The short version of the story is this: I met a girl in 1987 who I thought was amazing. Fifteen years later, today, I kneeled on the uppermost knoll of a hill we’d bought together, and asked her to marry me. She said yes, and subsequently, we were surrounded by 85 cows.
Many people have taken part in the subterfuge over the last few days, between the dual-functioning surprise party for Tessa and Sean, and the selecting/buying/Fedexing of a ring that seemed elusive until the last minute. I don’t know when you decide you want to marry somebody; I think it occurs to you the same way that hiccups disappear – without total consciousness. I had inklings after our Pink House movie shoot that I would think about marriage if she and I managed to survive what I titled the “Electric Larry and the San Frantastic Road Trip,” a journey to be taken around the country between the end of production and the beginning of editing. Of course, September 11 and her father’s death intervened, and we ended up travelling more, under more somber circumstances, than we imagined.
The prelude to getting the ring was a three-month odyssey in search of a perfect opal necklace for Christmas. After looking in fifteen different states (and finally finding it in the French Quarter) I had a good idea how to get around a jewelry store. The initial queries took place at a custom jewelry shop in the East Village, but ultimately, the rings there were too contemporary for my tastes – they buried the diamond in a “today’s active lifestyles” setting that looked a little too Ikea. The antique jewelry store up at Macy’s had a gorgeous diamond, but it had dinky diamond brochette thingies on it, and it was really GOLD. I hate to be a snob, but there’s something about gold-colored gold that gives me hives. Fortunately an Indian woman waited for me at Fortunoff, who had the perfect white-white-white gold simple diamond. Sean said you’d know when you found the right one, and it was obvious.
Why does anyone get married? It’s the wrong question to ask, really; it should be “why do YOU get married?” I had to think very carefully about it, not for the obvious reasons, but because it was a situation I honestly never thought I’d experience. I never had a template for it, never fantasized about it, because I believed it to be unrealistic. I had way too many problems, was filled with too much loathing of myself and the world around me, you know, all the problems of ego and dorkdom wrapped into one. It was during my worst moments back in January, when I lay immovable on a bed, full of the worst sorts of dread, unable to eat for two weeks, in a full nervous breakdown, when Tessa said to me, “I don’t care how bad this gets, I’m staying with you.” And from then on, like everything else in our relationship, it just seemed as obvious as oxygen.
Many of the weddings we’ve attended seem engineered solely for their parents’ friends. Historically, marriages were mostly a business transaction for dowries, but it did purport one idea that I find meaningful: it’s a celebration in front of your community, who is then responsible for helping ensure its longevity. I like the idea of a brain trust consisting of my family, Lindsay, Chip, Scott, Salem, Rick, Ann, Jon, Bud, Kendall – and Tessa’s cohorts – who are there to help see you through. As Best Man of Sean’s wedding, I remember ushering him through his problems with Tamara, giving him deadlines for her behavior, getting him drunk when she finally took off. The same went for Scott (and hopefully, the upshot will be happier). I love the idea of all of us shaming, cajoling and joking each other back into occasional shape. I want to live the life examined. I want the possibility of having kids. I want to do it with Tessa, who, by all accounts, is pretty much the coolest chick on wheels.
And so the ring went from 54st Street to 26th Street by way of California, Fedexed around the country to avoid taxes. Of course, it ended up being the only Fedex ever to be “unsuccessfully delivered” – causing me, my Mom and Steve to lose valuable millimeters of our stomach lining. After the second try, I got it, and bolted upstate before Tessa got there, determined to hide it in the lone, hollow tree on the farm as a birthday surprise.
Last night, as I drove up the hill to the farm, I saw the tree – which has stood its ground for 50 years, despite being struck by lightning – knocked to the ground! What’s worse, the cows had come back to our land, suddenly turning our hill into a messy petting zoo. Tessa was due to arrive in an hour, which is past dark, so she wouldn’t see the tree, but how am I supposed to propose to her in the middle of cow poop with our favorite landmark sadly crashed to the ground?
So today, on her birthday, I figured I would do it anyway. I told her there was a surprise for her on the hill, and I brought a newspaper to kneel on. We trod up the grass, and it was then I realized that the tree, by falling, presented the most beautiful bench on earth. She sat, I genuflected, and I asked. The commotion afterwards piqued the interest of the cows, who all came running to see what we were doing. Chopin, being more Border Collie than Labrador, seized his chance for glory and began to herd like he’s never herded before. All eighty cows began to run, but since Chopes didn’t know where to herd them, he came running back to us, with all the cows after him in a thunderous swell. I’d just proposed to Tessa, and now our dog was going to have us trampled by a mad herd of giant milk cows.
Calmly, we spoke gently and the cows slowed, then quieted. We walked back to the house and called everyone we knew. It wasn’t until I heard Tessa screaming with Michelle that I truly knew how great it all was, that I was able to provide the kind of sister that Michelle never had. I understood how important this was to everyone else, not some pained, tortured decision of my own, and despite being such a dork, despite dodgeballs and iceballs, despite some wrenching desire to be perverse and self-sabotaging, despite an egoistic need to be so different and special – the most wonderful girl in the world said yes to me and it was okay, for a day, to be just like everyone else.
Tessa and I, post-proposal, trying to find our way out of the cows