A Jack-O-Lantern Changed My Life

October 21, 2005. Nashville, TN.

I taught English in the ‘hood. This is perhaps where I gained my gangsta roots, learning to navigate the precarious time of guiding teenagers from a million walks of life through works of literature, standardized testing, and just learning who they were in the world, all through the lens of a culture that valued where they were from in terms of what gang would try to recruit them to join. I tried to get them to join the gangs of Shakespeare and Harper Lee…

Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds I was not, but when the principal asked me to run senior night and honor the young men and women who were football players, cheerleaders, and band members, I was humbled. Here were students who worked hard in school (theoretically) and chose to accept the extra rigors of after-school commitments. We would honor their parents that night as well. I was so excited.  Then I found out how much work it was.

I gathered biographies on approximately 40 seniors during that week, and I would (gasp!) read these bios that needed heavy editing over the loud speakers as the seniors escorted their parents down the 50-yard-line and presented moms with roses. We practiced lining them up, walking slowly, and where to stand after I had announced their future plans (one of my cheerleaders was having difficulty choosing between med school and cosmetology school).

We got through the night, and even though it rained steadily, seniors, their parents, and their roses and umbrellas were proudly displayed on the field. Everybody went home soaked but happy. And I was beat. All I wanted was a beer, a shower, and my bed.

I grabbed a 12-pack on the way home, and I called my boyfriend Jeff to see if I would see him that night or the next day. He didn’t answer.

As I walked up the steps to my townhouse, I noticed that the orange pumpkin Halloween lights were on, and there was a note taped to the door: “Don’t turn on the lights. FH” I did not know anyone with those initials. What the what was going on? Wet and tired, I figured that I would take my chances. I didn’t turn on the lights either, perhaps because I was juggling school bags, purse, umbrella, beer, etc.

Soft music was playing. I looked down the shotgun hallway to my living room where a glowing jack-o-lantern sat atop my little coffee table, though I couldn’t see the details of the pumpkin from that far away. Lights still off, I headed into the living room where I saw Jeff standing nervously, smiling in a shy way I’d never seen before.

I had envisioned this day a million different ways in my head since I was a little girl, and the vision became more complete as I fell in love with Jeff and was able to dream about him proposing rather than some faceless guy I hadn’t met yet. I won’t bore you with all my dream scenarios because…This. Was. Better. (Except in dreams I wasn’t sopping wet after a football game in the ‘hood and holding beer.)

My amazing Jeff, a guy who was perfect for me in every way, gave me a special story that I could share for the rest of our lives. Friends, this boy carved “will you marry me”… into a pumpkin. He was never a guy for huge public displays of grandeur…no restaurant or scoreboard at a sporting event proposals for us. Instead, we got to share wine, roses, music, calling our parents, and we sat in the glow of our little jack-o-lantern and dreamed of what our lives together would look like.

And you know what? The reality, our happily ever after, is more beautiful than we ever imagined. Is it perfect? No. Did my beautiful jack-o-lantern eventually go the way all Halloween pumpkins go? Yep. (But don’t think I didn’t Google “pumpkin preservation” to death!) Instead, I choose to celebrate this day, October 21, as the first day of our lives together with my FH (Future Husband). Sometimes people compliment my gorgeous engagement ring. I will admit that the day after he gave it to me, I almost wrecked my car looking at it on my finger instead of, I don’t know, paying attention to the road. But you know? Nine years later, I still tell them that the guy who gave this ring to me is even better than having this beautiful piece of jewelry. And I mean it every single time.

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