The first of September was a strange day. I had known for awhile that I wanted to propose to Hannah. It had been two years, in fact. We’d only been together a week when I knew I wanted to be with her for the rest of my life. A month after that, on August 11th 2013, I wrote an engagement poem for her. I decided then that if we were still together in September 2015, and at least as happy as we were that August, I’d use the poem to propose to her.
Over the last two years our relationship has grown in all directions. Our life together has taken on a different quality: it’s become richer, deeper, and more satisfying with time. This has been a constant trend, and so there was never really any doubt that in September 2015 I would read Hannah the poem and ask her to be my wife.
I never showed anyone else the poem. It remained a secret, hidden in a drawer. I only told my sister that I was going to propose.
This knowledge ran like a hidden creek underneath my relationship with Hannah. Many of the important decisions I’ve made over the last two years were made with this private countdown in mind.
September 2015 inched closer and closer. This past January was especially difficult; up until then, 2015 was a strange, distant land. Then it was here, and the time felt so much closer. I knew I was making the right decision, but still worried about it.
I decided to propose to Hannah at the Royal Ontario Museum, which is one of our favourite places in the city. That didn’t quite pan out. We made plans to visit Hannah’s parents on September 2nd. We had to attend a funeral on the 30th. The 31st was Hannah’s last day at her internship, and she was frantically busy wrapping up loose ends and completing paperwork.
I realized we wouldn’t have time for an afternoon at the museum. I thought about it, and decided to propose at Philosopher’s Walk instead.
Philosopher’s Walk is a pathway winding beside the museum and a handful of university buildings. It’s quiet and pretty, lined with trees and benches. Hannah and I walked through it on our second date, and it was there I realized I had a crush on her.
On August 29th– the day before the funeral- I lost patience and decided to propose. But Hannah had made other plans. Exhausted from work, she’d concluded that this would be a “no-pants day”. I tried telling her about a cool art installation close to Philosopher’s Walk that we should check out (which I totally made up, but really, what is art anyway?). She didn’t bite. The allure of modern art was no match for the joys of spending all day inside doing nothing.
So I had to wait three days.
On the 1st it was decided that we’d go to the Ex, which is an enormous, annual carnival in Toronto. I managed to talk Hannah into checking out the museum’s gift store before we went to the Ex.
“I have to buy a birthday present for my sister,” I said.
“Okay, but why today? Why before the Ex?”
“I don’t think we’ll have time to do it later.”
“We’re leaving for Pembroke tomorrow at 2. We’ll have plenty of time tomorrow.”
I did not want to wait yet another day.
“It won’t take long,” I promised.
That morning I felt strange and tense.
In another few hours I’ll be engaged, I thought. Nobody but me and my sister knows that my life is about to permanently change.
Hannah got dressed, had breakfast, and did her hair, oblivious to what was coming.
On the way to Philosopher’s Walk she glanced at me sideways.
“You’re acting kind of strange,” she said.
“In what way?”
“I don’t know.”
I can’t believe this is happening, I thought. In another ten minutes I’ll be engaged.
We reached the gateway to Philosopher’s Walk.
“Can we go in here?” I said. “I want to show you something.”
“Oh. You’ll see.”
I had played this out in my head a thousand times, and now it was actually happening. We walked down the pathway in what seemed like slow motion, the museum on one side of us, a concert hall on the other. I looked at each bench as we passed it. Some were occupied. Where would be the right place?
I decided on a bench at a sunny crossroad in the path, and sat down.
“Okay, so I want to read you a poem,” I said.
Hannah sat in front of me, looking skeptical but receptive.
I opened my knapsack, pulled out a heavy book she’d given me for my birthday, and flipped through it until I found the handwritten poem tucked safely inside.
“I wrote this two years ago,” I said, showing her the date, “And I wanted to read this to you now.”
As I read the poem, I didn’t dare look at her face. Maybe once, out of the corner of my eye, but her expression was hard to read. I finished, and removed a small pouch from my knapsack. The pouch had been given to me by my grandmother when I was a kid. I’d always liked it. It was an unconventional way to store a ring, looking like a prop from The Lord of the Rings, and I liked that, too.
I slid the pouch open and held the ring out.
“Oh,” she said.
For a split second I struggled to get the words out because they are, after all, one of the few sequences of words that will change your life forever.
“Hannah, will you marry me?”
“Shit!” she said. “Oh my God. This is crazy. Yes. Fuck. Sorry for swearing so much. Shit.”
We kissed, and she put the ring on.
“Oh my God, it’s beautiful,” she said. “Fuck, I can’t believe this.”
I told her everything I’d wanted to tell her for the last two years: how I’d planned this, the circumstances in which I’d written the poem, how my sister had persuaded me to buy the ring, telling me, “You can’t wear a poem.” Hannah interjected occasionally with profanity, smiling dizzily.
Her eyes watered. We sat together for a long time in silence holding hands.
“I don’t know what to do now,” she said. “This is crazy. Did we kiss yet? I can’t remember.”
“We did, but we can do it again,” I said, and we did.
We discussed the logistics of announcing our engagement, as every modern couple must.
“We should wait a day or two before posting it on Facebook,” said Hannah, “so that we can tell all the most important people personally.”
I agreed with this. Then we took a couple of selfies, as you do. In the photos, Hannah looks giddy and overwhelmed. I look satisfied.
After that, she put her camera away.
“Should we head to the Ex?” she said.
We headed south down Philosopher’s Walk. Hannah glanced at the ring, which sparkled in the light.
The day passed in a happy blur. I was able, for the first time, to talk about the wedding with her. I have a tendency to overthink things, especially if I can’t talk about them out loud, so it was good to finally let this stuff out. We agreed that getting married next summer would be ideal, that we wanted to do it at her parents’ place, and that we wanted cupcakes instead of a wedding cake.
“But I want a miniature cake too,” said Hannah, “so we can put cake toppers on it. I’ve always wanted a wheelchair cake topper.”
The day passed in a happy blur. The Ex was crowded and noisy, as usual, but it didn’t phase me. We were stunned, facing the heady reality of guaranteed permanency.
We ate a glorious amount of crap: a Timbit poutine, a large box of novelty-flavoured Timbits, a bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich, crab fries, a neon-blue Snow Cone.
We decided to win a souvenir at one of the gaming booths. I selected a booth that gave out a prize no matter how badly you fucked up. You had to throw darts at balloons, which is not a great idea for someone like me.
Miraculously, I hit two out of three and won a plush rose.
“I’m glad we didn’t get a Minion,” said Hannah, “or one of those weird, off-colour Ninja Turtles. Did you see those?”
We headed back earlier than we did last year, but both of us were eager to share the news with our families.
Throughout the day we both kept staring at the ring. It drew our attention in an almost Tolkienesque way.
“Who the hell gave you that ring?” I asked.
“I dunno, some weirdo.”