The Girl Story

 

            It's no secret that ever since mid-June when Noel secured a job in Chattanooga a proposal has been imminent. He remained coy; I perpetuated a half-successful state of suspended disbelief. When he changed his plans to begin work on the 21 of June, instead of the 28th, I decided that my last chance for a December wedding lay over the July 4th weekend. But when one has been unengaged for so long, one doesn't place too much weight in such hopeful calculations.

            On July 2, a Friday, a received a FedEx package in the mail from Noel, containing a cd with instructions to "open and run immediately." It was a computer program that he had written, a program which, by the way, did absolutely nothing when first clicked on. The instructions also told me that "as in most things in life, you will wait." Some time later, a picture of Noel and I began emerging in my desktop, fading into the existing background. Right before I left to go out for the evening, a new picture began to materialize. Before I went to sleep, yet another new picture had appeared, and when I woke up in during the night and rolled over, a verse that had been special to us was there. Then, when I woke up in the morning, the program had stopped because of an arithmetic overflow error. Oh well.

            I was working at my photography job that day, and was there alone for almost the entire day. Around lunch, I received an amazing bouquet of flowers -- white orchids, red anthuriums, and ferns -- from Noel, with a card wishing me a happy "half-birthday"[1] with apologies that he couldn't be there. "I'll make it up to you soon," he promised.

            Soon after I got home from work, my family picked up Josh from the pool where he's lifeguards and we went to dinner at a local Thai restaurant to belatedly celebrate my mom's birthday. The place was practically empty, so we were served and ate quickly. After we finished, Dad announced that Josh needed to practice his parking and driving (he's finally taking his driver's license test this summer). Thus, we would all drive to Waimanalo, fifteen minutes away. I noticed that my youngest two brothers did not even whisper a protest. In fact, they were rather excited. As we neared Waimanalo, I announced that, not being warned of this excursion, I needed to use the bathroom. We stopped at a McDonalds and I went in. When I came out, Ian went in. When Ian came out, Dad came in. Hey, this is a little suspicious...

Driving back home, we neared the Blow Hole, a popular tourist location during the day that sits about 150 or so feet above a little cove called Eternity Beach.[2] "Let's stop at Blow Hole and see if we can see the lights from the other island!" Dad announced.

It was cloudy. I was confused.

We got out of the van there, and Mom and I were immediately chilled by the brisk wind.[3] After braving it for a few minutes, Mom and I decided that we were cold and climbed back into the van. "Let's go, Dan!" she began telling my Dad, who was still outside with my brothers. At that moment, my suspicions and hopes took a blow. If Mom's saying to leave, then there can't be anything going on here...

And then, the trunk of the van popped open and Noel, who had snuck around outside to the back of the van, poked his head through and put his face next to mine. "You should come with me," he said. "Ohhhhhhh, okay."

As my family called out their good-byes and piled into the van to drive home, Noel slid his arm around me and led me to the low rock wall that encircles the parking lot. I was so overwhelming happy and excited that I could barely pay any attention to what he was saying or where he was leading me, although I did manage to hang on quite adequately to his hand. An Alice-in-Wonderland sized silk rose[4] was stuck in between the rocks, and right on the other side, in a shallow dip in the ground, were a couple of candles and the largest diamond ring I've ever seen before. Probably because it was from Texas. And because it was actually a paper weight with a band diameter of three inches.

Noel, panting and out of breath, explained that he hadn't had quite enough time to finish all his preparations. He left me to examine my new ring and scrambled down the cliff for the umpteenth time that night. When he returned with an empty basket, I put my engagement paperweight inside and then followed Noel and a chocolate trail down the rocky embankment. Halfway down, there was another cluster of candles, this time lighting up a bottle of St. Arnold's "Elissa" beer.[5] The bottle joined the chocolates and paperweight in the basket, and we picked our way down the rest of the cliff, flicking hungry cockroaches[6] off the rest of the chocolate trail.

Towards the bottom of the trail, Noel left me with the flashlight to finish gathering my chocolates while he ran back up, once more, to collect the candles that were still up top. I followed my trail down to the beach where there were two chairs and a low Japanese table, scattered with white orchids.[7] A letter and an inlaid Japanese puzzle box[8] lay on the table as well. The letter told me that this “last puzzle” was the last thing that Noel wanted me to “do something on [my] own, by [my] self.” This was the first time I started to get butterflies in my stomach. I mean, wondering if I’d actually be able to open the box is a legitimate concern when one really wants to get engaged.

Noel had returned from his treacherous candle-gathering excursion and was busying himself on the other end of the table, still trying to light more candles. He gave me quasi-philosophical hints[9] as I ran my fingers over the box, trying to find the first moving piece. I was making some progress, but quite slowly, and my hands had started to shake from all the excitement and emotion. After abandoning the candles once and for all, Noel came over to my seat and knelt down beside me. “Do you want me to help you?” “Yes, please.” He guided my hands in the motions, and we repeated them until the lid could slide off. Two fortune cookie slips, a letter, and a ring lay inside the box.

The fortune cookie fortunes[10] announced “You will soon be sitting on the top of the world” and “You will soon be honored by someone you respect.” He told me to read the letter next. It was dated June 11 and July 1. Most of it had been written the night after he had asked my dad for permission to marry me, and in it he said everything that I had wanted to hear and he had wanted to say for quite some time. I finished reading, and looked at him, still kneeling next to me (on two knees, because it’s uneven terrain), with a huge smile. “Don’t worry, I’ll say it, too,” he assured me. And he did. And I said “Yes.” And then, to make sure there was absolutely no confusion and because reiterating decisions at the end of a conversation is good professional practice, I repeated, “Oh, yes.”

We laughed and hugged and smiled at each other and hugged some more.[11] Eventually the ring, which he explained was his grandmother’s and that he wanted to get reset for me, found its home on my thumb (the only finger it would fit on). The moon, which was full that night,[12] finally decided to rise. We sat on the beach for a long time, talking, praying, laughing, and listening to the cd he had made for the night.[13] And we joyfully, triumphantly, thankfully reminded each other, every so often, that we loved each other. Finally.

 



[1] The “half-birthday” is significant for a couple of reasons. First, July 3, 2003 is when Noel came to Hawaii the first time and Dad gave our relationship his complete blessing. Secondly, after Noel got his job, we were opaquely talking about the timing of getting married, and we realized that my real birthday would fall right in the midst of Christmas, New Year’s, and quite possibly our wedding anniversary. We thus jokingly decided to celebrate my half-birthday instead.

[2] The beach is a special place for Noel and I; Sandy Beach, the less picturesque neighbor of Eternity Beach is where Noel and I first held hands. Eternity Beach is where we took a picture of a subsequent hand hold and where we figured out that he just couldn’t let go.

[3] With the wind chill, it was probably about 75 degrees.

[4] When Noel and his roommate David took my hallmate and me to our sophomore year Spring Banquet, they bought us four-foot tall silk carnations. We thought they were great, and very useful for fencing. When I arrived at school in August for the start of my senior year, right after Noel and I had begun courting, he had two four-foot tall red roses for me.

[5] Yes, there's a beer brewed exclusively in Texas named after me. See the details at http://www.saintarnold.com/products/profiles/elissa.html

[6] And we grow ‘em big in the tropics.

[7] The orchids looked kind of familiar…like the ones that I had received in my bouquet from him earlier in the day. Turns out, my mom had told him that she would leave a vase of flowers (that she had received earlier for her birthday) out on the table for him to clip and use for decoration. Unfortunately, before we went out to dinner I threw those flowers away because they were dying. Noel didn’t even notice that the vases were different, and just used the orchids he had sent to me!

[8] Significant and familiar because Noel had given me a smaller puzzle box as my going away present when I left Chattanooga to return to Hawaii after graduation.

[9] “According to Pascal and Aristotle, you should use the middle to mediate between the two dynamic ends.”

[10] The origin of our fascination with fortune cookie fortunes is forgotten, at least on my end. But for the past two years we’ve exchanged fortunes with each other with facetious, ironic, and serious sentiments.

[11] No kissing! But that was the hardest it’s been to resist!

[12] The full moon was supposed to have been the excuse for stopping at Blow Hole. The only problem was that it hadn’t risen yet!

[13] You’re probably wondering if I cried. Here’s the funny thing – I didn’t. At all. Against all odds and subverting all existing bets, I found myself in the exquisite state of simply being too happy to do anything but smile and laugh. Noel was impressed. We’re hoping that this bodes well for our wedding day.