She is getting ready in the bathroom, a bathroom with bleached white towels and those shower curtains that bow out from the shower so they seem larger than they really are, while I’m posing in front of the floor-length mirror in the room of the TraveLodge I had booked for an end-of-the-summer getaway. The small box that I’d been carrying in my bag since Thursday wasn’t so small in my pocket and was just too... obvious.
“So are we set about having a Mexican picnic on the beach?” I asked.
“Sounds good to me.”
She has a way of doing her hair and makeup anytime she leaves the house that makes me certain I have at least five more minutes to figure out just how to get this little wooden box to Ocean Park without her noticing it. For now the in-the-pocket option isn’t panning out, so I pick up my messenger bag I bought for my study abroad trip to Spain in 2005.
“Should I pack your sweatshirt for the evening? I bet the evening will be chilly.”
“Yeah. Thanks, baby boo.” I don’t know where Baby Boo came from, but I like it. I put a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweatshirt and a pamphlet about things to see in San Diego into the bag. She walks out of the bathroom just as I’m pulling my hand out of the side pocket where I decided to keep the box. I’m certain she won’t be surprised. I’m positive she knows exactly what I’m planning.
Last night, just before going to sleep, just to be sure, I asked, “You’re going to marry me one day, right?” She looked back at me and with conviction said, “I will.”
The taco place is small. It reminds me more of an outdoor only Dairy Queen, painted orange and yellow and housing three blue picnic tables under a tin awning. It does have three indoor tables, though I don’t imagine many people use them. The weather in San Diego is unwaveringly nice. This Saturday late afternoon is no different, the 78 degrees being a welcome break from the oppressive 100+ heat of the Phoenix Valley. We order our two burritos, one seafood, the other steak, and as we wait for the two-man staff to assemble our dinner fare, I notice the anxiety mounting bit by bit. I have the ring, but I’m not sure I have the words. I couldn’t just blurt it out. Would I be kneeling? I reassure myself that the act of asking is more important than any of the particulars. With the burritos in hand, and us heading back to the car, I still don’t have it all planned. It would come.
We had plotted out the course to the beach before leaving the hotel, and so we make quick work of finding Ocean Park. We park in a large lot next to a small amusement park with a ferris wheel and a decent sized roller coaster. I am not paying too much attention to the commotion and the lights, though, and instead am making small talk, trying to seem normal.
“Man, those burritos smell good.” I can’t stop thinking about the red and white wooden box buried in my bag.
We get out of the car, basking again in the cool air. She pulls out the sweatshirts and we are so pleased to be standing on a beach in August wearing the warmest clothing we brought. The burritos are fantastic, hefty and messy and entirely too much food. The seagulls approach hesitantly at first, and then more boldly as we toss them pieces of tortilla, rice and mixed meats. With our stomachs full and the seagulls satisfied, we decide to take a walk in the sand.
She is so beautiful, walking out toward the water, smiling back at me, giggling when I tell her she should get closer to the breaking waves. Somehow she becomes even more beautiful as the waves catch her being too ambitious, splashing both her legs and soaking her pants. Her face lights up with shock and delight and we both laugh.
“Come on, let’s sit for a while,” I suggest.
We spread out the old green striped Mexican blanket I bought in high school and draw in close to each other. The winds are up and the cool weather we had reveled in has turned closer to chilly. The sun is sinking low toward the horizon and the sky has passed from shades of blue to a primarily pink palette of colors. The waves crash in a steady but irregular rhythm, one right after the other.
“Do you remember when we first met?” I ask.
“Of course,” she replies. “I met you at the train station the first time you came to Petropavlovsk.”
I remind her how crazy that first arrival had been for me and admit that I don’t remember meeting her then. She feigns hurt feelings and vows to never talk to me again. I love proving her wrong.
“What about that first Thanksgiving?” I ask, hoping to get the conversation on to moments we could both recall clearly. We reminisce about how I played the guitar with all my “loud American friends” and how I taught her how to use an iPod. I remind her that I was her human sled as well, and I reason that our violent embrace -- as she tackled me and we careened down the snow covered hill -- was our first hug.
“And how long did it take you to decide to kiss me?” she asks with an eyebrow raised. We recount that evening from our different perspectives, and I explain that I had wanted to kiss her all afternoon but had waited till everyone was in bed.
“I was hoping you would kiss me too, but I went to bed thinking you had missed your chance,” she says.
“But I kept lying there in bed thinking that I would regret it if I didn’t kiss you goodnight.” I had crept across the big room filled with sleeping Peace Corps Volunteers and given her a goodnight kiss. It was exciting and sweet and put a perfect end to a perfect day.
We make our way from that momentous kiss to our first months of dating. We talk about how we stayed out late with friends and how I would always walk her home, taking the long way around the block in order to spend a few more minutes together. She reminds me about how we almost called it off before she went to the US for her second year at Arizona State. We both knew long distance would be hard, but she had said she wanted to try. How would we know if it would work or not if we didn’t give it a go?
Sitting on the beach now, we marvel at the fact that we used to be able to go a week without talking to each other, catching up for only an hour every weekend on Skype. Now we can hardly get through a day apart. I know it is time. The conversation is inching toward the point I need. I want to tell her how I never want to go a day without her again, that I want to be with her the rest of my life.
“You know,” I start, “back then I knew that I loved you.” Does she know what was coming next?
“But after this last year of being with you, I’ve learned just how much I love you.” I lean back and reach into the bag to pull out that red and white box.
“I know that this next year is going to be full of changes.” I hug the box to my hip out of view from her.
“But I know that whatever we do and wherever we go I want to be there with you.” I pull out the box.
“So I was wanting to ask you a question.” The box is open and her eyes have widened considerably.
“Will you marry me?”
The pause that follows is infinitely long. Her eyes are on the ring and mine are on her. She shows surprise (maybe she wasn’t expecting it?) followed by a pleading look and asks, “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” I reassure her and lift the ring up toward her.
“It’s so beautiful.” She is talking about the ring, but I still have no answer. The waves crash again and the pauses between them seem like hours.
“So, will you?”
She says yes.