The Proposal

26 May

horserideThe plan was set. We’d go to our favorite restaurant under the guise of meeting with the owner to discuss catering our wedding*. The owner would lead us to the back room where our favorite local band would surprise Caitlin by playing our song. I’d give my speech and get down on one knee to propose. Then a pedicab would pick us up from the restaurant and take us to a horse and carriage ride which would end at a surprise engagement party where we would celebrate with family and friends. The night would conclude across the street at the W hotel, where champagne and chocolate covered strawberries would be waiting for us in our room on the top floor. It was meticulously planned. I’d confirmed every aspect multiple times. The 30% chance of rain from earlier in the week was down to 0%. I’d thrown Caitlin off the scent**. Everything was in place. And then it wasn’t. I was up early, having not slept well all week, and was excitedly mass e-mailing my family about the proposal plan, when the last e-mail I was expecting to come in arrived in my inbox:

Dearest Zack,

We’ve closed the restaurant.  I had hoped to resolve our issues and reopen, but it looks like we are going to close for good.  I’m so sorry.  I only wish you and Caitlin the most wonderful future.  I know this throws a huge monkey wrench into your plans and I am truly sorry…

*This is 100% what I thought was happening on Friday night.

**I was basically convinced the proposal would happen in New York City, which we’ll be visiting starting Wednesday.

closed forever

Not the actual sign or restaurant, but you get the idea.

9:23 a.m. I read the e-mail with my mouth hanging open. I copy and past it to Andy on g-chat and he insists the guy’s messing with me. How can that much have changed in three days? I call the owner who I’ve been in constant contact with and he doesn’t answer. At this point, I’m at work and Zack and I have already chatted on g-chat general niceties about our mornings. I am totally clueless as to what is happening to Zack.

9:24-9:28 a.mI pace around the apartment in a panic, searching for my keys. It could have been 40 seconds, it could have been four minutes. It felt like four months. After a few laps around the apartment, I finally dig my keys out of my shorts in the hamper and hop in the car to see if the restaurant is actually closed. I’m probably listening to one of my advisor’s recorded call — I’m the “quality assurance” part, you know.

9:29-9:37 a.m. The gate is closed and the doors are locked at the restaurant. This is especially strange, since they’re typically open at 8 am every day. Just as I turn to go back to my car, the owner shows up at the door. After a little prodding, he tells me that all in the last week:

  • They found an employee doing I.V. drugs in the bathroom.
  • Two employees got in a fist fight in the kitchen.
  • One employee keeps calling another the n-word.
  • His business and life partner and he are fighting.
  • They’re broke.

Then he starts crying. All I can do is hug him and wish him the best as he apologizes. As disappointed as I am, I can’t kick him while he’s down. At the end of the day, I know Caitlin’s going to say yes no matter what. And I still have time to make it perfect.

9:38 a.m. I call Caitlin’s dad to tell him I’ll have to postpone our 10:30 a.m. 6-mile run for another time. He understands. I’ve got work to do.

9:45-9:55 a.m. After a quick game of phone tag, I get ahold of Chris, the lead singer of the band that was scheduled to play for us in the restaurant. I suggest that they play at our apartment and he says he’s game. I head into a meeting with one of my advisors. Still clueless.

decorated

10:03 a.m. If I’m going to propose in our apartment, I’ve got to make it look special. On Thursday night, our friend Katie texted me asking if there was anything she could do to help, since she was off work the day of the proposal. I told her I was fine then, but I needed help now. We met Katie because she took over the party planning rotation job from Caitlin at Apple, so decorating is one of her many talents. I call her and ask if she could possibly help me decorate the apartment and she offers to meet me at Hobby Lobby at noon to get supplies. Love you, Katie!!

10:05 to 11:30 a.m. I run around the apartment taking out the garbage and recycling, moving my laundry, doing the dishes and clearing out the living room. I start compiling pictures of Caitlin and I for decorations, but am so scatterbrained I can’t even begin. Andy keeps asking if there’s anything he can do to help, offering champagne or party supplies, but since he was our photographer at Festival Crashers and knows us so well, he’s perfectly suited (up) to pick out pictures of us to decorate the apartment with. He picks out 36 from Rock Love Austin and sends them to Walgreens to be printed. Thank you, Andy!!

12 p.m. This text message exchange happens between me and Katie:  “I just walked into Hobby Lobby.” “Me too.” “Am I in the wrong Hobby Lobby.” “183 & Lamar?” “Yeah, I’m at the wrong one. Meet you at the one you’re at in 15 minutes.” At this point, I am headed to lunch at a Subway near work, where “everybody knows my name” (or at least my order), and Javier, the owner, and I have this exchange: “Happy Friday!” “Same to you!” “You got any plans this weekend?” “Not really, but we’re going to New York next week!!” “Puts hand on chest and closes his eyes, as if shot: Take me with you!”

12:15-12:35 p.m. Once I get to the right Hobby Lobby, I find Katie walking the aisles scoping out materials. We grab candles, christmas lights, string, hooks and poofy balls in our RLA pink and blue.

decorate2

12:45-2 p.m. We (mostly Katie) string up the Christmas lights and hang the poofy balls and set-up candles all over the room. She’s a master. I’m forever in her debt. I eat my sandwich, indulging in TWO cookies, and type notes into a database.

2 p.m. I text Caitlin that I’ve had a crazy day and that she wouldn’t believe me if I told her. We have a 15 text conversation where I reveal that our favorite restaurant is now closed forever and tell her I’ll pick up dinner for us. I very quickly (and poorly) pack an overnight bag for us. I receive Zack’s text message. At first, he really only reveals that he’s had a crazy day that he’ll tell me about later, and that our favorite restaurant is closing. I am gutted, staring at my phone with my mouth agape for a solid 10 seconds, and stop what I’m doing to text back for details. At first Zack says he’ll tell me later, but I press him, confiding in my co-workers that this was going to be the place we used to cater our wedding and that I’m just so sad about it. Then when Zack texts back the details of the shut-down that he wrote out above, I share these one by one with my co-workers, and we all agree that it’s probably for the best that it happened now. If only we’d known.

2:15-2:35 p.m I swing by Walgreens to grab the pictures Andy sent. They’re perfect, aside from a couple heads being cut off. Exactly the pictures I would have picked.

2:45-3:30 p.m. I check into the W and, as soon as I walk in, our song (“I Can Change” by LCD Soundsystem) is playing in the lobby. A six-minute song from four years ago that was never very popular is just randomly playing in the lobby of the hotel. If that isn’t a sign…

lcd-soundsystem-i-can-change-608x608

3:30-4 p.m. I pick out about 10 cheeses, three types of crackers, and olives for a cheese plate from Whole Foods. I swing by the chocolate section and ask for two of all of their caramel desserts and pick out three bouquets of flowers. I’m wrapping up my day, ahead of my to-do list, feeling good and ready to head home. Luckily I force myself to stay put for a little while longer — I didn’t want to duck out super early on a holiday weekend.

4-4:45 p.m. I shower, get dressed, arrange the photos on the string, put the flowers in the vases, realize we’re one vase short and use a beer stein for a third vase, and prepare the cheese plate.

4:45 pm.-5 p.m. Caitlin texts, “On my way home!” I realize she’s going to be home almost an hour before the band is ready. I call her and tell her to call me when she pulls up to our apartment. I become suspicious when Zack calls me right after I text him. I become even more suspicious when he refuses to tell me about this “crazy day” he alluded to through text. I get quiet. I tell him, “…I think I’m going to cry.” He laughs nervously, “Why?” “…I don’t know!! YOU know!” He says, “Haha, well, I’m looking forward to seeing you. Text me when you’re in our parking lot — like, don’t come up, just text me and we’ll get a drink at the Hi Hat.” Now I feel about 80% sure of what’s happening. It’s going to be tonight, in Austin, in our home.

5 p.m. 5:15 p.m. Even though the morning weather report called for 0% rain, it’s now a complete downpour. And the band hasn’t showed up yet. I try to call my mom twice, but it goes to voicemail both times. I have to tell someone. I wonder if my mom and dad are both in the apartment, and that’s why I can’t go up? Maybe a lot of people came to town for this? I finally call my brother, thinking perhaps he’d be safe to talk to (I don’t want to purposefully ruin the surprise, so I don’t call anyone I think might know what’s up). I explain that I think that Zack is proposing tonight, instead of in New York. Edward laughs, says that’s wonderful, and asks how I feel about it. I say I’m overjoyed and actually quite happy it’s happening in town instead of in NYC, because this is our home. Austin is where we met and fell in love and where we’ve made a life together, and will continue to do so. Edward wishes me luck and says that if the proposal is tonight, to call and let him know. I assure him I will.

5:15 p.m-5:35 p.m. The first two members of the band arrive. I walk them up and they start hauling gear inside. It’s stopped raining for now. I stick Scooby in the bathroom while the band continues to arrive and come in and out of the apt. with gear. I have my iPod on shuffle, and songs from my childhood through my adolescence come up and make me think of myself at those ages. As a little girl, as a lovesick teen. I tear up, with a huge, dorky grin on my face. My life is about to change. A White Stripes song comes on just as I’m driving down our street — of course.

5:36 p.m. Caitlin texts that she’s in the parking lot of our apartment. It’s raining again. Hard. I meet her downstairs with an umbrella and we walk into the bar under our building to have a drink…

Time stopped. I parked. I sent Zack the text message*, informing him I’d arrived. I sat in my car, seatbelt undone, still blasting the White Stripes, mildly uncomfortable with anticipation — what’s next? Will my reaction be “good enough?” It’s the same pressure I feel when I open gifts at my birthday parties, but, like, infinitely magnified. It is POURING rain. I see Zack approaching, an umbrella over his head and another ready to be handed off to me. I shut off the music, turn off the car, grab my purse (leaving my work backpack behind) and carefully open the car door, glad I dressed nicely for the tasting and desperately trying not to mess anything up now. We smiled at each other shyly, like we were back on our first date, and I followed Zack, hand in hand, to the Hi Hat, a bar under our apartment complex. 

*When I get her text, I don’t even respond. I bring a reluctant Scooby into the guest bathroom so the band can get in and out of the apartment without worry, grab two umbrellas and head down.

1492336_412238792240476_411400169_o

Sitting in the bar, waiting for Zack to get some anonymous “OK” to head upstairs, was excruciating. When he asked me what I wanted to drink, I could hardly decide. I went with a glass of rose, hoping that would calm my nerves. It didn’t. Ha. if Caitlin thought that was excruciating, imagine months of planning blowing up at the last minute and spending all day in a mad dash to make it work. 

We tried to make small talk, but honestly, all I remember is Zack finally saying, “…so the ring is in my pocket right now*.” I responded, “ZACK!! This is TORTURE**!!!” I tried to think of anything to talk about, but kept coming up short. Suddenly, both too soon and after too long, Zack looked at his phone and looked up at me and said, “OK, it’s ready.” He wanted to run up to the apartment to do one last check-in***, so I popped into the restaurant’s bathroom. I did a make-up check, since I’d already teared up a couple of times. Looked OK. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and there was Zack, waiting for me with the door to the elevator open. Even though we only live on the second floor, he took me up in the elevator. We held hands, giggled, didn’t say much (that I can remember). We walked down the hall, slowly and quickly. When we were about four feet away, I burst into tears, shaking my head, saying, “I’m not ready, I can’t go in yet.” Zack asked, “Are you ready?” I said, “No!! … ok, yes.” He opened the door.

*This is the part of the story where people told me I should have come up with some lie to keep her believing, but come on. The jig was up. 

**If that’s torture, I can handle torture. We were holding hands and being super cutesy/shy with each other. But yeah, it was a long 20 minutes.

***I tossed a couple lighters to the band and we lit all the candles and turned off the lights. One member of the band struggled with the knob on the halogen light and boldly twisted the still hot bulb to turn it off. I told them I’d knock three times and then we’d enter.

What did I expect to see? Our family, our friends — people we knew. So I was absolutely floored when Austin’s LCD Soundsystem cover band, All My Friends, appeared amidst a sea of candles and started blasting our song, “I Can Change,” from our living room. I was shocked, in the very best way. No one ever did anything quite like this for me before, and the gesture was so meaningful and sweet and overwhelming that my vision immediately blurred and things got hazy. Zack started reciting a rehearsed speech as I cried and covered my mouth with my hands, but he only got about 6 words in* before just going, “I’ll tell you this later, I can’t do it now.” He purportedly got down on one knee — I had to ask him later on if he actually kneeled down, because at this point, I basically blacked out. I sort of heard the words, “Caitlin Wittlif, will you marry me?” I blurted out yes immediately** — I’d hoped to try to say something clever, like, “Finally, I can say yes!” or something like that, but in the moment, I really couldn’t say “yes” fast enough, so that’s pretty much all I said.

*I got out “Caitlin – the night we met, as you drove me home while this song was playing, I could tell there was something special between us” before realizing she was too overwhelmed to process anything I was saying.

**She was nodding vigorously and saying “Yes! Yes, of course,” through tears.

ring

Zack was holding out a ring box with a ring in it, but since I was still in my blacked-out-hazy-sight mental state, all I could really focus on was the fact that the box lit up. Like, there was a mini-spotlight in the ring box, and I stared at that, like a moth to a flame, and just sort of generally shoved my hand in the general direction of what I thought was the ring*. Then Zack and I hugged and kissed and slow-danced and laughed at each other**, and finally as the band continued to play our song (it’s like a 5-minute-and-change-long song, y’all) I slowly regained my eyesight and the blurry colors I had seen before came into focus. There were beautiful crepe flower balls hanging from the ceiling, which Zack pointed out were in our blog colors. There were Christmas lights along the walls, and candles strewn everywhere. There were two garlands of our photos from previous vacations hung along the walls, showing us in all of our vacation adventures. It was so touching, and so thoughtful.

*I always imagined we’d both be so nervous and shaking that it would be hard to get the ring on her finger, but I slid it on, still on one knee and it fit perfectly.

**She laughed and hugged me tighter as I told her I’d originally asked them to play our song during a proposal almost 9 months ago. Oh, we were also laughing at Scooby, who was barking his head off in the bathroom.

justengaged

Then my attention turned to the band. I saw all of their faces, grinning wildly. I had actually noticed the lead singer, Chris Heckendorn, about two days prior. He works at Apple, and I’d seen him crossing the street when I was driving to lunch one day. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me or not, but I saw he had a humongous smile on his face. Maybe it was for a different reason, but if he’d seen me, it all started to make sense. After the band finished playing our song, they very quickly packed up their gear (no small task — they had tons of stuff, and they didn’t even ask for help!) They also snapped a photo of us for the band to have, which I thought was adorable, and then took a photo for us. We didn’t even think to record or photograph their performance, which I’m a little bummed about now, but on the bright side, it will be a special snapshot of a memory ingrained in mine and Zack’s brains for the rest of our lives. They sounded so incredible. It’s not just that they’re a cover band for LCD, they’re a GREAT band. And LOUD. The sound was turned up as if they were playing for 1,000 people, not just two lovers and a barking dog. 

When the band had gone, Zack let me know that he had a cheese plate for us with crackers, as well as some fancy desserts. He popped the bubbly Italian wine I’d bought for us a while back, which paired perfectly with our snacks. I really wasn’t hungry, since all I could think about was calling my mom and telling her about what had just happened. I still couldn’t reach her, so I texted her husband to call me as quickly as he could. Zack informed me that Edward had known all along what was going to go down that night, and I shook my fist in the air at my brother for being able to conceal the secret so easily from me, but then also silently mind-hugged him for keeping the secret. I finally was able to get through to my mom, who had no idea, and shared the news with her. Then Zack asked if I wanted to have the rest of the nights’ surprises spoiled for me and be more prepared for them, or be less prepared and surprised. I opted for surprised, but Zack met me in the middle and let me know that I would not be spending the night in my own apartment. He’d packed a bag for me already and it was already at our secret-night-stay location, but he recommended I do a quick run around the apartment to see if anything was missing. We threw a couple additional items into a canvas bag, and then headed downstairs to get picked up.

Before we left, I pulled up the proposal I’d planned to say and read it to her:

Caitlin – the night we met, as you drove me home while this song was playing, I could tell there was something special between us. Only three weeks later we were dressing up as The White Stripes. Less than a year later we would be living together and blogging together and raising a dog together. It always felt so natural and right.
The last three and a half years with you have been the most meaningful of my life. You’ve inspired me in so many ways and we’ve grown so much as a couple, I feel like there’s nothing we can’t do by each other’s side. 
I love you with all of my heart and can’t wait to start the rest of our lives together, traveling the world, following our dreams and supporting each other forever.
(Gets on one knee and opens box)
Caitlin, will you marry me?

horsey

I thought for sure that a horse and carriage would be waiting to take us to the next location. Zack had promised me one of these rides a couple years back, but we got rained out. So when a pedicab was sitting in our apartment complex’s front lot, I was surprised. I mentioned to Zack, “You know, I really thought you’d cash in on the carriage ride now. I’m fine with this, just a little surprised.” He shrugged and said, “Maybe another time.” Oh, please. How could I not get her a horse and carriage? I’d promised to get her one and of course this was the time to do it.

RLAsign

The pedicab driver made pleasant conversation with us, and congratulated us on our engagement. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in front of the Driskill hotel. Are we staying in this crazy place tonight? I wondered to myself. But then Zack revealed his plan:  “Remember how you said you wanted to ride in a horse and carriage?” Of course! He’d had the pedicab take us right to where the horse-and-carriage rides pick up their travelers every evening. There was one reserved for us, with our names and “Rock Love Austin!” written on the side. Our horse was beautiful, and I got to pet it a bit before our driver arrived and we were off. The driver was very sweet, and she mostly kept to herself to give Zack and I some private time to enjoy what turned into a beautiful Texas evening. As we rode around, a van with tons of writing on the windows drove slowly by us, and the woman driving rolled her window down to take video and photos of us in our carriage. “Did you buy paparazzi?!” I asked Zack. “Nope! I have no idea who that is,” he responded. Somewhere, someone has some awesome footage of our journey. The Paparazzi lady was super weird. There was no way to know that we were engaged or anything and she was aggressively following us all around the capital.

caitlinface

As we journeyed toward the Texas state capitol, Zack and I agreed that we wished we could listen to our current-favorite ridiculous guilty pleasure, “I Luh Ya Papi” by Jennifer Lopez. Magically, my phone was able to pull up the video on YouTube, and we enjoyed a private performance, dancing and singing to each other in the carriage in between giggles. Then our carriage driver said to us, “Time to go to your next secret location!” The carriage ride was so magical. I never thought it could be so much fun when I kept putting off Caitlin’s requests to go on one. I love our non-stop smiles during the ride. We’re “glowing” as my cousin Torrey commented on this video of us on the ride. Our faces truly hurt from smiling by the end of the night.

cze

I had absolutely no clue where we were headed to next, but when we rounded the corner to the Gingerman, it all came together. I had already pretty much figured out we were staying at the W Hotel, which Zack confirmed for me, informing me we were staying on the top. Freaking. Floor. The W was a block from the Gingerman*, so the beer-lovers’ bar was the perfect spot for a surprise engagement party. When we walked in, the first people I saw were our friends Cody and Bridget (who I know from working with Cody’s band, Royal Forest), and they gave us an incredibly warm welcome while they waited on their drink orders. As we were chatting with them, my maid of honor (yup, I’d already asked her. I plan ahead, what can I say) Brittany and her boyfriend Curt came in, and Britt and I did the classic “shrieking girls in the hallway of a high school” routine, hugging and giggling and screaming and ring-admiring. Then we all headed out in a big group to the back porch, where Zack had reserved two picnic tables that were already filled with friends and family — my father, Caitlin D., Melissa and her roommate Staci, Adam and Zach, Katie and David (who, quite frankly, made so much of the evening and next day possible — we owe these two a LOT), and of course, Britt, Curt, Bridget and Cody. Even more friends showed up later**, and the night was full of smiles and adrenaline highs and lots of champagne that I paid for the next day in headaches.

*These two decisions were easy. Caitlin has a love affair with the W and we have two good friends who work there and could get us extra amenities. And we’ve always been fans of The Gingerman, they have a big back porch and are just across the street from the W.

**Basically all of our “Lighthouse” friends arrived after us, but we had a very warm welcome when we arrived and it was great to have more and more friends come in waves. It felt so great to be around so many loved ones. 

czd

One of the more hilarious moments of the night came when I was standing around, talking to a group of folks, and a blue-mohawked fellow approached me and asked if I could do him a favor. “What is it?” I asked tentatively. “Well, you see, I flew in from out of town for my brother’s birthday, and he’s a really good guy, and I’d really like to introduce you to him, if I could?” I laughed and said, “Well, I am truly flattered, but” — I flashed him the ring — “this is actually my engagement party, I literally just got engaged.” Both Zack and my father overheard the entire exchange, so Zack stepped in and said, “You’re a day late, buddy*,” and my father said, “…a little more than a day late!” We all laughed and the guy congratulated us and apologized, and then my friend Dayna and I high-fived as I declared, “I still got it**!”

*I patted him on the arm gently as well.

**You super do!

czf

After the party, Zack and I headed straight to the hotel, where we immediately ordered some food since I was finally starving. We indulged in a delicious Caesar salad*, some fancy popcorn, more champagne and chocolate covered strawberries before passing out. We had a delicious in-bed breakfast the next morning, slept more, and then popped down to the W’s pool, where we dipped our toes in the water and just took everything in.

*So out of character!

champ

Zack did everything right in his proposal to me. He seriously spoiled me, with surprises and family and food and love — everything a girl could ask for. One of my favorite touches, though, and something that made me feel in the deepest parts of my heart that this is a man who loves me and gets me, is that in my overnight bag that he’d packed for me for the W, he’d included my blankie — the blanket that I’d been given when I was born, and that has followed me through my entire 27 years. That kind of love and care put into every element, even when things went off the rails — I couldn’t ask for more. I love this man so very much, and I know I have the best partner to spend my life with. I love all of my friends and family who made Friday so perfect and special for me. I will never forget it, and I know that a year from now, when Zack and I have our wedding, no matter what goes wrong, it’s going to be a perfect day. I’m so thrilled that everything went so well and most of all that it made Caitlin so happy. I’m the luckiest guy on Earth to have her and I feel like we’ve been floating ever since the proposal. This engagement period is such a joyous, happy time and I truly can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with this incredible woman. Cheers to a lifetime of love and happiness together!

engagedlife

 

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4 Responses to “The Proposal”

  1. hacocacyb May 27, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    I Luh Ya Bloggi

  2. Jessica May 27, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Mazel Tov you two! So so sweet.

  3. Manda June 25, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    WELP that was the sweetest story I’ve ever read. Congratulations!!!!

  4. Marlene November 25, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    So thrilled for you guys!!!

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