Friday, August 17, 2007

A Dozen Years Ago or So

Twelve years ago today, in one of the most brilliant and intricate sting operations ever pulled off in modern history, I tricked Katie Fillmore into marrying 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.

Like most folks born after 1960, we do in fact have a Wedding Video. And we love to watch it. Sure the quality is fading, along with my insistence that there is something wrong with the video because my hair was never that big, but it is one of the happiest videos you’ll ever see. You can’t help but smile when you watch it. It was really a great day.

But in addition to our Wedding Video, we happen to have an Engagement Video. It’s not much. Technically, we were never supposed to have one. And yes, I am going to tell the story. And yes, it’s long. And yes, it’s lovely.

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.

At this point I had known for several months that I wanted to marry Katie. (So yes, Mr. Adams, I believe I have really really loved a woman.) By April, it felt like everything in the universe was coming to a head, with planets aligning, and leading up to a very specific time and place to get engaged.

I knew Katie wanted me to meet her family before we got any more serious. And her family was coming out to Utah for the graduation ceremonies of two of Katie’s older sisters, held Thursday, April 27th. Planet 1 aligned. Katie had torn her ACL in her knee and would be heading back to Kentucky with her family (post-graduation ceremonies) for surgery. They would be leaving the morning of Saturday, April 29th. Planet 2 aligned. This meant I had a window of Friday, April 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 messed up on it. I won’t have it ready until Monday.” I could tell he was concerned. So I kindly answered back, “Well, Jack-face, if you can’t have it ready tomorrow, don’t bust yer hump to have it ready Monday. She’s leaving Saturday.” And he responded, “Sorry.”

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 an annual crop of tobacco big enough to shake a beer keg at. I was depressed.

Friday arrived, and it was a busy day. I was packing to move apartments and Katie was packing to go home for surgery. We didn’t see each other much, and 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.

We were supposed to be meeting in about an hour, and I called Katie to let her know I was going to come pick her up in a bit. 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.” “Is this some sick joke?” “It’s not a joke. I canceled all my other appointments for the day and finished the ring.” “You’re a beautiful man.” “Yes, well, I just left it with Katie’s mom, so you can pick it up from her.” “Uhm…you left it 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, during our little Have a Great Summer party, 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. He was completely on board and very excited for me.

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).” I covered that one pretty well.

We got in the car and I took the longest route possible to get to The Underground. I actually stopped at the video store on the way. Forrest Gump had just been released on video that week. And at that moment, my life really was like a box of chocolates. It spoke to me.

Having stalled as long as I could, we finally made our way over to the restaurant. I could only hope that Lincoln had set everything up, and 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, 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 wide open, started talking like the speed-talking Fed Ex Guy. “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 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, including my co-conspirator, Lincoln, were also there.

Lincoln and I managed to slip away for a private conversation (no, not in the men’s room). He 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 at the table. Some of them 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. Then I stood up and announced to the restaurant that I needed everyone’s attention to the center of the room. 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 said yes – actually she 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 was so proud of her beatnik son, she actually brought a video camera to record him singing. Out of coincidence, we were getting engaged that night, and there she was to capture it all. Well, not all of it. She actually only swings the camera around enough to record some very key moments. But now they are 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 has just brought for Katie.
  • Lincoln conspiring with Mike on when to play what song.
  • Our friend Chris is so nervous with the proposal, he actually covers his face in case Katie says ‘no.’
  • Katie saying yes.
  • Me looking like an idiot.
  • Lisa handing over the roses.
  • And finally, some very bad editing skills, as this was my first time using this editing software.
Happy Anniversary to Us!