I spent my Columbus Day weekend in a way that I think would make the discoverers of America very proud: hanging out with my mom after her hip replacement surgery. Not only was this country a land of new beginnings, it was also a land of new hips. God bless the USA.
Thank you to everybody who has sent my family well-wishes; my mom is healing quickly, which I attribute almost entirely to her scarily positive attitude, and then partially to a physical therapy exercise she calls “butt clenches.” She isn’t even a week out of the hospital and she’s already weening herself off the pain meds, because apparently she doesn’t know how much those pills would sell for on the street if she got a refill. I guess the 10-inch incision on her hip, currently being held together with staples, is small potatoes compared to birthing twins. I still want to be her when I grow up.
And because my mom’s hip is technically a “something new,” it seems like an appropriate time to tell you a story. A little Christmas story. I call it: The Story of a Jew, Wooed after Christmas.
I mentioned recently that Jonathan has a knack for gift-giving, and that he really set the bar high for the rest of our lives together by working his proposal into a genius series of Hanukkah gifts. Last Hanukkah was one of those Hanukkahs that coincided perfectly with Christmas, which any Jewish kid in a town where there are few other Jewish kids can tell you, is the best kind of Hanukkah; you get your days off of work or school when there’s an actual cause to celebrate, and you can teach the carolers “Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel” before you’re so sick of it that you want to make the dreidel out of a shotgun and blow your brains out every time you hear it.
Jonathan was on leave for the holidays and hanging out in my apartment for a few weeks, and it was our very first Hanukkah being physically together. He seemed really pumped about celebrating, which was weird, because usually Jonathan only gets excited like that about Baltimore sports teams or cheesecake. I figured it was a Hanukkah miracle. Or that maybe he expected me to make cheesecake.
We’d had the is-marriage-on-the-horizon discussion, but we hadn’t closed in on a timeline for it. I wasn’t worried, though; since Jonathan is notoriously bad at keeping gifts secret, I was sure I’d know when he had bought a ring, so I would have plenty of time to go through the prerequisite “this is the last time I’ll ever eat a burrito as an unbetrothed woman,” and the “this will be my last Halloween before it becomes totally indecent for me to dress really slutty.” But to his credit, I had no idea the proposal was coming until a few days beforehand, when he commented on his recently-engaged friend’s ring by announcing to a room full of people, one of whom was me, “See? Very similar.” I pretended not to notice, which I was able to pull off thanks to having played Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest, and therefore having a lot of practice acting blond.
Before Jonathan arrived for the holidays, he told me he had eight separate Hanukkah gifts for me. Which honestly sounded excessive since it was his first Hanukkah, and eight nights of it in a row is a lot of latkes and culture shock. But, again, he was weirdly excited about celebrating and I thought my mom would appreciate his gung-ho attitude about Judaism, so I left it alone. When he gave me the first gift, I loved it so much that I was pretty doubtful the next seven could top it.
He said he looked for several weeks to find an older copy of my favorite play, but this was the oldest one he could get his hands on. This book is from the published play’s seventh-ever print run, which means it is still very old. I’m putting emphasis on that word because, even though I’ve already admitted I knew the proposal was coming, I’m hoping you’ll catch onto the creative twist to it much sooner than I did. (Which I didn’t fully understand until the day following the proposal, after I’d stopped vomiting from the excitement of all of it and settled on black cocktail dresses for my bridesmaids. I don’t waste any time when it comes to vomit or when it comes to planning.)
Jonathan found the Hanukkah day two gift on my “products to buy the shit out of” board on Pinterest.
The slippers were somewhat of a practical gift, because I’d worn holes into my current pair, and my feet in the winter are generally the temperature of a meat locker. So new slippers were at the top of my list. These slippers were very new. Brand new, in fact. Maybe you see where this is going. I didn’t, because I was too busy immediately dripping pink nail polish onto the slippers. This is why I can’t have nice things.
The Hanukkah day three gift was I think Jonathan’s way of telling me he’d soon be breaking his fourth laptop within three years, and wanted to keep all his files safe in one place.
Gifting me with an external hard drive filled with all his personal files and information was a true testament of love and trust. It was also a good way for me to borrow all his music. I borrowed some of his songs onto my iPod, since he has about four versions of “Friends in Low Places” and I had none. I say that I borrowed this music partially because this is probably illegal so I want Apple to know I have every intention of totally giving it all back to him and erasing it from my iPod. And partially because MAYBE YOU’RE CATCHING ONTO THAT PATTERN NOW, EVEN THOUGH I DIDN’T. Because I was too busy comparing his collection of Doo-wop to mine, and being pleasantly surprised to discover, between us, we own at least three different versions of the Drifters’ greatest-hit CDs. If that’s not a good reason to marry somebody, then I don’t know what is.
After the third night of Hanukkah, Jonathan told me we were going to skip a few nights of gifts, and then he’d give a couple of them to me at once. Which isn’t at all how Hanukkah works, but he’s Baptist and I still didn’t intend to make him a cheesecake, so I cut him some slack.
On Christmas, I got the fourth gift.
Blue. The earrings are blue. Which I didn’t think into at all, because I was too busy planning the rest of my outfits for the week around my new earrings and also around trying to get away with wearing those pink slippers in public. I had a lot on my mind. Not to mention that Jonathan’s mom had made me my first-ever Christmas stocking, and hung it on the mantel next to the ones she’d made for her two other daughters-in-law. It was beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. And like a proposal was coming.
The next day, Jonathan explained that I’d have to wait until the last night of Hanukkah for the rest of the gifts, because apparently he was over-zealous in calculating his tolerance for deep-fried potato pancakes. I was fine with that, since the most impressive Christmas gift I’d gotten him was a single-cup coffee maker, and I was starting to feel a little inadequate.
When he said he wanted to celebrate the last night of his first Hanukkah at the Melting Pot, I knew immediately he planned to propose there, because you can convince me to do almost anything if you propose it in the background of a bubbling pot of melted cheese.
I’d managed to play dumb all week (which is either my acting skills again, or just too many years of watching SpongeBob), and even though Jonathan was later upset to find out he’d blown the surprise, it was a huge blessing for me to spend the whole week freaking out internally, instead of doing all my freaking out in a quiet restaurant that puts a big, scalding pot of water between you and somebody whose face you most likely don’t want to permanently disfigure.
By the time we ordered dessert, we were both so nervous that we’d spent the meal almost entirely in silence. I can’t attest to what was going on in Jonathan’s brain (I usually assume it’s a mixture of the Star Spangled Banner and screenshots from Call of Duty), but my brain spent the entire meal filling with vomit, which I was sure was going to projectile across the table at any moment.
Finally, he told me he wanted to give me another Hanukkah gift. He reached inside his pocket. The vomit in my brain started to travel down to my mouth. And he pulled out…a card.
As I reached for the card and wondered how he managed to put a ring inside a piece of paper, he started to explain to me that there’d been a pattern to my Hanukkah gifts. I only heard about half of what he said, because I’m pretty sure the vomit had started leaking out of one of my ears.
By the time he’d counted through my gifts—the old Streetcar script, the new slippers, the hard drive filled with borrowed music, the blue pearl earrings—I’d managed to open the card.
When I looked up, the ring was out, and Jonathan either asked me to marry him or I threw up in his face.
The Melting Pot is a great place to get engaged, because as soon as our waitress found out the question had been popped, she brought out a bottle of champagne and some chocolate-covered strawberries. We took the strawberries home, because I wanted to eat them when I was sure I was finished puking for the night.
I’d never heard the “sixpence for your shoe” as part of the “something old, something new” rhyme, but I doubt I’ll ever equal the feeling of elation and breathlessness that consumed me when I opened that envelope, saw a bride staring at me from inside it, and told Jonathan that, yes, someday I will tack his last name onto mine, even though it’s also the name of a city in Texas and I’m afraid people will start assuming I’m a Republican.
For those of you who are checking Jonathan’s math and realizing that, including the sixpence and the ring, that’s only six Hanukkah gifts instead of eight, the last two gifts were his plane tickets to and from DC, and him having to sit through me telling this story to every friend and family member I called that night.
We finished out Hanukkah that night by playing dreidel with gummy peach rings as our currency, because I couldn’t find a store in Arlington that sold the traditional chocolate coins (gelt) I used growing up. I gave Jonathan one-hundred-thousand creativity points for the engagement. Normally I would have knocked off a few hundred for a proposal around the holidays (which Facebook promptly reminded me is everybody’s favorite time to propose by highlighting all the popped questions competing with mine on my news feed). But another one of those truths about long-distance relationships is that your time together is limited. And there’s nothing romantic about a proposal over Skype. Unless one of you can do that thing Jonathan’s old computer did where you can superimpose hearts into your webcam frame. That’s romantic.