Did he just propose?

Zahra Noorbakhsh

Zahra Noorbakhsh

When I pulled my car into the parking garage of our apartment building, I blinked twice. Standing in our parking spot, wearing a tux, was my boyfriend, Dylan, beaming and holding a rose. I blushed. I couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered our anniversary in time to get a suit, pick up a rose, and surprise me at the parking garage.

I got out of the car, kissed and hugged him, and then thanked him for the rose.

“You are so lucky!” I said, “I almost didn’t come home tonight! I was about to go have dinner with a friend. I would have totally missed your surprise.”

“Yeah,” he said, “that was terrifying. I didn’t know how to urge you to come home without giving it away, so I sent you on a grocery run.”

When we got into the apartment, he started unpacking the groceries.

“Let me find something to wear and then I’ll be ready to go out! Where do you want—” I abruptly stopped talking when I noticed the fancy dinner on the apartment complex’s communal deck.  The old wooden table was covered with an elegant red tablecloth and there was a centerpiece of roses anchoring it down, along with a fancy bottle of bubbly.

“Oh my god,” I swooned, “Dylan, look! Someone is totally going to propose. Look at the set up. That’s so romantic.”

“That’s pretty funny,” he said, “Same night as us. Well, the moon is amazing tonight. You want to go look?”

I have an obsession with the moon. Every time, I see it, no matter where it is in its cycle, it tells me that everything is okay. It’s a comfort to me to watch it. If I could set up a chair to watch its gray-blue glow sweep across the night until daylight, I would.

We walked onto the patio. It was windy and cold, but the moon was gorgeous.

Dylan walked right up to the beautifully set table and popped open the bubbly.

“Happy Anniversary!” he said.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The tux was chivalry enough. Dylan is not a chivalrous guy and I am not a girl who takes chivalry well either. My cheeks burned red.

You did all this?” I asked, stunned.

Then I noticed a notebook on the table. It was full of souvenirs from the shows that he had helped me produce: postcards and playbills he’d written for me, photos of all of the people we’d met at the New York and Hollywood Fringe Festivals. He had set out a collection of scrapbooking tools too.

“I thought we could make a scrapbook of everything we’ve done together this year,” he said.

He clipped a rose, pressed it and tried to glue it into the book. It didn’t work, but the gesture was so sweet that I felt like a squealing, swooning, gushing thirteen-year-old girl with her first love. The thought and care he had put into making the moment special made up for all of the missed anniversaries and birthdays, the cat scratch post birthday present, and the Peet’s tea bags and biscotti he had given me for our fifth anniversary.

This was everything I’d ever wanted from him. Even the bubbly – a fancy bottle of mineral water – was a surprise. Though I call myself “the alcohol drinking Muslim”, I rarely drink because it gives me reflux. Maybe the acid burning a hole in my esophagus is God’s wrath for all of the Cosmos and Manhattans I used to enjoy. Dylan doesn’t drink and we share a fondness for parties that come fully equipped with sparkling water for the non-drinkers to enjoy.

He even had a blanket ready for me, because I’m always complaining about how cold I am. Out of the Whole Foods bags, he pulled out four decadent courses, including a sinful flourless chocolate cake. We ate, laughed, scrapbooked, and watched the moon.

Then he became very nervous and asked, “Do you think we should get married?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “With Prop 8, it just feels wrong, but then some of my gay friends have mentioned that referring to you as my partner is a form of appropriating their struggle. I don’t know how I feel about it.”

The year before, while we were at the New York Fringe Theater Festival, Dylan was hit by a car and I had my purse stolen – all on the same day. It also happened to be the same weekend as Hurricane Irene. We tried to move our flight, but until I could prove my identity it was impossible to fly. What was even more difficult was trying to move Dylan’s flight because he wasn’t my husband. He was just another private passenger, according to the airline.

When I finally made my way to the emergency room after pleading fruitlessly with the airline, Dylan had already filled out the paperwork and signed off that he was ok to be discharged, but he was on pain medications and wasn’t in a position to advocate for himself. I also couldn’t advocate for him, because I wasn’t his wife. That situation had sparked our discussions on getting married.

The entire experience made us realize how intertwined our lives had become. We needed to be married, because in the eyes of the law, the only partnership that deserved benefits and the ability to advocate for each other was a married partnership.

“What do you think, Dylan?,” I asked him.

“I’ll say yes if you say yes,” he replied.

We kissed and finished scrap booking.

The next day, we walked into our couples’ counselor’s office and sat in the black love seat we’d come to see as our Monday night home. He asked us how our weekend was and as usual, Dylan waited for me to start the conversation.

“It was great,” I said.

“Do anything special?” he asked.

“Nah,” I shrugged, “You?”

Dylan was horrified. “What? What do you mean ‘nah?!’ I mean, wasn’t that enough? Is anything going to be enough?”

I was taken aback, but our counselor was leaning in.

“Say more, Dylan,” he said.

“We got engaged! That’s nothing special?” Dylan asked.

“What? What? What? Engaged? We’re engaged?” I spluttered.

The entire event began to replay itself in my head. There was no proposal. Or had there been? Was that a proposal? He proposed? I suddenly found myself wishing for some semblance of tradition: Dylan on bended knee, popping open the black velvet Kay Jewelers’ box, and saying the words, “Will you marry me?”

I felt nauseated.

I could see why I wasn’t sure if he’d proposed, but how could I have forgotten our anniversary dinner? I didn’t remember it until he had mentioned it, and then the images, smells, and tastes of the evening had come rushing back at me as though it they had happened months ago.

What was wrong with me? I felt like a jerk and a little bit crazy.

“Oh right!” I said. “The dinner! That was gorgeous, Dylan. I just didn’t realize you had proposed. I mean, we were just talking-”

“That’s what we wanted,” he said, his  eyes now desperate and terrified. “We said we wanted it to be equal. That we each ask the other. How could you forget that?”

“Well, now that you know,” asked our counselor, “What’s your answer?”

Was I being proposed to by our couple’s counselor now? Would this go down in history as the way that Dylan and I got engaged? Was I going to tell our children that mommy didn’t realize that daddy’s special dinner was intended as a proposal but our couple’s counselor had clarified it for us?

“Well?” pressed Dylan.

I didn’t know what to say.

To be continued in next month’s column!

Read more by Zahra, here.

Zahra Noorbakhsh is a Feminist Muslim comedian and writer. The New Yorker dubbed her one woman show All Atheists Are Muslim a highlight of the Int’l New York City Fringe Theater Festival, the largest multi-arts festival in North America. Her story The Birds, The Bees, & My Hole was featured in the groundbreaking Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women anthology. Her most recent one-woman show Hijab and Hammerpants is playing in theaters around the Bay Area. Zahra is also one half of the podcast GoodMuslimBadMuslim.com featured on PRI’s Global Nation, NPR’s “All Things Considered” and most recently, Tapestry on CBC.

To keep up with Zahra, visit ZahraComedy.com and join her newsletter.

Facebook: Facebook.com/ZahraComedy

Twitter: @Zahranoo

5 Comments on “Did he just propose?”

  1. I can hardly wait to read the rest next month !

  2. Keysha says:

    The answer better be yes. Otherwise…….

  3. Lara says:

    This is absolutely funny and charming all at once. Zahra, you write so well that I feel like I see the whole thing happening. Hilarious!
    Thanks for having the courage to write something that most of us have felt shame about – an unromantic proposal. This was important when I was 23, but I realize now that we’ve co-opted movies and adverts into our lives as practical reality.