After the trip to see Katie in Austin in April 2014, I was 100% sure I wanted to marry her, but was unsure if popping the question, when we met up in Melbourne two months later, was a bit soon for her liking.
I decided to buy an engagement ring regardless, knowing that whether I used it in June, or at a later date, I was intent on placing it on her finger.
And so I wandered the streets of Hatton Gardens; London’s premiere engagement ring hot spot, as the most confused man on earth.
Katie and I had never talked rings, but modest and unmaterialistic in nature, I gathered she’d be disinclined towards something bold and showy, or something even diamond based at all.
I walked into an antique ring shop.
‘Can I help you Sir?’
‘Looking for a ring?’
‘Yes!’ I said, delighted to have gotten this far.
‘Do you know what you’re looking for?’
‘No,’ I replied, hating putting myself in a position of additional vulnerability.
‘We have a lovely range of diamond rings!’
‘No, not diamonds,’ she looked at me strange, ‘I mean, not diamonds, I think.’
‘Yes, I mean, I’m sure Katie would have seen Blood Diamond, and that didn’t exactly work out too well for that lot did it?’
‘I see. So is she ostentatious by nature?’
‘Well she’s from Austin. Does that help?’
‘No. So how about something antique?’
‘Yes!’ I said, having meant to say that from the beginning.
She brought out three trays of rings, and choosing gifts for others – let alone who I hoped would become my wife-to-be – being far from my forte, I only just resisted the urge to default to eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
‘See anything you like?’ she asked.
I felt the sweat gathering on my brow.
I quickly scanned Katie’s Facebook page, in the hope of finding photos of her wearing rings, but all I found, of course, were those of lovely her and her ten little naked fingers.
‘We had a sale on yesterday!’ said the lady, ‘50% off everything!’
‘Thanks,’ I returned, wondering in what way she felt the comment could assist. ‘I think I like this one?’
‘Do you want to frighten her away?’
‘Then definitely not that one.’
‘Well… what about this one?’
‘Depends on the message you’re trying to convey, I guess…’
Defeat was near, but it was then, like the quiet achiever amongst its loud counterparts, that I spotted a modest looking ring with a blue thingy in it.
‘This one?’ I asked tentatively, as though it was the lady herself I was buying it for.
‘Ah yes! Sapphire. The jewel of September!’
‘Well both our birthdays are in September!’ I said, feeling the victory at hand. ‘And I know that she has a blue t-shirt that she sometimes goes to the gym in?’
‘And I’ll take it!’
Six weeks later I arrived in Melbourne, and four days after that Katie followed. I couldn’t have been more proud to introduce her around, to my parents, brothers and mates, and adding to my inclination to pop the question, the reviews were rave. Still the devil and the angel battled it out at my shoulders. ‘What are you afraid of man?’ probed the devil. ‘Just ask!’
‘Now now… perhaps you should consider she might not feel quite ready at this time?’ affirmed the angel.
Previous to arriving in Australia, I had racked my brains for weeks, that, if I were to ask, how I would do it. ‘Where’ was the easy bit, it would be on the small footbridge at Jubilee Lake in Daylesford, near the holiday house my family had when I was a kid. But ‘how’ continued to be a bone of contention.
Katie had often talked of her childhood fascination with The Wizard Of Oz, not dissimilar to mine with Big Trouble In Little China, and so I brainstormed on ways I could incorporate it.
There were many terrible first drafts, such as envisioning myself dressing up as the scarecrow and jumping out from behind a tree, which I knew would frighten her shitless and result in a flat ‘no’, or learning to play We’re Off To See The Wizard on guitar. Even though we would be ‘in Oz’, and perhaps it could be argued that I was the wizard, I knew that any gesture with that much cheese couldn’t but be nauseating.
In time I came up with the idea of acquiring a ring box that played Somewhere Over The Rainbow when opened. I found exactly what I was looking for on line and ordered it immediately. Though it proved to be a crying shame that, for the sake of scale accuracy, Amazon didn’t photograph the item next to a dead cat, as when it arrived this ‘ring box’ was in fact a jewellery box whose size was not dissimilar to that of a weapon of mass destruction. My plan to hide it in my pocket, on a casual walk through the Australian bush, was as trumped as old Donald himself.
I booked us a weekend retreat in Daylesford ahead of time, knowing that even if the question wasn’t popped when the great day cometh, Daylesford was a place I wanted to show Katie. It felt like a year away when I booked, but testament to the hourglass from Days Of Our Lives, soon came the day where we woke up in Daylesford.
‘This was the day I was going to ask?’ said a voice in my head.
‘But you’re not going to are you?’ asked the angel.
‘Sure he is!’ replied the devil.
‘What are we doing today?’ asked Katie, yawning.
‘Ahhrrr… I was thinking…’
‘Thinking that we could ––‘
‘–– Do you want to go to that bakery in town?’
‘And weren’t you thinking of taking me to that lake today?’
‘That lake you said has some footbridge you wanted to show me?’
‘Um.. yes. I was.’
As already stated, my resolution to marry her was 100%, but the agony regarding the timing was just as strong. The pros to asking that day was that it was in a place of special significance for me, and, providing she said yes, that my friends and family would experience the occasion with us when we returned to Melbourne. But still I asked myself if it was good for Katie.
We packed to go to the lake, and just for safekeeping I brought the full proposal package; the special blue ring, the supersized WOZ jewellery box, apples and bananas, and a backpack to conceal the whole affair.
As per her wish, we first went to the bakery in town, during which time she talked about a range of things that I altogether failed to listen to. I was far far away, in a land of pure irresolution, a mere on-listener to the inner debate feuding in my brain.
We finished up and continued on to the lake, and as we pulled up and hopped out the car, I could barely believe I was here at the scene I’d been visualising for so long.
The lake was as pristine as always, and perfectly mirroring the Australian bush framing it, there was not a ripple on its surface. It had been some years since I’d been here; but clearly oblivious to time, the cockatoos and rosellas sang the same old song.
Katie walked down to the lake’s edge, and I retreated to the campsite showers to quickly organise the proposal package, should I use it. The task at hand was to place the ring in the tray of the jewellery box, that in a plastic bag so the ring wouldn’t fall out and get lost, and the entire armoury in the backpack.
I walked down to the lake edge with her.
‘What’s with the backpack?’ she asked.
‘I brought some apples and bananas. We’ll be going on a bit of a walk.’
‘But we just had lunch?’
I opted not to reply.
We proceeded to walk slowly along the lake’s edge, step by step inching towards the footbridge, where, should I ask, I was going to. Katie had resumed the same conversation as in the bakery; the same in that it had the identical muffled sound of monologue not being at all listened to.
‘It’s too soon! She’s going to say no! And you’re going to feel like a right knob and never ask again!’ said the angel.
‘Ah what’s wrong with you man? Are you getting distinct shrinkage from the cold?’ inquired the devil.
‘What’s the name of that bird over there?’ asked Katie.
‘Impatience has always been your problem!’ said the angel.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘That bird?’ repeated Katie. ‘The red one?’
‘Come one man! You’re nearly 40! What are you waiting for?’ said the devil.
‘Ahhrr.. rosella. It’s a rosella.’ I said.
‘You’ve got your whole life to ask, why rush it?’ said the angel.
‘And what about that black and white bird up there?’ asked Katie again.
‘What are you gunna do? Propose when you look like Gandalf?’ probed the devil.
‘It’s a magpie.’ I said.
‘Are you feeling ok?’
‘I just get the feeling you’re not listening to me.’
We were now walking along the trail, away from the lake, when the most momentous of things happened, the footbridge came into view. I stopped dead, and although it was a piercingly cold day, I felt myself getting hot.
‘It looks a bit muddy to kneel in I reckon?’ thought I, clutching at reasons to postpone, but it was then that I felt myself grow brave, and a feeling of resolve entirely take over. ‘I’m going to ask! Yes I am! Yes I definitely am! Yes I definitely am! I think?’
We inched towards the footbridge, as the devil and angel resorted to a degree of violence that the Australian Football League could only describe as, “a bloody disgrace!”
The footbridge was just a few feet away.
The footbridge was upon us.
We arrived, at which point the most awful of things happened, I lost my nerve altogether and we walked right past it.
‘You limp! Floppy! Wilted sack of ––‘ said the devil, withering away like the Wicked Witch of the East.
‘–– It’s smarter this way! Much much smarter!’
After two months of anticipation; of having chosen a ring, of having thought out a proposal, and knowing full well that there would never again be our first trip together to Australia, with all the excitement of just having met my family and friends, there were no words to describe the disappointment I felt as our moment was washed away.
Feeling sick to my stomach, we kept walking along the trail, until after about fifteen minutes we discovered a solitary mineral water pump in the middle of the bush. I had forgotten all about it, only then remembering that we used to come here and fill up plastic bottles when I was a kid.
The pump was on a slightly raised area of earth, and circumnavigating it was a clearing, creating an almost natural circular altar. Katie walked over and stood on the highest part of the ground. I followed, and having slipped the backpack off my shoulder and placing it at my feet, I faced her.
We were completely on our own, and immersed in silence, save for the sounds of birds near and far, and the air, or cessation of the battle of the voices in my head, created a marked stillness.
‘You know,’ said Katie, ‘if ever we got married, somewhere like this would be perfect.’
The devil rose up from the grave and kicked me in the place of distinct shrinkage. ‘That’s your cue man! Fffuucckkeenn aaassskkk!’
With my heart thumping in my chest, I leaned down to the backpack and unzipped it just enough to see the plastic bag with the proposal package. Katie, looking the other way, proceeded to tell a story about how this spot reminded her of a place in Louisiana where she used to play when she was a little girl.
With one hand, I managed to break the plastic bag so as to get to the jewellery box within, yet as though by some trick of the angel, when I stood up and presented it to Katie, in my hands was not it but the apple.
She faced me with a look of detached bewilderment.
‘So… ahhrr… do you want an apple?’ I asked.
‘What about a banana?’
‘But really, I have a banana also, and I think it’s a good one in that it’s definitely yellow.’ I said, mustering any excuse to justify leaning down to the backpack a second time.
I did just that, but as I fumbled for the jewellery box, I bumped it hard causing it to play the singular first note from the Somewhere Over The Rainbow tune.
‘What was that?’ asked Katie.
She looked away as she continued her story.
This was it, this was really it, the big moment had come, the moment where I was to utter four words in a particular order that I had never uttered them before.
With the box firm in hand I stood up. But where I had meant to hold it in front of me, open the drawer, reveal the ring, and then pop the question of concern, in a flash of panic I instead hid it behind my back.
‘What’s that?’ she asked, having stopped her story.
‘Nothing.’ I said, focusing on warding off the heart attack in my ribs.
‘What?’ she asked, as though sensing more.
‘I was wondering if…’
‘I was wondering if you…’
I brought the box around to my front and opened the drawer.
‘I was wondering if you would marry me?’
It was surely the most fumbled proposal in the history of them; so much so that I was certain I had accidentally replaced the word marry with Harry, but the four words that came out of her mouth then after proved otherwise.
‘Of course I will,’ she said.
By David Kerrigan
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