Our just-got-engaged photo is everything I’ve ever dreamed one could be — a beautiful fiancee wearing a just-received ring in front of one of the most aesthetically perfect views in the world.
But the intrigue lies in what I made sure to keep just out of frame — a mangled hand, a blood-soaked set of underwear, a web of deceit, public nudity! Let’s back up a step.
Part of what’s made our relationship work so well is that Christina and I are great at communicating with each other, and at making joint plans. It should be no surprise then that we had, for months before the proposal, spoken at length about getting married, ring styles, timeline — fittingly, we started with a budget, then worked from there based on how long it would take to save up that amount — and even worked together to make an appointment for me to meet up with her parents to ask for permission.
All of this was great for ensuring we were on the same page — which is important! — but less great for making the proposal any kind of a surprise.
A couple of short weeks before the scheduled meeting with her parents, I inwardly decided this lack of surprise just wouldn’t do. Outwardly, I “broke down” and told her it was pretty clear we weren’t ready for marriage. I would keep the appointment with her parents because it might appear rude this close to the meeting, but would talk to them about some other topic. I was shocked at how nervous I was at the meeting with her parents. In the first half of the meeting, they thankfully offered their permission. I didn’t tell them when I would propose, saying I was still deciding, but promised to give them a heads up on the day. In the second half of the meeting, we came up with a cover story together, which we then repeated to Christina separately, making sure we got all of the details correct in case she ever tried to corroborate our accounts.
Christina and I had a long-planned trip to the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai set for the month after I met with her parents. On the first island, we would stay with my family and on the second, just the two of us. It seemed like a no-brainer to use that trip for the proposal. When I told friends who’d visited Hawaii that we were headed to Kauai, multiple joked, unprompted, that it would be a great place to propose. One in particular mentioned the Na Pali coast in western Kauai. A close friend anyway, he would be the sole person with whom I’d confide the exact location.
Ah, the ring. We had discussed what styles she was into a few times and I had a pretty good idea based on her personality — and her Pinterest page. To keep it a secret, I had the ring shipped to my office then locked in a file drawer and didn’t bring it home until it was time to leave for Hawaii, keeping it hidden in a secret pocket of my briefcase. One time, before bringing it home, I wore it on my pinkie finger to snap a picture to send to my parents. It felt as hot and heavy as the fire of a thousand suns.
The first part of the trip on Oahu went amazingly well. She got along perfectly with my parents and siblings, and we enjoyed the heck out of each others’ company despite the close quarters. As the two of us jumped on a flight to Kauai, I felt as sure as I’d ever felt about anything about this proposal. On the night before we were to do the Na Pali coast hike, we thought it would be fun to check out some Yelp reviews. We knew of the logistics of the hike — two miles on Kalalau Trail along the shore to get to Hanakapiai Beach, followed by two miles inland to get to Hanakapiai Falls whose base we could swim in. What we were surprised by were the number of reviews saying the hike was exceptionally treacherous, telling us we were in for trouble if we didn’t wear hiking boots and carry a walking stick — neither of which we had packed — and have a quart of water per person, per hour.
Miles 1 and 2
And so, at 7 a.m., with the ring now hidden in my wallet and 2 1/2 gallons of water on my back, we set off on the Kalalau Trail. Still concerned with our lack of hiking sticks, we picked up bamboo sticks others had left at the trail head. My first indication that Yelp’s reviews had overstated the danger of this hike should have been how crowded the trail already was. And they weren’t just serious folks with carbon fiber hiking sticks, Dri-FIT gear, hiking boots, and giant Camelbaks — though we did see those people too — but folks of all ages, from pre-teen to elderly, and of all apparent fitness levels. My primary thought in reaction to seeing the crowd was, “Great! I’m gonna have to propose in front of all these people!” I might as well have done it at a football game or something… As for the trail, it was dry and well-maintained with wood steps pounded into the ground any time the path was at an incline. We got to Hanakapiai Beach far too quickly.
Miles 3 and 4
After playing with the rocks on the beach for a bit, we walked up the path to the cliff overlooking the beach. On the cliff and slightly off the trail, we came across a bathroom which we used before continuing on. Ever further off the trail was where I found it — a mostly secluded lookout point, offering some privacy and a great view of the beach and ocean. I made a mental note that this would be as good a spot to propose as any I was likely to find on this trail. The hike inland followed a stream toward the waterfall and was also well-maintained — no wooden steps this time, but ropes strung up any time we needed to cross the stream. And yet, thanks to the Yelp reviews, we were constantly wondering if each new turn would expose a near-vertical rock scramble or a waist-deep swim across roaring rapids. It was a fear that never materialized. We walked into view of the falls having barely broken a sweat. Finally confident in my safety, I laughed aloud, then said to Christina, “Way to overreact, Yelp reviewers!” She smiled politely, but didn’t break gaze with the waterfall. Hundreds of feet tall — the biggest we had seen — wide, rocky, and in a huge clearing among otherwise dense jungle, it looked especially majestic up close.
#Throwback to the majestic Hanakapiai Falls, leading up to when #ISaidYes. @mario_adventures #TravelPics #GirlsTravel #Hawaii #Adventure #Kauai #Engaged A photo posted by Christina Garofalo (@c_gar8) on
She handed me her walking stick as she took out the camera and took a step closer. Now, with two walking sticks in my left hand, I trailed behind, as she made her way around the crowd of hikers who’d managed to make it this far.
I was stepping off a rock when it happened; both walking sticks hit the ground simultaneously while up top, they snapped together like a pair of scissors, taking a deep gash out of my left index finger, accompanied by a small but steady stream of blood. I kept the pain to myself as best as I could, but Christina quickly notice my grimacing and the red trickle flowing down the arm I had since elevated. She screamed at me.
Still planning on making a proposal later, and wanting to keep the mood light, I told her I was fine and that we should just go swimming under the waterfall.
An important side note: I had worn underwear on what the hike rather than just board shorts because the Yelp reviews had convinced me I’d need every advantage I could find. OK, back to the story.
She screamed at me again, this time to tell me that I really needed to stop the bleeding.
I poked around my minimally packed backpack to find nothing, but with a little quick thinking, I decided that I could solve both problems of stopping my bleeding finger and ridding myself of underwear by… using the latter to apply pressure to the former.
Removing boxer-briefs from underneath board shorts is a difficult task under normal circumstances; doing so with one bloody hand being held high above my head was darn near impossible. I wasn’t ten seconds in before I stumbled, lost my grip, and found myself nude in front of the crowd of hikers.
Putting my board shorts back on, I waded slowly into the water which turned out to be freezing. This made our swim very short-lived, but had the pleasant effect of slowing the bleeding down to intermittent, which was good enough that we could finish the hike before I sought more serious medical attention.
Miles 5 and 6
We headed back down the same trail, with her taking the lead as I did my best to preserve the moment, which required a two-pronged approach of trying to stop the bleeding entirely (with underwear) and calming her down. I recall uttering the phrase, “Don’t get all weird because I’m bleeding!”
We made it back safely to the same off-trail bathroom.
Then, with my heart beating a million times a minute, I suggested we head to the lookout point.
She was having none of it. She said she was hungry and that we really had to get back to have someone look at my finger or at least buy real band-aids.
I said it was a really nice view and that we should enjoy it a little bit.
She continued to resist.
I reminded her that we hadn’t yet taken a picture together with the beach in the background.
She finally agreed.
I asked. She said yes. And here we are.