As you know, I work in a pretty creative business. So day in and day out, I deal with all kinds of creative people. People whose intellects and imaginations put mine to shame. People who push me to reach new heights of inspiration.
So as you might imagine, when I realized that I wanted to take the plunge and propose to Virginia, my girlfriend of 2½ years, I knew I had to do something special to live up to the expectations I’d set for myself. Plus, I knew I had a reputation to live up to when it came to being clever.
With that in mind, what was I to do? Should I rush the stage at a concert and shove an undernourished, scraggle-bearded indie rocker to the floor, grabbing his microphone and declaring my love to a few dozen Seattle hipsters? How about programming a custom proposal-based Flash game for Virginia to play? Or perhaps aim my projector at the wall of the eight-story hotel on the other side of I-5 and let an army of commuters in on the moment?
I did think about all of these ideas for a while — some more than others, admittedly. But ultimately, I wanted the moment to be drawn out as long as possible, so we both could enjoy it and have a story to tell to our friends, family, and eventual children. I wanted it to be fun for me to do and fun for her to experience.
So I came up with the idea of a multi-part proposal process. It would begin with an innocent note in a mailbox, and close with an unforgettable ending.
I knew that I wanted the first step to be for Virginia to discover that the game was afoot via a message in our mail. Originally, I had wanted to actually mail a letter, with a stamp and everything. That would at least keep the surprise going for a while, right? Well, I quickly ran into a snag with that idea. If it actually went through the postal system, then how was I supposed to control when it would actually arrive, and be prepared accordingly? Too dangerous. So I downsized to a note in an envelope. I had a feeling that Virginia would probably know what was up as soon as she read the note, but at least I could do it on my own terms. So that was step one: the mailbox.
Now, what else? Well, I love the fact that the car stereo in her Scion displays a customized message when you turn on the ignition. It only gives you about 16 characters to work with, but I knew that would be enough for my purposes. The problem was, I had to make sure if I programmed the stereo at night, that Virginia would take the bus to work the next morning. It wouldn’t be very romantic if she saw some cryptic message in her car two days early and ruined everything. But I’d worry about that when the time came. For now, the second step was complete: the car.
While coming up with this plan, our cat (Trumpet) was always around, meowing at me to feed him and pay attention to him. So much so that I knew I had to get him back by involving him in the process somehow. I looked around our apartment for an appropriate method, and found one: a leftover gold-trimmed ribbon from a Christmas present a few weeks prior. Excellent! Step three: the cat: complete.
We’ve got a projector in our apartment. Some of you may have seen one before, but for those who haven’t, it’s a pretty simple system. The north wall of our apartment is completely blank, so as to act as a screen. The projector itself sits about fifteen feet south on top of a bookshelf, and throws the projected image on the north wall. This creates an image that’s literally ten feet wide. It takes football and video games to a whole other level, but it turns out to also be useful for being step four in the process. So I marked it down as something to use.
But how was I to close the deal? I needed to go out with a bang. Something that was unique — something that really said “Grant”. Hmm. Well, I knew that Virginia had said in the past that she was planning on taking my last name if we ever got married. And I knew she already had her own web site at VirginiaCuller.com. So what if I took it a step further? A quick Google search confirmed that VirginiaRoberts.com was available, so I jumped into action. At ten dollars to grab the domain before someone else did, it was quite a steal.
So the stage was set. I had the five steps nailed down. But I wasn’t done — I didn’t want to have one of the most memorable scenes in either of our lives look wrong. So I wanted to get dressed up. But in order to have time to get into a suit, I needed to make sure Virginia was out of the apartment for as long as possible during the proposal process. Since our apartment is on the fourth floor of our building, it would take her some time to get from one step to another. So I switched up the steps a bit — first, the mailbox. Second, the kitty. Third, her car. Fourth, the projector, and finally, her laptop, with a web browser pointing at VirginiaRoberts.com.
The engagement ring I used was inherited from my late grandmother, Natalie. She was never a large woman even in her younger years, and by the time she had passed the ring to me, it was not only tiny but also sporting an additional guard to keep it from slipping off her finger. So the ring needed to be resized. I started the process almost as soon as we returned home from Christmas vacation, successfully keeping the trip to the jewelers a secret from the ring’s eventual target.
The difficult part was getting it picked up. The jeweler that resized the ring for me (Alexandra Rosoff) was only open until 5:30 during the week — and if I did it on the weekend, I would have needed a reason why I was going to downtown Seattle without alerting Virginia. So I stealthily took the day off on Wednesday, walked down to the jeweler, and picked up the ring — all without her suspecting a thing.
Only now, Virginia wouldn’t cooperate! She usually takes the bus to work, but every day that could have worked for the proposal extravaganza, she drove her car! This just wouldn’t do. Wednesday came and went. Thursday, we both went to Industry Night at a local bar. Friday, she drove to work again!
Then, Saturday rolled around. We were already booked to go to a friend’s karaoke birthday party that night, so I really didn’t want to do it Saturday day. I mean, “Hey, will you marry me? Cool, now let’s hurry up and get ready for the party” isn’t the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard. I almost reconsidered when I was on stage in front of 50 people with a microphone in my hand, about to sing “Patience” by Guns N’ Roses and “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi, but since I didn’t have the ring with me, I held off.
But that night, I made a decision — Sunday was going to be THE day. No more delays. We didn’t have any plans, so I could do it in the morning and give Virginia all day to enjoy the experience. So even though we didn’t get home from karaoke until 2:00am, I sprang into action as soon as her head hit the pillow.
First: the note in the mailbox. Here’s what it said:
“1: Mailbox (complete)”
I put it in an envelope and addressed it to Virginia. The kitty was up next. I printed out a note that said:
…and put it in the drawer where I had stashed the gold ribbon. Then, I created a Microsoft Word document that contained the following:
…and saved it to my hard drive. Apartment preparations: complete!
I took the envelope downstairs and put it in our mailbox, and went out to Virginia’s Scion to do the tough part.
Programming her car stereo’s text display is harder than it should be. You have to turn on the ignition, hold a button on the stereo, and keep holding it while you turn off the ignition. Then you have to hold a DIFFERENT button while you turn the ignition back on. Then you press one button to scroll through the entire alphabet, plus special characters. Oh, and if you take too long (or really just if the car is feeling fickle), then it shuts off and you have to repeat the process.
After about 15 minutes of wrestling with technology, the message was complete:
So the stage was set. By this time, it was about 3:30am, and I was pretty worn out — which was probably the only reason I was able to fall asleep without being too nervous.
When the next morning rolled around, I woke up at about 9 — which is pretty early for me to wake up without an alarm. I was, as you may expect, too excited and nervous to go back to sleep, so I got up, which surprised Virginia.
She wanted to use the opportunity to get some early brunch. I agreed, of course — LITTLE DID SHE KNOW HA HA HA.
So we both went back into the bedroom to get dressed. After about ten minutes, when she was ready to go and I was still in my boxers, she was understandably surprised. “What’s going on here?”
“I’m still pretty tired,” I said convincingly. “But as long as you’re up and dressed, could you do me a favor? Could you check the mail and see if Fable II came from Gamefly? I want to start downloading the update before we go to brunch.”
She agreed, of course, because she’s awesome. And as soon as the front door closed, I literally sprang into action. I grabbed the ribbon from the drawer and tied the “3: Scion” note to the kitty. Then I ran back to the bedroom and started getting into something a little less comfortable.
I heard the front door open again, and Virginia came into the bedroom. She tried to pretend that she didn’t find anything in the mailbox, until I closed the bathroom door in her face. Then she let out a delighted laugh and went to find the kitty.
She found him on the dining room table, and he wasn’t particularly happy — being quite unaccustomed to having gold ribbons tied around his midsection. She followed the note’s direction and went down to the car. Perfect!
When I heard the door close, I went back out to the living room. I grabbed Virginia’s laptop and every candle I could find, and turned on the projector so it could broadcast the final direction.
She took her time while she was downstairs, thinking that I had hidden something in the car. This gave me plenty of time to light a bunch of candles in the bedroom (which turned out to not work very well at 9:30 in the morning), finish putting on my suit, and open up a web browser on her laptop to http://virginiaroberts.com/surprise. I closed the laptop, deposited a single Zantedeschia aethiopica on top, and waited in the bathroom for her to return.
Eventually, she returned to the apartment and knocked on the bedroom door. I told her to come in, and waited for her to click “Yes” on the page I created. Even though it was kind of out of order, I then emerged from the bathroom, got down on one knee, and, well… the rest is history.
We celebrated by having brunch at the Library Bistro downtown, and spent most of the rest of the day looking at wedding bands, flatware, and other things that we had put off until things were more official between us.
And that’s the story! As is the case with so many things I write, this ended up being far longer than I had anticipated. I guess time — and words — fly when you’re having fun.
See you all at the wedding next year!