Six years ago today, I walked onto my job site a nervous wreck. Long had I informed my colleagues of my intentions that night. I had everything set up. Now it was just a matter of time, literally, until I could set the stage for the first major milestone in my relationship with my girlfriend in a string of permanent promises. Even with critical deadlines approaching, the rest of my team was eager for me to arrive at my meeting with destiny. I was jettisoned from my project at lunch-time. Told to go buy flowers and get some rest in advance of my plans. I did so.
For Christmas that year, my wife had requested her gift be a date out to see The Lion King, playing at the Hippodrome Theater, Baltimore’s premier house for live-action theater. She’d also requested dinner somewhere nice. Unbeknownst to her, the developer of my project, having taken a special interest in me, offered to pay for the dinner. Anywhere I wanted, he’d said. Off to Tio Pepe’s we were. I had made reservations at the historical landmark restaurant. Located in the basement of an old brick building, just north of the Inner Harbor, Tio Pepe’s is a famed Italian restaurant. A label it has earned. The Paella is a masterpiece. The ambiance of soft, dimmed lights – crisp, white linen and low, ebbing music allows for each patron to experience intimacy of food and conversation exactly as a five-star feature would define it.
Important to note, prior to leaving our Pig-Town row-home, I’d scripted a letter with the words I’d intended to say that night, on the off-chance I totally botched the delivery. Its contents included the reasons I’d determined were most important to detail my love for my girlfriend. I ran back in, last-minute, to the house to set the letter and a vase of red roses on her bed-side table. Felt box in hand, we resumed our itinerary for the night. The would be one final surprise destination, to which I hadn’t determined how I’d reveal its inevitability.
We parked in an obscure lot located just across the street from the restaurant. Walking in, we were seated and the Paella was ordered along with a bottle of wine – one glass. I’d continue with my water. Although I do not recall the matter of the conversation, I do remember it being a wonderful start to the night.
We moved on to the Hippodrome. I’d selected mid-level seats for us. We had a perfect view of an excellent adaptation of The Lion King. I think my favorite aspect of the show was actually the costumes. I can’t say I feel that way about costumes frequently, but the deft way they handled retro-fitting humans into Serengeti figures was amazing. The score, nearly the same as the Disney Movie, was powerful in that small house. My wife was thrilled. I had an excellent time but was still mainly concerned with getting to the heart of the nature of the night.
Our last stop: the Washington Monument located in the heart of Mount Vernon on North Charles Street, was strung up beautifully in lights for the Christmas Season every year. Although I never got to the famed lighting ceremony, I always wanted to spend some time below it. This was my chance. And under that pretense, we scuttled north to the monument after the show. Nearing on 11:00 PM, I had the energy to last days in the future. This was my moment. Now was the time.
As we sat on the bench, small-talk mostly ensued. Conversation of our take on the play, dinner, the lights of the monument. A man approached as I was nearing my monologue. I’ll never forget it. He was a black gentleman, well-spoken, who bemoaned his bad luck in having sent his wife and child to a shelter north of where we were – that he needed some money to go join them. It was the Christmas season, and he was stepping on my vibe. I handed over what small bills were in my wallet, wished him well on his way, and awaited his departure. In that moment, I spoke of things best left between two people in love. I told her of my forever plans to keep things this way. I moved off the bench and got down on one knee. At the culmination of my speech, which I think I nailed by the way, I asked her to marry me under those lights, in the heart of Baltimore, the hub of our home and the place our life was to take shape. She said yes.
I’ve written, from time to time, of the value my marriage holds in my life. I’ve discussed some hills and peaks. We’ve all lived through them. My, our, journey is no different from any other, with the exception of little details here and there. Christmas is often a time for these proposals to occur. While I shared that sentiment, I wanted our story to be remembered in our own special way. A great dinner, a powerful show, and an etching of our own into the history of the City of Baltimore were all on my list. They were successfully covered. We returned home – called several family members, and took this one and only photo of the night, which I’ll cherish forever. Recently I’ve had cause to examine the nature of the choices in my life. Whether or not I’d do this differently or that the same. So many landmarks to peruse as the timeline gets longer. So many I’d do differently. Such is the nature of humanity. This one I’d never change for all the gold in Fort Knox. It was the beginning of our journey in permanence. Three years and a bit we’d dated at the time of our engagement. Six years since. It is becoming hard to reconcile that our life together, nearly doubled that of our time before our engagement, has yielded so many blessings.
As we find ourselves deep in the Christmas season, where shopping, cooking and maintaining timelines from one party to the next can often usurp the real meaning of the season, I wanted to pause and remember this momentous occasion. Here’s to hoping each Christmas season can convey such happiness; both for me and for each and every one of you.
Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,