Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
There was supposed to be a plan. There was supposed to be an evening with clear skies and bright crisp pinpoints of light and every incidental sound would somehow be music. There might have been a trusted friend sneaking into an apartment with a borrowed set of keys and placing a large bouquet of lavender roses1 in a strategic location. The plan would have made it look like I had signed an advisory contract with Cyrano de Bergerac and Merlin for the express purpose of promising my heart to somebody.
There was supposed to be a plan, but instead there was only an impulse.
Let me back up.
Last weekend I went home to Lisle to spend time with my parents and to talk with them about what needed to be done in order for me to proceed with marrying Dana, without completely losing my family in the process. I got two answers.
The first, from my mother, was that there was little or nothing I could do short of fully converting. We had a conversation about things like alcohol and permissive societies, and about how the only way I could be sure that my kids wouldn’t grow up and break my heart would be to give them a good dose of Islam. I countered that there were plenty of Americans who grew up seeing their parents have a drink now and then, who went through American high schools and reruns of Melrose Place, but still turned into law-abiding heart surgeons and college professors…while other kids raised with a good dose of religion in Saudi Arabia grew up to be mad homicidal terrorists. My argument remains that people are complex and that you can’t pigeonhole them into black and white categories of religious=moral and nonreligious=amoral. My mother backed off and murmured that I would simply never understand.
The second, from my father, was a bit more pragmatic–he asked that I simply do my part to make sure Dana and I could blend in with a conservative Muslim society, on the occasions that we were present in such society. As such, he asked that Dana learn how to say basic Arabic conversational tenets, like hellos and goodbyes and what you say when somebody sneezes. He asked that she be educated, if not necessarily indoctrinated. My dad was willing to listen to the argument I put forth before my mother.
When I got back to the city, Dana and I had a long talk about my father’s wishes. Dana was very receptive, and agreed that she could put the effort forth to get to know my parents’ background and culture better–something she has in fact wanted to do for some time, but was restricted from doing because she couldn’t attend family gatherings. She desperately wants to learn how to cook like my mother, and she’s already got an appreciation for the arts of my parents’ culture.
We had this conversation, Dana and I, and I felt more confident in our ability to make this situation work than I had in some time. We decided to go out to dinner at Piazza Bella, a quaint and intimate Italian place on Roscoe, before going to see the closing night show of The House Theatre’s The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz.
I decided to take the ring with me. Just in case. I was feeling a mass of adoration wrapped around my shoulders like some kind of velvet cloak and it occurred to me that yes, tonight might be it.
Of course, plenty could have happened that evening. Dana and I could have gotten into an ugly fight over the color of the clam sauce. We could have been victim of a missed reservation to the show. We could have been attacked by a marauding band of Hottentots. Any of these things, I am sure, would have ruined the mood and made me keep that ring in my pocket.
None of these things happened. Dinner was excellent and Dana and I were very much in tune with each other. With each bite of my gnochetti, all I could think was how much I loved this woman in front of me, with her blue eyes the things of legend and a smile that could melt an icecap.
After dessert, or so I’m told, I got strange. My face became this mess of tells and awkward pauses. She couldn’t hear it, obviously, but the echo chamber of my skull sounded something like this:
I could do it now. I should do it now. Right now I’m feeling a swell crescendo of love and devotion and now is the time to do it. But it’s not the end of the evening. Aren’t these things supposed to happen at the end of the evening? What if I do it now and she gets upset because it’s not the end of the evening? We’re in the back of the restaurant. She hates our table position. What if she hates where we are and when we are just enough to dislike that I’m proposing right here. Don’t do it here. Wait until later. No. Do it now. But we’re going to go see a show. How can you expect her to go see a show after something like this? But wait, she’s already seen the show. So it’s okay if she can’t concentrate. So maybe now. Why not. My hand is in my pocket. That’s a wooden box in my hand. Criminy, she sees right through me. Now I have to do it because if I don’t it will just be disappointment. And if she’s disappointed I won’t be able to do it later. So I should just do it now. Do it now. Do it.
And I did. I spoke words that were poetry in my brain and had become awkward and unwieldy blobs of consonants by the time they jacknifed off of my tongue. Luckily for that, Dana tells me that shortly after I opened the box and showed her the ring, she was unable to hear anything but the loud WHOOSH of adrenaline passing by her ears.
She put a hand over her mouth and began crying. She nodded repeatedly. I had to ask her later if that meant “yes,” as if maybe in some parts of the world, or at least some parts of the restaurant, a crying woman putting your offered diamond ring on her finger and nodding repeatedly was actually a sign for “no, never, not if you were the last man on Earth.”
There was no fanfare, no confetti. The people around us barely seemed to notice. Our waitress congratulated us, but there was no moment from the movies when the nearby diners gave us a standing ovation, a Michelle Branch song began playing softly, and the camera spun around us during our single perfect kiss. There was me trying to gracefully return to my seat and her fanning her face. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
We went to the show. Yes we did. We had tickets, we had reservations, I still hadn’t seen the play, it was the last night, and as Dana is a member of the House’s junior board it seemed only right for us to keep our appointment. We decided not to make a big deal out of the engagement among her company friends; opting instead to leave them to focus on doing their show. While sitting in our seats, we spotted our friend Marsha, who immediately asked what was new. Dana told Marsha, and there was much girlish giggling and excitement. (You know what I’m talking about.)
Before the show started, director Tommy Rapley came out to deliver the curtain speech about turning off your cellphones, beepers, and babies. He also made the entirely unexpected announcement that a member of the House’s junior board had just gotten engaged. Cue whooping, hollering, cast members poking their heads out and giving enthusiastic thumbs-ups, Dana flashing her hand excitedly, the two of us looking at each other and at Marsha, none of us aware who had spilled the beans2. It was, as one of the cast members described it later, like getting engaged on a JumboTronTM without the awful weirdness of broadcasting the actual proposal on said device3.
When I think back on it, this evening was exactly right for the sort of people we are and the sort of relationship we have–a little off-kilter, a little unplanned, punctuated with bursts of energetic theater and whimsical insanity.
That’s probably an accurate assessment of what the rest of our lives should look like, if The Powers That Be are willing. Our kids are gonna be so screwed up.
1 The lavender rose is the Enchantment rose. When Dana and I first started seeing each other, I brought her these roses because it seemed too soon for red and because pink (“appreciation”) seemed like some kind of milquetoast, noncommittal high school emotion–like asking if I could sign her yearbook instead of asking if I could fall in love with her. Hence, lavender. However, I’ve found it harder to find stores that stock these roses, so whenever I come across one, I make a very pronounced mental note to go back there the next time I’m feeling very much in love with her. Or, y’know, just because I’m in the area.
2 We discovered later that the woman sitting next to us knew one of the company members, Johnny Arena, and had signaled him when Dana showed Marsha the ring. She did this practically in front of our faces and we didn’t notice. He had asked her to be completely sure, as did Tommy when Johnny told him. Because it would have sucked to announce that sort of thing if it hadn’t actually happened. Wow, would it have sucked.
3 Dana had made me promise, long ago, that I wouldn’t be the sort of person who proposed to her in front of a large crowd of gawking onlookers, and certainly never in front of gawking onlookers on a two-story screen at a sporting event. This also meant I couldn’t propose to her from the stage during TML. We are actually both in agreement on these things–I dislike the idea of proposing at a sporting event in general, and I also dislike the idea of forcing somebody, much less somebody I love, to undergo a sudden burst of peer pressure in a gathering of strangers. And as for TML, we generally avoid allowing proposals during the show, because after something like that, who cares about some random hourlong performance art piece?
Also, we’d have to come up with some way to perform the play three times. That would be weird. Mind you, there will probably be quite a few plays in the coming months about the trials and tribulations of getting married. Doubtless there will be more than one journal entry on the matter, as well.