Jennifer and Austin

How We Met: I first knew who Austin was before he knew who I was or we had ever even met. I was a brand new staffer out of college for a New York State Senator, doing community work and helping folks with housing issues and the like – he was the new Press Secretary for the entire New York State Senate, which meant he was constantly in major papers and I was constantly hearing his name in the course of my work. He was an incredible spokesman, with a unique voice and a talent for word crafting. The most talented I’d known and still have.

In 2009, the Republicans in the New York State Senate decided to collude with two shady Democratic State Senators to stage a “coup,” like what you learn in history books – a coup d’etat. For a month (and what felt like a year since our jobs were all in jeopardy), the State Senate was in a state of madness and complete bedlam. At one point, the Republicans held legislative session directly in front of the Democrats at the exact same time. This is what landed our Senators’ heads on the front of the New York Post with clown heads replacing their heads.

During that time, I was watching a lot of NY1. Well, to be fair, I’m always watching a lot of NY1. Throughout this coup coverage, I heard a young man doing an interview, speaking on behalf of the Senate Democrats. He was brilliant. And eloquent beyond anything I’d ever heard before. The ebullience with which he spoke belied the youth in his voice. He sounded like a teenager and was speaking like the greatest orators from ancient Rome’s Marcus Tullius Cicero to Barack Obama. I needed to meet this man.

Prior to working in the office I was in, I had done a fellowship there and one of the staffers at the time in the office had become a kind of mentor to me and a dear friend. Around the time that I was ending my fellowship, that friend, Travis, had moved up to Albany and was working for Austin as his Deputy. In February 2010, I went up to Albany for a budget hearing on transportation funding for New York State and New York City. Fun stuff, like the building of the Second Avenue Subway. I went into the State Senate Chambers and saw, near the rostrum, my dear friend, standing next to this handsome man I did not know. Travis introduced me to Austin, who then bought the three of us lunch in his office. He was the most impressive person I had and have ever met. He still remembers what I was wearing that day and what I ordered.

We exchanged e-mails – my mostly thanking him for lunch and using laudatory language about how talented I thought he was. I did not see him again until many months later at a campaign office in Northeast Queens. I’d been sent to help elect a former City Councilman to the Senate for a seat held by one Republican Senator for 38 years. Austin walked in the door, having lost a tremendous amount of weight and I barely recognized him. He’s not shy about telling me he didn’t recognize me either since “you have a dingy sweater on and jeans and your hair was a mess.”

We became fast friends and fast teammates, working together. We won that campaign, and continued to work together at the Senate. He mentored me in communications work and I grew to respect and love him more and more with each passing day.

It was in that very room, a year after we’d met, in the Senate Chambers, where we all made history together – we passed Same Sex Marriage in New York State. Austin and I were there together, working together on that fight. He’s the best mentor, friend, fiancé and teammate and I am forever grateful we were in the right place at the right time. I tell him every day “I’m so happy I found you,” and it’s true. I am the luckiest.

how they asked: On Thursday, October 24th, my loving, wonderful, gorgeous boyfriend Austin dropped me off at the train to go to work. He said he’d “figure out a place to go for dinner” when he got around to and give me a call to let me know what the plan was. Ten minutes into my train ride to work, he called me and said “hey babe, I think I have an idea – but do you think you can get out of work early? Say 4 o’ clock?” After making some crack about being 70-year-olds and going for the Early Bird Special for a 5 o’ clock dinner, I told him that would be just fine. He told me that the place he wanted to go to was “seasonally very busy this time of year” and very small, so we needed to go either very early or very late. Ok, whatever. Strange.

But I didn’t think anything other than “wow, we really need to act our normal ages,” for two reasons. 1. Austin always plans extremely romantic, over-the-top dates and meaningful gifts that are the last scene of every romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, tailored to me, and to us. (Think: a surprise trip to Ellis Island where we found our ancestors’ names in the wall and penciled them onto paper in the pouring rain or getting me one of only fifty original Damn Yankees posters for my birthday.) And 2. Austin and I had just run a major political campaign for him for New York City Council (he lost by only 120 votes) and had accrued quite a bit of debt. Since I managed his campaign’s, and our personal, finances – there was no way a diamond ring was happening.

We’d decided it was going to be a special Thursday date night, because I had had to miss the prior Thursday’s due to major crankiness involved with my having to wake up at 4AM every day for 7 days straight for work the week prior. I learned later that this was a major hindrance to Austin’s plans too, since I was working from home that whole week – more on that later.

When Austin was offered and accepted a brand new job – his dream job – earlier that week, we’d decided to make it Triple Date Night to celebrate.

At 3:30PM, I got a call from Security at my office. I had just had a reporter at the office and had been dealing with security, so I was truly confused when I got another call and told the guy “no, I told you – it was just that one photographer, no one else.”

“I dunno… the guy says he’s your boyfriend?”

Image 1 of Jennifer and AustinAustin – perpetually late to the point where his family and I have started referring to things being on A.S.T. – Austin Standard Time (he actually doesn’t count the first ten minutes of lateness “late,” so 15 minutes late is “only five!”) – appeared at my office a full half hour early, holding a bag from Kohl’s. I, in complete shock and totally unready to leave, brought him to my office, where he presented me with a beautiful (but quite short!) blue dress. The real kicker? He also had chosen two sets of shoes from my closet in two color schemes – with accompanying accessories, like purses, belts and cardigans, so I could choose which colors to go with. He even bought me panty hose.

After dressing (and setting off some strange looks from the cubicles right outside my office since I was wearing a thigh-high dress at 3:30PM on a Thursday in October), we left. I was convinced we were going to Serendipity, and kept telling Austin he was taking the wrong streets to where we were going, since I am a Manhattanite my whole life and he’s a Queens boy. He claimed we were going to pick something up first. He brought me to Restaurant Row and pulled into a parking lot – the whole while I’m demanding to know where we’re going. He tells a very confused, misguided me to get out of the car, to which I respond with questions about picking something up. He takes with him an 8.5 x 11 item wrapped in tissue paper.

We go into Don’t Tell Mama – an amazing New York City Broadway piano bar that I’ve been to before – I’m a huge Broadway geek… Austin not so much, but he tolerates. What I didn’t see when I was there prior – or maybe it didn’t exist yet – is that Don’t Tell Mama is actually bifurcated into two parts: the piano bar and lovely, quaint restaurant with an outstanding menu. We’re seated – they’re playing all these scores from musicals I love on the stereo – I’m freaking out Image 2 of Jennifer and AustinI’m loving it so much. He leaves to go to what he says is the bathroom, and takes with him the 8.5 x 11 tissued-thing with him. When he returns, I am as annoying as ever, entreating him to let me know what it is. He finally gives in and gives me the most amazing gift: the piano score to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

I immediately want to go home and play it, I love it so much. There is no better gift for me than finding sought-after piano music for musicals or artists I love. He says that I can play it later if I’d like but that the reason we had to come so early was because there was a Billy Joel (I’m a die-hard fan) cover pianist playing at the piano bar at 7 o’ clock. We finish our amazing meal and he suggests we go outside because he wants to check out a frozen yogurt spot on Broadway.

As comes with any good proposal story, I complained – not a lot, but I was wearing 6 inch Jimmy Choos. I thought about it for one second and thought” hey what’s one block in these so he can get his frozen yogurt? Especially with this lovely night he’s planned for me. Which is when I started essentially singing my own fairy tale night as it was happening… songs from Cinderella about finding your Prince Charming and falling in love and having a fairy tale romance. So hammy when you think about it.

We get to Broadway and I’m all “there’s no yogurt here – I told you there was no yogurt here” until he scoops me up and puts me into a cab. I’m sure the cab driver thought I was being abducted since I was asking questions like “where are we going?! Where are you taking me?! What’s going on?!” We only went a few short blocks, but Austin asked the driver to drop us half a block away from our destination. Again more “what’s going on?!”s from me. Until we turned the corner and there appeared the Cinderella marquee. I had been telling Austin how much I wanted to see the show for a few months, but with the campaign being all-consuming (time- and money-wise), I didn’t think I’d get to see it before it closed. So I do what any normal woman who wants to see a show and gets to does – I started crying on the street like a maniac.

Image 3 of Jennifer and Austin

Austin had to go to the hot dog stand nearby to get napkins for me to clean the mascara from all over my face. And then I cried throughout the whole show. Here I was, sitting second row, next to my Prince Charming, this incredible man who loves me so purely and totally, watching this show I’d watched since I was a little girl, dreaming of a man even half as wonderful as Austin. It was the most overwhelming manifestation of life imitating art and experiencing that emotion was almost too much to take.

Image 4 of Jennifer and Austin

After the show, Austin said “hey – I know it’s late now, but I didn’t lie. There is a show at Don’t Tell Mama – it’s not Billy Joel – but it’s fun. We get a free drink since we had dinner there” (not true) “so if you’re not too tired, do you want to go back?” Obviously. Obviously I did.

When we got back, they escorted us to the front table – which, again, if I thought there was any chance he’d had the finances to get a ring, would have made me suspicious. It was great – the show was great. Everyone was having such a fun time. I got an email on my work BlackBerry on a time-sensitive inquiry to which I was responding. Austin, who has the best work ethic I’ve ever seen on a person, is always very understanding of my being on the BlackBerry, as he is all the time too. He was not having it. Moments later, the pianist, who was asking the audience who wanted to come up and play, pointed our way.

I’ve been playing piano since I was 4 years old when I sounded out Duke of Earl from that Mayonnaise commercial in 1989 on a crappy Casio my parents got me along with an electric alarm clock for Christmas. I took classical lessons for much of my life and still play on my actual real piano in our home at least a few times a week. Austin has less musical talent – and will admit such – than our puppy has in his left paw. I’ve often challenged him to learn just one song (that isn’t the stupid Star Wars theme) on the piano since he always made jokes about how easy it is to perfect any skill. I didn’t take kindly to that in the past.

So, I’m here thinking “oh dear, Austin thinks that he got me this new sheet music and, not knowing anything about music, thinks that what I’d love to do is to go up there and regale this room of a hundred people with tunes about pumpkins from 1956 on sheet music I’ve never seen before. I do NOT want to be doing that at all.” But that wasn’t the case.

Instead, Austin got up from our seat and went to the piano. He sat down and played and sang our song “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, where, many years ago, we shared our first dance, on an overlook off of Montauk Highway as the sun was setting. I began recording it with my phone for the beginning part (‘though I’m sure Austin would kill me if I shared it) and about half way through, I set the phone down, so there is audio, but no picture.

Image 5 of Jennifer and Austin“Sun, sun, sun… here it comes… sun, sun, sun… here it comes…”

He stood up, walked over to me and got down on one knee. I screamed; the crowd went wild. Austin claims he actually said the words “Will you marry me?” but I think we were both so overcome with emotion and the fact that something we’d talked about for so long was actually happening that I just screamed and we looked at each other and he put the ring on my finger. There was no need to ask.

Image 6 of Jennifer and AustinThe mystery was and is how he was able to pull this off. He and his aunt had acquired the sheet music to the song (even though I actually had sheet music for it in my piano music library sitting right there) and had devised a code through mathematics where each key represented a number. He would place post its on the notes every day while I was at work and rehearse the song for 2 hours every day for five weeks. Five weeks! On the week when I was working from home, he came up with bogus excuses to go to his aunt’s house to practice on her piano – which she had had tuned for the first time in 30 years specifically for this.

In the dark of the piano bar, I couldn’t see that the three-stone ring, which I had always wanted, since it was similar to my mother’s engagement ring, was dual colored. I had fallen in love with yellow diamonds a few years back – I thought that all three were white, but the side ones were yellow. The center diamond was his grandmother’s engagement ring. And then his mother’s engagement ring. He had the ring altered to give me exactly what I wanted. And he did – a true Cinderella princess proposal and a life I know that will match.