It was a dark and stormy night...
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?”
“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.
Hook, line, and sinker!
Now all I had to do was keep a straight face.
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?)
I was happy to have found a way to get on my knees without instantly
tipping Noémi off.
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
“Yeah” is a bit of an exaggeration; it was more like
(y'h) — still legally binding
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.
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...
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).
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.
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
As soon as I saw the goose poo I knew we'd come to the right place.
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
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.
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
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 knows me too well. I had also tried to avoid her
discovering the Irish for “no.”
Noémi's proposal was (to coin a phrase) sweet,
and ungrammatical, and perfect. We fit each other just right.