Friday, February 13, 2009

10 years ago...a proposal

February 13, 1999, was a crisp and cool Saturday morning. I woke up suddenly, like a kid on Christmas morning. It was Engagement Day. I was nervous, excited, and anxious. Today I would find out if Teresa would be my wife! I had bought the ring two weeks before. It was a diamond solitaire ring with a gold band. I learned all about the “Four C’s” that day: cut, clarity, color, and carat. I purchased the ring, which, at the time, was the most money I had ever spent on anything other than a car. It was worth it, though, if Teresa said, “Yes.”

My brother, Darren, and I had gone out the weekend before searching for the perfect spot for the proposal, one that afforded him an opportunity to videotape the whole thing from a distance and not be seen by Teresa, and within view of a lighthouse. Teresa loved lighthouses! Sandy Point State Park, right next the Bay Bridge on the Chesapeake Bay, and with the Sandy Point Shoal Lighthouse just off shore, was chosen.

Teresa got sick with a very bad cold about a week before the engagement. The poor girl missed several days of work, and we were not able to see each other for most of the week. Kristen, her roommate, took care of her while we were apart. I was anxious to see her, but she was feeling poorly and not at her best.

On Wednesday, I went to church and approached my future father-in-law, Jim, before the service that night, to ask for Teresa’s hand in marriage. He gave me his blessing and expressed his excitement about the whole thing. We had a wonderful conversation about what was to come. The Pastor walked by while we were talking and kidded us, since he had figured out why we were talking.

I picked up the ring on Thursday. It was beautiful, and would complement her perfectly. I stopped by Mom & Dad’s house to show them, and Mom and my sister, Angie, both loved it (and even tried it on)! That evening, I went to see Teresa for the first time all week. She still felt very weak, and was not 100%, but she wanted to see me. We had a nice Chinese dinner (lots of soup and hot tea) and watched a movie at her apartment in Laurel. I mentioned to her the birthday party for my friend’s year-old twins that we were going to on Saturday, and she assured me she was well enough to go. The ring was in my pocket when I kissed her goodnight, and as I drove home, I thought, “The next time I see her, I’ll be asking her to marry me!”

Saturday. I tried to stay calm and relaxed all morning, but I was so nervous. I talked to my friend, Darrell, and told him what was going on, and that we might be a little late arriving at his kid’s birthday party. He understood and was excited for us. I talked to my roommate and cousin, Dan, and told him about what I was planning. He was preparing for his own proposal to his girlfriend, which would take place the following week. He wished me luck and I headed out of our place in Montgomery Village to pick up Teresa.

The Plan was on. First, I called her to let her know that we needed to stop somewhere on the way to the party to pick up some shells. When trying to come up with a reason to get Teresa to Sandy Point, the only thing Darren and I could come up with was finding seashells. So I made up a story that Darrell was planning a game for the party involving shells, and had asked if we could pick some up on the way to the party. Teresa bought the story, so we were on our way.

I had the ring in my pants pocket, and during the drive to her place, it was burning a hole in my leg. When I arrived, she greeted me warmly. She was feeling a lot better, just a little bit of congestion, so I didn’t feel too guilty about taking her to the beach on a cold, windy February day. Our first stop was to my parent’s house in Bowie. I told Teresa that Darren, who worked at Lowe’s, might know where we could find some shells. (Mom & Dad had left that morning for a trip to visit family in PA.) Darren followed the script perfectly by telling us that Lowe’s didn’t have shells (they really do), but that we should go to Sandy Point beach and get some shells there. Teresa agreed that this sounded logical, so off we went. As soon as we had walked out the door, Darren and his girlfriend hopped into her car (which Teresa had never seen), and raced to Sandy Point ahead of us, while Teresa and I stopped for lunch.

We went to Burger King in Annapolis for a quick lunch. I was getting more and more nervous as the day wore on, so eating was not high on my list of things to do. I struggled through the meal and tried to keep it down after a trip to the rest room. Teresa still had no idea what was in store for her. In fact, we began having a discussion about our future. I played along by telling her that I thought some of her friends were putting a lot of pressure on us to get engaged. She agreed, and promised she didn’t feel the same way as them. She said she was comfortable with where our relationship was at, and I explained, trying to justify it, that we were still getting to know each other. We only started dating the previous May. She agreed. I was afraid I might be putting it on a bit too thick, but she seemed fine.

We hopped back into the car and rushed over to Sandy Point State Park. Because Darren and I had scouted out the place the week before, I knew exactly where to park. Darren and his girlfriend arrived about 30 minutes before us. We parked right next to their car, though neither of us knew it, and we got out. I suggested that we walk over to the beach area and look for the shells. We went over to a broad, sandy area right on the water. The lighthouse was straight ahead, just off shore in the Bay. I looked around for Darren, since I didn’t know exactly where he would be, to make sure he had arrived, but I didn’t see him. He later told me I looked directly at him several times, and he was afraid I would give him away. He was hiding behind a large tree at the edge of the beach, about 50 yards away (and there is a lot of video footage of the tree).

It was very cold and windy, but I didn’t notice. I was sweating profusely. Poor Teresa was bundled up in her heavy jacket and mitten, trying to sty warm, and looking around in the sand for shells, not suspecting a thing. I directed her towards an area of large rocks, right on the water, and we spotted a large bottle hidden between two large rocks (a bottle Darren had placed there before we arrived). I pointed out that the bottle looked like it had a note inside of it, and I picked it up, much to Teresa’s surprise (she thought it was garbage). I pulled out the cork and slid out the rolled paper from inside it. On it was written a note. I had written the note to her a few weeks earlier (on recycled nautical chart paper, to make it look authentic) with the intent of placing it in the bottle for Teresa to find. In the note, I outlined our entire relationship to that point, and mentioned how much I loved her and wanted to spend my life with her. At the end, I had written, “Will you marry me?”

Teresa read the note while I stood next to her, holding it. She told me later that she recognized the handwriting as mine right away, but didn’t understand why it was there. It took her what seemed to me to be a long time (I had written too much, I think), and when she finished, she gave me a curious look, as if she was trying to figure out what was going on. I pulled the ring out of my pocket, which I had been fingering the entire time she was reading the note, and dropped onto one knee on the wet sand. She started to shake, and I don’t think it was because of the cold. I made a little speech, which I don’t remember at all, and asked her to marry me. The realization of what was happening began to hit her, and she took her mitten off and I slipped the ring on her finger. She started to cry and yelled, “YES!” And we hugged and kissed each other for the longest time. Then Darren jumped out of the woods whooping and hollering with the camera still running, perfectly capturing the moment with the lighthouse behind us. Teresa continued to cry tears of joy, and I got a bit misty eyed. I was sincerely happy. Happy that I had surprised her, happy that my plan had worked so well, happy that she said yes, and greatly relieved that it was over! And I was so happy that I was going to marry the sweetest, most wonderful young lady I had ever known!

As we drove away from Sandy Point, I laughed at Teresa as she kept looking at her hand and giggling. I told her we had a lot of planning to do. Because she was a teacher, it made the most sense to have the wedding during the summer. It certainly helped that Teresa had spent several years as a wedding planner/organizer while working at the Chapel at the University of Maryland, overseeing hundreds of weddings. Then it hit us: we still had a party to go to. We rushed over to my friend’s house and celebrated with friends and family Sam & Caitlin's first birthday. Their parents, Darrell & Cynthia, and everyone helped us celebrate our engagement, too. We left the party early and went to Teresa’s parent’s house in Wheaton to give them the news (and catch the last few minutes of the Maryland vs. UNC basketball game - priorities, y'know). Oh, were they excited! We all went out to a nearby restaurant to celebrate. Mom & Dad called us from Pennsylvania on the drive over to offer congratulations, too. Our promise is to love each other as God loves us and live happily ever after…

Eric Freed