Christina and Justin

Image 1 of Christina and Justin

How We Met

Circa 2000. Garvin Memorial School. If we’re being technical, this is the first time I met Christina met. Christina had moved to Cumberland as she entered 4th grade and she would attend Garvin as a new student that year. There were two separate classes at that time and Christina & I happened to not be placed with the same teacher in 4th grade, so while we may have brushed by each other at lunch or at recess, there was no real interaction between us. It wasn’t until the following year as we became rising 5th graders that we would, by chance, be placed in the same classroom for our final year of Garvin. It was always an exciting time for the students on the first day of school as everyone reacquainted themselves and learned of their new classmates for the year. I knew of the new girl in town and he had his eye on her right away. Now, at this point of the story, people who don’t know us typically assume we’ve been dating since 5th grade. Rest assured, that’s not the case.

The truth is the closest we ever got to each other that year was probably in the school yearbook…and that’s not saying much given B and M are 11 letters apart. To this day I joke that Christina didn’t know my name back then. While neither of us can prove this right or wrong, it remains one of the many anecdotes of our fun-loving relationship. Fast forward 10 years. Circa 2011. Social Media Age. Christina & I took different paths after 5th grade, paths that didn’t cross for over a decade. As fate would have it, social media became prevalent in that decade and we would once again be connected. It began with Facebook of course. Though this wasn’t the genesis of our relationship. It was the simpler, more laid back outlet Twitter that enabled us to truly reconnect and begin a relationship that shot off into the stars.

how they asked

August 29, 2015. The story from my perspective begins much before this day, so let’s rewind a bit. Of course there’s the whole ring buying process, which in and of itself is a task I was little prepared for as I look back. I underestimated the trips back and forth to the jeweler and the cryptic text messaging to the jeweler under a pseudonym in my phone (as if seeing a text from ‘Roger X’ wouldn’t raise any red flags with my ever-so-curious fianceé to be). Not to mention when I actually bought the ring and had to hide it for 2 months. Anxiety. No other way to describe it. I was working in Boston at the time so I spent a month or two researching a variety of different engagement ideas and locations around the city. There was Boston Common, which would be something right out of a movie, but I didn’t want all the fanfare. There was Top of the Hub, but I didn’t really know how that would play out and wanted something a little more special than a dinner proposal. So I then came across Gondola di Venezia, which is a company operating built-in-Italy gondola rides up and down the Charles River. Bingo! They offer all types of packages for special occasions like anniversaries, proposals, or just a fun time. I scoured their website for information and read any reviews I could find.

It was really the perfect thing. I was able to have cheese & crackers and chocolates on board the gondola for our ride, all prepared by the company ahead of time. The greatest add-on they offered, though was for proposals – a “message in a bottle.” Everything was booked online so I didn’t have much of a confirmation as to how things would work. I wasn’t so concerned with the cheese & crackers mind you, but the whole “message in a bottle” thing kind of worried me. I typed what I wanted on the message – the chorus from one of our favorite songs and one we talked previously about having as our wedding song – and from there I just hoped they got it all right. Once I made it to the actual day, I had already felt as though I accomplished a ton – I bought the ring, kept it and the texts out of sight, and most importantly ensured that all friends and family kept their mouths shut! So it’s finally go time. Saturday August 29th. Christina had to work that morning until noon, leaving me at home to get everything situated. Our gondola wasn’t departing until 4pm, so I had some time. I showered, got dressed and put the ring in a small drawstring pouch I got from my dad the day before. It fit flat in my pocket so it wasn’t visible in case Christina grew suspicious. I rehearsed what I thought I might say when it came time to propose, maybe two or three…hundred times. I envisioned what the whole day might be like, still hoping that the message in a bottle idea doesn’t get screwed up. By now it’s 11am and I’m all ready. Now what?

Christina gets home around 12:45, but we don’t leave until 2:30. I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared before she got home and didn’t leave any loose ends. I had the ring in my pocket and I sat on the couch as Christina arrived home…and I didn’t move until we left. I wanted as minimal exposure as possible – Christina is a teacher by day, but detective by night so I had to be sure she didn’t frisk my pockets or anything and ruin the surprise. 2:30 comes around and we’re finally off. Boston bound and the longest 60 minutes I’ve ever experienced. All of a sudden it felt like I was going on a first date all over again. The conversation was limited, which was uncommon for us. I remember Christina feeding me some sort of crackers on the way up because I was already starving, or maybe just nervous. I couldn’t tell the difference. We eventually arrive at the location. I made a wrong turn as we got close and was forced to turn around a mile down the street which led us to a one way road of traffic. Luckily I planned to leave early enough in case something like this happened so we were still very much on time. Parking is extremely limited at the site so I needed to go a half mile away in order to get a metered spot. I told Christina it was a quick walk, but it didn’t take long before she was complaining about sweating and sore feet.

As we draw closer to the gondola dock at the Esplanade, I’m wondering if she has any idea what I have planned. There’s a whole lot of action taking place at the Esplanade so it’s certainly easy to overlook the gondolas rowing by, but as we approach the welcome booth for me to check in, she finally figured it out. Christina took a seat while I checked in with the girl at the booth. I assumed she knew what was about to take place, but she never said a word. She told us we were next up once the gondola arrived back at the dock. In the meantime Christina and I took a selfie or two for memory’s sake and she expressed her excitement for our ride. After a few minutes we made our way down to the dock where we would meet our gondolier and board the majestic Venetian gondola, appointed with cushioned seats and intricate designs throughout. The gondolier introduced himself and gave a quick overview of the gondola, noting a few key rules that we needed to adhere to. One of those rules was that we were not allowed to stand up once in motion as that would cause us to tilt and send the gondolier overboard. Noted. We push off the dock and head down the Charles on what couldn’t have been a hotter, cloudless day in late summer. We opened the crackers & cheese and had a few right away.

Christina had her phone out to take some pictures as we made our way down the river. We chatted and took in the sights around us as people were walking their pets or playing ball right on the Esplanade that surrounded us. And while there was much commotion on land, there was just as much tranquillity on the gondola. It was as if we were the only ones there. I didn’t know how long the whole ride would last so I was anticipating when the message in a bottle was going to happen, or even how it was going to happen. I did know it would be about halfway through our ride. As we made it out toward the open section of the Charles, the gondolier slowly began to make a wide turn to head back to dock. As he is doing this, I hear “BLOOP” in the near distance behind us. Here we go. Showtime! We made such a wide turn that by the time we were facing forward again the bottle was quite a long way from us – long enough that I had enough time to convince Christina that this bottle was something worth picking up. Of course as my luck would have it, she is downright disgusted at the very thought of picking up something from this surprisingly heavily polluted river. There were bottles lined up along the shoreline and pieces of random trash all around – I had a better chance of her saying “no” to my proposal than I did of her picking up that bottle. As we approached it, I said “Look at that! We gotta pick that up.”

She practically laughed at me. The gondolier rowed up to it so that the bottle was on Christina’s side for her to grab. She was having no part of it. The bottle came and went, Christina’s hands safely inside the gondola. Because I couldn’t stand up, I wasn’t able to reach over her to get it myself so now I’m thinking in my head, “Wow, this is exactly how it’s not supposed to happen.” Luckily the gondolier was a seasoned veteran and he made another pass at the bottle, this time on my side. I can’t really explain how slow time was passing at this point. I thought for sure the whole trick was up. Christina’s asking me why I wanted to pick up the bottle so bad. I kept telling her it looked cool and it seemed to have something inside. The nerves were now at an all time high. I grabbed the bottle out of the water as we passed by and shook it dry. I had to put my acting hat on now – I looked at the bottle and inspected it as though I had no clue what it was. I vaguely remember Christina saying it looked like a wedding centerpiece and “it must have fallen in.” I chuckled inside. So I proceeded to act like I didn’t know what it was and began to slowly open it. As I removed the cork Christina was hesitant because it looked so pretty that she didn’t want to ruin it. I said “No, there’s something in here I think.

We have to open it.” I removed the cork and there was a scroll inside wrapped in a glittery ribbon and tied perfectly. I unwound the ribbon and handed the scroll to Christina. Together we unrolled the scroll to find the words to that favorite song of ours written in the most beautiful Sans Script font. Christina read it, but because of her innate ability to forget song lyrics she didn’t make the connection right away. I asked her if she knew what it was, still not leading on that I was a part of it and she said “Oh my God, that’s our song!” But she was confused. Why would our song lyrics be written on this paper…in a bottle…wrapped in ribbon…floating down the Charles River? At this moment, I dropped to one knee, snuck the pouch out of my pocket and said, “The real reason I brought you here was to tell you that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” Tears commenced. I was barely able to actually ask the question before Christina’s eyes filled up with joy. She said “YES!” and thrust her left hand at me. I slipped the ring on her finger and pulled my phone out to capture the aftermath, which subsequently turned out to be the best 10 seconds of footage we’ll ever have.

Image 2 of Christina and Justin

In it, Christina is heard saying, “It’s not real, right?” as she’s wiping away makeup with the small pouch I had the ring in. “It’s real,” I said. As we made our way back to the dock I told Christina I had another surprise for her. I had Amanda and Joey waiting for us to go to dinner in the North End. They met us at the dock and congratulated us right away. Christina was so happy to have her best friend there to celebrate. We drove over to the North End and I ate the biggest plate of chicken francese imaginable. The weight of the world was finally lifted. Mission accomplished. What a day it was and one that I certainly will never forget. #TheManecasBegin

Special Thanks

 | Planning, keeping it a secret, setting up gondola, etc.