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Our Engagement Story

alec vanderboom

For Betty.

I met my husband in Madison, Wisconsin during my final semester of law school in January, 2000. Since I knew I was heading out of town, I classified our relationship as "fun" and "short term" from the start. My husband himself was waiting start graduate school in Upstate New York in the Fall. Since Jon was leaving Madison as well, I made my first job decision completely independent of him. I choose a new job 500 miles away.

Then came my graduation in May.

I didn't want to leave my boyfriend.

So I paid $2,500 in late fees to take the Illinois Bar in July (instead of studying for practically free in my native West Virginia) just so I'd have an excuse to stick Madison for the summer.

Finally, it was time to say goodbye in August.

Then my boyfriend helped me find a rental home at my new job in Ohio, tied my futon on his red Jeep, and moved me in. He even left me his beloved dog, Sarah, for my protection because he didn't completely trust my new neighborhood.

I remember Sarah and I both pressing our nose against the glass door of my new house, watching Jon drive away in his new red Jeep, off to start his first week of graduate school ten hours away. We'd never, ever discussed our future together and as far as I knew, Jon was still a completely commitment phobic boy who shopped at Urban Outfitter. "At least I know he's coming back," I thought rubbing Sarah's tummy. "He left his dog with me."

Five days later, Jon came down for a weekend visit. I cooked him an enormous eggplant boat dinner. He was hours late from traffic and the egg plant got all burnt and rubbery. After dinner we were kissing when Jon suddenly shot up and said "I'm going to get you that lock down for your garage." Oddest non sequitur I've ever encountered. He was insistent, "No this is REALLY going to bother me. I won't be able to sleep tonight unless that task is done. I'm going out to Kroger to get you one right now."

My boyfriend left for ONE HOUR. I had no idea where he went because the grocery store (Kroger's) was right up my street. "He must have gotten lost," I thought back in the era before easy cell-phone connections.

In boredom, I moved into my living room and started reading a new collection of short stories. In my story, a girlfriend got a surprise proposal-- "that's so unrealistic," I murmurred. Every girl must have some idea that her boy is at least thinking about marriage.

More than one hour later, Jon comes in breathless into my living room. " Did you get lost," I asked?

"No I got an Orange Soda, and Your Lock" he called as he rushed into my bathroom. "He's acting so weird," I thought and went back to my book.

The next thing I knew, Jon was on one knee saying "Will you marry me?" with a bubble gum ring in his hand.

I said YES.

And we kissed.

And then Jon told me how he'd been thinking about getting me a ring during all the ten hour trip to my house but hadn't seen anything on the road. In desperation he fled my house but he still couldn't find anything late at night in a strange, new town. Just as he was about to return to my house empty handed, he saw "a choir of angels singing" over a bubble gum ring machine at Krogers. He spent 2 dollars in Kroger's trying to find just exactly the right plastic ring for me.

I keep my plastic bubble gum ring in an honored place in my jewelery box.