Chapter Nine: Surprise
A month after Matty and I saw each other in Seattle, I was meant to fly to Africa. It would be the first work trip of my career, and I could hardly believe that it was to my favorite place in the world on the company’s dime. I was beyond excited, even though I knew it could be a potential strain on our relationship. Seattle left things feeling murky and there is only so much we could rebuild over Skype. Soon I’d be in Africa for three weeks, far from wi-fi or cell service, not to mention a literal world apart.
I began planning the trip, broke and unsure when we’d see each other again. It was a terrible place to be. Matty was also dealing with the issue of his visa expiration approaching, which meant his job would come to an end in just under three months. We were reaching a very real crossroads.
And then it occurred to me that sometimes in order to fly to Africa, you have to stop in New York. I e-mailed our travel agent in a rush, certain that I could at least afford that leg of the trip, should it change the initial cost. I was right.
One of the best things in life is surprising people. I know not everyone agrees, but that won’t stop me from doing it and doing it well. I count myself very talented at creating moments of surprise, whether it be coming home from college early and walking into my mom’s third period class, making a special cake for someone’s birthday, or simply saying or doing something strange and unexpected. I just crave that look in their eyes - and I think the competitive side of me feels like I won something. I won your shock! It’s a beautiful feeling.
Obviously, I didn’t tell Matty that I was coming to New York. I started creating the perfect plan instead.
First, Matty had been talking about getting a new tattoo for ages. I suggested he do it on the day that I was leaving for Africa (in reality, the day I’d arrive in New York), so that he’d have something to look forward to that day. I e-mailed the tattoo artist and told him that Matty would be requesting an appointment soon, and could he please make sure it would be within a certain window of time. He was a friend of Matty’s and was pumped to be in on the surprise. I then contacted his friend, Zach, who was going to accompany Matty to the tattoo parlour. Finally, I asked his co-worker if she’d try not to schedule him over the weekend and she wholeheartedly agreed. One Airbnb reservation later, everything was set.
I got off the plane and took a cab to the apartment I was renting, just a few blocks away from Matty’s place. In under 5 minutes was in the subway heading into Manhattan, unable to contain my excitement. Matty thought I was on my way to Africa already and we’d said our goodbyes the night before. I acted terribly sad and told him I’d be unreachable for several hours the next day but I’d text him once I landed at my layover in Chicago. Now, here I was blocks away from the tattoo parlour, texting him like I’d just landed a few states over. He was threatening not to show me his tattoo until I got home and I begged him to reconsider. I told him it might be hard to hide it from me. I kept on with the game and texted Zach to let him know I was nearby. Zach told Matty he was on his way but had to stop and pick up a surprise - Matty assumed it was beer.
As we got closer, I decided to snap a photo of the tattoo parlour and send it to Matty, just to mess with him. When I turned the corner I caught him looking at his phone with a confused jaw drop. Then he saw me. And I got everything I wanted.
Shock. Surprise. Confusion. Disbelief. It was perfect. I revelled in it and gave him a hug while all the cool, tough guys in the tattoo parlour looked on, thankful that I hadn’t walked in mid-tattoo.
Matty had a million questions before he sat down in the chair. It was actually my first time to see someone get a tattoo, so I was pretty excited. He was getting words written across his chest and trying not to wince too much or let any tears fall. I’d considered getting a tattoo with him but pretty much decided nope. Not ready.
From the second I saw Matty until we said goodbye at the airport it felt like walking on air. He couldn’t believe everything I’d pulled off and that on top of that, he didn’t have to work. We ate well and we ate a lot. Coffee shops and pizzas, burgers and pancakes - topped off with miles of walking, skating, climbing bridges, rowing boats, and chasing each other down piers. We visited the spot where we had our first date and the place where we shared our last meal - both of which had happened on the same day almost a year prior. I didn’t tell any of my friends that I was coming because I knew I’d get in trouble, so when we showed up at church Sunday and photos started popping up on Instagram, a lot of people were surprised. But my priority was spending as much time as possible with Matty. I sensed a big change coming for us soon, and I wanted to be 100% positive that I was ready for it.
New York City is magical. New York City while you’re in love is rainbows and unicorns and castles. When he took my hand as we walked through Central Park, when I didn’t even mind waiting for the subway because I was with him, when we found late-night pizza spots and watched the nights over Manhattan... It was exactly what I always dreamed of, back when I felt for certain that I’d fall in love in New York. I couldn’t believe that it had actually happened. I left New York with no regrets or final wishes. I’d come to terms with the fact that I had indeed fallen in love - with the city and my friends. It truly was enough for me. Sometimes I wonder if it was because of that peace and content that opened up the door for something amazing to happen. When I stopped reaching for it, stopped feeling like my life wouldn’t be complete without it, a New York City love story found me.
I saw how happy Matty was to have me there and I felt happy being around him. It was a simple thing, really. Find the one who makes you happy. And here he was.
We decided that I should take the train back to JFK so that he could come with me. It’s not an easy process - subways to shuttles with loads of bags - and I hated to think of him taking the same route without me. I felt like I couldn’t let him go. I felt it more than I’d ever felt before. I clung to him and tears fell from my eyes without trying. It was all very romantic - we had the most perfect time together in the best city in the world and now I had to fly with Africa, leaving him alone in an airport. I had to let him know how I felt before I left.
Once I got my boarding pass and had time to spare, we sat in the foyer until the very last minute. I grabbed his face in my hands and told him that I’d never been more sure of us. That this was forever and it was absolutely what I wanted. I cried and kissed him, a complete mess in my old sweatshirt, all the make-up rubbed from my eyes. We hugged until he told me to go and when I boarded the plane to Africa I knew that I’d just said goodbye to the man I would marry.
The only question was when.