Sunday, February 14, 2016

Will You Marry Me?

Today is Valentine's Day - the first, of course, since Cara's passing. There are several dates each year that I know will always make me especially miss her, for instance, her birthday, our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of our first date. Valentine's Day wouldn't rank especially high on the list because it wasn't something we generally made that big a deal of. It did make me think of a nice story, though. Probably our most extravagant Valentine's Day outing was in 2010. It was actually on the evening of the 13th (a Saturday, just like this year) that we went out to eat at our favorite restaurant, L'Albatros, a fabulous French restaurant in University Circle. We took advantage of a gift card we had received for Christmas and enjoyed one of the best meals we'd ever eaten. Cara wrote a review of the outing on her Girl About Cleveland blog and I encourage you to look at it. Her writing is wonderfully evocative.

In preparing for the date, Cara really went all out, not only putting on a nice dress but also going to La Barberia in our Little Italy neighborhood earlier that day to get her hair and makeup professionally done.

Hair and makeup pictured, but that's not the dress, in case you wondered. :-p

I don't remember whether it was that night or on one of the following days, but Cara admitted to me that the reason she did this was she wanted to look especially nice because she was expecting I would propose to her.

We had already had discussions about getting engaged, so this wasn't coming up out of the blue. I never had any intention of a Valentine's proposal, though. As I told her, I thought it would be far too cliched. We ended up getting engaged about three weeks later in a really wonderful way. I've told that story before, but I also want to add some of the backstory that I haven't shared previously.

In December 2009, our first holiday season living together, we got an Advent calendar and took turns putting little objects (often candy, but some other things too) behind the doors for the other to open. At this point in time, we were already fully intending to get married and had discussed this openly with each other. I had shown Cara a few rings I was thinking of so that I could get her opinions, and based on her feedback had narrowed it down to two choices. (Partly because I was living on a grad student stipend and partly, again, not wanting to be cliched, I didn't want to get a traditional diamond ring and Cara was fully on board with that. I ended up choosing a ruby with four tiny diamonds around it and she absolutely loved the ring.) So anyway, I was thinking of putting the engagement ring behind the final door of the Advent calendar. (Yeah, yeah, that would have been pretty cliched!)

I procrastinated, and it turned out the particular ring I most wanted to get was not in stock, and I could not get it in time for Christmas, so I scratched that plan. Over the next couple of months, I think Cara was starting to wonder, "What's taking him so long?" We had been a couple for more than three years, had lived together for more than half a year, were obviously madly in love with each other, and had talked about engagement rings. What was I waiting for? Well, a confession. I didn't tell Cara this, but there was an unfortunate factor discouraging me from going ahead and proposing. (She was aware of what I was dealing with, but not of how it influenced my thinking in regards to getting engaged.) In October I had run the Towpath Marathon, the only marathon I ever ran and a great success as I finished second in a time of 2:44:38. It was an amazing experience, but unfortunately, in the course of training for the marathon, I developed really bad tendinitis in both my ankles. I ran through it, expecting that it would go away if I just took some time off from running after the marathon. This did not happen. If anything, at first it seemed to get even worse. I was in a lot of pain and feeling very frustrated and this was having a definite impact on my emotional state. And I wasn't really keen on getting engaged during what was not a particularly happy point in my life.

Things started to improve, a little (although six years later that ankle tendinitis has still not completely gone away). More importantly, my emotional state started to stabilize. I decided I shouldn't let this get in the way of Cara and I moving forward with our lives together.

After almost ordering a ring before Christmas but ending up not doing so, by Valentine's Day I still had not ordered the ring. But I guess that wonderful date night triggered something in me, because it was at lunch time on Monday the 15th that I placed the order (isn't it great having a searchable archive of all your emails from over the years?). Due to an unexpected delay with the shipping, I got the ring about two weeks later. Then it was a matter of finding the perfect time to propose.

It's appropriate that Lent has just started, because that also ties in to this story. Starting in 2009, Cara's first full year living in Cleveland, and continuing all the way through last year, during each Lenten season we picked one Friday and went to the fish fry at Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Mayfield Road in Cleveland Heights. We weren't churchgoers; it was just a really fun thing to do. We loved having little traditions like that to share. In 2010, we went to the fish fry on March 5, just days after I received the ring. Cara must have suspected something was up. There's no way she could have actually known that I had just gotten her engagement ring, because I had had it shipped to my work and it had never been somewhere she would have seen. However, as we stood in line to get our food, she not so subtly patted me down as if she was trying to see if there was anything hidden in my coat pockets. Of course, she acted all innocent when I asked what she was doing. I did not, in fact, have the ring with me at the fish fry. As usual, we had a great time together.

The next day, Saturday, we went for a walk at the Cleveland Metroparks Euclid Creek Reservation. Despite being March, there had recently been a large snowstorm, and the ground was blanketed with snow. That weekend saw the coming of a thaw. As we walked on the path alongside Euclid Creek, I recall watching in wonder as a tremendous flow of large ice chunks rushed downstream, carried by the heavily flowing water.

On that day, for the first time during an outing with Cara, I was carrying the ring with me.

We walked for some time. We always loved going for walks together, ever since even before we started dating. Now, I'll let you in on a very silly inside joke we had. As I recall, it started on a trip we took to Hamilton, Ontario to see a concert. We camped at a park on Lake Ontario and, while there, went to check out the beach. In the sand, Cara spelled out the words I LOVE YOU. I smiled as I watched. However, she was not done writing. Who knows what put this idea into her mind, but she added two more words, to complete the phrase I LOVE YOU BOBA FETT. (Boba Fett is the name of a Star Wars character. Cara, unlike me, wasn't even really a Star Wars fan. Ah, the mysteries of the human mind...) We both thought this was hilarious, and from that day on, we would occasionally write I LOVE YOU BOBA FETT in random places. And one such place was there in the snow along the trail at Euclid Creek Reservation.

It was around then that I considered popping the question. It just didn't feel right to me, though, because it was a very gray day. So I decided to wait, for which I'm glad.

The next day was Sunday, March 7. In the morning, we went to a spin class together at Urban Active in Beachwood, as we often did that winter. In the afternoon, Cara was going to see the recently released movie Alice in Wonderland with a friend (I had no interest in seeing the movie.) It was a beautiful day, and I asked Cara if, before she went to the movie, she'd like to go for a walk with me in "the ravine" - Roxboro Ravine, a section of Doan Brook in between North Park Boulevard and Fairhill Road. (Later that year I wrote a whole blog post about my love for Roxboro Ravine.)

Unlike the previous cloudy day, the sun shone brightly on that Sunday, illuminating the snow that still covered most of the ground. The whole landscape sparkled. With mild temperatures, it was a great day for a walk. As we descended on the trail into the ravine, a place we had walked several times in the past, Cara remarked to me that the ravine was "special" to her. Secretly, it thrilled me when she said this. I, of course, agreed with her.

After walking for some time, we reached the spot pictured here:

I took this picture then. I was carrying the ring box, by the way, in my camera bag.

Since Cara was going to the movie with her friend, I said that we should probably head back to the car. She began to do so. Then I added, "But first, there's one more thing." She turned back around to see me down on one knee, holding out the ring. "Will you marry me?"

In her excitement, Cara fell on her backside in the snow. It was truly a perfect moment! She said yes, of course.

So then we did return to the car, and Cara did go to the movie, while I went on a bike ride. That night, Cara, her friend, and I went to the Happy Dog on the West Side for a little celebratory dinner to cap off a wonderful day.

And a little addendum about that engagement ring. Last fall when I was looking at pictures from the Cleveland Museum of Art's annual chalk festival, I was surprised when I looked very closely at this picture from the 2009 chalk festival and saw that Cara was wearing, on her left hand ring finger, what appeared to be her engagement ring (it's hard to see without looking at the original full size image).

I was very confused for a moment, because this picture was taken some six months before we got engaged. Then I remembered the other ring I had gotten Cara. It was a garnet ring. She had been telling me that it would be nice if I got her some jewelry, and as I recall, I bought it for her at a shop in Lake Placid, New York that we were at together during family vacation. It was nothing fancy, but she really liked that ring. The engagement ring was similar in appearance (although obviously much nicer) and she told me that this similarity was one of the reasons she loved her engagement ring so much. I don't know where that garnet ring is now. Perhaps I'll come across it someday. The engagement ring remains with Cara.