“How about the zoo?” she suggested. My mind started racing. The zoo? I can’t do it at the zoo, can I? Well… maybe… I guess that might be–
While I was thinking, my face must have shown a little hesitation, because she started suggesting alternatives. “Or we could do the Honey Island Swamp Tour.”
Not on the Swamp Tour. Not on the Swamp Tour.
“The zoo sounds like fun,” I said.
We’ve been to the Audubon Zoo before, of course, but it had been a couple of years and, really, it’s the sort of thing that always has plenty of repeatability. It’s a fun little outing and, on a Tuesday in November in New Orleans, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. We went in (she bought the tickets because on the way she managed to coerce me into calling the Swamp Tour people and making us a pair of reservations for Wednesday) and started to go through the exhibits. She spent a long time taking pictures of the elephants, we took silly pictures together in front of the fountain, we saw the White Tiger and the monkeys and the alligators.
And throughout, I kept looking for a chance to do it. Too many people here. We’re standing on a wooden bridge, what if I drop it? Not now, that vulture just pooped.
I thought I would have a chance in the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit. She was sitting on a rocker in a mock-up of an old swamp store front. There was no one around. We talked and I tell her I love her and how much she means to me and–
And she saw the wasp nests overhead and said, “Nope!” and started walking away.
“There aren’t any wasps here!” I said. “I don’t think those are even real!”
“Nope!” She kept going so I jogged after her. After a few minutes she says, “I interrupted something really sweet, didn’t I?”
“Kind of,” I said.
We kept walking and looking at the exhibits. Again and again, other people show up and break the moment, or I can’t find a good place to stop, or there’s an emu staring at us that’s kind of creeping us out.
Finally, we went to the sea lion exhibit. She loves the sea lions. She could stand there and watch them swim around all day. After a few minutes, we went to the bottom part of the exhibit, a secluded little spot where you can watch them swim through the glass. She took out her camera to take a “blue picture” of the two of us, lit by the sunlight coming through the water. She didn’t know, when she took the photo, I already had it in my hand behind her back.
She looked at the picture. “The only thing that would be better is if we turned around and there were three sea lions waving at us.”
“The only thing?” I said.
“Well… not the only thing.”
“What could be better?” I asked.
“If you had a puppy in your pocket,” she replied.
“I don’t have a puppy,” I said. “They don’t fit in your pockets.”
“Okay,” she said.
“But this does,” I said, and I took out the ring.
After that other things were said, other questions asked and answered, but it was a little bit of a blur and I don’t remember them exactly and it’s none of your damn business anyway. There was one important word.
And she said it.