“Where did you and Daddy meet?”
“Was it love at first sight?”
“How did he ask you to marry you?”
When my kids ask those typical general interest questions, my answers never change.
“TV Guide Magazine.”
And, “The real time or the made-up time?”
And so I begin the story of the first time I got engaged. Or didn’t.
No matter how far we have come with Women’s Lib and equal rights, I still believe with all my heart that most girls grow up dreaming of their weddings and romanticizing the ways in which they’ll get engaged. Some of us tingle at the thought of a “Love of my life, will you marry me?” flashed across the JumboTron at Yankee Stadium while others would be content to be wooed by a ring stuffed inside a slice of chocolate cake in the privacy of their own home.
Regardless of how it happens, there is a very small window of time when a woman can be swept off her feet with a surprise engagement. You get to the stage in your courtship when one of you says, “When?” and the other says, “Soon.” And so it goes, until it happens.
For several summers in my mid-twenties, a dozen of us rented a house in Brigantine, a lazy beach town that lies benignly next to the glitz and glamor of Atlantic City. We were an eclectic assortment of folk, a few lawyers, a perpetual professor-to-be, a couple journalists, an entrepreneur, a gossip columnist, a salesman, an artist, all of whom had present or past ties to TV Guide magazine. We brought coolers to the beach at noon, had extravagant barbeques at sunset and played cards till dawn. These marked some of the best days of my life, especially the year my friendship with my spouse-to-be turned romantic.
We had an entire fall together before he decided to go off to Chicago to pursue yet another master’s degree. But before his departure, we spent as much time together as we could, hanging out in his humble hovel in North Philadelphia, listening to obscure bands in beer-battered bars, and watching the Mets win the World Series. I would have gone anywhere and done anything for him.
And being that smitten, I simply couldn’t imagine that he felt any other way.
By Christmas time, I knew in every fiber of my being that the engagement of my dreams was about to come true. After all, my ever-loving date had started dropping hints about my present:
- We’ll go see the Nutcracker and exchange gifts at dinner afterwards.
He knew how much I loved that beautiful ballet and that I went year after year with my mother. What a gem, that guy of mine. Passing the tradition from mother-daughter to husband-wife.
- If you don’t like your gift, I’ll be sad. But since I didn’t pick it out, my feelings won’t be hurt.
I knew he had been bequeathed his grandmother’s diamond.
- It can’t be exchanged.
Well, technically it could be, but I had full intention of loving it, no matter how big or small.
- You can’t put a real dollar value on it.
Nope, true love was priceless.
Though he must have thought I was as dim as one of those energy-saving light bulbs, I decided to play along. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise for my friends and family so didn’t tell a soul about our impending nuptials. My heart heaved with a joy I had never known as I began to embellish our love story in my mind to tell our unborn children and publish in future blogs.
Now, if you’ve known me for five minutes, you know half my life story. And you also wouldn’t be surprised to know that it took less than a week before I spilled the beans. I was living with my sister, Nancy, at the time and recounted the entire scenario with her, word-for-word, analyzing each and every hint, swearing her to secrecy in return for her maid-of-honorship. And, when all was said, and my smile was so big that it hurt, Nancy simply nodded, matter-of-factly.
“I know what your Christmas present is,” she said. “I’m not telling you what it is, but I will tell you, it’s not a diamond ring.”
I’d had a pretty good life so far and hadn’t had a lot to cry about. But, this humiliating delusion of mine unleased tears I never knew I could produce. I didn’t cry because he had dumped me, because he hadn’t. I didn’t cry because he didn’t love me, because he did. I cried because I knew that my only chance for a fairy tale engagement had been crushed.
Well, I pulled it together and got all the tears out before the Nutcracker, bracing myself for a small box with a friendship ring, or worse.
But it wasn’t a small box. It was an oddly-shaped package. I tentative tore at the wrappings and when I saw what it was, I cried again.
The love of my life had commissioned Jeff Tritt, our resident artist, to paint a picture of Brigantine Beach, where we had first fallen in love.
And then, just like that, off he went to Chicago. Two years later I was still asking, “When?” and his answer was still, “Soon.” And though our senses of urgency have never concurred, the day finally came. I can’t say I was surprised. But, it was a beautifully romantic proposal in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with sand crabs biting at my toes, ocean mist spraying away my tears and the man of my dreams promising to love me always.
I got the family diamond. And though it will sit on my finger all the days of my life, my beautiful Brigantine Beach painting will always remind me that I got my fairy tale ending after all.