Eleven years ago, I found myself waiting at the beginning of a train platform at Kings Cross with my Mum and Sister, with butterflies and nerves dancing in my stomach. The train was from Edinburgh, and I was meeting someone very important, a kindred spirit. That August was the best August in my life, because I met the person I wanted to spend my life with. I suppose at age 16, you’re not meant to know with any certainty that you’ve met the person you want to be with for the rest of your life. Nobody can know what the future holds, but I was stubborn and felt that our relationship was something worth fighting for.
I have a lot of things to thank for bringing the two of us together – the wonders of the internet just breaking into its stride, a dear friend, an internet chat forum on a website called Bolt entitled ‘Movies’, shared interests and a tendency to be a night owl. This February will be our twelfth year together – and in December Dan proposed and I accepted. It was an epic proposal, a day that I’ll remember, a story to tell our kids and grandchildren. An epic proposal deserves an epic post all of its own – so bear with me! I’d always expressed a wish – like the bookworm I am – of getting married in a Library, and entertained vague notions of New York Public Library. So when we all went to New York in December, I think Dan hatched a plan to meet me halfway!
I woke up early on Thursday 20th December thinking that we were going to have a long day doing things we really wanted to do, because Wednesday had been a bit of a washout (there’s always at least one of those strange days on a holiday). I hopped into the shower, thinking that I was making good time for me – I’m notoriously slow in the mornings. When I came out of the shower, Dan was nowhere to be seen, but I didn’t sweat it because I assumed he had popped out to get a drink or something. I did notice that he’d made the bed though, and there was something that looked like a note on my pillow.
I think I realised something was up when I picked it up – it was a antique style envelope addressed ‘Liz’ and on the back it was fastened with a wax seal imprinted with my initials. At this point I was getting a little nervous, but it was only when I opened the letter and read it that I got into a bit of flap, realising that Dan wasn’t here and I didn’t know what was meant to happen next! He typed me a letter saying that he was sending me on a bit of a treasure hunt across New York, with clues and hints along the way, a kind of trip down memory lane in an unfamiliar city. He also included what looked like a cinema ticket with a quote on the back and a word spelt out in British fingerspelling.
The first clue was to head to the corner of 59th Street and 7th Avenue and to be there at 11.30am: ‘You will find this famous playwright taking a stroll with his peers in the ‘lungs of the city’, but to get there you’ll have to take the scenic route! You’ll find a ride waiting for you at 11.30am at 59th Street and 7th Avenue, but how you get there is up to you!’ The important thing to remember is that he said in his letter that my Mum, sis and her boyfriend were all coming with me, so I think I breathed a sigh of relief there. Basically, I flipped out for a bit and then calmed down realising that the whole thing sounded like so much fun. I grabbed my camera and snapped the view out of our hotel room window and texted my Mum who didn’t give me any clues and basically offered to get me a breakfast from Starbucks and bring it up to the room for me…
When everyone was ready, we took to the streets towards Central Park, because of course they are the ‘lungs of the city’. Our hotel was about a ten minute walk from Central Park. Matt and Sarah wanted to grab breakfast and coffees at Starbucks on the way (there is one on almost every corner in Midtown), so because we were a bit rushed for time, the three of them told me to go ahead, because sadly, I’m quite a slow walker. I reached Central Park and there was this black car on the kerb and I kept wondering if this was the ride but nope, when the other three caught up with me, we crossed the road to the park and ended up in front of a beautiful white horse with a white carriage – our ride!
The whole time the guide was pointing out landmarks but referencing them to famous movies, so it was quite an apt tour considering that Dan and I love films. In particular, he pointed out the building where they filmed Ghostbusters and the bridge where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet in You’ve Got Mail. Mum asked the driver if he would wait for a bit because we had to stop halfway through to visit the statue of Mr William Shakespeare – the ‘famous playwright’. He was looking towards the ground and I worked out that Dan must have put another letter somewhere around that area, and I was right – the letter was under the gaze of Mr Famous Playwright, covered up with some leaves. At this point, I think I had twigged that all this might be leading to a proposal, but I kept thinking – what if it was just a very romantic day out? Maybe just trying to keep my wits about me!
The second letter had a clue leading to the library – I got that straight away. What was so lovely about all this was that it was reminding me of when we first got together and we wrote each other letters and emails. I remember writing pages and pages and sending them on to Edinburgh, and it was always exciting to get a letter through the door.
So, after hopping off the carriage and bidding goodbye to the horse – whose name was Caesar – we made our way towards Fifth Avenue and the very long walk to the library. I don’t think we quite realised how long the walk would be – more than ten blocks – but there was plenty to stop and photograph on the way. The Fifth Avenue lights were stunning, and the angels with trumpets leading up to the Rockefeller tree were amazing. I think I was on such a high that having sore feet didn’t really register (until later…). Once we made it to the Library, I snapped more photos and we went inside. Dan had booked us onto one of the free tours at 2.45, so we had a bit of time to browse the bookshop beforehand and marvel at the staircases and the tree in the lobby.
There was even a large lego model of one of the lions that flank the steps outside (they’re called Patience and Fortitude). The tour was interesting, and even though my Mum attempted to interpret most of it for me, I just soaked up the atmosphere and took lots of photos. The ceilings in the main reading rooms are incredible – stars and clouds in hues of lilac, reds and pinks. The library is huge, an incredible Beaux-Arts institution. At the end of the tour, the guide, a rather smart gentleman with a bow tie, handed me another letter, much to the curiosity of the tour party. I swear he looked like Matt Smith’s grandfather (Dr Who fans, take note). I would have been awed to be able to come and study in this building!
This letter pointed me in the direction of Grand Central Terminal, in memory of all the train hopping we had to do for the best part of seven years whilst I either lived in London or York and Dan lived in Edinburgh. He also told us to stop by a chocolate shop called Li-Lac for some special treats. At this point I think we were all ravenous and it was the right time to get something to eat anyway. I gazed up at the beautiful ceiling, glittering with stars and constellations – such a beautiful feature. Sarah and I were a teeny bit grumpy (we can blame low blood sugar and a lot of walking!), so it was lovely to pick up a bag of chocolate from Li-Lac who were located in a market area just off the main Terminal area, and then head down to the food hall beneath.
We all chose our food and sat down to eat in the belly of Grand Central – a must for anyone visiting NY! I opened the next letter afterwards, which I found in the bag of chocolates. In it, Dan had included four tickets to the Top of the Rock, on the top of the Rockefeller – the alternative view to the Empire State (in which you can see the Empire State itself). He also said to put the four clue cards together to make sense of the fingerspelling – it spelled out ‘Dinner at Alison Eighteen.’ I had to arrange a taxi outside the hotel at around 7.45 to take me to the restaurant.
The Li-Lac treat was basically a solid Cat – made out of chocolate. A reference to Cats and Chocolate, perhaps? He also included a chocolate box for my Mum. I think at this point, even though my Mum still wouldn’t ruin the surprise by nodding when I asked her if, perhaps, this was a proposal (excellent acting, by the way), I knew it was leading to something like that. I just felt that I wished Dan had been there experiencing the day with us, because its going to stick in my memory as one of the best, most vivid days I’ve ever had. Just because it felt so personal and was everything I love about New York. If anything, it proves that you can pack a whole lot of sightseeing into one day if you want to!
The views from the Top of the Rock were pretty amazing. We were there when New York was all lit up in the evening, so it was difficult to take great photos of the Empire State (too dark, my camera kept blurring), but I managed to get a couple. I loved that we got to see Central Park at night too, a vast dark spot with glimmers of lamplight here and there. It’s always worth seeing a view of New York in the evening as well as during the day – this time around we went to the Empire State during the day (on our last morning). It was very romantic, and the only thing that would have made it better is if Dan was there himself!
Once I let myself in our room before I had to head off to Alison Eighteen, I found a bunch of flowers on the bed with a note saying: ‘See you soon! Dinner at 8pm. Lots of Love, Daniel xxx’
I had to quickly freshen up then dash downstairs to ask the lovely concierge to help me get a taxi in front of the hotel and make sure they knew where I was going. It got a bit mad with the doormen giving a hand flagging down a taxi but I got there in the end. I was probably about five minutes late and by the look of relief on Dan’s face, I swear he thought I’d gotten myself lost or something (!). The staff at the restaurant were brilliant and put us into a little cosy corner so we weren’t at the centre of attention (important for shy people like us). The meal was lovely, but a little heavy because I was kind of nervous. Dan handed me the last letter – a quote from Antoine De Saint-Exupéry:
Love is not just looking at each other, it’s looking in the same direction.
You know the rest – bended knee, a beautiful ring and lots of smiles. Then we headed back to the hotel and possibly drank too much in the hotel bar with my Mum, Matt and Sarah.
You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. ~ Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus.