After many nights stewing over what was to come, Martha’s birthday weekend had finally arrived. Friday morning we got up early and hit the road for Chicago. Martha hadn’t a clue that we would return to St. Louis starting a new chapter in our life together.
We were cruising through the corn fields of Illinois and rocking out to some of our favorite songs when I heard a terrible and all too familiar noise. We had blown a tire.
SIDENOTE: Almost every flat tire I have ever experienced in my life has been while Martha is in the car. It must be some sort of hex she has on her.
We rumbled to the side of the road and I got out doing my manly duties and tackle this flat tire. Nothing was going to ruin this weekend, especially not a flat tire. So with a doughnut attached and a shredded tire in the trunk, we continued on.
As we neared Chicago a wave of grogginess washed over me. Changing a tire can be stressful and take a lot out of a guy, but there was no way I labored that much over a tire. Then it hit me, Martha, always looking out for me, purchased antihistamine medicine for me to take. Martha and her family are big fans of animals. So much so that Martha has 3 and her Grandmother... I don't know how many. Nick, not so much a big fan of animals. Mainly because when spending an extended period of time with them, especially cats, I want nothing more than to dig my eyes out with a spoon. When we stopped for the last potty break, Martha handed me two pills and said "take these." Those two pill were from the box with the warning: "may cause drowsiness." I was able to tough it out though and made it to Martha's grandparents house without a further incident.
Once we arrived, I quickly searched for an excuse to take a nap. Luckily, someone needed to join Martha's 2 year-old niece for nap time. A few hours later, and probably a lot of loud snoring, I was back to my normal self.
Martha's grandparents live in a private community alongside Lake Michigan just inside Indiana. This affords visitors the luxury of enjoying Lake Michigan on a private beach. After a grueling winter, spring and early summer of campaign work, I was ready to enjoy. What made it even more fun was playing with a 2 year-old with an endless amount of energy.
While at the beach, Martha's sister Sarah took it upon herself to let me know she thought it was time that Martha and I take our relationship to the next level and I that I really should seriously consider asking her to marry me. This has been a mantra that Sarah has been on for a while, so this came as no surprise. My normal response was something along the lines of “we are just seeing where things go.” Wanting not to give away the surprise, my response this time was no different. I even threw in something about “keeping my options open” just for good measure and to throw her off any scent she may or may not have picked up on.
After time at the lake and a tasty dinner, the family gathered for a "friendly" game of Boggle. No one warned me though that Grandpa has a plethora of words he pulls out for these occasions. Some of them I had never heard, nor do I think Merriam-Webster even knew existed. No sweat though, I adapted to the shifting rules of play and was able to hold my own. When I say I was able to hold my own, I mean that I was able to do better than Martha or Sarah, and that is all that really matters.
The night was going great. Spending time with Martha's family was enjoyable and getting to relax was great knowing the next day would change my life forever. That was until Martha's grandmother ended a phone conversation and announced to that she had something important to share with us. Just that evening, Martha's cousin was at a concert in Indianapolis and was asking his significant other to marry him. While the entire family erupted in jubilation, a lump crept into my throat and a pit built in my stomach. To make matters worse, Sarah looks at Martha and says, "Martha, wouldn't it be so neat to share an engagement weekend with Carl and Paula?" Martha's response not only made the lump in my throat grow bigger, but made me question my plans.
"No way," she says, "That’s a terrible idea, who wants to share an engagement weekend."
How a cold sweat did not wash over me or my face turn the color of a fire engine is beyond me. Worse yet, thoughts of whether or not to continue with my plans ran through my mind. The calm, cool, collected persona flew out the window.
That night while tossing and turning on the couch a nasty thunderstorm churned outside. Many scenarios went through my head. After wrestling with the decision for a good part of the night, I decided that this was the time. Tomorrow, I would ask Martha to marry me.
In the morning we gathered our things and headed into Chicago for the game. We were able to get out of the house at a reasonable time and it looked like we might be early to the game! (When you are dealing with Leader girls, this is a HUGE accomplishment!) However, success was short lived. We had no idea that the movie Transformers 3 was being filmed throughout the city. This meant rolling street closures, including the one outside of our hotel and every street that the GPS told us to turn onto. We finally got to a spot where Martha and Sarah could get out and hoof it a block to the hotel. After circling a few random blocks, the streets opened up just as Martha finished checking in.
I expected to park the car in a nearby lot or garage, take our bags to the room and be off to Wrigley Field. Martha had other ideas. We found the parking garage for the hotel, 4 blocks away. At this point, we were just barely going to make it to the game on time. Tense moments followed as Martha and I had a short back and forth about leaving our bags in the car. She had no idea what was sitting in my suitcase. I did, and did not want it sitting in a parking garage in downtown Chicago. The other option of walking through Wrigley Field with a diamond in my pocket didn't seem to be a smart one either. Against my better judgment, the ring sat in my suitcase in the trunk of the car. Many prayers were said in hopes of it still being there upon our return.
We descended into the bowels of Chicago and waited for a train to arrive. Just as things settled and Sarah asked to see the tickets, the tickets!!!! While wrestling with the previous situation, I had completely forgotten to grab the tickets out of my bag! Somehow, some way this fat boy was able to run back to the parking garage, grab the tickets from my bag, check on the ring (just to be safe) and run back to the subway just in time to board a car with Martha and Sarah. We were on our way to Wrigley Field.
As a Cardinals fan, I have always had an utter distain for Wrigley Field. It represents many things Cardinals fans despise, mainly losing. Nothing good ever happens there, just ask a Cubs fan. However, as we walked through the gate and into the stands an excitement grew inside of me. Much history has taken place on this field. Not much winning, especially championships, but legends of the game played on this field. When they say there is not a bad seat in the house, they mean it. Our seats, though they were in the upper deck, were great! The game though, not so much. For the first time that Martha and I had gone to a Cubs-Cards game together, my Birds lost. I sucked up the loss and laughed at Martha singing "Go, Cubs Go" (video of this is available but has been barred from ever gracing the internet). It was her birthday though, so she could have this one.
After the game we walked Sarah to the train station for her trip back to Martha's grandparents'. Martha and I meandered through Grant Park and by “The Bean.” Against my better judgment, we took one of the infamous pictures of us staring into the reflective surface of this blob of art. Sweaty and gross from the day’s travels, a shower was a necessary commodity. Also needed were a few moments to gather myself before the night's events.
Our dinner was FABULOUS. A few weeks prior we made sure to select a restaurant and make reservations. Doing so made the experience what it was. We walked right into the Weber's Grill Restaurant, passed the line of folks waiting to have a seat and were taken right to our table. It might have been that we were incredibly hungry, but the food was top notch. They even took care of bringing out birthday cake and a candle for Martha! We talked and ate and enjoyed just having some time to ourselves. As we paid the check and got up to leave, my nerves began to set in. After making a quick stop in the restroom, mainly to make sure the ring was still secure in my pocket, we were on our way.
Before unfolding the evenings happenings to you, let me fill you in on this fact. I was never a boy scout, but I’m ALWAYS prepared. There is always a plan, a backup plan and a backup - backup plan. This night was no different. However, my thoroughness would be tested in a big way.
As we walked a short way to Navy Pier where we were to enjoy fireworks the clouds began to gather. As we approached the Pier, we saw a sign that made my heart sink: "FIREWORKS CANCELLED." Well, there goes that. The picturesque moment of me down on one knee... tears in her eyes as fireworks danced in the sky overhead just disappeared. Martha, having no idea what had just happened, was disappointed but still wanted to walk around the Pier to take in the sights.
Alright, I told myself, onto the backup plan. Research told me that Navy Pier had photo booth's in which you could take instant photos. However, in our walking around Navy Pier not a one could we find. After walking through the entire place we finally found an employee to ask where to find the elusive booths. We were pointed to a side hallway where we would find a photo booth. After walking around in the summer heat, perspiration became reality. (A big guy, walking around Chicago in the dead of summer, yeah I was a little sweaty.)
Let me take a moment to say that I would like to find the person who decided to take the photo booth to a whole new level by putting a display on the outside of the booth showing what is going on inside the booth. Then I would like to punch him square in the face.
As we approached the booth, inside was a very nice couple getting their picture taken. On the outside an obnoxious family stood giggling at them. Figuring that after the couple got done this family would get theirs and then they would be on their way was dead wrong. They were just there to enjoy the free show. Whipping from my brow the torrent of perspiration, and praying that the family outside would walk away, I collected myself and we entered the booth. The family did not leave. The curtain to the photo booth had been left open as not to suffocate us inside what felt like a sauna. However, a little boy poked his head in and instructed me that it was supposed to be closed and took it upon himself to do so. At that moment realization that this wonderful idea of having photo documentation of Martha's face the moment I asked her to marry me was, just like the fireworks, not going to happen... Backup plan shot.
Not a big deal, onto the back-up back-up plan. After Navy Pier we were set to head to the Hancock Building. On one of the upper floors of this building there is a bar where you can grab a drink and enjoy the view of the city. In my mind we would be having a celebratory drink up there after success at Navy Pier. Worst case scenario, we would end up there and I would ask her with an amazing view of the city she loves in the background. We walked what seemed like a marathon to get to the Hancock Building from the Pier. We walked inside the lobby and were greeted by a large line that snaked through the lobby. No sweat, we figured these folks were all in line to get to the observatory deck. But again, I was wrong. The line was to get up to the bar. In fact, it was a three hour wait just to get onto the elevator. At this point, it was 10:00 pm. Martha, not knowing the significance of why we needed to get up to that bar, was fine with not having a drink tonight. She kept reassuring me, "we'll be back up here again. We can try this the next time we are up here."
I am not one that MUST have a drink when situations are out of my control, but given the fact that my back-up back-up plan just fell though, this situation warranted a drink. The closest bar we could find was the Hard Rock. We scurried inside as rain began to sprinkle out of the sky. Great, not only has everything failed, but now it is raining. What to do now to salvage this night and make it the special evening it was intended to be? Martha was tiring and my time to make this a memorable engagement story was running out. As we sat and got a drink, a site that was initially on my list of places to see/pop the question came to mind. It had been thrown out because the other plans seemed to much more interesting and special. As the bottom of my whiskey glass came into view (on the rocks of course) I pulled out my iPhone to see how far away we were from Buckingham Fountain. We were several blocks away; it was 10:30 and the park where Buckingham Fountain is located closes at 11:00 pm. This was my last chance. Looking at Martha with the best puppy dog eyes one could could muster I told her I REALLY wanted to go and see it TONIGHT. She looked at me quizzically as I encouraged her to finished her drink. Yes the one she had just received. After quickly paying the bill we rushed out the door into a taxi.
Martha was a trooper. She had no idea why we were rushing to see a fountain that had stood in Chicago for 83 years and why we had to see it tonight. As we directed the cabbie where we wanted to go, and quickly, he looks at me and says, "Do you have an address?"
What do you mean do I have an address? You are a cabbie in Chicago and you do not know how to get to Buckingham Fountain? A place, I am sure, that thousands of tourists ask a cabbie to get them to every day. Luckily I splurged for an iPhone and was quickly able to locate the cross streets where Buckingham Fountain is located. As the cab pulled up to the stop light in front of the fountain I threw him some cash and pulled Martha towards it. We had made it in time! People were stilled gathered, music was playing in the background and the fountain was all lit up and the water was flowing! I scoped the area for the perfect spot. There were some boring benches, some flower beds, and then while I am searching Martha pulls out the camera to snap a picture. As she pushes the button to capture the fountain in all its beauty, everything goes dark. The music stops and water shuts off. At that moment this grown man could have cried like a baby.
Noticing my disappointment that again things were not going as planned, Martha puts her arms around me to console me. Again, she says, "We'll be back another time." But we wouldn't. We would never be back at this moment, with a ring in my pocket and a frog in my throat, wanting the perfect moment to ask her to marry me. Then as she put her arms around me to give me her usual "It will all be ok" hug... it hit me. Another 2x4 upside the head.
During Martha and I's roller coaster of a relationship, things had never been “perfect.” Only once did we live in the same town. Many times we didn’t have a clue what it was we really wanted in each other. But what I realized was the entire reason why I was asking her to marry me. “Perfect” moments were not needed for things to be perfect. As long as I had her, it was already perfect. While sharing with her my realization, I took a knee and pulled from my pocket the box I had kept checking all night to make sure it was still there. As I presented the perfect ring to the perfect girl, I'm pretty sure we both began to cry. A very pathetic look must have surfaced on my face because Martha realized she had not given me an answer. She held my face in her hands and said, "of course I will marry you."
Passersby congratulated us and some even told us it "was the most romantic thing they had ever seen." To this day I cannot tell you what those people looked like or who they might have been. The only thing I could focus on was the smile that was plastered on her face. The entire night came together in that moment and it was indeed perfect. It was not as it was planned, but it was exactly what I hoped for. She said yes, and that was all that mattered.
And that my friends, is the story of how the perfect plan fell apart and lead to the perfect moment.