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SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK



Love is a funny thing. That explains romantic comedies, but love is funny in that other way, too.

Forrest Gump says life is like a box of chocolates, but I maintain that love is even more like a box of chocolates: Not only do you never know what you’re going to get, but you never know when you’re going to get it, or who’s going to give it to you.

A lot of people spend their lives looking for love. A lot of people are unlucky in love. Me, I was always unlucky in looking for love. For me, relationships were like walking through a cow pasture – I only stepped into them when I stopped looking, and all too often they ended up stinking.

I think I like the chocolate simile better.

I’d been kind of burned out on the whole dating thing, and didn’t feel I had the time or energy for it. I was, however, looking for fellow fiction writers, and for that I took to the internet.

Turns out there are lots of fiction writers out there. I met one on a fanfiction writer’s site, and she met me, and we didn’t even know what each other looked like, and she thought I was a woman.

The road to love is a rocky one, indeed.

She was actually a team of two friends putting stories on that site, so in truth I met my love about as indirectly as a person can. I didn’t know she was female, although it was a good bet because most fanfic writers (and, I suspect, most fiction writers in general) are. She’s younger than me – I mean way younger – I mean WAY younger – and lives five hundred miles away, on the other side of the Mississippi River.

I’ll call her … let’s see … Emily Stroud. ‘Cause that’s her name.

She calls me Mustache. The mustache is one of the few things we don’t have in common, although soon she’ll own half of mine.

Fast forward three years and, oh, about 14,000 miles of wear and tear on three cars, 2,850 text messages, 8,382 e-mails, and 294,500 cell phone minutes. By now she’s pretty certain I’m a male, with the mustache being her first clue.

So, we’re like, you know, in love and stuff.

In love enough to pick out a ring together? Why, yes. I’ve spent most of my life telling people that taking the plunge usually lands you in that same place where you have to use the plunger, but in truth I’m kind of enamored with being enamored.

Now, you might say that shopping together for a ring wouldn’t be as romantic as springing it on her, and I suppose you’d be right. But Emily’s not a huge fan of jewelry (thank goodness), and we both wanted something that would suit her perfectly. In other words, we both knew I’d screw it up.

Also, men need that little push of shopping together, because the average guy has a little problem I like to call being terrified of commitment. The question of going to the “next level” usually sends men into a moment of frightened confusion:

“Huh? But – what’s wrong with this level?” Their idea of pleasing a woman with a ring is to, once a year or so, scrub away the one in the bathtub.

In other words, when left to their own devices many men just won’t get around to any commitment, beyond season tickets to the nearest sports team.

Still, I wanted to surprise her in some way. I hatched a plan to drive to Missouri secretly, with the ring and a proposal. My daughters and Emily’s mother were about the only people who had any idea, and I told Emily that I’d be unavailable that day, so she wouldn’t wonder why I disappeared for nine hours.

A week earlier she complained that she’d never seen me in my fire department dress uniform, so I layered on the surprise with the idea of dressing in my Class A’s when I popped the question.

Then, on March 5th, 2010, I drove 500 miles. I practiced, every one of those nine hours, a carefully conceived and prepared speech, which, once I arrived, I promptly forgot.

She knew I was coming.

Sometimes women just know. I was able to pull off the uniform thing, plus she wasn’t
home when I arrived so I hid the car, and when she got there she thought I hadn’t arrived yet. That was about the best I could do.

I led her outside, and had her stand by my car in a previously planned location. “This,” I explained, “Is the exact place where you were standing the first time I saw you, some two and a half years ago.”

At least, I think I said something like that, over the roaring in my ears. I did manage to get the ring out without dropping it into a river or something, which is far better than could be expected of me, and I did get out the “will you marry me?” part. The rest is something of a blur.

Now that it’s done, the only part I remember of the speech that I practiced for nine hours is:

“I’m a solitary person. I like to spend time alone. And I think that’s a good thing, because if I was one of those people who needed someone with them all the time you’d have to wonder if I wanted you just to fill some lonely hole in my life. The thing is, maybe I could live without you, but I don’t want to. I don’t know how many more turns around the Sun I’ll have in my life, but I want every turn to be with you.”

Not bad, huh?

Oh, and she said yes.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “But wait – isn’t this April Fool’s week? Is Mark trying to pull one over on us? Is he trying to top that big “moving to Florida” thing from years ago?”

Why, I guess you’ll have to decide that for yourself. But I’m going to have to work for the newspaper half a year to pay for that ring, and that’s not April Fool – that’s fool for love.

Comments

ozma914
Mar. 27th, 2010 04:50 am (UTC)
Happy to bring a tear to your eyes!

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