By Brendan Loy
Continuing with Brendan’s Defining Days of the Decade:
#12: May 15, 2003: Becky and I Graduate From College
#11: November 7, 2000: The Election of a Lifetime
#10: August 14, 2003: The Great Northeast Blackout
#9: September 15, 2008: The Economy Implodes — And I Get A Job
July 3, 2004: Becky and I Get Engaged
To explain the context of day #8 on my decade list, it probably makes sense to pick up where day #12 left off in terms of the evolution of Becky’s and my relationship. During the six months after graduation, we indeed lived apart — Becky in Buffalo, then Mesa, AZ; me in Newington, CT, then New York City — though we managed to spend quite a bit of time together nonetheless. Our exact status as a couple was undefined (if we’d been on Facebook in 2004, we probably would have fallen into the category “It’s Complicated”), but regardless, when we weren’t physically together, we were in constant contact: I remember one month in the summer of 2003, I used 998 of my cell phone plan’s 1,000 “anytime minutes,” mostly on conversations with Becky.
In retrospect, it’s clear we were doing a lot of that vaunted “growing up” in those six months. And instead of growing apart, we were growing together, despite being on opposite sides of the country much of the time. So in October 2003, when I quit my job in NYC, I decided to move out to Mesa to be with Becky. Very shortly thereafter, everything just sort of clicked. By the beginning of 2004, what had long been obvious to our friends and family had finally became clear to us as well: we were going to be together forever. Now it was just a question of when and how we’d formalize that fact.
Initially, I was steadfast in my desire to delay getting engaged until after my first semester of law school. We were going to be living apart again during that semester — Becky would be finishing her Master’s in History at ASU while I started as a 1L at Notre Dame — and I wanted to get through that potentially difficult period first. But as spring turned to summer, my feelings on the matter changed. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when or why, but it just started seeming increasingly pointless to wait, and I felt more and more that I wanted to make Becky my fianceé before leaving for law school. We both knew we were going to get married, so why wait to make it official? I also figured this was my last chance to really and truly surprise her, before we got into “Is he ever going to freakin’ propose?” territory. :) And I already had a diamond — a family heirloom — so I could afford to do it without months of advance planning. So I made up my mind to propose before departing for South Bend.
The question thus became: when, and how? I decided the latter question first. Because I was saving some money on the ring, I wanted to go all-out with the proposal. I considered a number of ideas, but ultimately settled on the whole airplane-banner thing. The only problem was, we were living in Arizona at the time, and post-9/11 restrictions on air travel over stadiums — including by planes carrying advertisements — had basically put that whole industry out of business everywhere except on the coasts (or so I was told when I looked into hiring a plane in Phoenix). To do an aerial proposal in Arizona, I would have had to hire a plane to fly in from Southern California, and I’d be on the hook for all the travel hours to & from, making the whole thing ridiculously expensive.
But then I had a brainstorm. We were already planning to travel to L.A. on July 4 weekend. Out there, because airplanes with advertising banners could still fly over beaches and whatnot, I could get a plane easily and locally. I enlisted Kristy (who lived in Santa Monica at the time) as a co-conspirator, settled on a nearby July 3 fireworks show as the perfect excuse to get Becky outside at a known place and time, and proceeded with my plan. I reserved the plane. I had the diamond set in an engagement ring at a jeweler near my office in Phoenix. And then… I waited.
When the time came to leave for L.A., disaster almost struck. Becky wasn’t feeling well, and was making noises about possibly canceling the trip. Obviously, I couldn’t let that happen, but I also couldn’t explain to Becky why it was so important that we go. Luckily, she came around without me having to give anything away. On Friday, July 2, we hit the road.
Early in the afternoon of Saturday the 3rd, we went for a short hike with Kristy up in the foothills overlooking L.A., then headed down to Santa Monica Pier. While at the Pier, we saw a bunch of airplanes with advertising banners flying overhead. Uncomfortably enough, the conversation somehow turned to those planes. But Kristy and I both managed to refrain from dropping any hints.
The appointed moment grew closer. We met up with Andrew and Bea, and, together with Kristy and her then-boyfriend Eddie, left at around 6:30 to walk toward the stadium at Santa Monica College where the fireworks were to take place at nightfall. My plane, carrying a banner reading “BECKY WILL U MARRY ME? [LOVE] BRENDAN,” was scheduled to fly overhead at 7:00 PM. We set up our picnic blanket across the street from the stadium, in the front yard of John Adams Middle School. And again: I waited.
What happened next, well, you can see for yourself, courtesy of my appointed videographer, Kristy:
Note that I first focused Becky’s attention on the airplane by saying, in reference to our earlier discussion of the advertising banners over the beach, “Hey Becky, look, it’s one of those planes.” Heh. Becky swears her that first, split-second thought upon seeing the plane’s banner was, “Wow, there’s another couple here named Brendan and Becky?” The first actual words out of her mouth, though, were simply, “Oh my God!” — which she said while whacking my leg. Then I got down on one knee and gave my stumbling, bumbling will-you-marry-me speech, which I only wish was less audible on the video. :) The important thing is: she said yes.
I was, however, extremely nervous about whether the whole airplane thing would go off without a hitch, and whether Becky would be surprised. What if the plane was late? What if we were somehow unavoidably delayed in getting to the fireworks site? What if someone accidentally let something slip?
The latter was the biggest concern, as not just Kristy, but everyone else there (Andrew, Bea and Eddie), as well as Becky’s two other closest friends, V and Shannon, and both sets of parents, knew what was going to happen. V knew because Kristy needed someone to confide in; Shannon knew because V needed someone to confide in. As for the parents: I told mine, and a few weeks before the big day, while visiting Becky’s parents in Arizona, I asked for Ted’s blessing to ask for Becky’s hand in marriage. (He replied, “You’ll have to take the rest of her, too.”) So lots of people knew. And of course I, myself, am not known for my subtlety and ability to keep secrets, while Becky is pretty darn clever. So I was very afraid she would figure out something was up, thus spoiling the surprise — which was a big part of the point, as I mentioned.
But she had no clue, and was, of course, delighted. (Here’s a video clip of Becky calling V to tell her about it.) So were the people around us, when they figured out that they were sitting right new the couple referenced by the airplane. On the video of the proposal, you can hear a woman nearby saying, “Hey look! It’s Brendan and Becky!” Heh. That was pretty cool. And then we had a fireworks show to celebrate our engagement. How many people can say that? :)
Anyway, that’s how July 3, 2004 became a day Becky and I will never forget, and most assuredly a defining day of my decade.
Tomorrow (or maybe even later tonight, if I have time): Defining Day #7.
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