I Think This Might Be What They Call A Plot Twist

The funniest thing about the day is that it starts out badly. Having finally mastered the stovetop espresso pot in our tiny kitchen, I pour inky liquid into two tiny cups and hold them up proudly for Sean. On my first sip, I realize I've mistaken the salt for the sugar. There are two ways to realize that you've mistaken the salt for the sugar and this way is the worst one. As I'm spitting the briny mouthful back into the sink, the toast pops up, black and smoldering. Just like that, our first breakfast in Rome is ruined.


And it gets worse. A fruitless morning of searching for a bank and then a place for lunch culminates in a terrible argument in a sun-dappled piazza in Trastevere. It's awful because it shouldn't be awful: couples are smooching on benches, kids are frolicking on warmed flagstones, and there we are in the world's most romantic city, shouting at each other. Why wasn't that restaurant good enough? Why couldn't we just have gone there? We're in Rome, for god's sake, just choose a damn place to eat.  After all the time and all the money and all the anticipation, there is an almost suffocating pressure for every moment of this vacation to be perfect. We're like pots, boiling, and something has to give. Seething, I threaten to go back to the apartment. Sean throws the keys after me as I stride away.


We find each other at a fountain, perch on the edge and talk our way back to loving each other. It takes a while, but we align ourselves again. It's a relief, we agree, for this to have happened. Finally, we can stop trying to pretend we're in some stupid film about a couple on vacation in Rome.


The cafe is dark and dim as we bite into warm panini. We sip grapefruit soda poured into small cloudy glasses and split a pastry we have to point to; we've ventured off the tourist track now and the woman behind the counter speaks no English. She smiles, we smile, she smiles again: it's refreshing, actually, to be smiled at so much.

Afterwards, we follow a group of nuns down a narrow alley until we see the pale blue dome of St. Peter's Basilica rising in the distance. Something between us has changed now: an easiness exists where it didn't exist before. We've done the worst thing we can thing of, marred our perfect trip with the black smudge of a hideous fight, and now that we've done it---now that we've done it and survived it---things seem suddenly clean and bright and new again. Whitewashed and gleaming, the day opens up before us like a dream.


He almost doesn't bring his camera to dinner. No, bring it, I say, you might want it, you never know. Here, you can put it in my purse.

He doesn't have a bag as we leave the apartment, you see. His hands are empty, his pockets look flat. The wonderful thing is that I have no idea.


It's as though the two halves of the day are mirror images of each other: nothing goes right at first, and then afterwards, things go almost comically right. We find the restaurant we've been looking for and take the last outdoor table. The night is warm, the wine is cheap, the moon glimmers overhead, and on either side of us, couples are chattering in rapid-fire Italian. The girl to our left orders a steak the size of her head and we all laugh when it arrives. Our grinning waiter places a plate of arugula, prosciutto, and craggy shavings of parmesan on the checkered tablecloth in front of us, then follows it up with steaming bowls of pasta that make our eyes roll back in our head. We share a bowl of tiramisu for dessert, and although I manage to stop short of dipping my head into it and licking the edges when it's finished, I do actually run my finger along the sides and lick that instead.

I'm not proud of that, of course. But then you didn't taste that tiramisu.


It's a ten minute walk back to our apartment, and when he grabs me in a bear hug on the narrow cobblestoned street, it's nothing unusual. He's good at hugging, this boy; he hugs like he never wants to let go.

But this time he doesn't. This time he doesn't let go.


The thing I will remember later when I'm thinking back on it is that I am wearing these stupid skin-colored socks from Target, socks that are meant to be worn with ballet flats and only cover your toes, except they don't just cover your toes, they peek out just a little bit, and the effect is wholly unflattering. There we are, embracing in a tiny cobblestoned alley in the middle of Rome, and it's almost midnight, and I'm wearing these stupid socks and I kind of have to pee, and even despite this---even despite the fact that I'm wearing these stupid socks and that I kind of have to pee---he still looks at me and he says it.

He says I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I want to marry you.

I look up at him and I say seriously?, and afterwards we will laugh about how I kept saying that---seriously? seriously? is this for real?---and he pulls something from his pocket, and even in the lamp-lit street, I can tell that it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life.

He puts it on my finger, and my hands are shaking, and later we will have to sit in a doorway for half an hour to recover, but right there on that street in Rome, all I can think is that this is actually happening to me, that this is my life. And there we are, just looking at each other, just laughing, and then I say wait, you know what? I don't think you even asked me!

And he says Oh! I guess I didn't! and we laugh some more, and he says well, will you? Will you marry me? And I say the only thing I can think of. I say of course.

michelle woo
Oct 16, 2008

Congratulations. Thank you for describing this moment in a way that only you can.

Oct 16, 2008

Awww Holly. Am thrilled and wobbly for you. And so glad it was Rome. :-)

Oct 16, 2008

I am a longtime reader and had to de-lurk to congratulate you and Sean! Your writing is beautiful and I got all teary reading the story. And I don't even know you! Can't wait to hear more -- enjoy this time, there is nothing like it! Congratulations!!

Alex Hubert
Oct 17, 2008

Holly that's the most beautifully written story of a proposal I have ever read. My Dad (John Hubert) forwarded a link to your site to me here in Borneo. I'm very glad he did, you've cheered up my evening. Congratulations to you both! Best wishes, Alex

Oct 17, 2008

I left a comment before but it vanished. I just want to wish you CONGRATULATIONS! This is such wonderful news.

Oct 17, 2008

Congratulations and best wishes to you both!

Oct 17, 2008

First time I have commented but congrats!

With the line about "his pockets look flat" I wondered.

I had the exact same story about Rome (minus the fight, I was just tired and wanted to skip the whole Trevi fountain thing at midnight on the first night, he insisted)

Now you can do what I did - walk around Rome with a slightly too big ring on, staring at it every time I slipped into the ladies room. We had been so warned about pickpockets that I was afraid to stare at it in public.

Oct 17, 2008

Oh, what a wonderful story, beautifully written. Heartiest congratulations, Holly and Sean!!!

Oct 17, 2008


I came back today to reread your story for a dose of happy and it occurred to me that you have about 270 extra invitations to print for the wedding!

Again, so thrilled for you both!

P.S. Does the ring go with The Hat?

Oct 17, 2008

This really warms my heart!

Oct 17, 2008


Now, put us to work planning your wedding for you.

Oct 17, 2008

No. Truly? Oh, Holly. I so totally didn't see where that story was going, although I knew from the flavor that something was up, something big.

Sean? You rock and all, but I do have to say GOD, IT'S ABOUT TIME. I know you'll be good to her. I know you'll make her happy.

Oct 17, 2008

Hot damn! I'm so glad it happened in Rome!

Oct 17, 2008

I had a dream last night that I was out running errands wearing a rather unfortunate outfit (but come on, it was errands) and I ran into you and Sean. I was pleased to meet you but alas was thinking about my embarrassing outfit the whole time.
Anyway, I echo the rest of your nearly 300 commenters to say that although you are a stranger to me, your stories have touched me--and congratulations!!

Oct 17, 2008


Oct 17, 2008

OMG! That is beautiful. Congratulations!

Oct 17, 2008

Congratulations! I'm so happy for you guys. You are so clearly right for each other and totally, beautifully in love.

Incidentally, when my fiance asked me to marry him (our wedding is in two weeks), I also responded "of course."

Oct 17, 2008

CONGRATS! Hurrah! I confess, I was so excited to see if this ended with a proposal that I skipped to the end the first time, and then teared up. But upon coherent re-reading, it just couldn't be lovelier.

Oh - and on my honeymoon, I licked - licked! with my tongue, not my fingers, head down, like you wanted to with the tiramisu! - a pot of empty creme brulee while my new husband doubtlessly contemplated how lucky he is to spend his life with a prize like me ;-) (In my defense, we were in our hotel room, not at a cafe. If it was the latter, I would have taken your far more refined approach ;-)

And the ring? Freaking gorge!

Yay for happiness everywhere.

Oct 17, 2008

This is the best story EVER. And it's your love story!! So so happy for you and Sean. Congratulations!!

Oct 17, 2008


Oct 18, 2008

Congratulations on your happy event!!! He is a very lucky man:) Have a great trip.

Oct 18, 2008

my roommates all came running when they heard me squeal!

best wishes you two!

Oct 18, 2008

Congratulations! That sounds like a perfect proposal in a romantic city.

Oct 18, 2008

I did the exact same thing. I kept saying "seriously? seriously. you're kidding me right?" We joke that to this day I never actually answered yes to his proposal.

I have been reading your blog for ages and couldn't be happier for you both. You're made for each other!


Can't wait to read about all your wedding plans.

Oct 18, 2008

Congratulations! Wishing you and Sean a lifetime of joy.

Saucepan Man
Oct 18, 2008

So,so pleased for you both, as you know. Hope it went OK on Thursday

Oct 19, 2008

Long-time reader delurking to say congratulations! What a lovely, romantic proposal. Kudos to Sean.

Oct 19, 2008

Congratulations!! What a great story! And that "fight that marred the trip"? Sounds REAL to me. Thanks for telling it like it is.

Oct 19, 2008

Congratulations! I've been reading your blog for more than a year, and just the other day I thought to myself, "Why aren't they engaged yet? They're adorable, and they clearly love each other."

And then you were off to Rome, and I thought, "I sort of really hope Sean proposes in an uber-Roman-romantic way."

And then when you hadn't been posting because, well, you're on VACATION, I started to get a little sad, and went through some mild NBB withdrawls (mild nausea, etc.).

But THEN! LO! This!

I'm so happy for both of you - as happy as one can be for two strangers on the internet.

With that said, I work at the Bus Stop in the Marina (Union and Laguna) most Friday nights; if you're ever in the area, stop by and I'll be you both a drink. Ask for Liesl, or just stand in the way of the cocktail server, and see if she recognizes you from Flickr. Again, Congrats, and safe travels back to SF!

Oct 19, 2008

Ha ha, BUY you a drink, not "be."

Oct 19, 2008

Too fabulous! Congratulations to you both!!!

Oct 19, 2008

I also commented on flickr, but I'd hate to leave you with a measly 300 well-wishes on this post.

Best wishes for a lifetime of happiness, together.

Oct 19, 2008

Congratulations! That was beautiful and so well written, you should seriously write a book or a screenplay or something, because that seemed straight out of a movie. Best of luck for a long, happy, and healthy life together.

Oct 20, 2008

My husband is allergic to making scenes and emoting so he proposed to me on toilet paper. (Although the second time he proposed to me in the middle of the street, but we had already been married just not legally in the actual civil ceremony/registrars kind of way).

That was a beautiful story and I wish you every happiness in your future.

Oct 20, 2008

Your morning may not have started well, but you certainly started mine off in a fantastic way. (A Monday morning, no less!) From someone who may have been leaning towards the cynical side when it comes to love, you've rekindled my belief in it. I'm thrilled to read about this special moment and your happy news... a few tears of happiness need to be dabbed as a result. Here's to your continuing love story... congratulations!

Oct 20, 2008

WOOOOOOOW! Congratulations!

Oct 20, 2008

Another long-time lurker offering congratulations. And to think you will be married to Clive Owen's long-lost twin! Lucky girl.

Enjoy your trip and drink lots of wine in celebration!

Oct 20, 2008

I LOVE happy endings! Or happy beginnings in this case. Congratulations Holly and Sean! I'm surprised you didn't type your post in all caps! ;-)

Oct 20, 2008

Congratulations Holly and Sean! That is wonderful news. Your love story just keeps getting even more romantic!

Oct 20, 2008

Lurker coming out to say (a big huge) Congratulations!!!! Also, thanks for making me cry :)

Oct 20, 2008

Congrats to you both. What an awesome journey marriage is. You'll see.

Oct 20, 2008

Congrats! What a way to spend a vacation. Pardon the cheesy comment, but now Rome will always hold a special place in your heart... I might barf from the mushiness I just wrote.

Oct 21, 2008

I am late to the festivities but I wanted to chime in my congratulations. How romantic and wonderful!

Oct 21, 2008

OMG- What great news! You guys are meant for one another. My husband was my high school crush as well. I married him 3 yrs ago and we have beautiful twin daughters! May you guys have an amazing time basking in this romantic period in your life!

Oct 21, 2008

A bit late but many congratulations! You two make such a lovely couple.

Oct 21, 2008

oh congrats! what a lovely story. YAY!!!

Oct 22, 2008

Congratulations! It's funny - I've been reading this website for a while, and every time you and Sean have gone on a trip, I have been half-expecting this post. Yay! :)