When Natalie and I met in May 2011, we lived an ocean apart.
I had just moved to Memphis to start my Master’s that fall. She was in town from Tel Aviv. We both happened to be at the same event for Hillel, the local Jewish organization.
She was running the silent auction booth when I first saw her, and when we started talking I felt like I’d known her all my life. She told me she lived in Israel (where I had always wanted to move) and I had this feeling like every choice I’d made and everything that had happened to me over the past seven or so years -- getting turned down for a job in Mississippi, deciding to go to the University of Memphis -- led me to that exact spot to meet Natalie. I truly believe that fate brought us together.
What really drew me to her, though, is how thoughtful she is. She’ll go out of her way to make anybody happy. After the event, she walked me to my car and even though she just met me she offered to show me around since I was new in town. She was in Memphis to visit family but she dropped everything for me. That really struck me as special.
For the next month, we spent almost every minute together. I was renting an apartment but I barely spent any time there because Natalie -- and her family -- took me in.
Then, I had to leave on a scheduled trip to see my grandparents. Natalie was supposed to go back to Israel before I’d return to Memphis, so she saw me off at the train station. I remember watching her through the window as we pulled away. I wanted to run to the back of the train like they do in old movies, but you can’t do that on Amtrak so I sat there and cried. I knew then that she was the one.
Natalie’s dad picked me up from the station when I arrived back in Memphis. While I was away, Natalie told me over Skype that she’d left something for me at her parents’ house. When I opened her bedroom door, she was there waiting to surprise me. We got to be together for one more week.
Before Natalie flew back to Tel Aviv, I decided to make aliyah (when a Jewish person immigrates to Israel), so we could be together. Once she left, I spent the next five months selling everything I owned and cutting all my ties to Memphis. We would talk for hours on the phone and on Skype about our plans to be together soon, but Natalie didn’t know how far along my preparations were. After we had been officially dating for five months -- on the day before her 26th birthday -- I surprised Natalie in Tel Aviv, my new home.
Eight months later, in June, we were both flying back to the U.S. so Natalie could meet my parents. The idea to propose on the flight came about because our courtship had revolved around me leaving her or her leaving me. For the first time, we were going on a trip together.
We were taking two flights, one from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam, one from Amsterdam to Memphis. I had all of my props ready -- a camera, music and a ring -- but I still didn’t know which flight I was going to propose on. The scariest part was that I couldn’t pre-arrange anything with the airline. I had to talk to the gate crew the day of, which would be hard to do without Natalie getting suspicious.
I never expected that, just a few hours after arriving at the airport, I’d reconsider my entire plan.
When we boarded the first plane, something didn’t feel right. It was freezing cold. I can be hot and Natalie will still be cold, but even I was cold on this plane. Natalie wrapped up in her airplane blanket (and in mine, too), but she kept shivering. I asked the flight attendant for an extra blanket. She told me that the flight rules were “one per person” and walked off. Flight attendants were key for helping me carry out my plan. If I couldn’t even get a blanket, how would I pull off my proposal?
The attendant’s attitude only got worse. Natalie wasn’t feeling well, and after spending 30 minutes in the restroom, she still hadn’t come back. I went to check on her and the same flight attendant was guarding the door. She stuck her hand out and told me to sit back down, that the bathrooms were “closed.”
When I told her I was worried about my girlfriend, she accused me of trying to get into the bathroom with her. I told her I wanted to make sure that, god forbid, she wasn’t passed out or something. She leaned over, not really giving me enough room to pass but enough to talk to Natalie through the door.
That’s when I heard her say, “It must suck to have a boyfriend like that. Can’t even use the bathroom in peace.” Stunned, I asked for her name. She told me that no one at KLM has names and walked away.
When we finally got to Amsterdam, I almost wanted to call the whole thing off. What if the next flight crew had the same attitude?
Obviously, this wasn’t my last chance ever to propose to Natalie, but it was my last chance to propose the way I’d hoped. Over the previous weeks I’d dropped hints to make her think I was planning to ask her when we were actually in the U.S. I still really wanted to surprise her. I told her we had to rush to the gate.
Of course, it was too early. We had a six-hour layover, so no one was there yet.
Finally, the gate agent arrived. I somehow convinced Natalie to go to the bathroom so I could run to the counter. Thankfully, the agent was very excited about my proposal. Until we boarded, all I was did was sprint back and forth between Natalie and the desk to talk about the details. (I told her that I was trying to get us upgraded.) The agent said I could propose right after takeoff. After everything we’d been through, I was so ready to have our special moment.
Once we boarded, I immediately went to the back of the plane under the guise of getting Natalie a glass of water. Really, I was handing off my camera and the song that I wanted to play over the loudspeaker, “Lemonade” by Chris Rice. Since Natalie and I started dating, it’s been our song because it's about life giving you lemonade in the form of that one special person.
When the song played over the loudspeaker, I started singing to her. I was shaking. I just tried to keep myself from crying and stayed with the plan. Even though I was confident that Natalie was going to say yes, in my head I was thinking, “Don’t say no” -- like maybe at that moment she wouldn’t be ready.
But as I looked at Natalie I felt like we were the only two people in the whole world. She was starting to tear up but she had the biggest smile on her face.
I stood in the aisle and pulled out a rose-shaped felt box carrying the ring I’d designed: Each side of the band has 18 small diamonds to symbolize our lives -- in our faith, 18 symbolizes life or, in Hebrew, “Chai” -- and there’s a “V” to show the sides coming together at a larger stone.
Natalie actually accepted before I even asked. I think she was in shock because she never thought it would happen on the plane. But I asked her anyway and the flight attendant announced that she’d said yes. The whole plane applauded while we kissed and the head flight attendant brought us free champagne. I was relieved. After all of our traveling back and forth, we were finally connected. It was the happiest day of my life.
As it turned out, proposing on the second flight was probably more meaningful since our families were there to greet us.
Once we were in Memphis, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had planned a surprise. I didn’t expect to see my friends while we were in the U.S., but Natalie had been organizing a 27th birthday celebration for me with all of my friends for months.
She is the most caring, thoughtful person I have ever met. And she never stops surprising me.