He asked me at midnight under an olive tree at the top of a cliff overlooking the ocean on the tiny Italian island of Ischia. It was so romantic.
That’s the story I tell people when they ask me.
Here is the more honest version.
I do not think that I am a very high mai mai (high maintenance) lady. I like being dirty. I pick the cheapest thing on the menu. Ask anyone who knows me, I count on my fingers the cost of things and I am constantly aware of the monthly budget, to the point of being a little bit cheap. When I hear about Bridezillas screaming, “it’s my special day!!!!” I think they are being ridiculous. I want a simple wedding. I promise I will not get all princess on anybody’s ass.
Or at least that’s what I tell myself.
So this is what happened.
I spent months waiting. I phoned my friends multiple times telling them that “tonight is the night” I snuck a peak at his saving plan to see how close he was towards buying the ring. I ruined the night that I got to meet my hero Joan Rivers because I was so convinced he was going to propose that evening that hanging out with my comedic icon became second fiddle to my imaginings.
So we are in Italy and I know for certain that he absolutely has to do it now. Like for sure. The reason I know is by mistake I took a little sneak peak in his fanny pack and I saw a tiny wrapped up package.
“Do you want to go down to the grotto and swim in the moonlight?” he asks.
Yes! Of course! What a perfect spot. I clock what he brings with him-which is nothing.
Hmmmm, maybe it’s in one of his pockets?
We hike down the mountain cliff to the dark sea below. In the distance we hear wedding music being played over loudspeakers. Someone is getting married on the night I am going to be proposed to. Isn’t that just perfect. We reach sea level and it looks like where Jesus used to fish with his disciples.
I would call it an ancient beauty.
Flat white rock. Old, worn stones. A dark blue door built into the side of the mountain. The air is breezy and soft. We are all alone. We are lying on the warm rock listening to the crashing of waves below and a shooting star flies across the sky for such a long time that we get to have a lengthy conversation about how long and incredible the falling star is.
And then he starts to get sexy with me.
Okay. Fine. Do it. Then propose.
I massage his back a bit and as he is getting into it I surreptitiously rub his pockets.
My whole body goes limp.
I AM NOT DOING IT IF YOU JUST WANT TO DO IT. I WILL ONLY DO IT IF I GET MY SPECIAL MOMENT AFTERWARDS! I think to myself.
He tries everything.
I try to get into it.
I look up at the stars and imagine I am part of the cosmos. I want to shut my brain off. I don’t want to be this person I am being but all I can think is I WANT TO BE PROPOSED TO AND THIS IS THE PERFECT SPOT YOU FUCK HEAD!
I won’t get into detail about what happens or how lame and frustrating it is for both of us but lets just say after 2 hours on the slab of rock with the warm salt air blowing over our naked bodies we finally stop.
We give up.
“I don’t know what’s going on for you right now” he whispers.
“I’m having a hard time knowing what you want tonight.”
I start in on the attack.
I am so hurt that he is not doing what I want, what I know is the best thing to do.
“I am not high mai, I am not high mai,” I keep repeating to myself, “this is a beautiful, romantic night, stop ruining it with your drama.”
But my body is tight and closed. I feel like I am in grade 9 again and another boy just wants something from me without giving me anything in return. And although this thought has nothing really to do with the man on top of me at the moment- I just can’t get it up.
I begin to weep- like a fucking baby.
He cradles me. “I wish I knew what you were thinking about, I wish I could help you,” he says.
And I wail.
“I thought something special was going to happen in the grotto.” I bawl, “I thought tonight was going to be the night. I’m so stupid and I am so high mai. I’m sorry. I’m an asshole. I don’t want to have sex tonight. I wish I did but I don’t.”
He laughs, “you are not stupid honey but you are quite high mai though.”
We put our clothes on and we hike up the Jesus hill in silence. There is a tunnel we have to go through, an iron gate we have to push open. There is an old frayed rope we clutch at to keep our balance. Lizards dart in front of us. Starlight is our guide. We get back to our villa and I go straight inside. I have ruined everything. I have become Bridezilla and I am not even engaged yet. I lay on the couch crying like a teenager. He calls me outside “I want you to see something out here” “Can’t I just look out the window” I yell back “Get out here” he yells. I walk outside in my underpants and I see him standing under the olive tree.
He takes me in his arms. “I wanted to surprise you. I knew you were expecting the grotto. I want to be one step ahead of you-always.” And then he gets down on both knees and he asks me.
He sounds like the teacher in the Charlie Brown cartoons. Everything is underwater. WaaWaaWeeWaaaWoooWaaaBeeeBooDoooDooYoooYoo.
I was so worn out by my self-inflicted drama and self-centeredness that it was hard- to hear him, to be there with him in that sacred moment, to feel it.
All of my planning and assuming and expecting left no space for the actual happening.
So right there, with him on his knees under the olive tree, speaking beautiful gibberish and waiting for an answer- I promised myself, “Em, you have got to do better than this. It is time to grow up. Take care of your man. Serve him well. He has worked hard enough for your love.”
I don’t sleep a wink that night. I sit on the couch like I am high on speed and I rock and smile to myself as he lay sleeping in the next room.
I will do good by him. I will be good to him. I will widen.
There is no more room left for being selfish.
I cannot recall the words he said but I will not forget how they made me feel.
Everything is for both of us now.
And I weep with relief.
The next morning we hike back down to the grotto. We look over the edge of the cliff into the sea below. It is dark and deep. The waves are huge. They smash against the rocks. It is scary how powerful and out of control the ocean seems to be. We hold hands and on the count of 3 we jump in.