for the union-bulletin
My figurative journey toward marriage began with a very literal journey across the country.
Two years ago I made the agonizingly difficult decision to leave the Pacific Northwest, my friends, my colleagues and the woman I loved to begin my career near Atlanta. While the long-distance communication between my girlfriend, Lauren, and me was almost constant, we could no longer cook dinners together or sit back and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
The only thing more complicated than a long-distance relationship across three time zones was a long-distance engagement across three time zones.
It began in October of 2011, over a year after I left, when I returned to Washington state, as I had on several previous occasions. However, this time was very different. I had purchased the slim, diamond and sapphire engagement ring only a week before I arrived in Walla Walla. I carried it with me everywhere in the days leading up to the proposal, primarily because I was paranoid.
On the morning I was to ask her to marry me, everything went smoothly. The night before, I had asked her parents for permission and was visibly shaking when I showed them the ring, but after a good night's sleep, I had regained my composure and kept calm.
I'm a high school English teacher, so explaining and expressing myself through speech should come naturally, but on this occasion I was pretty nervous. I hadn't planned out what I was going to say, but it would come straight from the heart, unfiltered and spontaneous. A less refined gentleman might say he was going to wing it.
So as not to make it either too obvious or too clich, our pre-proposal meal was a lunch date during a break in Lauren's class schedule. I thought it was a clever touch.
As we sat, enjoying our meal at Backstage Bistro, sharing stories that escape me today, I couldn't help but notice a recognizable face behind my girlfriend's left shoulder. The distraction frustrated me. I wanted to figure out my plan of action, not spend my time staring at an old man.
As I picked through my salad with an increasing disinterest, the elderly gentlemen sitting behind Lauren glanced my way and the disorganized thoughts in my mind started to fall into place.
"I think I know that guy," I said. "He looks like he's from England; perhaps he knows my grandfather."
It was a guess, one I realized was wrong, but the man did indeed look English - sharply dressed, neat, polite to the waitress.
"That's Eric Idle from Monty Python," I remarked, stunned at my own conclusion.
Lauren turned around, covertly examined the actor and confirmed my suspicions with a quick Internet image search on her smart phone. She was giddy and begged me to approach the famous comedian and talk to him.
I tried to resist, not being one to speak to movie stars, but I desperately wanted the afternoon to be perfect and didn't want to disappoint Lauren.
My walk to his table was unbelievably awkward, half shuffling, half strolling and with a unusual stutter, I addressed the Monty Python member right as he and his family began to stand up after finishing their lunch.
I couldn't believe that less than an hour before I planned to propose marriage to my girlfriend, I was practically stalking a celebrity. I had no idea that the most intimidating question I would ask that day would be, "Excuse me sir, but are you Eric Idle of Monty Python?"
Mr. Idle was incredibly gracious, despite my brief but rather inane questioning, and it was all over very quickly, leaving me with a concluding sense of completion, despite the fact I still hadn't actually asked my girlfriend to marry me yet.
Lauren, however, couldn't stop talking about Eric Idle. I had never seen her so excited. She couldn't wait to tell her teachers, her classmates; she texted her parents and friends about the big news and what happened to her at lunchtime.
Less than 40 minutes later, because I had rather regrettably planned the proposal about an hour before Lauren's next class, I tried to change the topic to flowers and poetry, and how beautiful Pioneer Park looked that day as we strolled under the shade of the towering trees.
It really was a magnificent day, and Lauren was on such a high from meeting one of her favorite celebrities I didn't mind sharing the spotlight with a comedic giant.
When I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me, she was completely shocked, as she had no idea it was coming. She said yes and remained in a state of joyous bewilderment for the rest of the day.
There was probably quite a bit of puzzlement in Walla Walla that day. I can only imagine the confusion when Lauren's parents received texts as we left the restaurant exclaiming how "the most hilarious thing just happened to me in downtown Walla Walla."
Martin Surridge, who studied at Walla Walla University, now lives in Georgia.