the engagement of
Noémi Giszpenc
Paul Fitzpatrick
The story

Noémi says... Paul replies...

It was a dark and stormy night...

No it wasn't.

No it wasn't. It was a perfectly ordinary day. Paul called me up in the late afternoon and asked if I wanted to come over to his lab and go out to tea. I said, “Sure,” and hopped on my bike and headed over. When I arrived, Paul told me, “Everyone's busy getting together posters and demos, because the reporters will be swarming in here tomorrow.” Ever the helpful straight-man, I asked, “So do you have a demo?”

Hook, line, and sinker! Now all I had to do was keep a straight face.

“Yup,” said Paul, leading me to his desk. “Here, sit down. Now, if you wave your hand under the video camera here, it should detect its shadow.” Dutifully I waved and bounced my hand around on the desk. Nothing happened. Paul kneeled next to me, fiddling with the keyboard, mumbling and murmuring under his breath. “Umm, here, why don't you try it with this,” he said, handing over a little purple ball hooked on to a yellow Velcro strip. “OK,” says I, beginning to suspect something fishy.

I was happy to have found a way to get on my knees without instantly tipping Noémi off.

When I held the ball under the video camera, a red heart, pink roses, and a flapping dove appeared on the screen, floating around the ball, which seemed to glow. “What the heck is going on?” I asked, bemused. Paul suggested I try putting the Velcro band around my finger. I did, and the images kept whirling gently around the ball on the screen. “Aw. That's so cute.” My eyes were glued to the screen, as I wafted my hand in the air and the images followed. Paul, still down on his knees beside my chair, said quietly, “Marry me?” A bit startled and amused, I quickly replied, “Yeah.” (Meaning, well, of course — haven't we been talking about it for a while now?)

“Yeah” is a bit of an exaggeration; it was more like a whispered (y'h) — still legally binding though!

It hadn't quite dawned on me that THIS was the proposal! He was even down on his knees! But it was, and I'd said yes, so there we were. Engaged. Or were we?

Paul explained that this would be the most elaborate proposal, but only the first of a series. He planned to ask me again, the second time in French and the third in Irish, and take the best two out of three. So, the process had begun. But we weren't quite engaged yet.

Noémi was born in France, and I am Irish, so this seemed a good excuse to give me a chance to (1) propose somewhere more romantic than my lab desk, and (2) ask Noémi's parents for permission to marry her, which I had for some reason promised to do (they were as surprised by this as I was).

That weekend Paul and I traveled down to my parents' in New Jersey on the Chinatown bus. (The bus was an adventure all its own, worthy of its own story.) My mother took us both to the synagogue to talk to the secretary about what we would need to do to have one of the rabbis officiate at our wedding. Then my mother took me to go look at some dresses in a really nice boutique by where she worked. After all this, Paul assumed that most likely it wouldn't really be necessary to ask my parents' permission...

Before dinner, we decided to “go for a walk.” “Take me someplace nice,” Paul asked. We headed toward my elementary school, a few blocks away. I remembered that there was a nice garden behind it. But when we got there, a tall fence with several “No Trespassing” signs enclosed the garden. “No problem,” I said, “Let's try Edgemont Park.”

Edgemont Memorial Park consists of a lake, featuring several ducks and geese, and a field, featuring a healthy layer of goose poo. At one end of the lake, there is a very large weeping willow tree that creates a kind of large tent. We ventured in, and saw that it was good.

As soon as I saw the goose poo I knew we'd come to the right place.

Paul asked me to close my eyes and give him a few moments to prepare. When he gave me the OK, I opened my eyes again and he took me by the waist, prepared speech in hand. It was hilarious, and sweet, and ungrammatical, and perfect. I told him I would be happy and honored to marry him. So he fetched a ring off a nearby branch on which he'd stashed it and put it on my finger. Wildly zealous documentation ensued.

We took pictures of the ring, then pictures of each other, then pictures of the willow tree, then pictures of assorted objects near the tree, then pictures of the park that contained those objects, then the sign at the entrance to that park. Pretty much everything except the goose poop.

Upon our return, my parents were a little surprised that they hadn't been asked (we had told them they would be), but quickly decided that it was indeed very much OK with them to have Paul take my hand. They laughed and welcomed him to the family. I finally did feel engaged. I had said yes twice.

There was still a third stage to come, however. The ring I wore was only a small “practice” ring for me to get used to wearing jewelry, before the “real” ring arrived. And in the intervening time, I began to think that perhaps I should ask Paul instead of the other way around. For one thing, I'd already accepted the necessary two out of three times. But more importantly, he might say any number of things in Irish that I would agree to unwittingly! Rather than run that risk, I decided to pop the question when the ring arrived.

Noémi knows me too well. I had also tried to avoid her discovering the Irish for “no.”

In due course the ring was delivered, and Paul came to my house. I dressed up for the occasion. I had prepared a card on which I'd written, to the best of my Google-powered ability, a marriage proposal in Irish. I didn't understand Paul's response, but he assured me that it had been an acceptance (Irish, it turns out, does not have a simple way of saying “yes.” Go figure). And then he gave me the third and final engagement ring, a beautiful vine-and-leaf-patterned ring made especially for me. It fits me just right.

Noémi's proposal was (to coin a phrase) sweet, and ungrammatical, and perfect. We fit each other just right.


The album is here.

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