The summer of 2009 was stressful, as I learned to balance my work, which took me away from Brooklyn for days and weeks at a time, with a still-new relationship I was greedy to lavish with attention. It was additionally stressful because in June, I'd decided to propose to Lin during our September visit to San Francisco. Now there's good stress and bad stress, and this definitely falls into the first category, but all in all, there was a lot buzzing around my head in those months.
Marriage, like the idea of having kids, was theoretical to me, and over the years I'd vacillated between the notions that it was an outmoded and constraining vestige that same-sex couples should be happy to be free of, and the equality-hungry desire that even if it was all these things, I wanted into the franchise. Now, having fallen deeply for Lin, things changed dramatically. Not only did I want to be able to marry him, I was uncomplicatedly excited by the idea, and the intellectuallizing aspects melted away. I spent countless hours thinking about what I'd say and how and where I'd do it, tapping into the most Virgo-y aspects of myself. I've never thought that perfection was a particularly useful goal, but I wanted it to be "right"; it had to be that.
San Francisco was our first big trip together, and since Lin had also lived there, we had a full schedule of seeing friends, comparing notes, and generally filtering what we encountered through the new filter of "us". I'd kept my North Beach apartment sublet after decamping for Virginia, France and ultimately New York, in 2005, so we had a good SF home base to strike out from. I decided that Lin's birthday, September 11th (!), would be the perfect time to propose; we could go to a nice dinner at a surprise location, and he'd chalk it up to his 33rd and nothing more...
We kept a trip journal for this vacation, and maybe this calls for some excerpts rather than try to tease it out of my memory..
From me: We left Tiburon sort of late-ish, which had me in a bit of a nervous state. Mom at one point said to "just call and tell them you'll be late to which I could only sigh, and probably snap a little. Anyway the traffic was easy and we made it totally on time. As we parted ways in the Andronico's parking lot in Berkeley, I pulled Mom aside and told her, by way of explaining my nervous state, that I was going to propose to him later that night. She shrieked, super loud, and thankfully Lin didn't ask any questions. Chez Panisse was warm and golden brown and inviting as ever. We were seated at the front, left table. It was perfect and the waitress set the tone beautifully. The first thing we received was a wild fennel-infused prosecco, which was so delicious, the ideal apéritif. We talked about the day's surprises, and what an amazing time we'd already had. The first course was a deconstructed tomato sandwich of incredible heirloom tomatoes, an aioli toast, three kinds of basil and some fresh mozzarella - followed by a shrimp sauté with some scallions and other veg in an incredible broth. OH - I brought a bottle of wine with me that I ordered online, a 2002 Bond St. Eden - an offshoot of Harlan, a classic Bordeaux blend, and really really wonderful. The main course was a delicious duck breast in a plum (?) reduction with incredible succotash with lima beans! The whole thing, classic Chez Panisse. Before dessert we took a stroll through the kitchen, which was filled with friendly faces + amazing smells. We went back to the table, dessert arrived soon - as I'm writing this, I can't recall what even came, preoccupied as I was with what was to come. Throughout the meal I occasionally fidgeted with my courier bag, making sure that the ring box I'd planted there was easily accessible. At one point, I even pulled it up into my lap and Lin was like, "What are you doing?" and thankfully was satisfied with my "looking for something". Anyway I'd been looking for a segue, and finally Lin provided it by saying, "What an amazing DAY" - to which I replied, "Actually, it's been 296 amazing days so far." At this point Lin sort of gave the tilted-head confused-dog-look and said ----- "How'd you know that?" No turning back now. I continued, saying that they had been the most amazing of my life thus far. And how happy I was, and how with the most amazing lack of any shred of doubt, I was wondering if he would do me the honor of agreeing to marry me and spend the rest of his life with me. At some point after noting the 296 days and before actually proposing, I'd plopped a ring box in the middle of the table. At the point that he realized what was happening, his hand raised to his mouth. There were some quickly repeated OH MY GODs, and tears began to flow. And tears flowed for me too. So Karen had offered me the rings a while back, the wooden rings that she and Stephen had used. It was really special and touching. Not sure exactly where the wooden ring tradition came from, but the basic idea is that wood serves as a placeholder for the more precious metal ring to come. I started to explain to him about the ring (which btw Karen had mailed to Green Street and had arrived only the day before!) -- and realized that he hadn't responded yet (!) - upon pointing that out, Lin said, phew, " I would love nothing more." SMILE.
From Lin: Marc left to go to the bathroom, the ringing in my ears diminished, and the rest of the room came back into view. I was a little dazed. As I remembered that there were other people around, and as I wondered how loud I had been in my shock, a woman at the table behind us said to me, "Excuse me, were you just proposed to?" And I thought, wow that's what happened, isn't it? and said "Yes." And she asked, "Did you accept?" and I smiled and said "Yeah". And she and her husband offered their congratulations and asked if I was in shock and then she said, "I think I know him from Newport." And I was surprised for the 38th time that day and she said, "Yeah, I think I worked with him at the Clarke Cooke House. Is his name Marc??" And I said, "Yeah, and he grew up working at the Clarke Cooke House!" So by the time Marc came back from the bathroom we’d struck up quite a conversation about what a great guy Marc is, and made our introductions, and I could tell that Marc, "This is Lisa Kelley, remember?" But he didn't really though he made a good show of it. And after a celebratory glass of champagne we grabbed a cab and headed for North Beach... It was a long and amazing day, the best birthday ever, and the day I learned to stop worrying about surprises.
So that's how it went down.
Note about photo: We left Chez Panisse in a state, so much so that we forgot our menus, which we wanted to keep as mementos. I called them from the cab and they agreed to mail them to us in Brooklyn; when we got home 10 days later they were there, and had been signed "Congratulations!"by Alice, who wasn't even there that night. It was a nice thing for her to do.