Monday, 22 July 2013

The Proposal

Today marks one year to the day that I proposed to my now wife, Katie. Marriage was something that we had both kind of taken for granted since quite early in the relationship. The only cause for procrastination in actually taking the plunge had been a purely financial one. The idea that Katie may have said no was just as alien to me as the prospect of me never one day proposing had been to Katie. Simply put: we were on the same page right from the start. Yet the evening of 22nd July 2012 had turned out to be one of the most awkward and cringe-worthy moments of my life.

Sometimes in life, a happy beginning can come to a sad end and likewise, a happy ending can begin from tragedy. Katie was orphaned as a child. She does not have a lot to remember her parents by, but her mother's diamond engagement ring is one particular heirloom that she has retained. Being an aspiring writer of humble means, one months salary spent on an engagement ring is a tradition that I could scant afford. I thought that using her mother's ring to propose to Katie would be a romantic and meaningful way to forego with said tradition.

I had booked us a friendly bed and breakfast in Cornwall for a long weekend, which would culminate with Katie's thirtieth birthday. With the ring taken from her jewelry box tucked safely in my pocket, we set out on our getaway.

I chose the night before her birthday to propose as I knew that reaching the big 3-0 was making Katie anxious and thought it would be good for her to cross off one more milestone before she got there. I had it all planned out perfectly. We would find a nice restaurant close to the beach for dinner and then as we watched the sun set over the ocean, I would pop the question. It could not have gone wrong. Yet, somehow, it very nearly did.

The first problem was in finding a restaurant close to the beach. We had taken a walk along the clifftops and come to what I knew to be the ideal spot to watch the sunset. There were just no restaurants nearby. We carried on walking a bit farther and found a bar (it had already stopped selling food) and a chip shop (had just closed). Since we still had about one and a half hours until sunset, I decided that we had time to go back into the town for food. After which, we could return for the sunset.

Newquay is a popular destination and never more so than in July. Even on a Sunday night, all of the bars and restaurants were packed to capacity. It was a thirty minute wait for food. By the time that we left the restaurant, the sun had already begun to set and we were a good twenty minute walk from where I wanted us to be. With full stomachs, the brisk walk was not pleasant and it soon became obvious that we were not going to make it. I needed a different plan.

A large hotel sat atop the cliff and I figured that by cutting through its grounds, we could make it to the spot that I had picked out in time. I was wrong. When we got to the rear of the hotel, we were prevented from accessing the public footpath by building works. There was not time to turn back as only the top tip of the sun remained. It was now or never (actually, it was now any other time of my choosing, but I was dead set on "now").

I led Katie to a wooden bench that gave us a view of the now dark ocean with the fading silhouettes of diggers in front. She was slightly confused.

'There is always tomorrow for sunset,' she suggested. 'We can go back to the guesthouse if you want.'

'Maybe we can stay here for a bit longer,' I replied, not exactly sure what to do next.

When I am nervous, it shows. One of the more bizarre manifestations of this is when one of my legs begins to involuntarily shake, which it did then. I was terrified. In the six years we had been together, I had always been 100% sure about our relationship, yet right then, I felt like a schoolboy who was hopelessly out of his league. Wanting to get it over with before true panic set in, I reached into my pocket with my trembling hand and took out the ring.

I do not remember what I said next. How I worded the question is irrelevant. Only the answer mattered and I was no longer quite so sure what it would be. I looked Katie in the eyes, but she could not take hers off of what I held between my forefinger and thumb.

'Er, where did you get that ring?' she asked, awkwardly.

'It's your mum's,' I told her. 'I thought that it would make it more special. You're not offended are you?'

She still had her eyes fixed on the ring. Looking at it like she was trying to work out if her tetanus shots were still in date.

'That's not my mum's ring.'

'What do you mean?' I asked. 'Trying to hide the sense of dread from my voice. 'This was the only diamond ring in your jewelry box. It has to be your mum's'

She shook her head.

'This isn't a diamond. I cannot understand how you could have thought that it was. It is really cheap, I actually thought that I'd thrown it out years ago. My mum's ring is with my aunt for safe keeping.

I looked down at the ring. How could I have been so stupid. It was hideous! It looked nothing at all like an engagement ring. I may as well have proposed with a piece of plastic. I was acutely aware of just how little I had to offer Katie as husband. I thought that she did too, because she had started to cry.

'I'm sorry, I've messed this up,' I said, hoping to placate her.

She wiped away a tear.

'You haven't messed this up at all,' she said. 'I don't care about a ring. All that matters is us. Of course I will marry you.'

She held up her hand and I gently slid the cheap zirconia onto her engagement finger, assuring her that we would exchange it for the correct one at the first opportunity.

As it turned out, I bought King a ring after all. I found out that she was not overly keen on her mum's ring as she finds diamonds gaudy and was also worried that it would bring bad luck. To avoid any more mishaps I let her choose the replacement. She decided to go with something meaningful rather than traditional. Having met in Australia, an opal was the perfect choice.

(Above) The opal ring sitting atop Katie's wedding band.

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