The morning of December 16, 2015, I rolled out of bed feeling that it was going to be SPECIAL. Have you had those days when you just feel like something awesome is going to happen to you but you don’t know what it is? That was me. Other than the fact that it was my 21st birthday, I had a tingly feeling in my stomach that it was going to be more than a normal birthday. I made sure to put on a little more makeup than normal when I strolled off to work that morning and even straightened my hair. I refused to begin my 21st birthday morning looking like a zombie. When I stepped out of my bedroom door, my eyes grew wide at the colored balloons scattered all over the apartment and the Christmas lights that my roommates had ready to surprise me.
I clocked into work and noticed a large cookie cake that said “Happy Birthday!” on it in pink icing from my boss. Of course, I had to take a picture with it before I devoured it along with everyone else coming in to work at the greenhouse.
I realized that my Driver’s License needed to be renewed while I was at work, so I hurriedly clocked out and scurried off to the DMV. After the fastest DMV service I have ever experienced of just 15 minutes, I was granted a brand new sideways license claiming that I was in fact 21 now. The speedy DMV service said it all: today was far from an ordinary day. I returned back to work for a couple more hours, and then, changed clothes for a Christmas party in my class (yes, we still have Christmas parties in college because my college is the best). I grabbed the cake that I baked and skipped to class with a huge smile plastered on my face.Walking into class, I was greeted with “Happy birthdays” from my friends and classmates and happily plopped down in my desk. Brad, my boyfriend at the time (now fiancé), sat in the desk beside me as his designated spot. We were told by the professor that we could start eating when all of my classmates arrived with their dishes. A couple of my friends disappeared out of the class for a few minutes, and when they returned, Kayla, a close friend of mine, was carrying a dozen cupcakes with candles on top and started singing. Being a slightly emotional person (okay, maybe a really emotional person), tears welled up in my eyes. The time I spent on my makeup that morning was the only reason no tears escaped because I thought, “YOU ARE WEARING MASCARA. You can’t do this right now.” In that moment as the entire class and my friends and boyfriend sang to me, I became overwhelmed with gratefulness of the people in my life which you know, explains the tears. I blew out the candles with a wish and thanked them for taking time to do this for me.
As we were eating the food dishes that everyone brought, Brad moved quickly outside in the middle of his meal for a phone call. I thought nothing of this since he received phone calls from many people all hours of the day. Clouds were forming outside, and rain appeared that it could fall any second. The class started mentioning how it looked as if bad weather was moving in to stay for a little while. Brad returned to his seat with a worried look on his face. I asked him if something was wrong and who called him, and his answer was followed by a nervous smile. I continued eating my meal, and my classmates began leaving one by one with their dishes until it was mainly me, my friends, and Brad left in the classroom with thunder rolling outside. I grabbed my cake and headed downstairs with my friends behind me. I asked Brooke, one of my best friends, if she would curl my hair for me. I told her I wanted to dress up for the date that Brad had planned for us that night, and without hesitation, she said she would gladly curl my hair. Because I was a fresh 21, I desired to look like I was 21 and not any younger which resulted in me choosing a red topped dress with a black polka-dotted bottom and flats. Normally, I NEVER wear a dress on a date, but that day felt beyond special. I wanted for Brad to notice how long I spent on getting ready for the birthday date because to me, it screamed, “I have been waiting for this all day!” Brooke curled my newly cut short hair in about 30 minutes filled with conversation that only the best of friends can have. With one hour and a half left before Brad would pick me up for our date, I decided that since I had nothing else to do, I should spend more time on my makeup. I did basic makeup that morning, but I knew that I could add more to change what he was used to seeing in class on a regular basis. I have no shame saying I spent a full hour on my makeup. Let me remind you that I NEVER do this.
With a half hour of sitting around wondering what I could do and nervously waiting for Brad to pick me up, I finally received the long awaited text message that he was outside of my apartment waiting for me in his truck. I bounced down the stairs to notice that the rain had ceased, and in its place, was a chill in the air. I opened the door to greet Mr. Prince Charming who had changed into nicer clothes for our date. I recognized that he was playing those mushy country love songs which was not out of the ordinary, but I also noticed he was smiling more than usual. He grabbed my hand, and that’s whenever I started asking the same question over and over. “So where are we going?”
“It’s a secret.”
“That doesn’t tell me anything. Where are we going, Brad?”
“You’ll see when we get closer. I was going to change these blue jeans, but these were the only clean ones I had.”
“They look fine, and it honestly doesn’t matter.” (Since when has he ever cared about his clothes around me?)
He drives past the road to go to the movies.
“Can you please tell me where you are taking me? We aren’t going to the movies?”
“No, it’s a surprise.”
Then, he passes by all of the nicer restaurants in town.
“Brad, where are you taking me?”
“Okay, so do you remember way back when I carved our names in a tree?”
“Well, I saw this thing on Pinterest where a couple would take a picture by a tree with their names in it every year on their anniversary. I thought that I would take you to the tree I carved, so we could start taking pictures by it.” (Note: TOTAL LIE, but it’s okay)
“Oh! That’s so cute! I like it. I was thinking that we were going to the movies and out to eat or something.”
He turned in on a paved road and entered the gates of Lincoln Parish Park. He paid the lady at the toll booth. Clouds still loomed overhead creating a slightly darker evening than normal at 4:15, but they were beginning to stretch out leaving room for blue sky to peek through them.
“Emily, close your eyes. Do not peek. If I see you peeking, I’m going to blindfold you.”
I shut my eyes tightly and squinted them hard, so he could see I was serious about keeping them closed. “Okay, they’re closed, and I promise, I will not peek.” I felt the truck move over bumps and holes while turning every so often.
“Are your eyes still closed? Don’t make me close them.”
“Yes, my eyes are closed. I’m not looking.” The truck lurched to a stop, and the anxiousness continued to build inside of me.
“Alright, I’m coming around the truck to get you, okay? You can’t open your eyes.”
“Okay, Brad. I’m not opening them.” I started giggling at this point because of how many times he was telling me to keep my eyes closed. The door creaked open, and he repeated the same phrase again but added, “Be careful. It’s kind of wet out here.” He held my hand as he lowered me down from his truck. I started smiling as he led me from the pavement to wet leaves.
“Are we there yet?”
“No, but we are almost there. We have just a little longer to go.” I gripped his hand tightly and his arm with my other hand because I was scared of falling or stepping in a hole. Regardless of that thought going through my mind, I was full of excitement and a billion questions of how he was able to keep anything a surprise from me, but I remained quiet and followed him.
Finally, I heard him say, “Open your eyes.” In front of me, was a large banner stretched between two trees that read “Memory Lane.” It was filled with embarrassing pictures of me and pictures of Brad and I on our many dates that we shared. I leaned on him and held back tears.
“Oh my gosh, Brad. This is so sweet.” I may have said that approximately ten times throughout the next few minutes, but I think my point was made clear. I focused my attention from beyond the banner to the pathway of pictures hung on trees. I seriously could not believe the amount of time and work that he put into making this for me. He brought my attention back to the banner that was directly above us to transport us back in time.
We walked underneath the banner to begin our stroll through this memory lane that he created of our time together. The song, “Die a Happy Man” by Thomas Rhett played somewhere in the woods which astounded me as I was trying to find the source of the music when we began walking under the banner. I thought to myself as we were walking to the first tree with a picture in a frame, “Is this what I think it is, or is this just a special birthday surprise?”
We reminisced on each moment hung on a tree. All of a sudden and half-way down the pathway, Brad reaches to his shirt pocket and exclaims, “Oh crap, I uh forgot my phone! Let me go back to the truck and get it. Just wait here.” When Brad turned around and started up the hill to go to his truck, I stood there shivering a little not able to process what was happening other than what I thought might be happening.
I shoved the notion out of mind not wanting to bring my hopes up because he literally told me that he forgot his phone in his truck which is what we needed for a good picture. I watched him slowly step down the hill to meet me again. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s okay.” He grabbed my hand, and we continued our journey down the slippery memory lane. We jumped over a large puddle and approached the pavement. I saw what looked like people under a blanket on a bench in the distance, but I did not think anything of it except that they may be having a romantic moment at the park although I thought it was strange. My brain was scattered, and my thoughts were not coherent at all since my only concern was what was happening to me.
Brad held onto my hand and led me to the last couple of pictures, and then, brought me to a tree overlooking a lake. I turned towards the tree with our names carved carefully into the wood, candles lit on the side of it, and a small piece of paper nailed to the tree below our names that said, “To be Continued…” I reached for the paper and asked if there was anything on it, but when I moved to face Brad, he was down on one knee. I gasped for air, and every single thought left from me. He asked, “Emily, will you continue making memories with me? Will you marry me?”
I hunched over with my hands clasped in front of me looking at the ring sparkling in a black box. I said quietly, “Awwww, yeah!” He slid the ring on my finger, and with that, he stood up to embrace me in a hug.
Now, the funny part about this is that I was wearing red lipstick (once again, extremely rare), so when I kissed him, there was a big, red lipstick print on his lips in which I tried to rub off. I heard the clicking of a camera behind me and saw a bright flash. I turned around and Romeo, Brad’s best friend, stood before me in camouflage holding a camera. I looked past Romeo to see Brad’s mom and dad with the blanket I spotted earlier to tell us congratulations. Then, Hunter, Brad’s brother, emerged from the woods with a video camera. Of course, a couple hundred pictures were taken afterwards. I was excited to say the least, and my heart was beating to a happy rhythm.
Romeo piped up, “Brad, did you really forget the ring?”
He laughed and said, “Yeah, man, but when I told her it was my phone, she believed it.” I laughed so hard when I realized he forgot the ring in the truck instead of his phone.
Once all of the pictures were taken, we returned to Brad’s truck, and I called all of the family I could possibly think of and texted all of my friends as Brad drove us to celebrate at a Mexican restaurant. We stayed in the truck together for 15 minutes calling everyone, and we walked in to the restaurant together as an engaged couple. Brad led me to the back of the restaurant, and when I rounded the corner, I could not believe what I saw: friends from near and far were seated at a large table together waiting for our arrival. Everyone popped out of their chairs to see the ring and wish us congratulations. My roommates, my State Officer teammates, and Brad’s family surrounded me.
I was beyond surprised yet again. Brooke planned the surprise party, and she handed me a gift that had “Mrs. Cooper” written on it. Ralynn, another one of my best friends, was there to celebrate with us as well after driving such a long way for us. After I received my plate of enchiladas, had whipped cream slapped on my nose, and had a sombrero put on my head, I concluded that this was the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE.
The magic behind that phrase is that the next “Best Day of My Life” will be when I walk down the aisle in a white dress to my future husband waiting for me.