The untitled story of Noel & Elissa


            It begins a few weeks ago, right after I asked Elissa's dad for his blessing to marry her. Immediately I realized that, though the simple pop-over-to-Hawaii-and-propose-on-a-romantic-walk-on-the-beach would be easy, it wouldn't quite have the romantic flair that a more involved tender would carry. At the same time, since it would be in Hawaii and since I hadn't gotten my first paycheck yet, I couldn't do the inordinate-number-of-roses-and-ten-thousand-lights thing either (besides, Elissa doesn't especially like roses or clichˇs). Still, I knew that I had to do it in person, in Hawaii, and with complete surprise. She knows that I work hard to get what I want, so there was no I'm-coming-to-visit-in-three-days-and-oh-so-uh-I'm-here-and-you-should-marry-me business. So, that left me up to my own devices. I spent a couple of weeks stocking up my idea drawer (mostly during work when I would be daydreaming about her in between learning Visual Basic.NET)—orchids, dark chocolate, a computer program, Eternity Beach, some obfuscation by her family, her half-birthday party, candles, a Japanese puzzle box, and a moonrise populated my imagination.

            A week before my flight to Hawaii, my planning kicked into high gear with many hours spent calling my sister ("Paige, are anonymous random-letter notes romantic, or just stupid?"), brainstorming with my friends ("Dude, get their family to take a helicopter ride and then act like the co-pilot, but then when the family sky-dives out they leave just you and Elissa" [and the actual pilot too, Stephen. Thanks, though]), and emailing the Mathers ("Can I kidnap Elissa?" "No.")

            Enough build-up. I send Elissa a FedEx that she gets on the Friday before I come that contains a CD with a little application I whipped up one night after work.[*] It's a slideshow that runs through six slides over a matter of twenty hours. [ ] Have patience, I told her in the directions, echoing a saying that had become both meaningful and laughable during our courtship. She gets the CD and starts running the program. I also arrange for a bouquet with local-style flowers to be delivered to her work on Saturday, with a note that wishes her a happy half-birthday and promises to make up for my absence "soon." Meanwhile, I pack Friday night and, after spending a sleepless couple of hours in my bed, and get up at 3:30AM to drive to Nashville for my flight.

            The sun rises on Saturday as I pull in to the airport, and is still high in the sky twelve hours later as I arrive in Honolulu. As I was flying, Elissa wakes up to find that the computer program had quit during the morning with an integer overflow error. Doh! I should have used long or double, but no harm is really done as she's just missed the last slideÕs teasing her. Mom and Dad Mather come and pick me up at the airport, and we drive back to their house. Elissa is still at work, and I chill at their house (carefully leaving no marks of my presence) until four, when I leave to go to the pool to hang with Josh while he lifeguards and wait for Elissa comes home from work. The family goes out to eat at six, upon whence I walk back to their house, let myself in, and begin frenzied final preparations. I shower (traveling for twenty hours really cuts into your hygiene), cut flowers in their backyard, drive their other car to Food Land to stock up on supplies, and finally make it to Eternity Beach at seven.[ą] Two things strike me upon my arrival there. One, I had forgotten that the beach lies 150 feet below the road, at the bottom of a cliff that you have to climb down. Two, we agreed that I would be ready for Elissa to come at 7:30, and it is now 7:10. I have a table, chairs, flowers, candy, candles, a box, a laptop, and my finely-coifed body to haul down there, plus a car to hide in the bushes that are a couple hundred yards away.

            Needless to say, I ran out of time when my mobile rang with Mr. Mather's number while I was making my fifth trek down the cliff, finishing off a treasure-trail of Dove Dark Chocolate down the cliff to the beach. They were stalling for me at the parking lot fifteen stories above, and I had to hoof it up there before it got really awkward. It was right around then that I realized that swimming laps with Josh a couple hours ago probably wasn't the best idea. I had also been awake on a combination of adrenaline, anticipation, and pent-up love for the last forty hours.

            Racing back up the hill, I find Elissa in the back seat of her family minivan. Josh is outside, and, spying my sprinting form, beckons me over to the side where she isn't looking. Since it is now completely dark, and the moon has not yet risen, I approach in darkness. He opens the door, I stick my head in next to hers, and my on-the-spot line is "Hi. You should come with me now." I am a virtual Shakespeare, the half-German, quarter-Ukrainian, eighth-Indian English-speaking Pablo Nuerda on the isle of Oahu.

            She, playing the cool cucumber, mouths something like "Oh, okay" and climbs out. The rest of the family has arrayed themselves outside the vehicle, and she gives them a dazed half-wave, to their chagrin and delight. I lead her to the top of the cliff, where a giant fake white rose is swaying in the wind like a scarecrow slow-dancing with the night sky.[¤] She keeps half-starting with questions, but doesn't really want to know the answers yet. We come to the first part of my trail of gifts down to the beach after climbing up to the top: a gigantic 1-pound diamond ring. It's fake of course, and supposed to act as a paperweight. My sisters were very proud of themselves for finding it whilst shopping this summer.[**] Next, I begged off so that I could finish scattering the orchids over the chairs and table at the bottom of the cliff. I left her with the flashlight and camera, and was back in five minutes, having left my breath and cleanliness behind (again). Since it was so windy, I had gone through two books of matches trying to light the candles, and since the moon had not risen yet, it was approaching pitch black at the beach.

            Next she picked up a bottle of Saint Arnold's Elissa IPA that I had smuggled into the islands[  ], and then we started picking up the pieces of chocolate that I had trailed down to the beach.[ąą] The cockroaches, though, I hadn't counted on. They were big, and hungry, and didn't care that we were trying to pick up their food. After driving them away and falling slowly to the bottom of the cliff, we came upon the Japanese table, strewn with flowers and holding a Japanese puzzle box and a note.[¤¤] I ran back up the cliff again to bring down candles[***], leaving Ōlissa with the flashlight, the note, and the box. Of course, I fall multiple times trying to walk up the path in darkness and down by hot-wax-dripping-on-my-bare-feet candlelight. I'm sure it looked romantic, though.

            I drop obscure crypto-philosophic hints about how to open the box to her,[   ] she puzzles for a while, and then I ask if she wants my help (being the thoughtful one, I've planned all this out already). She gladly assents to my offer, and we put our hands together and open it up in 12 moves. Inside is my grandmother's (Babchu) engagement ring, two fortune cookie fortunes[ąąą], and the easiest letter to write that I've ever put pen to. She reads my words, and then, down on both knees because it's steadier and darn it, if I'm going to supplicate then I'm going all the way, I confess my ever-growing, clear-eyed love and ask her to marry me. She emphatically agrees, and we spend the next couple of hours watching the moonrise in each other's eyes, talking, listening to a music mix on her laptop[¤¤¤], and basking in the glow of metaphysical relationship change. I loved that night.


[*] The first time I asked Elissa out, it was for Spring Banquet at Covenant our sophomore year. I sent her an anonymous email that contained a url to an online treasure hunt that ended in a web page that asked her out. She liked it ;)

[ ] Three pictures, two Bible passages [Psalm 20, Leviticus 3], and a teasing and confusing hint regarding what is to come.

[ą] Eternity Beach is a nice local beach five minutes away from the MatherÕs house, and a place of fond memories for Ōlissa and I.

[¤] We have a fun history of me getting her big fake flowers for special occasions, like our first date, her return to school, etc. Just so that you know IÕm not a terrible boyfriend, and in case any of you think this is a best-practice for dating, those fake flowers are always in addition to those of the more traditional, proportional, and pretty variety.

[**] Note the subtle re-iteration of the Ņbig things are happeningÓ thing. IÕm good.

[  ] IÕve turned Elissa into a beer drinker through patient efforts and fine selections. Our favorite brewery is Saint ArnoldÕs, a Houston microbrewery that we discovered during a Thanksgiving holiday with my family. Afterwards, she checked out their website and had been commenting on how great it was that they made a beer named after her. They only recently began brewing it again, and so she had never seen it or had it.

[ąą] Despite her appearance, she eats a lot, so it is very important that I provide food for her during any activity. Dark chocolate is preferred over milk.

[¤¤] I had previously gifted her with another Japanese puzzle box, as a going-away present after we graduated. It also had a letter inside, but with a completely different promise.

[***] ThatÕs my seventh round trip, for those counting at home.

[   ] Okay, okay, thatÕs not so romantic, but I have to have my fun, right?

[ąąą] Even before we were courting, she and I would share thoughts and notes of encouragement to each other through an ever-increasing collection of fortune cookie fortunes.

[¤¤¤] IÕm the sucker for making mixes, and the laptop was just the most convenient thing to bring since it doesnÕt need a power outlet.