Monday, October 20, 2014

He liked it, so he put a ring on it

I am (secretly) a total sucker for the how we met/how we got engaged stories. 

Don't tell anyone.  If you do, I'll just deny it. After all, some of us have sardonic reputations to uphold.

I've been wanting to type out my own engagement story for awhile now but, to be honest...I haven't felt like it.  I've sat down maybe half a dozen times to attempt it over the past week or so to no avail. BUT I have washed every dish every night consecutively for the past few days win some, you lose some.

Anyways, onto the story.

So, Wenoses--as we have come to be called exclusively by myself and two of my more enabling friends--has been a thing, solidly, for just a smidge over a decade now.  And I say solidly because Moses and I were never on again, off again the way so many young, long term couples often are.  (If you can't tell, I only feel marginally smug about this.) No, we were always very much on, even the year we spent long distance (while he lived in LA and I live in NY), which will go on record as one of the more miserable years in my typically hyperbolized life of misery.

Over the course of our ten years together, Moses and I have only rarely spoken about marriage. But, for some inexplicable reason, from an embarrassingly early point in our relationship, I was under the false assumption that Moses was perpetually on the verge of proposing.

The first fake-out--if it can truly be called that--was during our second year together.  Moses had just returned from spring break (us poor plebeians working in the food service industry never got spring break--bitter much much?  Yes.) and he said he had something important he wanted to give me.  Now, keep in mind that at this moment in time, Moses and I hadn't even so much as joked about marriage and yet, as I sat there in my bedroom, cell phone pressed against my earlobe, I could only think: Something important. To give to me... holy expletive, he's going to propose!

At the time, we were both very young and although I was madly in love with Moses and wanted to be with him for as long as was earthly possible, I hadn't finished college yet and once more, I wasn't even sure how I felt about marriage.  At the time, I still hadn't quite let go of this bohemian notion I had about commitment--you know, the kind of romanticized ideals you can only have before you actually understand what it means to be an adult and pay taxes.

I maybe had an Anne Shirley complex. But that's neither here nor there.

So with all these thoughts and fears and conjectures abuzz in my brain, I agreed to meet him at his fraternity--yes, his fraternity but don't worry, it has a legacy of nerds, not date-rapists.  When I arrived, he was out front waiting for me.  He said he wanted to take me somewhere more private--a secluded area of the lawn enclosed by brush and abutting a small stream.  As he led me there, my mind raced. Well, this could go one of two ways: he could ask me to marry him or he could stone-cold murder me.  I mean, it was a good spot for either of those things; it alluded view from both the house and the cars on the adjacent road.  

When we had reached the edge of the water, he paused and turned to me.  He held my hands in his and told me how much he cared for me.  My heart was in my throat.  This is it.  This is the moment.  I was so certain and so positively petrified.  I had no idea what I would say if he asked me.  And then, he procured his fraternity pin from a pocket and asked me to take it and I was all:

...ummmmmmmmmmm, what?

He was “pinning” me.  Apparently it’s some sort of tradition among fraternity members with serious girlfriends.

I stammered out some response that I don’t remember that may or may not have included a joke about us going steady.  I felt like such an idiot.  How could I have thought he was going to propose?  We were only twenty-one and this wasn’t the 19th century.

But over the next few years, there was a moment on nearly every birthday, every anniversary, every news years eve, valentines day, and christmas when I experienced a similar embroilment.  It was like I had some form of brain tourettes that on special occasions caused this thought to unceremoniously and uncontrollably flare in my mind.  What made it all the more frustrating was that I was never that girl; I didn’t go to college to minor in getting a husband, I didn’t participate in the “marriage” ceremonies on the elementary school playground that were sanctified by ring pops, and I was never the type to fantasize about my wedding day.  Not that there is anything wrong with being someone who does that--I just was not and am not.  It never really interested me much. So what the hell is wrong with me that I kept expecting it?

It wasn’t until I hit twenty-five that I found myself actively wanting to marry Moses. (And spoiler alert: I got engaged at twenty-nine, so, hold onto your butts because clearly the next four years, in which nothing happens, are going to be preeeetty riveting.  Picture a longer version of the movie The Hours but with equally prominent noses on the protagonists.)  

By this point in our relationship, Moses and I had progressed to having casual conversations about getting married.  I never pressed the issue but if it came up organically, I would subtly nurture the discussion, asking as many illuminating yet totally nonchalant questions as I could.  From all of these fleeting exchanges, one thing seemed perfectly clear: Moses did not want to get engaged while he was in graduate school.  He wanted to be able to revel in the joy and excitement of getting engaged and somehow couldn’t imagine doing that while working 12 hours days in the lab.

I knew this on some level, but if “no one gets engaged at twenty-one” didn’t stop me from making my erroneous assumptions, clearly “no engagement until after graduate school” wouldn’t either.  

There were two particular instances of note during this time: one christmas at the beginning of my graduate studies and an afternoon at the conclusion of my graduate studies.

When Moses and I were living in Los Angeles, we would always fly back to Ithaca for the holidays.  Because of this, we are often limited in the presents we could get for one another. Anything too fragile, too large, or too valuable were automatically out because we would have to lug it back with us and, as a graduate student, shelling out 25 bucks a pop for potentially lost checked luggage seemed an outrageous expense.

On the Christmas in question, Moses returned to Los Angeles a week earlier than I.  We were talking over the phone one evening and he told me that he had a present waiting for me back in Los Angeles.  As I am sure I’ve mentioned before, I am the worst person, possibly ever in human history, to inform of an impending surprise.  I will kill it.  And not “kill it” in the way I am totally killing this blog post [high five].  No, I mean that I will kill it dead.  I will ask so many obnoxious, probing questions that it’s impossible for anyone to get any enjoyment out it: the surpriser’s enthusiasm undoubtedly dampens after the 50th guess as to what the surprise could be and the surprisee can’t delight in the actual surprise in such a fog of preoccupation.  

To give you an idea of just how bad this is, I will admit to sometimes reading the plot summaries of thrillers as I am watching them.  I am much better about this with books.

No, that’s a bold face lie. Even then, I will often flip ahead to the reveal.

As adorable as this character trait is it. drives. Moses. bonkers.  Anyone’s guess as to why.  So, when he told me I had a gift waiting for me, he unintentionally triggered a torturous chain reaction that went on for several days.  And although I didn’t come out and say it, I was convinced that I would come home to find a small box and a ring waiting for me.

On the evening of my return to Los Angeles, Moses picked me up at the airport.  Normally, I would be relatively somber with homesickness for my family the first couple nights back after a long trip but this time, I could barely contain my excitement.  After all, I had a BIG surprise waiting for me.  

The engagement theory had never seemed more plausible than it did at this moment.  When we arrived home, I tentatively opened the door to our apartment and my heart plummeted instantly when I spotted a large box perched on our coffee table.  

Now that I knew what it wasn’t, I had no idea of what it actually could be. I hastily tore the wrapping to discover the bird plates that Moses and I had fought about getting several months earlier.  It was an amazing gift and I wasn’t at all disappointed but still, part of me was like: Damn, it Kozak! Stop doing this to yourself!

And I did.  The bird plates was the first turning point; the second would come a year or so later.  

I had wanted those plates so badly and receiving them was so unexpected that it made that moment all the more special.  I realized that if I wanted my engagement to be remotely like that, I needed to stop trying to anticipate it.

Besides, it was exhausting.  It was like some cruel, extended, yet relatively low-stakes version of emotional roulette.  At the time, I was nearing the end of my graduate program, simultaneously teaching two courses, taking two courses, and studying for my comprehensive exam; I didn’t have the mental capacity or psychological punchiness to sustain this charade.  

So, I stopped.  Just like that.  For nearly an entire year.  Until one fateful evening, when I returned home late from one of my classes, and peeled a receipt from a renowned Westwood jewelry store from my heel. I studied it for a moment, perplexed, trying in my haze of fatigue to differentiate it from the usual junk mail that would often carelessly find its way to the floor of our bedroom.  My eyes traced down the purple lines of the carbon copied slip and bulged when they found the total.  It was a lot.  Like, a lot a lot.  Like way way way more than I would spend on anything other than tuition or rent.  But by this point I had (mostly) learned my lesson.  Don’t overreact, I thought.  It’s probably not what you think.

But secretly I was like:

excited animated GIF

I stealthily slipped the receipt face down onto our night stand--where I believed was its initially intended resting place--and promptly logged onto to gchat to speculate wildly with my friend Ruth (who had recently made a similarly suspicious discovery of her own) as to what all this could mean.  

Well, reader, let me give you a little clue as to how our respective stories end: Ruth’s ends with a sapphire ring and mine...does not.  Not yet anyways.

Despite my initial excitement, I was still in the throes of final papers and exams, so what quickly consumed my thoughts just as quickly dissipated and was pushed into the furthest recesses of my mind.

On the afternoon of my very last final, my last obligation of graduate school, Moses came out into the living room while I was hastily preparing to leave.  The test began in a few hours and I was unprepared to say the least: I was stressed, I was harried, I had barely studied for this exam and I hadn’t yet finished editing one of the papers I needed to turn in alongside it.  

Seeing how overwhelmed I was when searching for a shoe, Moses asked me to sit down on our couch for a moment.  I obliged, although distractedly.  He said that he thought he had something that would make me feel better; something to celebrate the fact that I was almost done.  He went to the bedroom and retrieved a small-ish red box and told me to open it.

In spite of myself, almost as certain as I had been nearly five years before when Moses held my hand in his in that secluded piece of wilderness at his fraternity, I opened the package and…

There, inside of it, was the most exquisite ring.


No. No ring.  Skunked again.

Instead, I found a beautiful pearl necklace with matching pearl earrings.  Moses said something about the elegance of pearls and how they suited me.  I don’t really remember.  I was so happy, shocked, embarrassed, tired--have I sufficiently expressed just how tired I was at this moment? because I was dawg tired--my conflicted expression and soft, breathy o-oh! must have been such a disappointing reaction. It was such a lovely, meaningful gift to give me at such an important moment in my life, and here I was, unable to adequately convey how much it meant to me, merely because I was expecting something else.  So I kissed him good and hard and thanked him and in that moment, I resolved that I didn’t care when or if we ever got engaged.  I loved this man--this man who gave me bird plates, pins, and pearls, who made me such a better, steadier person--I loved him with all of heart.

A few years pass. We attend weddings together and toast other friends’ engagement with happiness and ease.  Moses and I have the same vague discussions about marriage but I am generally less invested, less eager to prolong them past their natural ebbing.

One evening, sometime last year, I was recounting to Moses the tale of two of our dearest LA friends getting engaged.  It was one of those very grown-up stories about two committed partners entering into a conversation and coming out of it engaged.  Moses and I were thrilled for them--we loved them both and they were so perfectly matched--but when the conversation turned to precisely how they got engaged, I said something to the effect of: “I think if it were me, though, I would want to be surprised.”  I am not sure what he said in response to this or if he even acknowledged it.

Fast forward to this summer. Moses has successfully defended his dissertation and we are preparing for our cross-country move.  We are inventorying our belongings, packing boxes, donating clothes and furniture, cleaning our apartment, dining and drinking with as many friends on as many nights as we can manage.  We talk about our new apartment and new life in Boston with a sense of excitement and anticipation.  

Moving to Boston meant moving closer to the life we knew we wanted. As happy as we were in LA, we knew we didn’t want to settle there permanently (too expensive, too far from our parents), so staying there felt like a perpetual postponement.  But this, this felt like we were finally embracing the future.

A few weeks before the move, we were sitting around the dining room table at Moses’ Aunt Linda's condo. She and Moses’ grandmother were asking me questions about my wedding: where I would like it to be and when.  This didn't make me particularly suspicious--it wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  At this point, Moses and I were approaching our ten year anniversary--I was about eight years passed acting coy on this subject.  I humored them by answering but made sure to couch everything in the language of: you know this isn’t going to happen anytime soon, right?  Moses’ grandmother then said something that should have been the first clue as to what was to come: “I bet it will happen sooner than you think.”  I didn’t think anything of this; I chalked it up to Moses’ grandmother's wishful thinking. Remember, I had quit the proposal speculation game; I had firmly learned my lesson and wasn’t about regress into over-analyzing every little comment like some frenzied animal, attempting to sniff out hidden truffles.

The day before we left Los Angeles was a rough one.  The movers were delayed in coming to collect our stuff and when they finally arrived gave us a price much much more than what we were originally quoted.   And because they were behind, we were behind--we couldn’t exactly give our apartment the thorough once-over it needed when colossal sculptures of cardboard boxes blocked us at every turn.

We took a break around 6PM to grab dinner with Moses’ brother and his girlfriend at our favorite Culver City restaurant--one final hurrah, before we left the place that for seven years we had called home.

After dinner, we returned to our apartment where I spent the remainder of evening scraping off globs of jam from our refrigerator shelves and scrubbing coffee grinds from the grout in our kitchen tiles. When we were finished, we were planning on spending the night at Moses’ brother’s apartment since our bed was already on its way east with the movers.  At 3:30AM, we made the weary walk there, laden with the knowledge that we would be rising at 7AM the following morning to begin the first leg of our journey.

When my head finally hit the pillow that evening, I fell asleep almost instantly.  Moses, however, tossed and turned for hours. Again, I didn’t find this especially strange; Moses often had trouble falling asleep. (Clue #2 for those of you keeping track.)

Moses and I planned most of our route around landmarks and the bungalows of various friends. The first day of our trip would be LA to the Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon.  I had never been to the Grand Canyon before and I knew that I did not want to leave the West without seeing it.  When we first decided on stopping there, I remember thinking, however fleetingly, I wonder if Moses will propose.  But then I instantly talked myself out of it: nope, don’t go down that rabbit hole, Kozak.

After saying goodbye to Moses’ brother and his brother’s girlfriend, we grabbed one last bagel and cup of coffee from our favorite cafe and began making our way through the labyrinth of freeways leading out of Los Angeles. I remember feeling so sentimental glancing at the downtown LA skyline in the rear view mirror. How original, you say. Do you write films as well? Duh. Do you think I'd waste this talent just on blogging?

I took the first half of the drive, since Moses hadn’t slept well and things went relatively smoothly: we listened to podcasts, made several more stops for coffee, and managed to avoid traffic until we hit the Hoover Dam. When we finally reached the Hoover Dam overlook, we were solidly a half an hour or so behind schedule but Moses didn't seemed too bother by this, and we leisurely strolled the bridge and snapped pictures of both ridiculous and non-ridiculous nature. You know how we roll.

We hit some more traffic on the way out of Nevada but it wasn't until we hit up an Arizona Walgreens at 4:30PM--to find sunscreen and aloe because pearly white skin + desert sun = no bueno (always and forever)--that I noticed Moses was trying to hurrying us along a bit. He seemed generally less content to have me wander the aisles aimlessly with my starbucks double shot in hand, bemusedly perusing the as seen on t.v. and greeting cards selections. You know, as one does in Walgreens.

Moses said he wanted to hit the road because he really wanted us to make it to the Grand Canyon before dark. I know, total red flag (Clue #189 for those of you bored enough to still be keeping track). And yet, I didn't think anything of it. I could totally understand wanting to get there by sundown. Made sense to me.

So Moses took the wheel and sped us along the deserted desert highways towards the Southern Rim of the canyon.  For those of you unfamiliar, this part of the canyon is surrounded by acre upon acre of lush forest and grassy field (complete with Bison!).  We hit the entrance to the park around 5:30PM; still easily 30-45 minutes from canyon edge.  As the sun began to dip in the sky, and we continued to wind our way up the narrow curve of the country roads, I noticed that Moses was starting to look a little nervous and drive a little faster.  And again, like a dum-dum, I thought to myself:  wow, he really wants to see the Grand Canyon at sunset!

When we spotted a herd of bison, like a jerk--without knowing I was being a jerk--I told Moses to pull over and proceeded to unhurriedly snap the following photographs:

I can only imagine what was going through Moses' head at this moment.  But, I am fairly certain that it looked something like this:

I know, I am the worst. Get over it.

So, as I am sure you can see by the slant of the light in those pictures, we were racing against the sun at this point.  As soon as I was done sufficiently fawning over the bison calves, Moses and I once again took off at an alarming pace towards the vista points.

The turns were becoming increasingly tight, the drops exponentially steep, and the roadways progressively thin. I was beginning to feel a bit unnerved by how reckless Moses was being.  It felt like we were seconds away from unintentionally Thelma and Louise-ing it at any moment.  What was the big deal? Why did it really matter if we made it there right at sunset?

I became instantly distracted from Moses' suspect driving the second I caught my first glimpse of the rim from the passenger window.  Moses had been insisting that the Grand Canyon was not overrated and I had done my fair share of skeptical scoffing but...he was right.  I literally gasped when I saw it--it was breath taking.  

We reach the top of the vista point right at sunset. I excitedly hopped out of the car and began to make my way down to the overlook. Moses, however, did not follow.  He was fishing for something in his backpack.  When I asked him what he was doing, he said rather casually: "Oh, I'm just looking for the binoculars."

At this point, I felt a twinge of suspicion, because I knew the binoculars were in the glove compartment.  But again, I talk myself out of it: you've been driving for eight hours, your car is packed to the gills, who remembers where anything is?

I told Moses he was searching in the wrong place and he asked me if I could grab the binoculars for him, which I did as quickly as I could because I really wanted to get down there and start exploring.  I couldn’t understand why he was stalling; we had speed racered it up there at a death defying velocities and now he wanted to take his sweet time?  I didn’t get it.

Armed with our binoculars, the sky now a soft pinkish indigo, we walked to vista and began to taking some photographs.

There were a few other families there, but I was pleasantly surprised by how generally uncrowded it was.  I thought Moses seemed a little distracted when taking pictures, but I figured he was just tired from long drive.  We were sharing the overlook with an older man and his camera (pictured below), as the other families began to clear out and make their way to their vehicles, the old man remained, so we finished up our photo shoot and followed the others back to the top.

Before we reached the car, Moses said that he noticed a pretty view from a clearing over by a wooded area.  I wasn’t quite ready to leave yet, so I told him to lead the way.  When we reached the spot--which did in fact boast a spectacular view--I noticed for the first time that we were alone.  Although we had be alone together most of the day, it was still nice to be alone together there, amidst the stirring landscape of the canyon.  

He put his arm around me and I talked about the sublime (an annoying habit of mine in these types of situations) and we spoke about how excited we were for the next chapter in our lives.  Moses then mentioned something about how I had moved across country twice for him now and how much I meant to him and about a half a dozen other lovely things that I promptly forgot because at the end of his speech, he held out a little red box with a sapphire ring inside of it.  My reply is Moses’ favorite part of this story.  With tears in my eyes, I hugged him and said: “Of course I will marry you, you idiot.”  Tell Hallmark, I’m prepared to put that in card form if the price is right.

I must admit readers, the thing that made me most nervous about the prospect of a surprise proposal was the ring because...hello, I’m picky.  No! C’est impossible! I know.  But I am.  In fact weeks prior, I had a dream that Moses gave me fabric ring like this:

And… I was horrified.

But my actual ring, is perfect.  I could not have picked out a better one myself.  In fact, a month or so before Moses proposed, I did some research on rings, just in case he asked me for suggestions (he didn't) and I discovered that what I like most were vintage art deco style rings that--for ethical reasons--had gem centerstone rather than a diamond.  And that is precisely the type of ring that Moses got me--that he picked it out completely by himself.  The only people who even knew that Moses was planning on proposing were his Aunt Linda and his grandmother because Moses had asked them for help in where to buy the ring.

I marveled at my ring and at the surprise proposal all the way back to the lodge, where we were set to stay the night. By sheer happenstance, the lodge, which overlooked the rim of the canyon, also played host to a band of local astronomers and their equipment, so after dinner, Moses and I went star gazing.  It was single-handedly the most romantic evening of my life.

Over the past few months, I’ve thought back to those moments following the proposal--a lot--I was so incredibly happy.  Sometimes remembering that happiness makes me feel better and sometimes it makes me feel worse.  It makes me wonder if I will ever be that happy again, but duh Emo Phillips, of course I will.  It’s just that, this will never be remembered as the year that Moses and I got engaged.  But I suppose that doesn’t really matter because it’s still a great story.  I should have maybe split it up into chapters and made you wait we’ve already established, I am terrible with surprises.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Edging back to Normal

I’ve being trying in vain to start this post for over a week now.  I guess I don’t really know where to begin.  Do I document grief? Is that helpful to other people or is that just one Sylvia Plath poem away from bummersville?

Probably the latter.

I think I will carry on much as I was before, but with maybe a more generous pinch of the morose.  Just chase it with all the various pumpkin flavored goodies you’ve been sampling recently and you’ll be fine.

Speaking of which, did you know this was a thing?:

Type II diabetes be mine.


May I introduce you to the reason I will never have a thigh gap?

I could keep going but I'll spare you.  We are venturing heavily into two drink minimum territory.

Every fall, I go a do you say?  Bonkers for pumpkin flavored anything.  Yes, I am that person.  I'm what's wrong with America.  Moses opened our pantry door the other day and was horrified as the boxes to five variations of trader joe's pumpkin flavored cookies fell at his feet.

This time of year is also when I traditionally resume my quest for the perfect pumpkin beer.  What is it about pumpkin beer?  It's never quite what I want it to be.  And yet, without a fail, I find myself reaching hopefully into the corners of liquors store coolers for yet another brand of pumpkin ale, thinking: maybe, just maybe, this will be the one.

I walk home airy footed, expectantly crack the lid, and with breath bated, take a swig and...instadisappointment!

But it's out there. I know it's out there.  I just haven't found it yet.  Too bad there is no human/beer equivalent to eharmony, to match me with my pumpkin ale soulmate. 

This will be the first real fall I've experienced in quite a while--a little over six years--and I'm ridiculously excited about it. People were saying this past summer in Boston was pleasant in comparison but holy humidity, Batman.  Maybe the West coast has softened me, but if that was a "pleasant" summer, I don't even want to know what constitutes an unpleasant one.  In any case, I am loving this cool, rainy weather (I purchased my first pair of duck boots for only $40 on ebay!) and the dusty color of the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood and eating soup for lunch and dinner and retrieving that favored wool sweater from the top shelf of my closet on chilly evenings. I am also looking forward to opening the shades in my apartment on weekends without worrying that it will make the apartment too hot.  Just color me optimist.

The one downside to this cooler weather is that the T has been a little bit more of a cluster than normal.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am still positively giddy about living in a place with reliable public transportation and I still roll my eyes every time I overhear exasperated complaints about it.  (It’s almost always coming from a BU undergrad but considering the proximity of my apartment to BU, there is perhaps a sampling bias there.)

I do think it’s amusing though, how the T is one public place with a no holds bar type of attitude in regards to personal space.  Like, I have pretty rigid boundaries when it comes to people I don’t know very well touching me.  Sometimes, it’s okay, like: Oh! I guess we’re friends.  But typically, I get pretty perturbed when someone stands or sits too close to me.  But on the T?  The T maybe the one time in your life when you could spoon with another human while standing and it feels neither intimate nor particularly awkward.  Someone could brush, grasp, press, push, claw, clutch, or sit down in my lap and I would barely bat an eyelash.  The other day, I grabbed a girl full around the waist to catch myself falling from precarious footing.  And that was just a regular ole Thursday for both of us, I'm sure. That certainly wouldn’t fly in Los Angeles.  Anytime I stepped foot onto public transit there, I wore my best come-near-me-and-I’ll-cut-you face.  Which is essentially just my normal face.

So much of my life has been in flux recently—moving, new job, the loss of my brother—and the strangest things make me feel emotional, like America’s Next Top Model episodes or seeing the Johnny Cupcakes shop on the way into work (not only because my brother’s name was John but I told him the story of how I walked into that shop to get a cupcake only to realize they only sold clothing). I’m not worried about it; I am sure it’s very normal. But I really feel my best when I am doing normal things like cooking, exercising, rewatching the same familiar t.v. shows over and over again with Moses (can we talk about how blah Fall tv is this year?), online shopping for boots, starting blog posts and then promptly abandoning them….so I’ve been trying to do those things as much as possible.  Especially the online shopping.

One boot at a time...