April and Clifford

IMG_4501April and I had been talking about engagement and marriage for weeks. There had been tough discussions and difficult things to figure out, but Wednesday night the last box was checked.

And after so much talk, I was ready for action.

Snow had canceled work for the day, so I had time to buy the ring I’d been eyeing. It was out of my price range. But it was SO beautiful. And it was going to fit April’s personality perfectly.

With brother (Jake) and roommate (Josh) in tow (“bro-forcements”), I arrived at Macy’s and purchased the ring. Twenty minutes later, Jake asked me, “When are you going to propose?”

I didn’t know–definitely not that day–but maybe that weekend. I had just bought a ring. I needed to catch my breath.

Josh suggested that I propose while fake proposing. I could pretend that I was going to propose but then tie my shoe. And after she was sure it was a joke, I could pull the ring from my shoe. He even suggested putting the ring on my toe and pulling shoe and sock off before popping the question.

When he offered me his life’s savings if I did it, I considered, but had to decline for April’s sake. (Of course, she’s Dutch, so she may have appreciated it.)

After we dropped off Jake, Josh and I met with April’s roommate, Anna, to show her the ring and discuss proposal ideas. Twenty minutes of Josh’s awful ideas later, I came away with one word from Anna: landscapes. When I proposed, a landscape should be involved.

It had just snowed, but snow could melt by the weekend, which would mean we could go to the mountains for a “hike.” On the other hand, with snow on the ground, nearby beautiful landscapes abounded, and those landscapes would be dirty and soggy once the snow melted.

I weighed the options carefully.

Two hours later, I met April on campus. We talked as she finished up homework; I wanted to go down on one knee then. But on-campus proposals are NOT acceptable. So, I waited.

“Wanna go for a walk?” I asked as nonchalantly as my quavering-body would allow me.

“Sure.”

She wasn’t expecting anything then, and I managed to maintain my cool as we drove downtown.

Once parked, I said, “Love, I’m really hungry. What do you think about an early dinner?”

“You just had a chicken sandwich!”

What I thought: “If I’m ever going to stop shaking [see “nervous”], I’m going to need food to weigh me down.”

What I said: “That’s hardly a meal. I need more food, and aren’t you hungry?”

“Where do you want to eat?” she asked.

“Rivermont–er–Waterstone pizza sound good?” [I never get the two straight; if Lynchburg had a Watermont or Riverstone pizza, I wouldn’t know the difference.] “Let’s eat at four.”

That gave us an hour to walk. As we got out of the car, I picked up my laptop bag: “In case I have to check work e-mail at the restaurant.” [Actually, the ring box would have made my pocket look “super odd.”]

As we were walking, I started pointing out places special to us. “Remember talking there? Remember the date there? Remember swing dancing there?”

Cue: April’s suspicions that “something” is up.

We walked to Phantastic Books, and she started reading a book of poetry. I asked her if she liked it. She replied, “Yes,” and then I [apparently “awkwardly”] walked away. While she was elsewhere in the store, I bought the book. The clerk probably thought me suspicious as I kept glancing over my shoulder and saying “no, I’ll pay with a debit card” in hushed tones.

We continued our walk, and I glanced at my phone. 3:30.

Good. I’ve got time.

I stopped and gave her the book. She was surprised at this, and I thought, “Good. Maybe this will butter her up for when I ask the question.”

Cue: More April-spicion.

We put the book back in my bag and continued our walk.

Now it was her turn to reminisce. She mentioned a bank of Percival Island where we had sat and talked last spring when we started dating.

Ah, yes!

That was exactly where I had wanted us to end up. “Why don’t we go read some of this poetry there? We’ve got time.”

There must be something built into women that allows them to go along with dumb ideas when guys are about to propose. They must be able to sense it. April’s shoes were NOT waterproof, she was freezing, and we would be late to dinner, but she acquiesced. If she hadn’t, I don’t know what I would have done other than strongly suggest that we make the detour because the view would be just so beautiful.

We passed River-waterstone-mont-whatever-pizza and reached Percival Island.

Under the overpass that splits the island, we paused, and I gave her a long hug. While her head was pressed against my chest, I realized that my heart was beating inordinately quickly.

I hoped April wouldn’t notice.

She did. I could sense her listening.

But she always does notice. When I first told her I loved her, she asked if I was okay because I was breathing heavily and my pulse had gone mad. When I first told her we should get married, she probably thought I was about to die.

But she didn’t say anything this time. Maybe I was safe.

I just tried to ignore it and started walking again.

The spot where we had talked the year before was farther down the trail than we remembered and the snowy sidewalk was rough going for April’s freezing feet. I walked by her and made sure she took the easiest ways through the snow, thinking to myself, “I really hope this will be worth it to her.”

Finally, we veered into the woods towards the waterside and found the right tree.

At that point, my brain was going crazy. April talked a little, but my words were sparse. I AM ABOUT TO PROPOSE! OH MY GOODNESS! OH MY GOODNESS! OH MY GOODNESS! MAKE NORMAL CONVERSATION! WHAT IS NORMAL CONVERSATION? HOW DO I MAKE IT?

I looked to my surroundings for inspiration. TALK ABOUT SNOW? FOOTPRINTS? TREES? WATER? RIVER?

“Maybe we should be heading back,” she said.

“What about reading poetry?” I almost gasped.

“Oh, right,” she said, staring across the river.

The moment of truth had come. The decision had been made already, but this moment marked when the decision would (hopefully) become a tangible fact–a ring on April’s hand. The world no longer felt real. Everything I couldn’t see ceased to exist, and my peripheral vision died. This riverbank was a stage, the river and trees our breathless audience and the spotlight on us.

I reached into my laptop bag, unboxed the ring, and turned, kneeling into the snow.

April looked at me.

She saw me, Clifford Stumme, kneeling in the snow with a ring.

“April, will you marry me?” No fancy speech. No terms of endearment. Just the facts. That’s all I could trust myself to do.

Everything freezes like the ice and snow around us.The cars across the river stop. The river freezes solid. The clouds become stone. April catches her breath and falls back against the tree.

“Yes.”

She falls towards me for a hug. I catch her, and she says, “Yes,” again.

We hug tight, holding close to the other, my right hand around her back still holding the box.

I stand her up and place the ring on her finger.

It’s a little loose, but we’re going to be married until we die. We are going to be each other’s “other” forever. After a year of dating, countless hours of talking, miles of walking, long hours homeworking together, endless marriage discussions, and a long walk through the melting snow, we’re engaged. The ring, like the most spectacular snowflake, is on April’s left ring finger, and she’s said, “Yes.” We don’t really know what will happen, but we’re confident that it will be good. We’re to be wed.

Referencing earlier discussions: “Is August 8th good?”

A soft, happy “yes” from April.

A few more minutes of glassy eyed-staring and then, as the millennials we are, we pull out our smart phones and start telling everyone.