Okay, so I omitted some events from the weekend in my last post. Here are the gritty details.
On Thursday I called the jeweler to locate a particular setting; the ring was available in a Texas store. When I mentioned a Los Angeles trip for the weekend, he checked to see if any of those locations had them in stock. He confirmed the Mission Viejo store had it. I called up the store and talked with Judith for a few minutes. After all the pleasantries and small talk, the main factor of price range was touched: I let her know what I was comfortable with. I arranged a meet-up to view the setting and some possible diamonds on Saturday between 4pm and 5pm. If everything worked out as I wanted: I would talk to Kathleen's father on Saturday at the driving range, buy the setting and diamond in the afternoon, have the ring sized and ready on Sunday, and surprise Kathleen with a proposal on the beach of Santa Monica on Monday.
The weekend began like any other: a half-day at work to catch a plane from Midway (Chicago, Illinois) to LAX (Los Angeles, California). Okay, so that is not typical. We dropped her car off at the parking lot and hopped on the bus to the terminal. We raced each other through security; although she got through security first, she spent too much time waiting and going to the bathroom; I made it through security and changed out of my work clothes. I was ready at the designated meet-up point in front of the monitors about a minute ahead of her. We thought about getting sandwiches at the local shop, but the lines were too long. We opted for pre-made sandwiches: tuna and turkey. Once in the air, per usual we each shared halves. To pass time I composed a long e-mail to Kathleen detailing notable and not-so-notable events in my past. This was a hint to her of what was to come; I was revealing my past, indicating that I wanted to share my life. Once on the ground, we hopped on the shuttle to the rental car location. We decided to rent a car for various reasons: logistics of arranging a ride to the airport, freedom for me to commute between my brother's condo and Wildomar (I had yet to see my 8-week-old niece, Olivia), and, unknown to Kathleen, for me to head to Mission Viejo to look at and probably purchase the ring. We stopped at one of the kiosks to add my name to the list of drivers. Then we trekked across the parking lot's last row to seize the car: a free upgrade to a two-door American muscle car. We drove to the gate but could not find the rental agreement anywhere in the car. We returned to the kiosk, where they apologized for the oversight (Kathleen is a preferred member). We then drove straight to a local fast-food restaurant to enjoy the food we had not eaten since December. We ate in the car just a few blocks away. Kim (Kathleen's youngest sister) met up with us to take her and her other sister (arriving an hour later than our flight) home to Wildomar. Once they drove off, I drove to my brother's condo in Tustin. Kathleen sent word that the mass and subsequent partying would mean that her father would not be available to go to the driving range for us to talk; I would need to find another way. I was fairly tired, so after spending some time with Hannah (my god-daughter) and Olivia, I hit the hay.
Looking back, I am unsure how I survived the weekend. Saturday, I woke up early with the intention of arriving in Wildomar at 8:30am for mass at her parents' home. Kathleen sent a message that mass was actually not until 11am, so I could arrive much later; I aimed for 10am. I played Rock Band for a little bit, and that helped to calm my nerves. I then drove to Wildomar. I kept switching radio stations looking for something, anything to fill the drone of the highway. Upon arrival I fidgeted with the GPS. A rap on the window startled me: it was Kathleen's dad. I helped him carry in some ice and refreshments. I returned to the car and put on my dress shirt, and unloaded the bag with cameras and equipment. Before mass the people trickled in: I was introduced to various friends of Kathleen's mom. I snapped numerous photos, and felt a little at ease behind the lens. Kathleen was tasked with a reading; while she practiced I tried to keep her at ease and brought her a bottle of water. The mass was full of celebrations: Mr. and Mrs. Nierva celebrated 31 years of marriage, Kim's 25th birthday would be soon, and Kathleen's recovery from her accident. Afterwards, the celebration went into full swing with a Filipino spread which included a roasted pig (lechon), clear rice noodles with vegetables and chicken (pansit), egg rolls (lumpia), rice, and much more. Before the first wave of guests departed, a rosary and various prayers took place. Afterwards, Kathleen's dad distributed 7oz beers (bottles he had mistaken for full-sized at a bargain price at purchase); then, to his wife's chagrin, the tequila began to flow. To avoid shots, I used the excuse of needing to drive to Tustin to spend more time with Olivia. In truth, I wanted to make it to the jewler for my appointment. Kathleen, already feeling the effects of alcohol, asked that I stay. As a compromise I agreed to return later that night.
Before heading off, I called my brother and arranged to meet him at the jeweler. Seeing as how he had experience with the matter (he bought his ring from the same jeweler), I thought it prudent to have him there. I set off, taking Ortega Highway. I pulled over at the look-out for a short restroom break and to admire the view into the valley. I then let the rental car loose on a few corners, reminiscing on a motorcycle ride I had taken on the highway several years earlier. For the entire drive I left the radio off, and did my best to calm my nerves. I arrived early and used the facilities at a local fast-food chain. My brother called to let me know that he had arrived, entire family in tow. As we entered, I found Judith still at work; she introduced me to Jeff, who would be taking care of the diamond portion of the pitch. We left Hannah in the waiting room, watching an animated movie. Jessette and Olivia toured around the jewler, pondering an upgrade. I took my time looking at three different diamonds: two did not fit the bill. The trepidation on buying the remaining 1.49 carat diamond rested solely on its IS1 rating (F color was perfect). As a comparison, Jeff found a VS2 diamond with F color, but only 1.18 carat. While virtually flawless, it looked small for the setting (designed for a 1.5 carat diamond). After an hour of deliberation, Jeff and I took the diamonds outside. Once under sunlight, I knew that the 1.49 would be exactly what Kathleen wanted. I called the credit card company to let them know of the huge purchase about to take place. I thought about having the ring sized to 4.5, but I was uncertain if that was Kathleen's exact size. I decided to take the ring as-is (size 6) so that the ring was sure to fit her when I proposed. We would simply have it resized later in Chicago. We waited for the stone to be set. The whole ordeal had not set in; I left a voicemail with James to let him know what I had just done. After all the paperwork and receiving the ring, I and Alf and family went to a Mexican restaurant for a quick dinner. While waiting for the food I called Holly, thinking that if I were to talk to someone, anyone, than the magnitude of what had just happened would set in. Nobody was picking up, yet another voicemail for me to leave. I left Super Mex early, picked up my luggage from the condo, and drove to Wildomar. Once there, I was greeted by Kathleen. I said hello to Esteban, Kim's boyfriend; he hooked me up with some 7oz beers. I sat and sang karoake with Kathleen and Kim's friends. Afterwards, I took a shower then went to bed. Completely drained, I fell asleep almost instantly.
Sunday morning I arose early. Nobody was really around, so I went to the backyard and began cleaning. Kathleen's father made it out a few minutes later and helped with the effort. We cleared the table of the empty bottles and brought in the dirty dishes. I thought of talking to him afterwards, but 8am meant that his television show needed watching. Later in the morning, Kathleen, Kim and Esteban would be running errands; Erin ran in the morning and would spend the rest of the morning preparing for mass; Kathleen's mother had left already for prayers at the church. I opted to stay behind, hoping to talk to Kathleen's dad. After they had left, I asked him when he would be leaving for mass (he would be leaving earlier because he ushers); he responded, in about 30 minutes. I asked if we could talk about his daughter, and he said okay. I talked briefly about his love for his daughters and his wife, and asked him for his blessing for Kathleen's hand in marriage. He said okay. A shy man, he asked for clarification whether I had talked to his wife already. When I said no, he exclaimed, "Ah! This is a discussion between gentlemen." He then bestowed knowledge and wisdom he had learned from his 31 years of marriage, and requested that I continue to take care of his daughter (as I had after her accident). Although I had rehearsed in my mind what I would say and how I would say it, it came out in spurts. Although he had future warning that this talk was to come, he was just as unsure about the words. Once the gravity of the situation set in, we talked man-to-man; he made sure I knew the commitment required. We shook hands firmly, and he left for mass.
Traditionally an article of clothing or jewelry is not worn until after a trip to mass: both as blessing and thanks to God for the material object. I knew Kathleen would feel uncomfortable wearing the ring before a trip to mass, but wanted her to be wearing it as much as possible. I could not discretely smuggle the ring in its original box to mass, so I emptied an old leather wallet and placed the ring securely inside. Kathleen, Kim, and Esteban returned from their errands; Erin finished getting ready. We attended the 11am mass. Afterwards we wandered around a large discount warehouse for food samples, and so that Kathleen could buy Kim's birthday present: a portable gaming system. We scrounged up loose change to purchase Churros for Erin and Kim. A couple more errands at a different store. Esteban then treated us to a chilly Mexican dessert which hit the spot in the sweltering heat. Oddly, the fact that I carried an engagement ring in my pocket never came to mind. While returning home we passed the girls' parents heading to church for another prayer service. We u-turned to catch them so Erin could say good-bye. They assured us that they would return home before she left. We hung around the house until their return. Kim and Esteban would be driving Erin to the airport; Kathleen and I would be driving to Tustin to spend more time with my brother's family. On the drive, Kathleen would have her first experience in the FasTrak lanes. Upon arrival we played a few rounds of a dancing game; when matched up against my brother I lost by only two points! We then went to a local restaurant where I treated my brother to a steak dinner to settle on a bet I had lost for the 2007 MotoGP season. Originally we planned to spend the night in Tustin, then to the airport the next morning. Instead, Kathleen expressed her desire to return to Wildomar, so we drove back that night. Being absent minded, I thought I had left my sunglasses and camera in Tustin; we found the sunglasses in the car's cup holder and the camera in my bag in the car. In Wildomar, Kathleen's dad excitedly demonstrated the new home-theater system setup. Tired from the excitement of the past two days, we soon retired. I sat awake, composing and refining the words I would use with Kathleen the next day. Adrenalin running high, it's a wonder I got any sleep that night.
The next morning after breakfast, Kathleen went to get a haircut with her mother in tow. While they were gone I snapped various photos of the ring. I then cleaned up the backyard a bit more and brought in their garbage cans. I also wrote a note to her parents thanking them for their hospitality. When they returned we said our goodbyes to her mother, and we set off to Santa Monica beach. My usual ritual is to snap a self-portrait with the pier and the ferris wheel in the background. In a previous SoCal visit I had included Kathleen in the portrait, so I was sure that she would not find it suspicious that we would there. The 91 to the 5 to the 10 to Santa Monica beach. We played the A-B-C game, and she edged me out by one letter. Upon arrival we walked on the hot sands. She ran out to the waters and waded around for about 10 minutes. We made our way to a closed lifeguard station, and I used the lowered ramp as a make-shift tripod. I took a few of the usual pictures, then setup the point-and-shoot camera to record video. I stood by Kathleen, and went into my speech. The items in parenthesis are what I had planned to say, but forgot as I raced through.
"I am glad we were friends first. When we were friends we got to know each other's personalities. (I was always attracted to you, but being friends demonstrated that we could be more.) Our relationship got off to a rocky start: you went out on a limb and told me that you liked me. (I am so happy you did because the last nine months have been the happiest of my life.) I think it's about time that I went on a limb for you."
I knelt to the ground, grabbed the ring in my left hand, then went to one knee and looked up at Kathleen. I totally forgot to remove my sunglasses, though.
"I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?"
I am not sure I even finished my question before Kathleen said, "Yes!" and pulled me up for a hug. We hugged and kissed. I put the ring on her hand. In the excitement of the situation I tried to put the ring on her right hand thinking it was her left (it was MY left). We straighted that out, and hugged and kissed more. After I shut off the point-and-shoot camera, I joked that she should update her Facebook status, but we both knew that she needed to call her family first. As she dialed her mom, a Spanish-speaking tourist happily strolled up to me and asked that I snap a picture of him. I took a couple shots of him with his point-and-shoot film camera. I then called my mom to let her know that Kathleen said yes (voicemail). I called my sister and talked with her; she then talked to Kathleen for a little bit. Apparently they knew this was coming; they had bought champagne for the occassion the last time we were there helping them move (about eight months ago). I bought her a water and me an orange soda at a local refreshment shack. Lots of text messages and phone calls followed. We visited her sister at work, where she was the first to congratulate us in person. We ate lunch with James at a local burger joint; he was the second to congratulate us in person. Because the ring is sized so big, Kathleen is constantly paranoid of it falling off. We will get it sized correctly in the days to come. With a new ring to show off, people would be noticing her hands a lot more; she received a manicure while I gassed up the rental and made more calls and sent more text messages and e-mails. We returned the rental car; being absent minded I thought I had left my iPhone in the car but found it in my luggage. Scared of losing the ring if on her hand, I carried it in the leather wallet. It felt surreal seing the black silhouette of the ring as it passed through the x-ray machine.
Kathleen cannot stop stating that she feels so grown-up now, all the while squealing with happiness. I cannot stop gazing into my fiancee's eyes and holding her close.