Whenever I tell someone I'm engaged, the question of how he did it comes up... so, here you have it. It's long... but you'll understand why soon enough!
Every year, I try to come up with something unexpected and awesome as Tom's Christmas gift. As much as possible, I like to give Tom an "experience". One year, it was a flight lesson. Another, it was a trip to Vegas for Super Bowl weekend. So, for Christmas 2012, I felt like I had to keep the tradition going. After much research and deliberation, I locked up a hang gliding experience and a chance to take a couple of runs in an F1 racecar. I was feeling pretty awesome about my gift selections. I also picked up a little something for him to unwrap (a sweater, I think), since we tend to do the holiday gift thing twice - once Christmas morning with the Brookes family, then again Christmas evening with the Campa household (my mom's side of the family).
The last Sunday before Christmas, I decided to head to a Zumba class in Edgewater. As I left, Tom asked me to please hurry back, because he wanted to catch a spin class in Hoboken and would need our trusty chariot to get there. I did as he asked, and he left for Spin... then was still gone two and a half hours later. I called, then received a text back, that he had decided to get in a swim after class. This wasn't odd, so I thought nothing of it and went on with my day.
(That anecdote will come back into play later...)
Fast forward to Christmas morning. After a fun night at the Bertoni residence (another holiday tradition), I was excited to share what I'd picked up for everybody, and most of all, to tell Tom about his gifts. We went around the table, I announced Tom's gifts, and all was good. I noticed that I hadn't received so much as a card from Tom, but I wrote it off. We still had that evening to go, so no reason to fixate on anything... he couldn't have forgotten to even just write me a note, right?
The day goes on, we travel northward, and we celebrate with the Campa clan... gifts are exchanged. I tell mom about what I got for Tom. She asks what he got me. I shrug. She stays quiet.
Now, I wasn't bummed because I hadn't gotten "something"... it was more that nothing was even said - I had put a lot of thought and consideration into a thoughtful plan that I knew was special... and here I felt a little silly. I could have been handed just a card, but if thought went into what was written therein, it would have been enough.
Tom noticed my crestfallen demeanor, and said offhandedly, "We'll talk about your gift later."
O...kaaaay? Weird. Whatever.
So, Christmas came and went. We went to King Sauna (a wonderful Korean bath house that's not too far from home) a day or two later, and Tom told me that was part of my gift. A spa trip is always great - I didn't argue.
Another day went by, and Tom informed me that my Christmas gift was actually coming on New Year's Eve - he had planned a day/ evening out for us, including dinner at Le Bernardin in NYC, a restaurant I had been obsessing about for a while. We got all dressed up and headed into the city in the afternoon, so we could enjoy the relatively warm weather and walk the Highline. We walked quite a bit, with Tom constantly making me switch from one arm to the other - I thought it was funny, but whatever...
After a good while and a LONG walk, we decided to hop off in Chelsea and grab some sangria at El Quijote. (Tom was clearly doing his best to be on my good side - sangria is always a safe bet with me.) We had a few glasses... and before we knew it, it was almost time for our reservation. We grabbed a cab, and he rattled off an address... downtown.
This was wrong. We were in Chelsea. Le Bernardin was definitely in the opposite direction of what he'd just told the driver. I asked him what was up, and he said he wanted us to go have a drink at a place his buddy had recommended - it was really cool, and he wanted me to check it out - not to worry, we would make it up to Le Bernardin in time. From what I recall, we supposedly had a 6:30 reservation. It was 6:20. I was happily a few glasses of sangria in and in no mood to stress about this, so I sat back and let the driver do his thing.
Eventually, we pulled up and exited the cab in front of a place that had scaffolding erected in front of it, so I couldn't see where exactly we were heading. Tom led the way, pushing through a heavy, wood door, and we walked into the most incredible space - a carriage house with vaulted ceilings, filled with twinkling lights and black and silver balloons, and fitted with a long bar. There was a huge fireplace to one side, and a massive Christmas tree past the end of the bar.
Between the space itself and the festive holiday atmosphere (and the sangria... lest we forget the sangria!), I was pretty speechless. The hostess warmly greeted us and took our coats, and we made our way to the bar. We were immediately each given a glass of champagne, and Tom said that he had a confession to make - that he wasn't sure if we were going to make the reservation at Le Bernardin, so he had made TWO reservations for the evening... one at Le Bernardin, and one at this place, which he had on excellent authority as being fantastic. He asked if I was alright with our having dinner where we were.
At this point I was stilll taking the place in - it was really stunning - and yes, of course I was fine with it! But where were we? Tom nudged a business card over to me, and I saw that we were at One if by Land, Two if by Sea. I immediately smiled. This was a place that I knew was special to my mom and stepfather - they had celebrated anniversaries here, and I had heard how wonderful it was. Tom had obviously given this evening a lot of thought. The Christmas thing now made sense.
A short while later we were escorted to our table, and proceeded to have a flawless meal - from the service to the food and wine, everything was impeccable.
It was time for dessert, and in walked the hostess with a tray topped with a silver lid. Over the course of the evening, we'd had a small army of waitstaff serving us, but now here was the hostess bringing something out? This was odd. Something was up. She placed the platter on the table between us, and explained that it was something special, complliments of the chef. I looked up at Tom, and he told me to open it.
I started to hyperventilate.
I lifted the dome lid to find a picture from our very first trip, when we went to Walt Disney World, just short of a month after we'd met.
The picture was propped up on something (the box that contained the ring), and surrounded by white rose petals.
I can't tell you everything Tom said at this point... partly because I won't do it justice, and partly because I was hysterically crying (happily, but still). Poor Tom must have been on his knee, waiting for me to calm down enough to be able to hear him for...well... I don't even know how long.
I guess I'm just grateful he didn't give up on waiting!
Add to all of this that over the course of my hysterics, every other female in the room started crying. I'm relatively sure that we got a few guys in trouble that evening.
Now... remember the story about how Tom disappeared on the Sunday before Christmas? He never went to the gym. He had gone to see my mom and Bill to ask for my hand... and then did the same and met my dad. EVERYBODY was complicit. EVERYBODY knew. This includes Ibis, who was set to meet up with us later on and head to a party at my aunt's house with us. I have to admit that I was/ am impressed that everybody managed to keep the secret.
To this day, the biggest mystery to me is just how Tom got that picture out of our place. I notice EVERYTHING, particularly in the kitchen... and that picture's home is eye level on our refrigerator door. He'll never explain how he pulled it off... and I'm just fine with that.