A Ring, and a Conversation
This is the seventh chapter of A Love Story, by Julienne & Alan, ft Cancer (working title, maybe?) which is the love story that Julienne and I lived, if you couldn’t guess. In case this is your first time, the other chapters are listed below in case you’d like them in chronological order.
Chapter 1 – Meeting Julienne
Chapter 2 – Finding Julienne
Chapter 3 – A Kiss, and a Confession
Chapter 5 – Brioche French Toast
Chapter 6 – Halloween with Becca
(Before we launch into the next part of the story, I want to share a couple of texts from after Halloween about Becca’s backstory, It was something churning in the back of her mind for a long time, and it just cracked me up.)
Now that we were officially (although quietly – I told Allie and Christian, she told her mom, and someone who knew her guessed that very weekend that we were engaged and hadn’t announced it) engaged, it was time to get to work on our future. She started wedding planning after that weekend, reading magazines and updating her Pinterest board that she’d already had going for wedding ideas (apparently this is not uncommon). We had a week before our first ring-shopping foray, so she plunged into that, looking at and sending me rings that she liked. She loves leaf-and-vine motifs, so a lot of the rings she liked had a nod to those elements. The feeling of anticipation, the HOLY SHIT THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING sensation had a hold on both of us. All butterflies and longing and joy.
Rings weren’t the only thing being discussed. We started looking for a new place in Delaware to live with a six-month lease. I was on month-to-month at mine, but we liked the idea of picking out a new place that would carry us from January into the summer, after which we’d head to California. The plan was to gradually move her stuff up a little bit at a time, some things shipped, other things just brought up every time one of us flew up from her place. We started arranging walkthroughs and appointments and the thought of picking a place to live with her was almost too much for my heart to bear.
Another thing was kids. We definitely wanted them, but Julienne started referring to our first child’s birth as The Vaginal Wreckening. We joked about how much we’d blame him – our imaginary first child was a son named Huxton, because it sounded like the worst WASPy name of all time – for damaging her so much on the way out. It became a running punchline every time something about childbirth and the mom’s body would come up. She was talking to her sister-in-law about stretch marks, and even though I’d tell her I wouldn’t care (and I meant it) she would still say Fucking Huxton. Poor Huxton, according to our conversations, would be fed gruel and either sent to military school or chained to a radiator in the basement because of what he’d done.
It sounds terrible, but we had fun.
We also talked about name changes. She wanted to take my last name but felt weird about losing her own. Julienne didn’t like the hyphenated last name thing either. She struggled, because being a Gede was very important to her. She loved her family too much to no longer carry the name at all. I suggested a solution I’d seen other couples do which I liked. We could each add her maiden name as middle names and give the same middle name to our kids. She was excited that I’d be willing to take her name, and I was more than happy to do so. I was, and am, proud of who she is as an individual, but I was also proud to be brought into her family. We decided then that when we were married, she’d be Julienne Gede Edwards, and I’d be Alan Gede Edwards, and our children would carry that moniker as well.
(It’s taking everything I have right now to keep my composure. Our desire, then fight, to have children is a scar that runs heavy and deep in us both. It is such an unfathomable well of sorrow and loss and pain that I can barely contemplate it without breaking down. Even in therapy, we haven’t touched that subject yet. It’s too much, and right now it’s still about me getting up every morning and acting like a living person, and this subject is a sheer cliff overlooking a plunge into misery that I can only glance at, acknowledge is there, and move on quickly before things get too dark. It’ll take a bit before we get to it in the story, so I’ll have time to be better equipped by then. I hope.)
There was one last thing that needed to be addressed. Me. Specifically, my wardrobe. I joked about “my best acid-washed jeans” in an earlier chapter, and that is a reference to my atrociously out-of-date fashion “sense” (my fashion “sense” is that I sensed that there was something called fashion that I know nothing about). Julienne, bless her, was gentle with me as she broke the news that my clothing wasn’t exactly cutting edge. I was wearing the same stuff I did when I got married the first time, which was a *cough* bit of time before. One of her first gifts to me was a new pair of jeans that weren’t acid-washed. She didn’t want to dress me (total lie – she fully and happily admitted that she 100% wanted to dress me like her own moving and anatomically-correct Ken doll) but she thought it would be good for me to be a little more stylish (plus then she could show me off). For my part, I was more than happy to have help. I knew what I didn’t like, but I really liked the opportunity to get tips from someone who knew what they were doing. She created a Pinterest board for me (she named it Alan’s Flashin’ Passion for Fashion because she is the absolute best at everything, including names) and would post things that she thought I’d like.
Julienne taught me what a Henley was, and a quarter-zip, and that tucked-in t-shirts are bad, and sweaters can be a good thing (I literally owned none), and a lot more. The only thing I would not countenance was wearing a sweater-vest. No matter how much she tried. I wore sweater vests as a kid. I think they are the worst goddamn thing ever. A sleeveless fucking sweater. They look so goddamn ridiculous to me. Never in my life did I have a moment where my arms were not cold but my chest was. My torso does not need more warmth than my arms. Plus they look like complete dipshit golf-humper dreck. Not only did I let her know that I would never accept a sweater vest, I also vowed that I would never let our son have one either. That’s how passionate I was, and am, about my disdain for sweater vests. (She would eventually get me to concede that I would allow her to get one sweater vest for our son. Then it became one at any given time. We both knew I’d let her do whatever she wanted, but it was fun to pretend I’d choose the sweater vest as my hill to die on.)
Those conversations filled the interminable time between Halloween and our ring trip. After seven Ice Ages came and went (every day felt like one), we boarded a train to New York City, a place on my top 5 list of Places I’d Almost Rather Die Than Have To Go To (seriously. I hate cities, and I hate that one more than any other on Earth. I will not bother explaining why, but if you’d like to know, come to the house, pour some wine, and I’ll happily expound on my feelings about it). Being with Julienne, though, made the trip not just bearable, but a complete joy. She taught me how to use the subway (I knew basically how it’s done, but cities like making basic things hard for outsiders, to give the residents a feeling of superiority to the *sniff* tourists *sniff* much like local DC Beltway drivers actively make life harder for people who don’t know how to navigate their hellscape highways) and we headed straight for the first place on the list, a place that had a ring she really liked online.
Greenwich Street Jewelers. I can still see the whole place in my mind’s eye. It’s a small place and we weren’t the only prospective couples in there, of course, so we had to resist the urge to toss people aside to get to what we were looking for. They had a ring design that she liked, so it’s the first thing we tried. It looked perfect. The ring had a large central diamond flanked on each side by three leaf-shapes with little diamonds in them, fitting into her desire for a leaf or vine design. We really liked it, but wanted to be careful about not choosing the first thing we saw. We talked to the jeweler (Christine, who was an incredible person to work with) about antique diamonds and other elements that Julienne wanted. She took a picture of it on her finger, but we made ourselves leave to see the rest, because you never know what spectacular thing may lie just around the corner.
Yeah, it was a complete waste of time.
We looked in other places, tried on two dozen rings, but nothing, absolutely nothing, sparked the same level of instant perfection the very first ring had. I knew I wanted the first one, but I kept trying to stay neutral, not wanting to sway her thoughts on it at all. It was pointless, because, as Jules always said, we shared one brain between us, we both knew we were going to go back and order that ring, and yet we had to go through the motions of looking. After two stores we gave up the pretense. We raced back to Greenwich St, ordered the ring, chose an antique diamond, cried happy tears, then had to resign ourselves to the fact that we had to wait for it to be mounted, and left to find some champagne. We still couldn’t tell anyone we were engaged, since we wanted to wait until after our friends’ engagement party happening a week later. They wouldn’t have cared (they are amazing and awesome people) but Julienne always had a sense of what was, to her, socially proper, and having people asking us about our engagement at our friends’ engagement party fell into the Very Not OK part of proper. So we found ourselves at The John Dory Oyster Bar, sat at a counter looking out a window, toasted each other, and had to content ourselves with a grainy picture (it was dark, and selfies in those days weren’t as good) and a vaguebook post on social media.
(It’s still one of the happiest memories of my life. God, the intensity of our feelings, the excitement, the way we could see how incredible happy the other was when we looked into each other’s eyes, the shivering anticipation of it all was just so intense. I wish I could go back with her right now, just sit in the same spot and hold her hand and kiss her and see the joy in her eyes again. Fuck fuckfuckfuck I hate this so fucking much.)
(Sorry about that. That took a few hours to come back from.)
So we’d found the engagement ring but had to wait for it. The final proposal (having three separate proposals would prove to be very on-brand for us as a couple) would be determined at a time and place of my choosing after the ring arrived. This way, I could “surprise” her and do something romantical with the ring. Of course, that meant anxiety for me, because my bride-to-be had already demonstrated a level of thoughtfulness, vision, and execution with the Dothraki Love Nest that I could never achieve (I never did, not even close). That meant we didn’t want to tell everybody until the actual, final ring presentation was made.
Now, if you know Julienne, you know she doesn’t do well with surprises. It’s not that she doesn’t like them. Oh no. She fucking adores them. They make her so happy that she can’t keep them a secret, which is not exactly helpful for surprises. This is related to another thing about Julienne. She expresses joy in a way and to a level that I’ve never seen anyone over the age of, like, 8 demonstrate. Joy makes her eyes go wide, her mouth opens, and the emotion shines from her in a way that is beautiful and utterly contagious. That was why she was so bad at keeping surprises a secret. If she had a happy secret, the fact that she did leaked out of her and the strain of trying to hold it in was too much.
Mind you, that’s for surprises from her. You can only imagine what it’s like when she knows there is a surprise coming to her. But that’s for later.
So keeping the engagement a secret was very difficult for her. We were so happy we wanted to scream about it, as demonstrated in our texts:
As I said before, her mom already knew. Julienne needed to tell someone or explode. She told her mother, though, not to tell her dad. Not because he wouldn’t like it, but because she was terrified that he’d have to tell someone else. I strongly believe that Jules got her inability to suppress true joy comes from her dad, who – behind the intimidating façade – is a gigantic big-hearted teddy bear. He and Jules both express joy in very similar ways, and it’s freaking adorable. So she was worried that he’d be unable to keep the secret for long.
After we picked out the ring, though, she felt bad about him not knowing, especially since her mom knew. The days before we got the ring, I was thinking about how to tell him. Jules and I hadn’t spoken about it yet, but I was pondering if I should do the old traditional “talk to the father about the prospect of marriage.” I mean, we were getting married no matter who liked it, but I wanted him to know that I had a great deal of respect for him. I have a much easier time expressing myself to women – again, raised by my mom, trust issues with men – but I thought he might appreciate that I was willing to sit down with him, one on one, and talk to him about it.
So, on the 10th, when Julienne said I’ve been thinking, we should tell my dad, but swear him to secrecy on pain of death (that last an actual quote), I told her I’d been thinking about it too, and it led to this exchange:
Julienne was coming back up on Friday for Gabe and Savs’ engagement party on Saturday, so that was perfect. She made the moment happen as Jay and I were sitting together at their kitchen table. Jules made some kind of excuse that she needed her mom to help her with that seemed painfully obvious as a pretext to me, but I was wound up and nervous anyway so he could probably already tell that I was either going to say that we were getting engaged or I was going to try to borrow money from him. I was about to find out which of those questions he’d have rather gotten.
(Fun fact: Jay told me a story recently. He said that when he and Sharon came to Miami for the Time for Three concert, after hanging with us for a while he turned to Sharon and said, “What’s this guy’s name?” He told me that seeing how happy Julienne was around me meant that he’d have to “try to remember the name of this one” since it looked like I’d be sticking around. I love that story.)
So I’m sitting there, and now my gut is tighter than an accountant’s purse strings (I am one, and they’re tighter than a Puritan’s ass at a burlesque show) and my palms are sweating and I’m thinking to myself I’m about to tell this man that I am going to be marrying his only daughter and we’ve been dating for two months and I’m sixteen-and-a-half years older than she is (luckily, I’m still closer to Julienne’s age than I am to his – barely) and she’s still in law school and he barely knows me and we’re in a pretty remote area and no one would know if I was buried somewhere in one of these fields and oh boy good god we’ve been sitting here not saying anything for 47 minutes and if I sweat anymore I’m going to self-mummify and then, a minute or so after they leave the room I start talking. I want to talk to you about something. I love Julienne very much, and I intend to marry her. I’m not asking for your permission, because we both know how she’d feel about that (he laughed and nodded, good sign). I am asking, though, for your blessing.
That what I remember saying. In reality I may have mouse-squeaked something like iloveJulienne iwannamarryherifthatsokwithyouthankyou but I think I didn’t, because he shook my hand and said that I would be welcomed into the family. It was an immense relief to me. Julienne and Sharon came back in and I think we may have had a little toast to celebrate. We still had to keep it under wraps, since we still hadn’t gotten through the engagement party of our friends yet, but her parents knew.
Jules and I went to help set up the party, including making a dispenser filled with Manhattans (which would be echoed in a major, and incredibly uncomfortable, way down the line at their wedding). I got to meet Savannah’s sister Charlotte there as we celebrated the happy couple (Savs, Gabe, and Charlotte are three of the nine people that have taken care of me and keep me going every day now. After this, there would be two more people that Julienne would bring into my life that make an immeasurable difference in how I deal with this phase of my life) and then, after the party, Julienne was able to tell them that we’d gotten engaged as well. They rolled their eyes at our desire to wait until after their party but they were happy for us. At least now Jules could plan her wedding at the same time as her best friend (American edition).
So, we had a ring picked out, our closest friends and her parents knew we were getting married, and things were clicking along. You’d have thought that being engaged would make the whole distance thing easier. Maybe we wouldn’t pine for each other as much. Maybe things being more formalized would ease the heartache of being separated.
Yeah. Fat fucking chance.
The next run of weeks would be tough and joyous. She had finals to do, but then Christmas was coming and Julienne loves Christmas (she would “sing” carols to me via text) and she’d have an extended break. We’d ordered a wooden Advent tree with 25 little drawers and planned to make gingerbread houses (I’d never done that before). So it was a blend of earnest heartfelt yearning and explosive joy at the fact that we were going to marry each other. And we almost had a ring to prove it.
(One of the texts from this period stood out to me as I looked at them today. I had asked for information of hers to designate her as my life insurance beneficiary, and I said that I didn’t have a beneficiary before.
It makes me so sad that it wasn’t true. Julienne never cared about my age, except that she would sometimes worry about our kids losing their dad at a young age. She would say to me all the time, until her diagnosis, “promise me you won’t die.” I would promise her that I wouldn’t, every time. I think about that sometimes now, and in a way I guess I kept that promise, but in the most meaningless and cruel way that I can imagine. Every day for the last four years I’ve wished it was me, and I’ll wish that every day for the rest of my miserable span of existence.)
OK, I don’t want to end on such a downer, so here is an absolutely adorable picture of Julienne and me as we helped prep for the engagement party. The apron says Jesus ❤ BBQ, which still cracks me up. Also, note how well-dressed and groomed I am. I even wore a sport coat later. Jules worked her magic on my wardrobe pretty damn quick.
Love you guys. *finger guns*