Our relationship had existed almost entirely online, except for eight days shared together in a New York City January chill, most of it spent cuddled up on my twin XL bed. We were both sure of what we wanted. As soon as we shared a space, we both knew, and we talked in vague terms about forever and for always.
“I wasn’t sure how to bring this up,” my girlfriend Canary said on the phone in March of this year. It’s hard to tell when Canary is nervous; she puts on a good face. But there was hesitation there, in the way she was speaking, drawing out words. “How about December?”
“December?” I asked, playing dumb. We had been together since last September. I try to never let my hopes get up too high. I’ve been disappointed too many times. Canary is changing that.
“Engaged by December.”
“Yes,” I said immediately. “Yes, that, please.”
I was dying to know the how and when of the proposal, but equally desperate for it to be a surprise. Our mutual friend, who went by Ursa (our Mama Bear), refused to give me any clues, because she knew I didn’t actually want them. The only hint I got was that the stone of my ring – we both wanted something other than just a solitaire diamond – was moss agate.
Canary and I made plans to move in together once my grad school classes were over in May. Before I met her, I’d gone from Ohio to New York for school without knowing a single person in the city; now I was moving from NYC to a city south of Atlanta for two people only, Canary and her four-year-old son, who I hoped would eventually view me as his mom, too. Canary insisted on doing the proposing, but I bought her a ring, too – dainty, for her petite fingers, a drop of moonstone with little diamond cat ears.
“It’s not gonna be in May,” Ursa told me. May was my last month in NYC. Canary and I would have a few days to see one last Broadway show and wander around the city before we had to start packing. I took Ursa at her word: it would not be in May. And I believed what else Ursa told me, too: that it would come out of nowhere, and that I would love it.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is my safe space in NYC. I could spend, and have spent, hours there wandering around on my own. I thought I would never get Canary to go there with me, because she’d mentioned once that she didn’t like art museums.
But I realized that the Met is half-history, half-art. And the history part caught Canary’s attention. She’d studied history in undergrad – American history, specifically – and as soon as she started checking out the website, she jokingly demanded to know why I hadn’t taken her to the Met sooner.
Watching her stand in front of the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware was a religious experience. I’d never seen her eyes so wide, or heard her voice go so quiet.
The dress I was wearing that day was more form-fitting than my usual (Canary had been encouraging me to embrace the shape of my body more, fatness be damned): a black dress with belt-buckle shoulder straps and a gold belt, knee high boots and a black COVID mask to match.
I know exactly what I was wearing, and exactly what I looked like, because she took a picture of me before she proposed.
There’s this little sculpture collection in an offshoot of the American wing. A couple Rodins, Perseus with the head of Medusa, that sort of thing. I was tugging her towards a Rodin I liked, but she kept pausing at a statue of a reclining Sappho, dragging me back to it.
“Selfie,” she said, so we took one, my arm around her shoulders, Sappho’s face in the background between ours.
I kept telling myself that this wasn’t it, it couldn’t be, Ursa had said that it wouldn’t happen in May. But then Canary got down on one knee.
I’d thought I’d want something public. A round of applause or something after I said yes. But the sculpture gallery was almost empty, and it was just us, only us, as she looked up at me and said, “I’m not really good at stuff like this.”
“Yes,” I said immediately, holding out my left hand. “Yes yes yes yes.”
She giggled. It’s my favorite sound in the world. I used to say she has my favorite laugh, but that was before I met the child who now calls me Mama.
“You’re not even going to let me ask?” she teased.
I faux-pouted. “Fine, ask.”
“Will you marry me?”
I said “Yes” about a billion more times. We couldn’t kiss, because it was COVID and because of the masks, but I squeezed her hand tight. The ring was a pear-shaped moss agate outlined by diamonds, yellow gold.
I took her out to the steps of the Met, those iconic stairs, and tried to kiss her there, but she was shy about doing it in front of so many people. Used to Southern country, where that “kind of thing” wasn’t quite so commonplace. So we found a little corner where she could smoke, and when she finished her cigarette, we kissed.
That night, we had front row seats to “Dear Evan Hansen.” I remember she cried. I remember feeling the weight of the ring on my finger, and lounging in bed with her that night, saying over and over again how much I loved my ring.
I brought out a little heart-shaped ring box, where her ring was waiting. It had our initials, and the engraving “our stories became forever.”
“You got a custom ring box?” she asked me. I nodded. “What a nerd,” she teased, and I put the ring on her, and I kissed her again.
There’s this bookstore near Columbia University’s campus that I used to go to a lot when I went there – Book Culture. One trip there, I spent about $200, and one of the things I spent that money on was a book called “The Pocket Sappho.”
I brought it with me on the plane to Atlanta the first time I flew down to Georgia to meet Canary in person. I thought it would impress her. That was on her mind when she asked me to marry her.
“I was waiting for the right moment,” she said, in bed that night. “And what you told me about the book…”‘
She trailed off.
“Sweet mother, I cannot weave,” I quoted from memory. “Slender Aphrodite has overcome me with longing for a girl.”
She kissed the moss agate stone of my ring. “Nerd.”