So last Saturday morning, James and I decided to go for a run around Prospect Park, as we often do on weekends. We got dressed in our running clothes, and I noticed he was wearing a jacket over his long-sleeved shirt and exercise pants. "Aren't you going to be hot in that?" I asked, since it was sunny and the temperature was in the fifties.
"I can just tie it around my waist," he said.
I shrugged, and we locked up the apartment and set out for the park. We stretched on the plaza just behind the farmers' market, then ran along the north side of the park with our respective iPods. (That day I was listening to the greatest hits of Bruce Springsteen: "Badlands," "Thunder Road," "Hungry Heart.") I was still transitioning back to running outside after the winter's treadmills, so I was determined to complete a whole loop without stopping to walk.
As we ran down the west side hill, James said, "You know, I think we should take this cross-country route my brother showed me." I said sure, and we turned left on the road that cut east through the park above the lake. As we approached the first bend, he said, "Let's go up this hill."
I said, "No, I want to do the whole loop."
He said, "You really should see the view from the top."
I said, "No, I've seen it before, come on."
He said, "It's a shortcut, just trust me on this." (Which I didn't, because I've been running around the park for at least as long as he has, and I knew that running up Lookout Hill was no shortcut.)
But we went up the hill, with me grumbling at climbing the stairs. ("It's good for our glutes!" James said.) The path switchbacked to the west, and I said, "You do realize that we're going backwards now, right? Not the direction we want to be going?" He just nodded and encouraged me to keep running. We went over a terrace and ended up at the circle on top of Lookout Hill, the highest point in the park. I figured we'd go round the circle and run back down to continue the loop.
But as we started around to the left, a man in Victorian dress and spectacles hailed me: "Hello, fair lady!" Cheerful greetings from people in eccentric costumes are not that unusual in New York, so I figured he was some kind of actor doing street theatre in the park, and stopped to hear what he had to say. James slowed down alongside me. The man in costume pulled out a scroll and read from it: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of . . . more fortune!" And he went on to deliver a speech liberally laced with Jane Austen quotes, all demonstrating his avarice. He ended by suggesting that we speak to his friend a little farther on, "Though I warn you--the stupidity with which he was favored by nature guards his courtship from any charms."
I felt both delighted and deeply confused by this turn of events, so I looked at James and said, "Do you know anything about this?" It was his turn to shrug. The next man, in similar costume and with a similar scroll, offered a similar speech, including "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love -- myself."
About midway through this fine peroration on his own charms, my brain started thinking, This has to be what I think it is. Is it? Oh my, is it really? This gentleman concluded by looking around for an additional list of his good qualities. James held up a scroll of his own and said, "Is this it?" The man examined it and said, "No, I think you should read this one."
And James did, quite nervously and sweetly. I won't share everything he said, but he got down on one knee (as mandated by my favorite movie), and he also invoked one of my favorite descriptions of marriage of all time, from John Stuart Mill's On the Subjection of Women, in saying that he hoped it's what we might have as well:
On the contrary, when each of the two persons, instead of being a nothing, is a something; when they are attached to one another, and are not too much unlike to begin with; the constant partaking in the same things, assisted by their sympathy, draws out the latent capacities of each for being interested in the things which were at first interesting only to the other; and works a gradual assimilation of the tastes and characters to one another, partly by the insensible modification of each, but more by a real enriching of the two natures, each acquiring the tastes and capacities of the other in addition to its own . . . When the two persons both care for great objects, and are a help and encouragement to each other in whatever regards these, the minor matters on which their tastes may differ are not all-important to them; and there is a foundation for solid friendship, of an enduring character, more likely than anything else to make it, through the whole of life, a greater pleasure to each to give pleasure to the other, than to receive it. . . . What marriage may be in the case of two persons of cultivated faculties, identical in opinions and purposes, between whom there exists that best kind of equality, similarity of powers and capacities with reciprocal superiority in them -- so that each can enjoy the luxury of looking up to the other, and can have alternately the pleasure of leading and being led in the path of development -- I will not attempt to describe.And with such a prospect before me, dear reader, I said yes!
James gave me his late mother's engagement/wedding ring, which was just my size; and the last week has been a flurry of informing friends and family, accepting congratulations, and starting conversations about dates and locations for the grand party we hope to throw for those same friends and family. (I'm from the Midwest, he's from the Bay Area, and we live in New York, so we have the entire United States open to us.) The two gentlemen in costume were friends of James's, unknown to me; James wrote the scripts with all the Jane Austen references to please me, featuring characters with defects (greed and vanity) that would highlight his own suit in turn--"classic literary foils," he says. He rented the costumes for them from a shop in Midtown.
Thank you for your good wishes, all!