Please bear with me as my story exceeds the 750 word limit, but due to the way the proposal happened the story can’t be told with less words and still tell the whole story. Thanks for the consideration.
The story begins a few weeks prior to my girlfriend’s graduation from nursing school at UNCW in Wilmington, North Carolina. There is a tradition among nursing graduates where the newly minted nurse has her closest family and friends join her on the graduation stage and pin her with a nursing pin.
Brooke, then my girlfriend of seven years, had requested that I join her parents on the stage to pin her. I had declined because I wanted to let her parents have the moment. She is the first in her family to graduate from college.. After making sure that I was okay with sitting out, she agreed to let her parents be the only ones to pin her.
Now we fast forward to the day of the actual ceremony. Except for her grandma, Nana, every close family member of ours and her closest friends shown up in their Sunday best and are waiting in the dim shadows of the auditorium seating. We’ve taken up an entire row of the center section, a few rows from the back. Mom has the left isle seat.
The only people not on our row are Brooke’s mom and dad. They’ve been seated in the left section of seating with everyone who’s going to appear on stage. They’ve been organized by last initial to make the procession to the stage as orderly as possible.
The ceremony begins with some obligatory speeches and miscellaneous awards before moving to the actual pinning ceremony.
Brooke’s last name falls towards the end of the alphabet and as names are called and the tension mounts I begin to reconsider my decision not to be on the stage with Brooke. Images of the last seven years of our lives careen through my mind like the windows of a speeding subway car. With sudden, slightly frightening, clarity I realize that my place is on the stage with her. I’ve been the one with her all the way through both of our college years. She’s the person I’ve spent the last seven years of my life with and she’s the one I want to spend the rest of my years with too.
My palms break into a cold sweat as I decide to act on this epiphany. I lean over to my father who is seated between myself and my mother and I whisper, "Dad, tell Mom that I need to borrow one of her rings."
Dad gives me a confused look before his eyebrows climb to the top of his forehead with a smile. He whispers back, "Are you sure?"
To which I immediately respond, "Yes." I succeed in keeping the tremble from my voice as my adrenaline jumps up a notch because I have just revealed my intentions to another person. It makes them more real.
He smiles his excited dad smile and says, "You’re going to have to ask your mother about that."
With an expectant twinkle in his eye, he leans out of the way so that I can whisper to my mother, "Mom, I need to borrow one of your rings."
Her face lights up as she immediately catches on to what I’m asking for, and why. She asks, "Really?"
I smile trying to not to laugh as my adrenaline ratchets up a notch because I’m about to have an engagement ring in my hands, "Yeah really."
Mom slips off one of her rings, it glitters with a hoard of rectangular diamonds, small individually but collectively they have impact. I take the ring in my hand and realize what comes next. I have to ask her father’s permission before he makes it to the stage.
I step past Mom and Dad with that penguin-esque movie theater shuffle and out into the isle. As I walk to where Brooke’s parents are sitting, I look back over my shoulder to see word of my decision quickly move down the isle in a frantic chain of whispers. I find Brooke’s parents fortuitously seated in front of a wheelchair access row. At least there’ll be no more shuffling down rows.
I kneel down in front of the railing, lean over her father’s shoulder and whisper, "Lenny, do you mind if I marry your daughter?"
He looks over his shoulder with a bewildered expression until I hold up the ring for him to see. He starts to smile and shakes my hand, "Thanks for asking my permission." he says.
I smile back, thinking that the hard part is over and turn to my left to speak to Brooke’s mom, Lisa, who sees the ring and immediately breaks down into tears of panic and disbelief saying, "No you didn’t. No You’re Not! OH MY GOD!"
Lisa immediately jumps out of her seat and hurries around the end of the isle, crashing into me with a hysterical hug. I reassure her with a slew of "Yes, Really"’s and Its Okays. Through her sobbing, She tells me how happy she is and that she can’t believe I’m springing this on them now.
I tell her, "I didn’t know I was going to do it until a minute ago."
She just shakes her head with a happily rueful expression and starts to pull herself together. We hear the last names beginning with S start to be called. Brooke’s name will be following the S’s shortly.
I leave her parents to compose themselves. I wait at the end of their isle where they’ll be called to approach the stage. I fidget with the ring and can see parts of the audience who caught on to what is happening grinning at me conspiratorially. I smile back and try to keep my hands from shaking.
Finally, the ushers ask the families sharing the first initial of Brooke’s last name to stand and get in line. I fall in with Brooke’s parents and we begin the slow stop and go procession to the stage.
I count and recount how many students remain until we’ll be on the stage with Brooke. All the while my mind is racing, trying to envision what will happen on the stage but the scene keeps restarting about a half second into the action.
Without realizing that we’d arrived at the stairs it’s time to ascend the stage. I follow her parents up.
She gives me a confused look as she sees me out of the offstage shadows, but clearly doesnt suspect my intentions. Lisa reaches Brooke first and begins trying to pin her with shaky hands, whispering, "You just don’t know Brooke. You just don’t know!"
To which Brooke responds, "It’s ok Mom, it’s ok", Thinking that her mom is just nervous about being on stage or freaking out because her daughter is graduating.
Once Lisa manages to get the pin attached, Lenny takes a step forward and tells Brooke how proud he is and that he loves her while giving her a big bear hug.
As he lets her go and goes to stand with Lisa, obviously ready to watch the spectacle, I take two steps forward and drop to my right knee. Brooke gives me a confused look for a moment (She tells me later that she thought I tripped and fell). Then she sees the ring I’m holding in front her and jumps a few feet into the air and lands on her heels screaming, "NO WAY!"
For a split second my hearts stops and I can’t breathe….until it registers that her response of "NO WAY!" is an expression of disbelief and not an answer to my question. She regains her balance and crashes to her knees with me, kissing me in the middle of the stage to the thunderous applause of the entire auditorium.
We both have tears in our eyes and I’ve suddenly got tunnel vision. There is no periphery to what I’m seeing, just Brooke, and the only sounds that are distinct among the roar of the crowd are the
words coming out of her mouth as she laughingly says "Yes" and "I love you" over and over again. I don’t know how long that went on for, it felt like a long time but the crowd never stopped cheering.
Proposal Story by: