The short version
Catherine Cefalu proposed to me on May 2nd, in front of a large crowd of our close friends, and while it was not at all unexpected it was still completely surprising. I was astonished, in the best way. And needless to add, I said yes!
And now I will give you the full story in great detail. Brace yourself--I'm a great fan of both Victor Hugo and also the New Yorker, so there will be digressions.
In my first job after college, at a tech firm at the turn of the century, I remember being surprised learn that my co-worker had dated her fiancÚ for eight years. At the time it seemed excessive, but on further reflection I saw the wisdom. Since then, I've always viewed marriage as a celebration of an existing, long-established relationship rather than as any sort of "new beginning" or "embarkation"1. One of the benefits of holding this belief so publicly was that our relationship was always in the context of the here-and-now, and not some sort of lead-up to a future event. Whenever we first began talking about our own wedding (undoubtedly after visiting that of a friend) it felt safe to discuss because it was clearly off in the distant future.
Time passed, and as "eight years" got closer, the conversations became less theoretical. I made it clear that the precise eight year time frame wasn't important--more of a guideline, really--and Cat mentioned (as she was just drifting off to sleep) that if I asked her, she wouldn't say "no". That was in 2013, I think, so although the idea wasn't novel2 the venue was a total shock.
Live Action Role Play (L.A.R.P.)
"LARP" is a term that covers everything from five-year-olds playing cops and robbers, to 7,500 people fighting Tolkien-style wars, to a small group pretending to have an awkward dinner together (for more on this sort of thing, check out Scandinavian LARPing, especially the extremely cerebral "Dogme 993" games).
For the past two years, Catherine and I have been engaged in a mixture of the latter two styles ("Tolkien Fantasy" and "Dinner Party"), playing as part of a monthly game in which thirty to forty folks got together to play magical escapees from Fairyland.
These changelings we played had wings and horns and spells, but the focus of the game was squarely centered on the characters and not their magic. Ben, the head writer for the game, created it with a five-act structure where over the course of twenty-four monthly sessions he provided the impetus for our characters to grow and change, and to fully explore their fictional lives. It was a fascinating cross between a (very!) longform improv performance, a fantasy novel, and the very best costume party4 ever.
After two years of working on it, I can honestly say it's one of the most ambitious theatre projects I've been involved with. There were betrayals, redemptions, and further betrayals. Catherine's character, Tante Kletta, was murdered, returned as a ghost, and ultimately became the embodiment of the Abstract Concept of Home, Hearth, and Fortune.
The reason I mention all of that is because after twenty-four months of meeting every four weeks, it all ended on Saturday, May 2nd. And the last thing that happened in the LARP was a round of "nods". Unlike a traditional theatre performance, no audience was allowed to these games and so any one individual was only ever able to see 30 or 40% of what went on each night, at most. Nods are a way to share cool things that happen with the other players, and to specifically thank them for noteworthy things they did during the game. They are brief (in theory!) acknowledgments of the work that another player did, recognizing something that impressed you, made you laugh, or made you cry.
After going around the whole group of twenty players and hearing tons of heartwarming praise directed all around the room ("Thank you for helping my character come to terms with her past, during that one scene!", or "I really loved that moment when you said...", &c.) it was Catherine's turn, and she gave a Nod to me. Which was actually a little surprising, because we hadn't really gotten a chance to do very much together during the game.
The people in charge of the game had been alerted in advance, and so they made sure that Catherine was the very last person to speak. She said:
So first I want to give a humongous thank you to all of the STs and, well, all of you. You've made this not just a game, but a community. Over the last two years, I've made new friends, gotten closer to some of you who I already knew, and discovered new sides to some friends I've known for years. This has been a really special place for me. LARP gave me a great place to process some of my demons, to step outside of my life, and to learn new things about myself.
Playing Tante has been interesting in a lot of ways, in particular the kind of relationships she has with men. In case you hadn't noticed... they're incredibly toxic. She goes after exactly the wrong kind of guy. I'm sure she's not alone in this, eh?
And yeah, playing that was lots of fun. Occasionally traumatic and stabby, but fun. But the best part was this: at the end of every game, I got to go home with the exact opposite of that kind of guy. Benjamin... you're just great. I don't know what else to say... I am so lucky to have you in my life.
When I'm with you, I never feel broken. Even when I'm sad and crying, or angry and upset, even during those times, you are there and even just the simple act of holding me makes me feel like I'm enough. Also you're not an omnicidal maniac, so that helps.
We've been together almost six years now and it still feels new every single day. I couldn't ask for a better partner or a better friend. You're the Peter to my Harriet, the Saturday to my September , the BJ to my Hawkeye , and the overly complicated heist to my Leverage crew .
So we've both been moaning for awhile now that LARP is ending, and this awesome adventure that we've shared is coming to an end, and what will happen next. Well, I'd like to propose a new kind of adventure for the two of us:
Benjamin Apollo Dionysus, will you marry me?
And the Ring!
Getting a ring from Cat wasn't a surprise--as I say, we'd been talking about marriage, and she'd straight-up asked me for my ring size6. The timing and location were surprising, but so was the ring itself. And yet, oddly familiar...
Back in January she sent me a mockup of a "logo" for us. Two enmeshed gears, representing the fact that although we were completely independent, accomplished people by ourselves, "together we are an exciting and complex machine capable of feats we couldn't accomplish on our own". One of the gears had a Stage Manager's headset, and the other had a domino mask. I used photoshop to replace the generic mask with a vector image of one of the first masks I ever made and sent it back.
Whereupon, without saying a word to me, she sent my half of the logo off to a silversmith, who used a 3D metal printer to turn the design into a signet ring, which I will now be using as my maker's mark (and it can seal letters, too!).
1Which, for a while, was my go-to speech at weddings. I try to avoid mentioning it these days, just because everyone's heard it from me already.
2Because we agree that ambushing someone with a yes-or-no lifetime commitment question, especially in public, is emotionally manipulative and deserves a sharp rejection.
3 Not to be confused (but clearly an homage to) Dogme 95.
4For many players it was also a bizarre--and surprisingly effective--form of group therapy.
5My favorite comment from one of the other players, "Man, I didn't expect that. It was beautiful, but she kept going and going until I thought, geez, is she gonna propose marriage at the end? And then she did!"
6Which I unfortunately got wrong, so I spent the next several days wearing a size 10.5 ring on a size 12 finger. It's ok, it's getting resized as we speak!