to Heidi some 14 years ago. My decision to become engaged was actually brought on by a “discussion” that occurred the night before I proposed. Heidi and I don’t have fights; we have “discussions”—and the discourse to which I refer was our first since I started seeing her.
Our discussion revolved around her insistence that I buy a dresser. Being a bachelor at the time, I saw absolutely no need for a dresser. I was perfectly happy with my system for storing clothes: when I ran out of hangers I piled them “neatly” on the floor next to my bed—unless I was hosting company, in which case I stuffed them in my closet. For some reason, this arrangement bothered her, and she applied some convincing logic, explaining that “you can’t live this way”. Now while I didn’t really buy her reasoning, I did decide that in the interest of domestic tranquility I should look into buying a dresser, and promised to do so the next day.
The next day at lunch I was scouring furniture stores feeling completely ill-equipped, which must have been obvious to the astute in my proximity because at one point a nice lady wearing too much perfume approached me and asked whether I needed help.
“I’m looking for a dresser.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“I’m not sure.”
“I mean what style suits you? What sort of décor do you have now?”
“I have a small, one bedroom apartment, so something not too big I suppose.”
“I mean your current furnishings. Contemporary?” Pause. “Metro modern?” Nothing. “Vintage casual perhaps?”
I continued to stare at her, my mind devoid of any data whatsoever.
“Thank you. I’m just looking for now.”
Clearly out of my element, I punted. I turned and headed back to my car as I began to invent excuses about why I didn’t get a dresser, racking my brain for a suitable, believable alibi that would absolve my neglect of this critical problem of my improperly stowed clean attire.
And then it struck me: what I needed was a surrogate gift. Some token of my sincerity, which I could present as a down payment on my good intention. As I walked toward my car I spotted a jewelry store. Jewelry. Yes. Small package; big pay-off. Of course. A delicate gold necklace with an opal pendant, perhaps. Precious, yet not too expensive. Viola; mission accomplished.
As I entered the jewelry store, I was immediately assaulted by a sign clearly designed to up the ante: “Show her how much you love her.” Recalling my recent epiphany in the bathroom, I began to think about my relationship with Heidi in more serious terms. Heidi is a really amazing woman—smart as a whip; an athlete with no equal on the tennis court; a woman with model good looks arrayed with a thick mane of long blond hair. She seemed perfect to me at the time. Besides, I had this nagging feeling that if I didn’t start getting serious about this relationship soon, I might never have my beer delivered in quite the same way again.
For the next half-hour, my thoughts wandered as I began to contemplate what was previously unfathomable. I was officially divorced a mere four months prior. Yet as I stood there looking at the glitter of romance within the crystal showcases, I was seriously considering a second foray into the land of until death do us part or until I can’t stand you anymore. And this is the peril of my first reference. We say until death do us part, but the fact is that we are all too comfortable with until I can’t stand you anymore. But not to preach; I’m just a writer.
I was next accosted by a stunning vision who identified herself as Linnea.
“May I help you?” A sense of déjà vu overtook me.
I’m looking for an engagement ring.” I replied with significant trepidation.
“See anything you like?”
My mind was again reeling—repeatedly asking a host of questions: “Is this what I want to do with my remaining years on Earth? What sort of setting would she really like? Can I really afford this?” and, much to my surprise, the most terrifying question of all: “Would she say yes?”. As I contemplated the rest of my life, I wasn’t sure which possibility was scariest: a polite reply of “no; not now” or an enthusiastic “yes”. I mean the proposition of forever is frightening on its own merit—with or without the one you love.
I looked up and the clerk repeated her question: “What sort of set did you have in mind?” I stared at her, unable to speak. Sensing my uncertainty, she reached down, unlocked the case, and pulled out a simple diamond trio setting. “I think this is beautiful.” I replied simply “OK; I’ll take it.”
I returned to the office cash poor and unable to work, distracted by what had now become an obsession for me. I decided to make good use of the time and make the necessary plans for the evening, putting off actual work for the moment. I made reservations at a local restaurant, and on the way home I stopped at the store to pick up some flowers and a card. I wanted to set a romantic mood for the evening; she, of course, thought I was merely trying to make up for the previous night.
On the way to dinner, I was thinking about the evening ahead. The restaurant was unique to Austin and had incredible romantic potential, perfect for asking the question at hand. Sure that I was about to present her with a unique culinary and romantic experience, I asked “Have you ever been to Hudson’s on the Bend?” “Once, about five years ago.” she replied. “It’s where I got engaged.”
Aghast, my lower jaw dropped, like one of those cartoon characters who suddenly realizes they just stepped off a cliff with nothing beneath them but air. I frantically searched for an appropriate reply. “You got engaged there?” I asked, incredulous. To which she replied “Yes silly. I told you; Zeke proposed to me there.” “He did?” was all I could muster.
“Will this bring up any bad memories?” I asked as I desperately tried to recover. “Oh no.” she said. “That was a long time ago. It’s fine.” Horribly disappointed, I briefly considered delaying my proposal, but I was already committed and at this point I doubt God Himself could change my mind.
Later at the restaurant, when I was halfway through my second glass of wine as we waited for dinner, I knew that it was now-or-never. Looking at Heidi across the table, my breathing increased and I felt beads of perspiration forming on my forehead. I nervously asked her to take my hand. Unable to muster any creativity whatsoever, I recited the script most men utter in these situations. I think it must come from the movies and TV shows our girlfriends force us to watch when we first begin dating.
“I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” I began. Uncertainty momentarily seized me as I tried to continue. “Will you—will you marry me?” I stammered. Then, as if in slow motion, I reached into my pocket to retrieve the box with the gold and diamond token. Fumbling as I opened it, I knocked my fork off the table, wincing as it unceremoniously crashed to the ground.
Somehow I managed to present the ring to Heidi without any further mishap. Becoming a bit emotional, she wiped her eyes, smiled at me, and simply said “Yes.” I breathed a thankful sigh of relief, took the ring from the box, and placed it on the third finger of her left hand. I then looked deep into her eyes and contemplated all the wonderful things ahead for the two of us.
She returned my gaze, smiled, and softly said “Thank you for a wonderful evening honey.”
She continued “Oh; I meant to ask you: did you get a dresser today?”