- After I Do
We got there late Friday afternoon and pitched our tent. By the time it was properly set up, the sun was setting and it was getting cold, so we went to bed. The next morning, we woke up and decided that we should hike up Vernal Fall. The visitor’s guide said that Vernal Fall was a hard hike but that the view from the top was like nothing you could imagine. At that, Ryan said, “I’m in the mood to see something I could never imagine.” So we put on hiking boots and got into the car.
I knew that he had called my mother the week before our trip and asked for her blessing. I knew that he had told her he had a ring picked out. My family doesn’t keep secrets. We try to, but we’re all too excited to keep anything good to ourselves. It bursts out of us, overflowing like a ruptured pipe. So on some level, I was expecting to get to the top of Vernal Fall and find him on one knee.
However, the guidebook was pretty misleading. Vernal Fall wasn’t just a hard hike. It felt impossible. I kept thinking it would end, that we were close to the top. But the way the path snaked up the mountain, you’d turn a corner and realize you had hours more work ahead of you. There were treacherous paths, steep climbs, areas where you couldn’t rest. At one point, I cut myself on one of the rocks, a deep gash torn into my ankle. Despite the fact that it was bleeding into my sock, there was nothing I could do. I just had to keep moving.
And yet somehow during this entire hike, there were groups of people ahead of us and behind us who seemed to be doing just fine. There were even people coming down the mountain with smiles on their faces, proud of themselves for making it up there. I wanted to grab their shirts and demand that they tell me what lay ahead. But what was the point? Maybe if I didn’t know what I was in for, I wouldn’t know to give up.
By the second hour, Ryan and I were standing on stairs built into the mountain, stairs so rickety and steep that you couldn’t fit your whole foot on them at once. There was a waterfall nearby, and I remember thinking to myself, This is a beautiful waterfall, but I don’t even care because I’m so exhausted. I felt as if I’d never get up that mountain, and this view that I supposedly couldn’t imagine, well, I didn’t care to imagine it anymore. My hair was sticking to my forehead. My shirt was soaked through with sweat. My face was as red as a tomato. This wasn’t the way to get engaged. And I wasn’t even sure that was Ryan’s intention. It was starting to seem that maybe it wasn’t.
I figured I’d ask Ryan if he wanted to turn around, and if he said yes, I probably wasn’t spoiling anything anyway. If he said no, I’d do it. I’d climb the rest of the mountain, and I’d see what happened.
“Wanna turn around?” I said. “I don’t know if I can do this.”
Ryan could barely catch his breath. He was a few stairs behind me. He was more fit than I was, but he insisted on staying behind so he could catch me if I slipped.
“Sure,” he said. “OK.”
Suddenly, I was crestfallen. I didn’t realize how much I’d been waiting for him to propose to me until I heard him say we could turn back. It was like when you aren’t sure what you want for dinner and someone suggests Chinese, and only then do you realize how badly you wanted a burger.
“Oh, OK,” I said, starting slowly to back my feet up and turn my body back. This moment felt like a failure on two accounts. I thought of all those people I had seen making their way down the mountain. They seemed victorious. As I started to turn down the mountain, I knew that I would seem victorious to all the people I would pass on the way down. It just goes to show how alike failure and success can appear. Sometimes only you know the truth.
“Oh, wait,” Ryan said. He bent down to readjust his backpack, and I got scared because he was so perilously close to the edge of the stairway. He looked as if he could slip right into the waterfall.
But he didn’t. He reached his hand out and carefully rested one knee on an unreliable stair. He looked at me and said, “Lauren, I love you more than I’ve loved anything in my life. You are the reason I was put on this earth. You make me happier than anything I’ve ever known. I cannot live without you.” He was smiling, and yet the edges of his mouth were starting to pull in and quiver. His voice started to lose its confidence. It became shaky. I noticed the group ahead of us had turned around. The pack of kids a few stairs behind Ryan had stopped and were waiting.
“Lauren,” he said, now barely hiding his emotion, “will you marry me?”
That waterfall suddenly felt like the most gorgeous waterfall I’d ever seen in my life. I ran down the steps to him and whispered “Yes” into his ear. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation. There was nothing except my absolute and irrevocable answer. Yes. Yes. Yes. Are you crazy? Yes.
Ryan hugged me, and I wept. I suddenly had the energy of ten men. I knew if we kept going, I could get up those stairs. I could make it to the top of that damn mountain.
Ryan turned and yelled, “She said yes!” People started clapping. I could hear Ryan’s voice echoing through the canyon. A woman shouted, “Congratulations!” I swear it felt as if all of Yosemite was in on it.
We pushed forward, and within an hour, we had made our way to the top. Vernal Fall was more gorgeous than anything I could have imagined. Ryan and I stayed up there, putting our feet in the wide stream, letting the rushing water clean us, watching the squirrels eat nuts and the birds soar overhead. We talked about the future as we ate the sandwiches we had packed for ourselves. We talked about potential wedding dates, about when we’d have kids, if we’d buy a house. The wedding, we figured, could be in a year or so. The kids could wait until we were thirty. The house we’d have to play by ear. Maybe it was because I was high up in the clouds physically, or figuratively, but I felt that the sun shone brighter that afternoon, that the world was mine for the taking. The future seemed so easy.
When we finally left, it was with heavy hearts. This thing that I felt I couldn’t do, this thing that wasn’t worth it, had started to feel like the only important thing I’d ever done.
A LITTLE MORE THAN SIX YEARS AGO
Two months before the wedding, we went shopping for a new bed. We intended to get a queen-size. With the mattress, box spring, bed frame, and sheets, a queen was cheaper. It was practical. But when we got to the mattress store and started to look at the beds, we were tempted to go for broke. We were looking at two mattresses set up next to each other, one king, one queen. Ryan was standing behind me, his arms wrapped around my shoulders, and he whispered into my ear, “Let’s spring for the big one. Let’s make all of our sex hotel sex.” My heart fluttered, and I blushed, and I told the man we’d take the king.
SIX YEARS AGO
We had a July wedding. It was outdoors on the wide lawn of a hotel just outside of Los Angeles. I wore a white dress. I threw my bouquet. We danced all night, Ryan spinning me around, holding me close, and showing me off. The morning after the festivities were over, we got into the car and headed out for our honeymoon. We had considered places like Costa Rica or Paris, maybe a cruise through the Italian Riviera. But the truth was, we didn’t have that kind of money. We decided to take it easy. We’d drive up to Big Sur and stay in a cabin in the woods, where no one could find us for a week. A fireplace and a beautiful view seemed like all the luxury we needed in the world.
We got on the road early in the morning, hoping to make good time by beating midday traffic. We stopped for breakfast and again later for lunch. We played Twenty Questions, and I fiddled with the radio, tuning in to local stations as we passed through towns. We were in love, high on the novelty of marriage. The words husband and wife felt as if they had a shine to them. They were simply more fun to say than all the other words we knew.
We were two hours outside of Big Sur when the tire blew. The loud bang scared us both out of our newlywed daze. Ryan quickly pulled over to the side of the road. I hopped out first; Ryan was a second behind me.
“Fuck!” he said.
“Calm down,” I told him. “It’s going to be OK. We just have to call Triple A. They will come out here and solve the whole thing.”
“We can’t call Triple A,” he said.
“Sure we can,” I told him. “I have the card in my wallet. Let me get it.”