Monday, April 22, 2013

An Exclusive Engagement

Eighteen years ago this week, in one of the most brilliant and intricate sting operations in modern history, I tricked Katie Fillmore into agreeing to marry me.

Since that day she has tricked me a number of times. Her favorite is this thing she does when she’s driving the van on a road trip, where she tilts her head so I can’t the left side of her face, and then makes it look like she’s totally and completely asleep at the wheel, because I can’t see her left eye, which is actually wide open, keeping our family safe from flying off the road into a tree, off a cliff, or into a stranded motorist. I can’t say I like this trick, but turnabout’s fair play, I suppose.

By complete serendipity, we happen to have an Engagement Video. Now, this was in 1995, long before everyone casually sported a camera-phone at all times, so it's really quite amazing that we have it.  I mean, it’s not much; but technically, we were never even supposed to have one. And yes, I am going to tell the story before showing you the video.

It was April 1995. Provo, Utah. The days were a warmish spring, with the nights still quite cool. TLC was warning us not to chase waterfalls and Bryan Adams was demanding to know if we’d ever really – really, really ever loved a woman.

I had known for a couple of months already that I wanted to marry Katie. I also knew Katie wanted me to meet her family before we got any more serious. And finally, I knew her family was coming out to Utah for the graduation ceremonies of two of Katie’s older sisters.  The graduation was Thursday, April 27th. Sadly, Katie had torn her ACL in her knee and would be heading back to Kentucky with her family on Saturday, the 29th, for surgery. This meant I had a window of Friday, the 28th, to ask Katie to marry me.

Katie’s cousin happened to be a jeweler, so I visited him the week prior to Katie’s family coming, and we selected The Engagement Ring. He had designed it and he was going to craft it and have it ready for me on Friday morning so I could propose Friday night.

Except that when I called on Thursday to make sure he was ready, he said, “Oh, I won’t have it ready until Monday.” I responded, "Well, I hope you're happy; because now I can't go to heaven, because I hate you and your face."

Oh, the humanity! My life was poop. Nothing left to do now but watch Katie leave for Kentucky, unengaged and ready to fall in love with some toothless, shoeless, slack-jawed yokel with a substantial crop of tobacco that I could never compete with.

Friday arrived. I was packing to move apartments and Katie was packing to go home for surgery. The only highlight of the day was that a big group of us friends decided to get together for dinner at The Underground that night. A kind of End of Semester send off before summer, when everyone would be going different directions for a while. A friend of ours, Mike, played guitar at The Underground, and we were all going to hang out, eat, and take a listen.

I called Katie to let her know I was going to come pick her up in a bit, then I sat on the couch to pack my last box of junk when the phone rang. It was Katie’s cousin/my jeweler. “Hey, your ring is ready. I canceled all my other appointments for the day and finished the ring." I shouted, "Huzzah! My chances of going to heaven have slightly improved since I don't hate you anymore!" He then responded, "I just left it with Katie’s mom, so you can pick it up from her.” "I'm sorry, you left the ring with WHO?"

With only a few minutes to throw everything together, I ran over to Katie’s grandpa’s house to find my future mother-in-law and, in exchange for a ring, I explained to her that I was going to ask her daughter to marry me that night. Fortunately for me, my mother-in-law was ecstatic and oohed and aahed at the ring with me, securing her place in the Best Mother In Law Hall of Fame.

The rest of this story is told in fast-framed, cartoonish fasion.

I ran back to my apartment and handed the ring to my good friend, Lincoln. In one long sentence I explained to him that I was going to propose to Katie at The Underground, that I needed him to go buy roses for Katie and hand them off to our good friend Lisa to bring out to Katie right after I propose, that I needed him to talk to Mike about playing U2’s All I Want Is You while I propose, and that at some point, after I arrived, I needed him to slip the ring back to me when Katie wasn’t looking.

Then, in maintaining cartoonish, frantic energy, we ran into each other three times and then ran to our different destinations. Me, to pick up Katie, and Lincoln, to The Underground to set everything up.

When I ran into Katie’s apartment to pick her up, I realized I needed to CALM DOWN. But it was too late. She came down the stairs, gave me a hug, then stepped back and said, “What’s going on? You’re shaking.” “Oh. Huh. Must be the heroin.” “Oh, YOU (small chuckle).” Yep, I covered that one pretty well.

Having stalled as long as I could, we finally made our way over to the restaurant. As soon as we walked through the doors I knew everything was in place. I knew this because two of our friends who were supposed to be there that night but who also worked there, Lisa and Rebecca, had just gotten off their shifts, and came running over to us. I mean, they hurdled tables and pushed paying customers out of the way to get to us, so excited were they.

They stopped right in front of us and then Lisa, with her eyes bulging, started talking like an auctioneer. “Yeah, we-just-got-off-our-shifts-but-we’re-going-to-stick-around, maybe-get-something-to-eat. Even-Chris-is-coming-over, you-know, just-to-casually-hang-out-and-stuff.”

There was this wall of energy coming from the two of them and the hairs on my neck were standing straight up. I was hoping this was all coming across to Katie as casual as Lisa and Rebecca were trying to sell it. Somehow, Katie didn’t pick up on it. Not even when Lisa squeezed my hand and looked at me out of the side of her eye. If I didn’t propose to Katie soon, it was clear Lisa was going to do it for me.

I couldn’t even order anything to eat. My stomach was in knots. We had talked about marriage before, but I still felt like I was taking an anxiety bath. I suppose it’s because that is the moment when you say, “Yes, I will spend the rest of eternity with you.” Plus we were doing this in front of our friends...and compete dining strangers.

We sat at the center table, right in front of where Mike was playing. Our good friends Chris and Lisa, who had gotten engaged less than two months before, sat right across from us, and so did our friend Rebecca. Many of our other dear friends were also there.

Lincoln pulled me aside, handed over the ring, and told me that as soon as I signaled him, he would signal Mike, and Mike would start playing U2’s All I Want Is You. He was going to stop in the middle of the song, Lisa would slip out to bring the roses, and I would drop to my knee and wet my pants.

I sat back down at the table and noticed the faces of several friends, some of whom seemed more nervous than me. After what felt like a week I signaled Linc, and he signaled Mike. Mike started playing. Then, in the middle of the song, he stopped. I stood up and announced to the restaurant that I needed everyone’s attention. I knelt down and helped Katie stand up (she was still on crutches from tearing the ligament in her knee), and I actually said the words, “Katie, will you marry me?” She threw her head back and screamed “Yes!” and then started crying. And it was really a very incredible, surreal moment….

And here it is on video. Mike, the guitar player, actually had his mom visiting, and she actually brought a video camera to record his performance. And during his performance, for just a small moment, she swung the camera around just enough to record Katie and I. And now that moment is immortalized.

It wasn't until the next day, when Katie had left with her family and I was at dinner with Lincoln and Mike that Mike said, "If you want a copy of that video, just let me know." "What video?" "My mom recorded you guys getting engaged last night." Completely surprised, and quite grateful, I said, "Well frankly, it wasn't any of her business, but if you've got the video..."

If you watch closely, you’ll notice the following:
  • Lisa, in the lobby, holding the roses that Lincoln had just brought for Katie. 
  • Lincoln conspiring with Mike on how to set up the moment for me to propose. 
  • My friend, and fellow Part Time Author, Chris, so nervous for me that he actually covers his face in case Katie says, "No." 
  • Katie saying, "Yes."
  • Some horrible 1995 wardrobe choices. (Yep, I'm wearing flannel.)

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