On Friday, Dec. 1, 2017, after a scavenger hunt visiting important memories and places in our relationship, my best friend asked me to marry him. Needless to say, I said yes, and I am still a little bit in shock even over a week later. Now that finals are finally over, I am allowed to put my focus back on this and tell you all the story. Disclaimer, this is the long version. If you just want to see the pictures, scroll on down to the bottom.
I Had Other Plans
Before I say anything else, I just have to thank those who helped Alex make this whole thing happen. I honestly could not have been harder to deal with (it was unintentional, I promise)! Leading up to the weekend I was planning on attending a Petit Jean yearbook bonfire at our editor Kaleb Turner's house about 20 minutes from Harding's campus. It was a one-time event, and I was actually very excited about spending time with the awesome people I work with outside the office. Tuesday or Wednesday evening, I can't remember which one, my suite decided we needed a girls' night out before we all parted ways for three weeks of Christmas break. They decided almost instantly that Friday was the only possible night we could do it before break. Thinking they were crazy, I tried to explain to them that there would be plenty of time to do on another night so that I didn't have to miss my Petit Jean bonfire. They would not let it go, and I'm not going to lie, I got a little mad at them. After going to bed in frustration, I vented to Alex the next day about how ridiculous it was, but later in the week we finally agreed that we would just have a miniature girls' night before the bonfire started. Important to know later, that weekend we were also planning to go on a date on Saturday before the Judah and the Lion concert on campus and to go to my club's (Delta Gamma Rho) semi-formal on Sunday night.
When Friday arrived, a couple of strange things happened and the rumor of a ring ceremony for my club leaked. I thought for a second that the rumor might have been about me because my friends had been acting so weird, but after texting my friend Shelby (who turns out was in on the plan) talked me down, I had determined there was no way it was me. Not only was Alex supposed to be working that night, or so I thought, but there was no way that I wouldn't have picked up on any hints from Alex before today (literally y'all, he was an expert secret keeper with this). I usually can read him pretty well, and I had not picked up on anything weird from him throughout the week (turns out he just avoided seeing me anytime he was worried he would give something away).
After class Friday I went back to the apartment to meet up with the girls (Madison, Mackenzie and Morgan, also known as the Ms) and wait on Morgan to get out of class. When she got back, nobody was in a hurry to get ready. I was thinking, "Why are we not getting up and getting out to do something if we have so little time and they were so adamant about doing something on this night?!" Instead of pushing and ruining the mood, I waiting on them to get ready (they decided to put cute clothes on and took way longer than normal to change and pick out which pair of brown boots looked better — @madison). When we finally got ready to leave the apartment, Madison conveniently remembered that she was supposed to have gotten something from the resource center in the education building for semi-formal on Sunday, which she was in charge of planning. After they tried to convince me that there would be no parking spots, we walked to the education building only to realize it was closed. Turns out that was just their plan to get me on the front lawn.
Stop #1: Our Sidewalk
When we left the education building we went out the door that faced completely away from our dorm and our cars, but I followed. We started walking toward the cafeteria (better known as the caf), which is also opposite of where I thought we were going to be headed. After we stopped walking at one particular place on the sidewalk, they started talking about where semi-formal was going to be on Sunday. After standing there a few minutes, I looked down and saw it on the sidewalk. It was a heart with our anniversary date — "06-30-12" — written in pink sidewalk chalk, and it was clearly in Alex's handwriting. I looked up and I said, "Guys, what is this? What is going on?" Mackenzie asked me if I knew what that was and if it was a combination or something. I said, "Uh, no. I know what this is." After I told them, they all just kind of smiled and started walking back towards our dorm.
Stop #2: Our Swing
To say I was curious is an understatement. My jaw was dropped. They were obviously in on something and knew that was going to be there. Before I could think too much about it we took another detour to our swing. At Harding, there are bunch of cute white swings all over campus. As the saying goes, "Three swings and ring," meaning, if you sit on three swings with someone, you will get a ring! Because Alex is "a little stitious" (his terminology for being a little superstitious), we always sit on the same swing on the front lawn that is in front of the education building. As they led me up to our swing, I began looking around for something else to be there, but I didn't see anything. Then Madison pulled a note out of her pocket and handed it to me. It said, "Sit To Read." So I sat on our swing and opened it. The note contained the lyrics to the song, "Stereo Hearts," which Alex texted to me around 1a.m. on January 1, 2012, when he told me that he liked me for the first time. We had been at our youth group's annual New Years lock-in, and he was planning on telling me he liked me that night, but I had stayed locked up in a room with my friend Riley talking about life so he did not get to (sorry, Alex).
After the lyrics, there was a personally written note in which he reminded me of the date we had planned for the next day. He called these letters and surprises a teaser for our date and apologized that he had to work that night (lies). He also said he would see me later after the bonfire (which I still thought I was going to). After reading the first line of "Stereo Hearts" and immediately bawling my eyes out, I struggled to focus my eyes on the words because of the tears. When I made it to the end of the note my friends sat on either side of me on the swing, and asked me if I was ready to continue.
Stop #3: A Message in a Bottle
As I pulled myself together, the four of us got up and began walking back in the direction of our dorm, but we detoured yet again and turned toward the Lilly Pool fountain in front of the Admin Building on the front lawn. After walking an entire lap around the fountain, I realized we were looking for something that was supposed to be there; then I saw it. There was a glass jar that had floated to the very edge of the fountain. Madison saw it when I did and casually said, "I wonder what that is." I quickly responded, "I don't know, but I am about to find out." I walked over the bottle, rolled up my sleeve and reached into the fountain to get it. After opening the rubber cork top, I slid out another note that was only slightly damp. Once again, it started with song lyrics; they were a major way we communicated feelings to each other early in our relationship. This time they were from a song called "Rough Waters" that talks about a message in a bottle (hence the floating bottle) and about it being destiny that these two people were born in the same year, three months apart. We, being nearly exactly three months apart in age, always joked that this song must be about us. After those lyrics, he wrote a continuation of the first note, telling me that he wanted to take me back to where it all began — back to Robinson & Center, the church in Conway where we both grew up, met and "where our relationship with each other and God was nurtured." After figuring out that I had to wait until tomorrow for the rest I looked up at the girls, crying less than last time, and said, "Well, I am not going to sleep tonight. I have to wait until tomorrow." I then proceeded to tell them what it said because they seemed a little confused. After I asked them if there was something else they said no and decided we needed to go get something to eat.
We almost went to Tacos 4 Life, but, after remembering that I still thought Alex was there working, we promptly rerouted to Sonic. We pulled up to Sonic, and I texted my friend Carlie, who was going to come get me to go to the bonfire together. The girls started ordering food, but I didn't order anything since I knew there would be snacks at the bonfire. All the while they continued trying to convince me to stay and hang out with them for the rest of the night. When Carlie pulled up to the spot next to us though, Madison turned around in the driver's seat and said, "Megan, you really are going to want to stay with us tonight." They had not expected to still be in Searcy when it was time for her to come get me, so I see now why they were a little frazzled when she pulled up. After Madison said that, I am pretty sure my jaw dropped, and I realized that the date on Saturday was just a fake the whole time to throw me off. I got out of the car, and I walked up to Carlie's driver's side window, knelt on the ground, leaned on the bottom of her rolled-down window and said, "Carlie, I am really sorry but, I don't think I am going to go anymore. I think I might be getting engaged tonight." After saying it out loud for the first time it really started to set in, and I was just as shocked as Carlie at the words that had just come out of my mouth. I stepped away from the cars and allowed the girls to explain to Carlie what was happening. Carlie left, I got back in the car, and we pulled out of Sonic. "Here we go," I thought to myself.
Stop #4: Our Church
We pulled out of Sonic and headed towards Beebe Capps. Other than a few restaurants including another Sonic and the Small-Mart (Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market), the main thing on Beebe Capps Expressway is the interstate on-ramp. When we got onto Beebe I leaned up from my seat in the back and said, "Are we going to Conway right now?" Madison assured me that I was going to Conway tomorrow and continued driving. We got on the interstate and I waited to see if we would get off at the Conway exit or continue on to Little Rock, but, despite what she told me, we headed straight for Conway. Mackenzie started to DJ, playing some good jams but also some emotional love songs that really got me in my feels. I was looking out the window as it started to get dark outside, and I couldn't even sing along. Without warning, Mackenzie tossed a cluster of napkins to the backseat that fell in my lap like confetti. I just needed one napkin, I wasn't crying that much (yet). When we got to Conway, Madison verified where our church was, and I knew that's where we were headed.
We pulled into the parking lot, and there were so many cars there. I looked around, confused, looking for cars I recognized, but I didn't see Alex's truck. After making a couple laps around the church building and seeing a few children I recognized in pajamas, I realized it was Evening with Santa, an annual event at our church. Once I realized the cars had nothing to do with what we were doing there, I began to wonder why we had driven three laps around the building. "Are we looking for anything specific I might can help you find?" I said. After they tried to figure it out without telling me, they finally said, "Do you know where room 100 is?" I quickly responded with, "Well, you are going to need to park before we can find one of the classrooms." After we laughed that off, we parked conveniently right in front of the door we were supposed to go into. After I tried to walk to the front door that I knew would be open, telling them that the door by the children's classrooms is always locked, I realized once again that they knew what was going on, and I did not. So I went up to the side door by the children's classrooms, and, of course, it was propped open. We walked in. The hallway lights were off, but there was one classroom, the first one on the right, with the lights on and the door open. After Mackenzie peaked in and verified that was the right room, I walked in to see a collection of photos displayed on the short, children's table that only came up to my shin. In front of the photos was a traveler's baseball helmet.
Backstory: In middle school (I think) our youth group went to a traveler's baseball game. I brought my friend Sadie (pictured below), and somehow Sadie, Alex and I ended up hanging out the grassy area behind first base. It was such a fun day, and it is still such a clear memory even though we didn't really watch the game much at all that I remember. At that game, they handed these helmets to everyone who walked in, so we all had one. Alex confessed to me much later that that is when he started liking me (even though I already liked him, and that is probably how we all ended up together — Sadie and I schemed the whole thing).
Leaned against the traveler's helmet on the table was another note. If I wasn't crying when I saw the pictures and the helmet, I definitely was after I opened this third note. It talked about how we had grown up together in church, in a building that's four walls housed so many memories surrounded by so many people who loved us and cared for us. It also talked about how our faiths individually and together had grown since we began dating and the journey that we had been on together the last five years and five months. Instead of song lyrics, It ended with a passage from 1 Corinthians 13 about love.
After looking back at the photos I noticed something else sitting behind them. Something was covered with a piece of paper. I picked it up and it said, "Last Hint." Underneath it was a painting of a ferris wheel. In high school, Alex took advanced art classes and was (still is), a very talented artist. Several years ago, I asked him to paint me a picture of a ferris wheel at night with the stars behind it (I just have a thing for stars and the night sky). After having our first kiss on a ferris wheel, they just became a symbolic thing for us, and I wanted something to represent that. I gave him a canvas and everything, but he never did it. Honestly, I had let it go and figured he had just forgotten about it, but, no, there it was. The painting I had asked for on the same canvas I gave him before college. I looked up at my friends and said, "I know where we are going now."
Stop #5: My Fiancé
Every Christmas for the past couple years, Downtown Conway has been adorned with a large Christmas tree and ferris wheel. Since my church is also near downtown Conway, we were less than three minutes from our next destination. I didn't know if Alex would be waiting on me here or not, but I knew I was ready to see him. We pulled into the parking lot, and I saw his truck. Then I saw his silhouette standing on the other side. We parked right next to his truck, and, as I got out, he walked around to meet me. As soon as our eyes met I began to sob. I knew what was about to happen. He was wearing a white dress shirt and a blue tie that I had picked out for him during our senior year of high school. He hugged me, and we stood right by the car for a few minutes so that I could get a hold of myself. After he made me laugh, as usual, and I calmed down we walked hand-in-hand over to the ferris wheel and Christmas tree.
When we walked up, my first thought was, this line is really long if we are about to ride this ferris wheel, but then he said, "Come over here first." He walked me over to the base of the Christmas tree and all of a sudden our song, "Wanted" by Hunter Hayes, which we picked out when we first started dating, began playing. I immediately started looking around to figure out where it was coming from, but Alex just grabbed my hand and asked me to dance. Neither one of us are dancers really; at formal events and homecoming we always enjoyed the people watching and the slow dances more than anything. The other thing about this is that we have always been a pretty private couple. We have never been big into PDA, and Alex has always wanted to keep things between us as it should be. But that night, we danced in front of everyone who was there. I started crying again, then Alex made me laugh, again. We just enjoyed the moment and soaked in every second. As we danced and turned, I saw Caleb Mejia, one of our good friends, taking pictures, then I saw Alex's mom and my friend Sadie's boyfriend. As soon as the song was over, Alex pulled something out of his pocket and got down on one knee, and I said yes as fast as I could. I was crying so much it was just all a blur. Even now I wish I could go back and relive the moment again. After we hugged and both cried, the people emerged. My parents and sister were there. Alex's parents were there. My three friends who had been with me all night had followed us out there. My close friend from high school, Shelby had driven down from OBU in Arkadelphia to be there (also she is a liar because she talked me down when she knew the whole time), and my best friend from elementary school, Sadie, was there. When I looked up and saw everyone who was there, I just kept crying because I couldn't believe it was really happening. One of the first things my mom said to me was, "Why are you crying so hard?" and, honestly, I don't know why, but it was one of the best moments of my life.
After I said "Yes"
Once everyone calmed down a little, we monopolized the Christmas tree and took pictures with everyone who was there, including our personal photographer for the evening, Caleb (you are the best by the way).
Once we came back down to reality for a few minutes we realized Alex and I had not yet had dinner, but that we also needed to visit and call a few people and get back to Searcy for our ring ceremony to announce the news to all our friends. My amazing friends, who had already done so much for me that night, went and got Alex and I food while we went and surprised our grandparents who were in Conway. From the shock, tears, stories and impromptu "treat her right talks" from grandparents we visited and aunts and uncles we called, it was all surreal.
At Harding, we announce engagements through ring ceremonies. After contacting the president of Delta Gamma Rho (my club), we decided a time and place to tell everyone to come, but, here is the kicker, they don't know who it is that has gotten engaged yet. Alex then posted on his wall and told his club, who does know beforehand. As my club assembled in the Heritage lobby, Alex's club, family members and other friends (shoutout to my yearbook peeps who came) hid on the second floor. Walking in I felt like everyone was staring at me, and it honestly made me more nervous than the actual proposal. Those of us who were downstairs circled up, began singing our club song and passing around a candle with my engagement ring on it for everyone to see. It went all the way around the circle once, then, when it went around a second time, I blew out the candle, everyone screamed and all the people upstairs ran down to join in the celebration. I told our proposal story in front of so many people we knew, watched Alex get thrown in the fountain and I smiled from ear to ear the whole time.
Alex might not have slept much leading up to it, but I sure did not sleep much the nights following. I stayed up in my apartment with my friends until 3 and 4 a.m. just talking about how it all went down and the fact that it actually happened — just being happy together.
Honestly, I have never felt so much love in my life as I did that night. I can never say thank you enough to all the people who kept it a secret or helped make it happen. This will be a night I will remember for the rest of my life. Every time I have needed a pick-me-up these past few weeks as the semester ended, I just looked down at my left hand and remembered this night.
Here's to many more stories of my life with Alex Stroud.
Photo credits to Caleb Mejia, Morgan Baldwin, Rachel Ledbetter and Alex Stroud.