[Posted by popular demand...]
Saturday afternoon, April 1, 2006.
Ashley and I had gone to the gym that morning, and I think I needed the workout more to get my nerves to settle down and take out some of the anxiety than anything else. Muscle toning be d*mn*d -- I needed to run to focus, and relax a little bit.
So, following the burning of an insane amount of calories, we went to our respective homes to shower, dress, and get ready for a retirement party that night. Jim Day, the Executive Director of Housing here at UGA was retiring after 16 years at UGA (and 35 years in the field of residence life), and he was having a HUGE blow-out at his house that night.
I showed up at Ashley's apartment around 3:00, and we had four hours to spend before the party. I told her that since it was such a beautiful day, why don't we take a walk around campus to just bask in the sun, the light breeze, and the fact that it wasn't crazily humid and we could move around outside without passing out from a heat stroke.
So, we walked from the front door of her building to my car, were I picked up a pair of hiking boots, tied their shoelaces together, and tossed them over my shoulder. Of course, Ash was a little confused about why I had brought the boots in the first place (although, this is me we're talking about here, and she should be accustomed to the odd and random by this point), and asked me if she needed to go back in and change shoes, because if I had hiking boots...I told her -- and I quote -- "I'm a teacher. I work in student development. I'm involved in a youth group. I have an object lesson planned. Gimme some leeway here." So, we struck off on our stroll. I knew where we were walking to, but she had no clue.
Flashback to September of 2004 -- we had met only a few months earlier, and one night she asked me to come to her apartment. Once I got there, she met me at the door and told me to turn around, that we were going somewhere. We walked from her apartment to the on-campus coffee shop (Jittery Joe's) over by O-House, grabbed a couple of cups of java, and walked to North Campus (Herty Field) to where this big fountain is located. There, we sat out under the stars on a bench by the fountain for a few hours...talking about life, our dreams, our fears, our lives, sitting really close because it was a bit chilly, and just...basking in each other.
We walked back to this fountain on Saturday. "Our" fountain -- despite the plethora of undergrads playing Frisbee around it when we got there. We sat down on a bench by the fountain and started picking up our conversation from the walk and from the night before -- stuff about life, the future and such (however, we did not sit on the bench we'd sat on that first night; the wind was blowing the spray of the fountain directly onto that bench, and I was already nervous and sweating enough -- I did NOT need any more water).
Let me just point this out -- at this time, she had no idea where all this was leading. She just thought it was a nice day, a nice walk, and a nice talk. We were just being all "couple-y." So, I ask her, "I'll bet you're curious why I have these boots..."
[Now, keep in mind that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that right about this point in the conversation...I started rambling. I was scattered in my thoughts. The majority of what I said was probably pretty darn jumbled and non-sequitur. But -- as she's confirmed -- below is the heart of the speech I made.]
I told her that I didn't know if she remembered or not, but she'd bought these boots for me. We'd gone to REI one weekend during their "Second-Hand Sale," and she found these really cool boots that were normally, like, almost $200 or something that someone had bought, worn, didn't like, and brought them back because they squeaked or something. But, after I'd passed them by on the sale table myself, she found them, saw that they were in good condition, and "made me" try them on to see if they fit.
I told her that that one gesture was sort of indicative of us, of our relationship -- that here I was, someone that people had passed by a lot in life, because they saw the scuffs, the scratches and the "used" or "defective" labels that others had put on me. But she looked past all that and saw something of great value. She saw someone that had a lot of potential, a lot of miles left on the tread, and so what if someone else had placed their label on me; she wasn't going to go by what someone else said -- she wanted to see if I fit and see if I could handle this journey.
I told her that -- as she knows I normally do -- I saw...see...life through metaphors. Through allegories. And that since the first day she had bought me these boots that I was going to use them for something special. That they'd be used for something cool, because they meant a great, great deal to me.
And that, you know, I'd never paid her back for those shoes, and since I'd had them for almost a year now, maybe it was time that I did so.
At this point, I removed the little wooden box that I'd placed up in the toe area of one of the boots. Ashley, bless her naive heart, asked me what the box was for.
I told her, "Hold on; I have to do this the right way." I brushed some of the gravel away from the front of the bench and got down on my knee.
Ashley: "Wait. What are you doing?"
I then opened the box and took the ring out.
Ashley: (starts crying; eyes huge) "No. You're not serious. You can't be serious."
Me: "Let's do this. Let's make the dream a reality. We've talked about our future together, joked about or future...but I want to stop talking. Let's go on the journey together.
"Ashley, will you marry me?"
Me: "I don't care if you say 'yes' or 'no,' but could you please just respond before I pass out or throw up?"
And she starts laughing. And then she says yes.
Now, keep in mind that this was April Fool's Day. Yes, I know that many people would find that cruel and unusual, but -- this is ME we're talking about. If you know me, you have to admit that there is a certain amount of Sonny-ness to our getting engaged on April Fool's Day. Ya gotta admit -- I don't think it'll be a date I can forget all that easily.
But, the date has a little bit of symbolism and meaning to it as well. It was my maternal grandmother's birthday, and since she died years ago and can't be at the wedding, I wanted her included in some small way.
Also, Ashley's grandmother is dying, and she probably won't live long enough to attend the wedding. I wanted her to know that Ashley was getting married, and that her granddaughter was going to be cared for and loved.
I didn't do the old school "call her father to ask permission" shtick -- I called her mom instead. Ashley's parents divorced when she was younger, and her mom raised her as a single parent. They have this insanely strong bond, and there was no way that I was going to do this without her blessing.
Her mom and I have a good relationship, and she told me that it meant a great deal to her that I'd ask her blessing before I asked Ashley to marry me.
So. I'm engaged. Yeah. Whod'a'thunk it?