I invited my then-girlfriend to spend the day with me at the Happiest Place on Earth, one of her absolute favorite things to do. What she didn’t know was that I had purchased an engagement ring and received her father’s blessing. In my mind, our day at Disneyland was going to be an epic memory and a defining milestone in our lives. And it was. It just wasn’t quite the way I Imagineered it!
Libby and I couldn’t have asked for a more quintessential spring day in Southern California, with a vibrant electric blue sky and cozy warm sunshine. After posing for a photo in front of the welcome garden and then skipping hand in hand through the tunnel to Main Street, U.S.A., Libby asked if we could stop at guest services to renew her annual pass. Much to her surprise, I decided to get one too. She was (and still is) a Disneyland super fan, but it was only my second time in the theme park.
Meanwhile, a small platinum circle of precious stones was quietly burning a hole in the coin pocket of my jeans.
“Be cool,” I kept whispering to myself, summoning an Oscar-worthy performance to keep from prematurely giving away my life-altering surprise.
Libby and I attempted to make dinner reservations at the Blue Bayou Restaurant, but it was already booked up. (There went Plan A!) “Try walking in around 30 minutes before they close,” we were told. “Sometimes they squeeze in a few extra people as tables are freeing up from the final group of reserved guests.”
As we joyously flitted from one attraction to the next, I was surreptitiously scanning for the best place to pop the big question. Then it came to me: Splash Mountain. In my mind, it would be the perfect setting to ask the love of my life to “take the plunge!” (The ride, which opened in 1989 at Disneyland, will close May 30.)
I don’t know exactly how long the wait line was (FastPass hadn’t yet been introduced), but it felt like an eternity between each step. As we inched closer to the boarding area, I kept rehearsing my proposal in my head: “Libby, life can be like this ride — ups and downs, moments of bright sunshine and dark caves, Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah days and briar patches, fun stretches and scary surprises. But no matter what life brings, let’s always ride together. Will you marry me?”
We finally snuggled into our section of the giant log and surged ahead. Here we go! But every time I attempted to launch into my proposal, Libby would interrupt with a gleeful “Look!” or “How cute!” or “Sing along, honey!” or “Hey there, Br’er Bear!”
About the third time I restarted my eloquent spiel, she said, “Why so serious? Enjoy the ride, honey.” I took that as a cue to leave the ring in my pocket and wait for better timing. (In hindsight, it’s a good thing I didn’t attempt to pull the ring out while on the ride — a log flume ride at that. If I had, it’s quite likely that her engagement ring would have ended up somewhere, like at the bottom of the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage tank!.)
With Plans A and B foiled, I started to wonder if this day was going to be the day after all.
Per the advice we had received earlier, we made our way to the Blue Bayou a half-hour before the restaurant was scheduled to close. My heart raced as I approached the host, still trying to maintain a calm, cool, confident façade.
My wish was granted. Thankfully, perhaps divinely, the host was able to seat us at a cozy table in the corner near the water, under a huge mossy tree, complete with magical Disney fireflies flickering nearby.
I could not have arranged a more perfect setting! We enjoyed a romantic dinner as a slow parade of boats from Pirates of Caribbean floated by. The restaurant started to empty out as other guests finished up before us, creating an unexpected window of privacy.
Between dinner and dessert, I mustered all my courage, got down on one knee in front of Libby’s chair and slipped the ring out of my coin pocket. But as I lifted it up to present it to her, it caught the edge of the table and dropped from my trembling fingers — and in a split second, her ring disappeared into the shadows.
I panicked momentarily but quickly regained my breath as my eyes caught a glint of light and I discovered the ring had landed safely on my thigh, just above my bent knee. Gulp! (Super big gulp!)
My heart and mind were rather blurry — as were hers. All eloquence gone, I started to stammer something semi-intelligible (which neither of us can remember). With her face aglow and eyes welling up with tears, she joyously jumped in and rescued me from myself, interjecting with a resounding “Yes!”
We exited the Blue Bayou just as Fantasmic!, the nightly live-action multimedia show featuring Mickey Mouse and friends, was about to begin on the Rivers of America in front of Tom Sawyer Island.
Although an enormous crowd had gathered, somehow a spot big enough for the two of us happened to open up right at the rail on the bridge over the line to Pirates of the Caribbean. It was an ideal vantage point. As I love to say, right after we got engaged, tens of thousands of people from all over the world cheered, fireworks exploded, epic music filled the air and goodness triumphed over evil. It was as if we were living in a personal fairy tale that picture-perfect May night in 1998.
Libby and I entered Disneyland that day as girlfriend and boyfriend, but we left as an engaged couple. We got married later that year and we’ve been together ever since, living our very own happily ever after.
The author is a professional public speaker, marketing/communications specialist, content creator, leadership development consultant and podcast host. He and his wife live in Orange County, where they are raising their two daughters. Find him online at mojoe.studio.
L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.
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