The Year 2000
Before we have even made it to the hotel, before the plane has even hit the tarmac in Canberra, shit, before the plane has even left the tarmac in Melbourne, I am as hot and scattered as tumbleweed in a gusty summer wind and so nervous that my every move is neurotically short and sharp and jolting and if I had to pick my animal totem right now I’d have no choice but pick the Meerkat.
You have been the polar opposite – cool, relaxed, turning pages in magazines, collecting luggage, strolling about the airports and taxi ranks and hotel lobbies in a way that reminds me of the gently lapping waters of a sheltered island cove, but rather than having the ability to calm me, your cool allure only intensifies my nerves, my burning concern, because although I hold the humility of the question and the awe of the ring, you hold the power of the naked finger and maybe the horror of the words ‘I’ll pass’, ‘I’d like to start seeing other people’ or simply ‘no’. As we’re unpacking our belongings I’m wondering when I’ll take the plunge. Today? Tonight? Tomorrow? Fucked if I know, and it all seems too hard and this should be easy because we’ve been going out for over four years and you’ve seen all of me, everything, my highest points and my lowest points, so potentially making a fool of myself in front of you should be a piece of cake.
We always said we weren’t the marrying types – the tradition is outdated, and we’re too hip and modern and we don’t need a big marriage and a bunch of presents and a minister and all of that jazzy, tinselly stuff because we know we’re in love and that should be enough…
… but somehow it’s not and I guess it’s because I’ve always had the need to prove myself to you – whatever the hell that means – and I don’t think that will ever change. I’ll always be in pursuit of your approval, and passionate about you, and the fact that you can still make me nervous gives me a very big kick. I want to fight like a Knight in shining armour carrying a very big stick, who’s only desire is to catch the eye of his Queen, but because I don’t have any shining armour I’ll do my best with a t-shirt and a pair of slacks, and because my stick is not really big but is an okay, nice size (at or above the national average, depending on mood) – I’ll just have to settle on the fact that it seems to have done the job okay to this point and do my best to keep it up.
I know I can be a little erratic, a tiny bit obscure, prone to change my mind and make shit up – your Dad even calls me a ‘faddist’ – but I don’t want anyone to associate that part of me with how I feel about you and slowly, as the days and weeks and years have passed I have been hassled and harangued by this constant underlying humming – like the noise a fridge makes – that tells me in an unrelenting buzzing mosquito-like fashion that proving you are the one I love is exactly what I want to do. I want to show everyone that you’re not a fad, you’re not something I’ll grow out of, or swap for another hobby, and that’s why I spent a month stealthily concocting the perfect ring with the jeweller and that’s why I feel jumble-headed, and nervous and about as confident as a fifteen-year-old because this just means so much.
Hours pass and every nook and cranny in Canberra (why did I choose Canberra for fuck’s sake?), Restaurant and café, Taxi rank and tourist attraction, toilet stop and round-about is considered as the place to pop the question. Fear holds me back. The ring sits in my pocket and seems to hold an incredible weight and although the day is sunny and cool and perfect, the potential is there for it to become thunderously dark and this is what stops me retrieving the ring to claim you under this large old leafy pine, or by this park bench in the grassy clearing and even though my hand dives for it again and again it keeps emerging from my pocket, in a cowardly fashion, ring-less.
When you reach for my other hand and lace our fingers together and tuck my arm under yours I laugh suddenly, erratically, as if I was trying to hide the fact that I had fallen asleep during a comic’s routine at a comedy festival, and you look at me quizzically. I’m acting all freaky-weird and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.
As the evening begins to settle in we find ourselves heading back to the hotel and you suddenly desire a dip in the pool and my mind ching-chings like a cash register because you’re a crazy water-lover and I hate pools and oceans and any water that isn’t controlled by pipes, taps or bottles and this may just be the silly, unusual place to lay it on the line and prove that I’ll do just about anything – even swim in a pool – to show that my love is boundless.
We change into bathers and you wait at the door for me but I need to get the ring downstairs and I have no pockets and I need time and so I pretend to have misplaced my mobile phone and tell you to go ahead. When you offer to wait and help with the search I finally break and yell, ‘Just go down to the pool! I think I know how to find a lost phone when I lose one…’ and I’m relieved when you whistle and roll your eyes and say ‘Righto psycho…’ and head on out, and within seconds I have the ring wrapped in my beach towel and after a few deep breaths, seventy-six push-ups and some uppercuts to the starchy hotel pillows, I go down to meet you.
You’re swimming and so I sit on the edge of the pool and the skin of my legs attempt to recoil at the sensation of wetness and threaten to creep up onto my lap to leave nothing but muscle and bone dangling in the water. You start dipping and diving and floating on your back and pulling faces at me and making really strange sounds that I finally realize, when I see you doing the frog-stroke, are imitation frog ribbits.
‘I’m a frog,’ you say. ‘Ribbit.’
‘Yes,’ I reply, and after barking ha-ha like a robot trying to act all human and casual, I say ‘That’s very humorous.’
You dive under the water and swim to the side of the pool and as you appear between my legs with a mouthful of pool water and loop a stream of it onto my bare chest I say, ‘Close, your eyes. I’ve got a present for you.’
You say, ‘Oooh, chocolate,’ and when you open your eyes again I’m holding the ring in a hand that’s shaking like a shaved Meerkat wearing an ice-vest while riding a glacier in the Penguin enclosure of the Antarctican Zoo and you take it immediately and put it to your mouth, anticipating the taste of Flake, until you notice the white gold and the small but significant diamond and you hear me say, ‘Will you marry me?’
You swim backwards, away from me, which I would find very impressive if I wasn’t close to shitting myself in suspense of your answer. Your eyes are wide open on the ring and when you finally look back at me you look confused, scared, horrified and as you say, ‘Are you serious?’ I feel an implosion and wonder how many meals that ring might have bought for the homeless and for some strange reason I regress to my childhood and for a flash of time I’m with my Mum and Dad watching Dr Hook singing When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman, mesmerised by the frantic shaking of a massive pair of maracas.
I look around desperately for a way to convince you that marrying me is a good idea and just as I’m about to scream, ‘I’ll swim for you… I’ll do it… I’ll swim in water,’ you side-stroke up to me and you’re emotional – in a good way – and you say yes and we hug, wetly, and kiss, wetly, and I think, ‘What the fuck…’ as you say, ‘What the hell…’ and we’re laughing at how crazy this is and the more we laugh and swear and rub against each other the more I think about the long night ahead and, sure, there’ll be a lot of tonight lost to ringing people and being amazed at what happened and asking each other questions like, ‘How did you pick the ring?’ and ‘Did you have any clue about what I was planning?’ and ‘Did you pack my toothbrush?’ but then, like any good Knight who has turned a frog into a Queen, I’ll remove my shining T-shirt and Slacks and commit myself, once again, to impressing you with my just-above-the-national-average sized stick and my, er… determination.
Me slay da Dragon for you!