It was June of 1997 and I was completely dejected. The girl of my dreams was just not that into me. Summer break could not come quickly enough. My mom’s van pulled out of the school parking lot as I tried to distract my mind from my unsuccessful endeavor to make this girl mine.
Life sure is hard on an 8-year-old.
Shortly after breaking my heart, Stephanie and I went our separate ways. Stephanie switched schools, not to be heard from again until high school. A new social media site created by a Harvard dropout enabled a message to pop up in my inbox from the girl I’d had my eyes on 10 years previous.
The conversation ended quickly. Little did we know how significant the words “Maybe I will see you again” would be. We ended up going to the same college, parking in the same garage throughout freshman year, and, regardless of the fact she walked by my dorm every morning on her way to class, we still never ran into each other. (May have had something to do with me neglecting my alarm clock every morning.)
That is, until the car accident in 2009.
Thirteen years after starring in the Clever Turtle play together, the same girl walked into my room. I had just returned home from my four month stint in the hospital and Stephanie was now in massage therapy school. After seeing the news of the accident on Facebook, she had reached out to my family to offer her therapeutic skills in whatever way she could help, regardless of the fact that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade.
The relationship started off professionally. She would come over a few times a week to massage the tightness and knots from my body that had formed as a result of going through the grinder of car flips, ventilator weaning, and months of hospitalization. This gradually turned into a friendship and one day she brought over one of her assignments from our second grade class that she just happened to stumble upon:
As I would come to find out over time, it could not have been mere coincidence that the two of us shared a page in her project with my future diagnosis. After a couple years of friendship, our relationship progressed to dating, and as time went on I became certain I wanted to make this girl my wife.
2015 seemed like the year to take the next step, but a seven month stint getting stuck in bed delayed my plans (click here for context to this story). Each day she sat at my side as we waited and prayed. As soon as I was healthy enough to be upright for an entire day I knew I was going to propose. Little did she know the plan that was hatching in my mind. It was time to put a ring on the finger of the girl I was chasing around the circle in second grade.
Now it was time for execution.
I didn’t tell anyone except for the most trustworthy crew known to man: a group of 16-year-old boys.
Each Sunday when I met with them for a Bible study, we game planned a strategy to catch her off guard. The final plan was a scavenger hunt proposal, in which they would play a role.
My paranoia increased as the day got closer. Could she see it on my face? I deleted text messages with high school guys and disguised preparation emails with subjects pertaining to my college Real Estate courses in case she were to see over my shoulder. I did not want her suspecting anything and I was not taking any chances.
To avoid the risk of Stephanie making plans on my projected proposal date, I teamed up with her mom to get the day booked weeks in advance. With two little sisters, her mom got creative and planned a “half birthday party” to take place during the day. I put a mock “double date” with another couple on our calendar for later that same evening.
The day arrived and the high school guys huddled around in my parents’ living room with all eyes on me, waiting on assignments for each of the four scavenger hunt locations to be divvied up.
Not too many years from now they will be in my shoes, making the same step forward. I took this opportunity to explain the importance of what was about to commence and how they should conduct their own search in the coming years. We opened up to Proverbs 31 in which the ideal wife is described in detail. Finally, it was time for them to go help me lock mine down.
We rehearsed our assignments and I sent out four teams of guys with roses, letters, and clues in the form of poems, and they were off. The entirety of my engagement plans were now in the hands of 14 high school boys.
After months of planning and a morning of barking out orders to these guys, my healthcare providers, and my family, I was finally able to take a deep breath. I headed down to the basement to relax for a bit with my sister and wait for the text message updates to begin.
As soon as the guys assumed their positions in each of the four nearby locations, a series of photo confirmations were sent in a group text message to confirm to me they were where they were supposed to be.
As soon as all four groups were situated, I gave Stephanie’s mom the go-ahead. The hunt was officially now in motion.
Meanwhile, 20 minutes north at a “half birthday party,” Stephanie’s mom interrupted the festivities to share that Ryan was disappointed he had not been able to make it, but wanted to still play a role in the action with a scavenger hunt. Stephanie opened a box with a CD and instructions for the scavenger hunt.
Her dad then proceeded to read her the first clue from yours truly.
To which she responded…
As she attempted to get her family to join her, they shoved her out the door, insisting she head out alone. The first clue was leading her to her childhood home.
She arrived to find four high school guys waiting in her former driveway, dressed in shirts and ties despite the 90 degree weather. The guys handed her a rose and read her a letter I‘d written. As per my scavenger hunt instructions to Stephanie, she texted me a photo from the location of herself with the boys so I could keep tabs on her whereabouts. The guys then proceeded to read the next clue which led her to her favorite childhood park. They gave her another CD to listen to on the way, consisting of a recorded message from me and a song.
The same process with a different group of guys ensued at the park. As she took the rose and CD from this second group of guys, who began yelling and cheering as she walked back to her car, it dawned on her this may be a little much for a “half birthday.” Her suspicion heightened as she proceeded to location number three: the elementary school where we met in 1996.
This group of seven guys wanted to arrive at the last location before Stephanie, so she was told to listen to the CD in the parking lot before heading to the next spot. Tears flowed down her face as everything sunk in as she looked at the building where we met 19 years prior with one of our favorite songs playing in her car. She dashed off to the park where we have spent quite a bit of time together, wondering what awaited her.
The last clue let her know I was waiting back at home. Stephanie then made the final 2.3 mile trek down Snider Road, into my neighborhood, parked out front, burst inside, and made her way down the steps:
And into the basement…
As she walked in the room, I caught a glimpse of the smile on her face as my heart was pounding. Her beauty glowed as I waited for her to approach me. With Red Lobster takeout waiting in the kitchen (a throwback to our first date), and our families on call to arrive for a celebration later that evening, I directed her to remove the sheet covering my feet:
And after all that, I’m thrilled to announce that…
SHE SAID YES!
Contact info: Ryan.S.Atkins@Gmail.com
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