In early May, Emily and I went ring shopping, mainly just to look. We had discussed the topic of marriage several times and were both in agreement that we were looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together. We started to go into Helzberg Diamonds. Emily looked around and said “Good, I don’t know anyone in here.” No more than five seconds after she said that, we ran into an older gentleman from my church. We chatted for a few minutes and he was on his way. The woman who started helping us promptly showed Emily a $12,000 dollar ring and was extolling its beauty. Fortunately, Emily didn’t seem to like it very much. After going through several rings, we came across one that she liked. It had a nice diamond in the middle with a slightly smaller diamond on either side and three tiny diamonds running down the sides…and it included the wedding band. We looked at it under the gem scope and eventually walked out. We walked across to one of the other jewelry stores in the mall, but didn’t really do more than talk about what we’d just viewed. We grabbed a snack and left.
A few weeks later, on May 22, I went back and bought the ring. I ran out to the mall between a few other work-related errands that were in the area. It didn’t take very long and Emily didn’t seem to be suspicious of anything. I took the receipt and bag and placed them in my box at the bank. Since I knew that Emily wouldn’t want to give up the ring once I gave it to her, I had it sent of for resizing as soon as I bought it. They told me that it could take up to ten days to get it back. They didn’t specify whether it would be ten business days or just ten days, but with it going into a holiday weekend, I figured that it would take the longest amount of time possible. With that in mind, I was quite surprised when I got a call on May 28 that it had arrived. I was at a conference all day, so I picked up Daniel and drove out to the mall to pick up the ring. It was after the bank closed, so I was a bit worried about not being able to put it in the bank…both to keep it from getting lost or stolen and to keep Emily from finding it.
After picking up the rings, Daniel and I went over to Emily’s house for dinner. I was very nervous and excited. Now that I had the ring in hand, I didn’t want to wait any longer. I hate keeping secrets or trying to put off giving gifts, so it was very hard for me. Emily’s dad was taking off the next day for a business trip and he had made it very clear in our first conversation that he would be upset if I didn’t ask for his permission before asking Emily to marry me. In Emily’s words, I was “stalking” her dad all evening. I finally got a few minutes alone with him and said “I’m really nervous about this, but I wanted to ask you for permission to marry Emily.” His response was “Well, we still need to have a talk about your divorce” and included the fact that he was going out of town on business, asking whether it was urgent, etc. I told him that I knew he was busy for the next week and said that I just wanted to get on his calendar. We arranged to have a meeting the next Thursday, June 5, at 7pm, which he pointed out was Christa’s birthday. Earlier in the evening, Emily had asked me why I was being so nervous, acting the way I was, etc., and I jokingly told her that I was going to ask her dad if I could marry her. Or at least my tone implied that I was joking. Daniel and I left pretty quickly after I talked to her dad, so she called me after I got home and put Daniel to bed. She was asking if I’d talked to him, as she still wasn’t sure if I was joking. I was being very evasive, answering cryptically with “maybe” and “I don’t know”. I finally said “Do you want me to tell you that I didn’t ask him?” She said yes, so I said “Okay, if you want me to say that, then I didn’t ask him.”
That weekend, Emily and I were going to spend the weekend in Chicago with Christa and Danny, Emily’s sister and brother-in-law. We had gotten tickets for Illini Day at Wrigley Field and hung out with them all weekend. We talked a bit about the plans for the next weekend, when Danny had planned a birthday dinner for Christa that included going out to a nice dinner at Maggiano’s and then going out drinking in the city. We talked about the possibility of coming up to go out with them to celebrate Christa’s birthday, but I had something else in mind. Saturday evening, we were all drinking. Emily fell asleep on the couch downstairs and I approached both Danny and Christa to ask them if they thought it would take away from Christa’s birthday if I asked Emily to marry me that day. I mentioned that I’d made plans to talk to Clif and that I just didn’t want to overshadow Christa’s birthday. They both agreed that it was fine and so our plans for the next weekend were set.
Monday evening, I had arranged to work on a lady’s computer in Mahomet as part of my third job. When I was finished there, I met Emily and Daniel at her school to help her pack up her room.
The next night, I picked up CDs from the lady to reinstall her computer and ended up going in to work later in the evening. Emily watched Daniel for me while I went to my office. As I was driving in to work, I noticed that there was a storm brewing. A little while later, there were tornado warnings for the area, including my house. Emily and Daniel spent the evening in the bathroom, taking cover. I finally got home around 11:30 and Emily and I talked for a bit. She left around 12:20. About 15 minutes later, I got a call from her that she was cleaning out her car so that she could take her dad to the emergency room. His second business trip had been cancelled, so he was in town that evening. He tripped as he was going to bed and hit his head on the nightstand, tearing a four-inch gash in his forehead. He was bleeding everywhere, his eye got swollen shut, and he had to have 19 stitches.
Wednesday evening, we had a birthday dinner for Simone, Emily’s niece, at Jenny’s house, Emily’s sister. Emily’s third sister, Michelle, showed up with her 5 children, as well. It was a fun evening, but my jobs in Mahomet had gotten postponed and I knew that they were going to have to be done Thursday evening, conflicting with my previous appointment.
Thursday morning, I e-mailed Clif to let him know that I would need to reschedule, either earlier or later in the evening because of a conflict with my work. I didn’t hear back from him until about 6:45 that evening, but I’d forgotten my phone at my house and didn’t get the message until 7:45. Emily was watching Daniel when I swung by the house to get my phone. I was very flustered, because I’d been frantically working for the last two hours to get the lady’s computers running and was behind schedule. I went to Mahomet, finally finishing up at the lady’s house around 10pm. By the time I got home, I felt that it was too late to call Clif to try to meet with him. When I got home, Emily asked me why I was so upset earlier. I told her that I was frustrated that I was running so late and broke down and told her that I was also upset that I had to cancel the meeting with her dad. She told me that her family couldn’t keep a secret and that she’d known that I was supposed to meet with her dad, but couldn’t tell me about it. Apparently, when she arrived home from work on Tuesday, her dad came in and said something along the lines of, “So, Emily, Eric came to me last week and said that he wanted to talk to me about marrying you. I wanted to talk to you about that.” Emily’s response was a very surprised “WHAT? HE DID?” He suddenly realized that I hadn’t told her and said something along the lines of “Oh, man, I really messed up. Don’t tell him that I told you.” She called Jenny and told her what had happened and Jenny said “Did he tell you that they’re meeting on Thursday?” “WHAT?” So, that was why Emily so readily agreed to watch Daniel while I did my work on Thursday. She thought that I was really going to meet with her dad and was lying about work. This was initially the case when I put the job on the calendar, but it ended up working out that I actually had to go to work. While she was telling me this, I accidentally let it slip that I had really wanted to talk to Clif because I was thinking about proposing on Saturday, which was 06/07/08.
I have a thing for quirky significance in dates. Yes, I know that I’m a huge nerd. I’m okay with that. Let me get back to the story.
She was upset that she was so close and that it wasn’t going to happen, so she practically begged me to talk to her dad on Friday. I sent him an e-mail before I went to bed, around 2am. I tried calling a few times in the morning, but only got busy signals. I called Jenny, who is his receptionist, and asked her to put me on his calendar and let him know that I wanted to talk to him. I had to take Daniel to Chicago, so I had been planning on leaving town at 6pm. By 4:30, I was wondering if there was some sort of game going on where I was going to have to be the one to make the call. At 4:45, I finally heard back from her dad. He told me that he didn’t think we had time to have the sort of significant conversation that we needed to have and that he had to leave by 5:40 to be somewhere by 6:00. I got to his office shortly after 5:00. We talked for an hour and a half about almost every aspect of my life: my previous marriage, my divorce, my current situation, my finances, my beliefs, my values, my morals, my relationship with Emily, my family, and probably some stuff I didn’t cover in those broad categories. As the conversation was winding down, he told me that he thought we should wait, that he wanted Emily to finish school before starting a family, that she shouldn’t rush to make decisions, but he ultimately said “I’m going to go ahead and say yes. That’s not a backhanded yes, I mean it.” Then about five minutes later, he said “I’m going to give you a backhanded yes.” I wasn’t going to let him flip-flop, though, as he’d already said yes and nothing that we discussed in the meantime was worthy of backsliding, so I was grinning as I walked out with a yes.
I got to the daycare, where Jenny and Emily were waiting with Daniel, Simone, and Clifton. I did my best to give them the impression that it hadn’t gone that well, that it was still going to take more time for Clif to get to know me better, that he thought we should wait, and that I didn’t think it would take much longer to get his approval. I didn’t lie…I just left out some important details and let them jump to the wrong conclusions. Of course, Jenny found out the truth a few minutes later when she picked up her husband, Emery, from their office and he told her that I had walked out grinning. However, Emily was really upset. I convinced her to go to my house and drop her car off. I had to use the bathroom and told her that I was going to take Daniel into the daycare to use theirs and that I’d be along shortly to pick her up and head out for Chicago. She apparently called Jenny on her way home, extremely upset about what she thought her dad had done, angry, crying, etc. Jenny tried to calm her down, knowing the truth, but Emily hung up on her for not being more supportive. As soon as her car was out of sight, I put Daniel back in the car and went to Emily’s parents’ house, where I asked her mom for her blessing. I was pretty positive that it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes, so I let Daniel go to the bathroom while I took care of that. I raced home, telling Daniel that he couldn’t tell Emily that we’d gone to her house.
Emily was extremely upset during the entire ride to Chicago. Knowing the whole truth, I tried to calm her down, telling her that I understood where her dad was coming from, explaining that it wasn’t his fault, and generally trying to keep her from being too upset and angry. This was a nearly impossible task, as she felt that her dad was just trying to keep her from being happy, that he didn’t understand, that he shouldn’t be so controlling, etc.
It was extremely hard and I felt pretty bad about making her feel that way, but I wanted to surprise her. The surprise had already been ruined once and I really wanted it to be special, so I had to maintain the ruse. Shortly after midnight, I thought about proposing, but I decided that it would be better to stick to my original plan and just wait. We went to bed and slept in a little.
In the morning, Emily was still upset, but didn’t seem to be as upset as the night before. She and Christa were going to go get pedicures, and I almost asked her then, but decided to hold off again. After they got back, Emily and I were trying to figure out where to go. My initial idea the previous week was to go to the Cloud Gate at Millennium Park. Emily had mentioned the possibility of going to the Shedd Aquarium, so we contemplated that, as well. By the time we were going to get out the door, pay to get in, and have to come back to get ready for dinner, it wasn’t going to be worth it. We finally decided to just go to the Brookfield Zoo. Danny and Christa have a membership and we were able to use that to get in and only have to pay for parking.
As we were about to leave, Emily’s mom called. A few seconds after Emily started talking, she said “Hi, dad.” I figured that this meant that her dad had picked up the other line and that she was on the phone with both parents. I was really hoping that her sister hadn’t told her dad that I gave Emily the wrong impression and that she was upset, that he was going to call and tell her that she shouldn’t be upset because he had said yes, and that the surprise was, again, going to be ruined. The conversation ended rather quickly, so I was fairly certain that the surprise was intact.
Once we got into the zoo, we looked at the map and decided on a general path for the day. Danny had mentioned the butterfly house and a little forested pond area that might be nice places to ask, so I found where those were on the map and noted that they weren’t really anywhere near what Emily wanted to look at. We started with the seals and sea lions at Pinniped Point, and then proceeded to the big cats in The Fragile Kingdom. Wandered around there for a bit, where we watched a leopard for a few minutes in a secluded area. I almost got out the ring and asked then, but decided to hold out. Next, we walked over toward the Bear Grottos. As we were walking there, I felt a few sprinkles and the sky looked like it was going to rain. It was frustrating to think that I might have to rush it or delay it because of the rain, but there wasn’t much I could do. The cloud passed and I decided that the drops were spray from the fountain as a wind gust blew through. We continued to the Bear Grottos, where we watched polar bears, black bears, and brown bears. While we were standing in front of the brown bear, I said “Brown bear, brown bear…” and Emily finished with “what do you see?” I came up with the line “I see my fiancée standing by me,” but I chickened out and the moment passed. I embarrass easily, as does Emily, so I didn’t like having so many people around. As we were walking back, we stopped in front of the polar bears again. I was hugging Emily and she said “Do it!” I started worrying that she already knew what I was planning. She had almost brushed up against the ring box a few times in my pocket and I didn’t know if someone might have spoiled it, so I said “Do what?” She responded, “Give me a bear hug! No one will notice! Just do it already!” So I gave her a bear hug and kicked myself for missing another perfect opportunity to drop to my knee.
As we were walking away from the Bear Grottos, Emily mentioned that she was about ready to go. I told her that I wasn’t ready and that I was enjoying spending time with her. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so I suggested grabbing a hot dog at a vendor stand near the fountain. We bought two hot dogs and grabbed a bench in the shade. We sat there and ate our hot dogs in peace. Emily finished her hot dog and gave me the bun. I finished eating and went to throw my garbage away. After sitting back down, there was a gap where there were no people around…and I hesitated again. Suddenly, there were people all around us. I don’t know if one of the shows let out or if it was just coincidence, but the area around the fountain was suddenly packed. After about two minutes, there was another break in the people and we were all alone again. This time, I didn’t hesitate. I pulled the ring box out of my pocket, opened it as I got down on one knee, and promptly got pulled into a big hug before I could finish saying “Emily, will you marry me?” I honestly don’t know if she heard me ask, as she was busy saying “Yes! Seriously? He said yes? Yes!” I had to pull myself back up to the bench before I got knocked over, so I was only on my knee for all of three seconds. We sat there hugging for a few minutes, when a couple came over and said “Did you two just get engaged?” They’d seen it from afar and offered to take a picture and e-mail it to us on their digital camera. We sat there on the bench together for quite a while, just enjoying being engaged.