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Five Ways To Propose Marriage

An instruction manual, for my only brother Sam

Molly Melina Sultan

Number One

8 Tell me this: Does she love you? Of course you’ll say she does, but I am not so sure. This is the way, the only way to know for sure.

Leave the house. Don’t let her know where you’re going, but leave muddy boot prints around. Leading to nowhere in particular. Leading everywhere. Women like a little mystery, and mud is mysterious. Ida has this thing for my hands when I come home from work and have mud caked beneath my fingernails. It gets her going. So, best bet is, leave mud all over the whole fucking house. But clean off those piles of crap from your dining room table! And leave one thing: a ticket. To Saint Helena. It’s this minuscule island in the dead center of the Pacific with thousand foot cliffs surrounding it. It’s insane! But here’s the truly insane part: You can only get there by boat! Only by freight boat. One comes once a year to deliver dry goods wrapped in Styrofoam peanuts. You can book a bunk on it, it’s cheap as hell and takes fourteen days to get there.

But here’s the catch: She’ll have to go to New York to catch the boat. Just to think of catching the boat is insane. If she goes, you know she loves you, and you know her love is pure. Because pure love is insane. Insane! So here’s what you do--you go to New York, you wait at the dock where the boat leaves, you wait for her, and you wear those boots with the mud on them but by now the mud is all dried up and crumbling off in places, but here’s the thing: When she gets there, if she gets there, you don’t make her get on the boat. You get down on your knees right there, man, and you ask her! Because she loves you. If she was going to go all the way to fucking Saint Helena for you, she loves you. On the other hand, if she’s not there, she don’t love you, and you’ve got yourself a boat right next to you going as far away from her as you can get, so if she isn’t there, forget about marrying her, EVER, and get your ass on the boat. Say this mantra the whole fourteen days of the trip, SHE DOESN’T LOVE ME, NOT NOW NOT EVER! And hey, once you get there, you can be a goat herder. That’s what they do over there.

Numero Dos

All right, not to insult you, but do you love her? Don’t get pissed off, I know you tell me that you do, and I hope you tell her, but do you really love her? Here’s what I mean: You think love is getting drunk together and letting her throw up in your car and giving her a bath when you get home and not getting angry when she pees on your mattress and you make her eggs in the morning and tell her it’s no big deal, you have this chemical that’ll get the smell out. And that is love, no doubt about it. You also think love is all the other stuff, like wearing her underwear on your head when she’s out of town and sucking out the beans from her burrito when it bursts all over her and laughing about it all the way home in the car. And that is love too. But, the real test is that she’s going to get old, and I’ve seen old women, they aren’t like old men. I know you probably think you know this, but you don’t know. I’ve seen old women. I mean naked. The point is, they’re crinkled, man, they are all crinkled up! And it’s almost beautiful in a way, all the little lines like fingerprints on their skin. I bet no two of them are alike. The question is, will you love her, all crinkled like this? Because for women--you know I know women--you can’t just love their brains. You can’t just say Baby, you’re all wrinkled up but I love your thoughts, because women don’t go for that.. They need to be beautiful always and you’ve got to tell them with sincerity. Otherwise, they’ll get suspicious and think you’re cheating. It’s nobody’s fault, but it does matter. It’s shallow, man, but remember, in the end, WE ARE ALL ANIMALS! Damn, if everyone kept that in mind, nobody’d be going to jail. So what I’m saying here is, you’ve either got to love crinkled women, or you’ve got to be a damn good liar. And I mean, a damn good one.

And here’s a secret: Women love it when you talk about getting old with them. It’ll gross you out, but it’s the quickest route to their hearts. This is a God damned promise. The day Ida conceived Bitty was the day that I told her that I loved the little bulging triangles where her thighs were starting to sag, and I stooped down and licked them and told her I hope they get bigger. I think I even meant it, because I was really feeling something when I said it. Anyway, nine months later, Bitty came along, and my point here is, I know women, so, listen to me! I know my shit.

So, you get this indelible marker and hide it for a few weeks. Be sure to wait it out, otherwise you’ll be too excited and your thoughts won’t be clear. Then, some time after you two have been going at it and Cassandra falls asleep, you go and get the marker. Be sure she’s sleeping soundly, you can’t get impatient on this one. Wait until she makes that little buzzing noise through her nose (does she do that anyhow?) and her belly should feel all relaxed and easily jiggled. Do the jiggle test. Then open the marker, and breathe hot air on the tip for a few seconds so it’s not cold and startling. Then, you write on her! I promise, she will love this. On her thighs you write "these thighs are just my size," and on her belly you write "there’s nothing funny about this tummy," and on her ass you write, "this behind is mine all mine!" and on her boobs you write, "these boobs are perfectly huge," and you can definitely think up the rest, but they gotta be nice. Don’t write any shit like "these tits are the pits," because while it might be a little amusing to you, it’s not the time. Anyway, after you’ve written all over her, you go into your bathroom, and you write on the mirror, "Be my wife for all your life," or "Be my bride ’cause I like your hide," or "Marry me, cutest little baby." The last one doesn’t have perfect rhythm, but she’ll like it ’cause it has the word "little" in it, and women dig that word. This writing on the body thing is good because it honors their body in a way that they can see, and that’s better than sex, and they like that. She’ll definitely say yes if you use this approach.

But do it on a weekend so she won’t have to go to work the next day, because some markers don’t wash off so easily.

The Power of Powder Blue

Here’s facts everyone should know but nobody’s taking the time to think about, so therefore, only I know! I’m the man with the facts. Ever wonder what it is for women about men in uniform? You hear it all the time: Oooh! A man in a uniform makes me swoonie! Or moonie? I forget which one it is. My advice when questioning the universe is always: look deeper! Do you think it’s simple coincidence that marines, postal workers, policemen, janitors, and roto rooters all wear blue uniforms? My man, there is no such thing as coincidence in this life. This might get you--it’s both deep and obvious--all of these uniforms these guys wear are the same color! Blue has what I like to call animal magnetism. When you wear it, you smell a little better to women, your butt looks a little more protruding and rounded, your whiskers more stubbly, and the veins in your muscles stick out more. It’s attractive. Think about that word like you never have before. Who do you think of? Elvis, of course. I don’t need to say his last name, kings need no more than one name. Elvis was at his best in his blue suit. Not just blue mind you, powder blue. Powder blue speaks. It speaks worlds to women. It says, powder and blue. It says baby boy and summer sky and gorgonzola cheese. Bet you didn’t even know I knew what that shit was! Blue cheese, my friend! Powder blue says sensitive, youth, vulnerable, opportunity, and hot air balloon ride. It says big king size bed full of puffy pillows. Don’t ask me how I know all this; years of reflection! Why am I telling you? Because, if you want her to say "I’ll think about it," or "I’ll get back to you," or "I love you so much but I’m just not ready quite yet," or "I’m only fourteen!" then wear your best suit and get down on one knee in your favorite steak house and hide a diamond ring in her flaming baked Alaska. But, if you want her to catch her breath, want her eyes to fill with little starry blue tears, want her to whisper, passionately, "YES!," then, you, my friend, must wear powder blue.

Four

Consider that life is really like one crazy fucked up poem or song or something, and you are writing it. The key here is, of course, that you are writing it and not me and not Cassandra. Everybody writes their own crazy little poem with only a couple of rules, really, like a few spaces and a few words that make sense in at least one language. Do you see what I mean?

My poem is:

My dog is the thick black tongue
Whose lick reminds me when I ask
Where is home?
I’m right here!

That is just my poem today. Tomorrow it will be something different. At the end of my life, it will be millions of day poems all jumbled together to make one life poem, in no order. Because that is how I want it. This brings me to my point, which isn’t so easy to say: Essentially, can you put a woman in your poem? Another thing is: When you put a woman in your poem, is it just as good as it was without her? Is it better? Of course, it won’t always be better with her in it, but what you got to ask yourself is does it have the possibility to be better? Is Cassandra the woman who can make some of your poems incredible, where without her they’d be just even keel, straight and narrow, moving the groove? Are you catching my drift? I realize your question right here is probably, "How am I supposed to know?" And of course you can’t know. But you can guess. It has to be educated, has to be a calculated prediction. Here’s what you do: Try writing some day poems with her in them. It has to be her, it can’t just be womankind in general, because they’re going to be around no matter what. But--and I hope this doesn’t confuse you--it doesn’t have to be all of her. For starters, put her hands in a poem and see what it does. See if you feel good when you read it. Then try her hair. Or her laugh? Cassandra has that loud laugh that is funny enough without the joke to go along with it. Maybe there could be a poem about that. I’m not sure. You figure it out.

If you’re brave, which you have been on a few occasions (don’t worry, man, I’ll never tell Cassandra about those), you’ll take this further. You’ll include offspring in a poem. Just to see how it feels. Because I know she wants kids, and I know you’ve wanted them all of your life. It’s not like me where I had to think about it. A lot of good that did me! Don’t get me wrong, I love Bitty like she was my only chance at a good life, but if I had done some poems to imagine her, I would’ve been a lot better prepared.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I get lonely with just women around me all the time. The truth is that you will too if you don’t get yourself a son. Women like to talk pretty much about everyone else. Or themselves. And it’s all psychoanalysis. Even when they’re tiny. I watch it self-perpetuate, under my very own roof. When Bitty comes home from school crying because some little bitch stole her doll, Ida tells her that the little bitch (of course she uses the girl’s real name, Tiffany or something) just went through the divorce of her parents, who are in a custody battle, and she’s feeling out of control of her world, so she’s trying to exercise control at school by stealing people’s shit. I said, How the hell do you know that? And Ida looks at me funny and says, Everybody knows that. That’s women for you.

What does all of this have to do with proposing marriage? You’ve got to look hard to see it. But marriage is ABOUT LIFE. It’s not just about white dresses and a drunken trip up her skirts for the garter, a sexy kiss all of your friends will watch and analyze (don’t give her tongue, please), and a honeymoon full of the kind of sex that gives you indigestion because you’ve just eaten more than you ever thought possible. No, marriage is about homes and women and men and babies and filthy diapers and filthy cars, filthy everything really, about mowing lawns and weed-whacking and uncontrollable dust and daily dishes and macaroni and cheese more than you want it and jobs and your tired ass on the couch wanting a beer but there’s none in the house, and millions of poems, all stacked high in your heart.

Five

I’m not trying to get you down but married life is no bowl of sugar peaches. I’ve got this kid to raise and I don’t know how the hell she’s going to go to school if we’re moving every few months because I can’t keep a good job. A few days ago, I figured it’s time to change ways. I should’ve realized it the moment I kissed Ida and said "I do." But the truth is--and I don’t have to tell you this--I was stone drunk at that moment. Anyhow, I’m sticking in one place for a while. Maybe for a long while, if I can handle it. I’ve got this new gig going here and it’s not so bad. Ever tried playing the harmonica? I think I want to stick with it for a while. Ida says I never stick to anything. She says she can’t believe I’ve even stuck with her this long, and I can’t believe it either. But here’s the truth: Marriage can be nice, but it is complicated. You know those glass globes where the snow falls down when you shake it up? That’s marriage. If I was gonna stick you in one of those snow ball worlds for the rest of your life, would you want Cassandra in there with you? You’re in there together and you’re looking out at the world, and sometimes things look a little warped because of the curve of the glass, and sometimes things get a little messy because there’s nothing you can do to get rid of all the fucking snow, and that’s frustrating, believe me. But it’s not cold in there, it’s never cold. Sometimes too hot, sometimes you get seasick from the swirling water. You’ve got your little plastic mountain to climb, your little castle on top of it to dream about, your little green toothpick pine tree to make love under, and you got your snow. Sometimes it settles around you, sometimes it falls and piles on your head. But in marriage, man, inside the snow ball world, snow’s always gonna be sticking to your feet. Everywhere you go. And, everywhere you go, even if Cassandra’s not with you, she’s right there. She’s in the snow ball world with you, always. Are you ready for this? I can’t tell you, but I can tell you this: I’m in here, and it’s snowy, and it’s a fucking beautiful place, but it’s the strangest place I’ve ever been. But I’m not going anywhere. So, you tell me, Sam, where are you going? <

Originally published in the February/March 2000 issue of Boston Review



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