Before we begin, Haley and I would like to thank a few of the people who made this day possible: my sisters, Grace and Sallie, who drove Haley from place to place while keeping her in the dark as to my true intentions; Kim Kierchenfeld, who helped me set up lunch at Dharma Blue; Mark Lee and Gary Michaels, who provided the breathtaking backdrop for the big moment; our families; and last but certainly not least, Sarah Biggs and Jen Hinson at Jeweler’s Trade, who turned my rough idea into the perfect ring.
Most of all, I would like to thank Grace for her incredible generosity and kindness for allowing today to even happen. Between school and work, Haley and I have very busy schedules, so we don’t get home together very often. When I realized that Wednesday was going to be a perfect day to pop the question, I was hesitant to go through with it because the last thing I wanted to do was steal any of Grace’s thunder. You see, she is graduating from Louisiana State University on Friday and will be joining Haley and me in Birmingham this summer when she starts Dental School at UAB. However, when I broached the subject with her, she was ecstatic to hear the news and welcomed me to share in her spotlight. She is truly a wonderful and selfless young woman and I am thankful to have her as a sister.
To give a little background, Haley drove down to Gulf Breeze on Saturday to celebrate Mother’s Day and enjoy some rest and relaxation on the beach for a few days. She was planning on driving over to Baton Rouge Thursday morning, and I was going to fly in that afternoon for Grace’s graduation. In reality, I had been planning a surprise proposal for about two months, and I drove down Tuesday evening to wrap up final preparations. The overall idea was a scavenger hunt consisting of places with some importance to Haley and me; at each location, she would get a small but significant gift and a letter explaining what the location and gift meant. The following is a breakdown of exactly how everything happened!
C: The first stop on Haley’s scavenger hunt was Dharma Blue. Sallie and Grace lured her there under the guise of a “scholarship luncheon” Sallie had to attend. When she got there and realized that there was definitely not a luncheon, the girls handed her a letter that explained the scavenger hunt and kicked off the afternoon. With the help of Kim Kierchenfeld (Elle/Graham/Jacobi Wade’s mom), I ordered ahead to ensure that they could quickly eat and move on to the next stop.
The theme for the location was first dates; “Just Like Heaven” was the movie we saw on our first date EVER, back in 2005, and Dharma was the first place we went to dinner after rekindling our romance in the summer of 2011. I was able to track down a movie poster for it (what did people do before the Internet?!?) and framed it for her first gift. Kim went over about thirty minutes in front of the girls and ensured that their table was set up and the poster was put on an easel (thank you so much Kim!). After receiving the required picture of her with her gift, I put a clue to her next location on Instagram.
H: When Sallie and Grace picked me up for Sallie’s “scholarship luncheon,” I was clueless as to what the day had in store for me. When I walked into Dharma Blue and realized there was no luncheon, I immediately knew something was up. We walked to our table, where the “Just Like Heaven” poster was displayed on an easel, and it immediately brought me back to our first date. The girls and I couldn’t contain our excitement and were absolutely giddy (even though I had no idea what was really going on).
Grace and Sallie handed me my first love letter of the day and I began to read it out loud, but after the first sentence I realized that wasn’t going to be possible without bawling my eyes out in the restaurant. He started the letter with his sweet, kind words of love and endearment, and explained an abbreviated version of what the scavenger hunt entailed. We enjoyed our lunch, which he had special ordered for each of us, took our required picture and anxiously waited for our next clue.
C: Any scavenger hunt that has to do with places near and dear to Haley and me absolutely has to include Gulf Breeze High School. We met here in 2005 at the end of a lunch period when I saw her for the first time across the cafeteria. The only thing I could think was “how in the world have I never seen this girl before;” she was absolutely gorgeous, and I knew instantly that I had to talk to her. Demonstrating the brazen courage that only comes with being a senior in high school, I approached her and her friends and the exchange went something like this:
Carroll: “Hi, what’s your last name?”
Carroll: “Do you mind if I change it to Papajohn?”
Haley: silence, followed by intense laughter
If only I knew just how prescient I acted in that moment. Daily walks from the cafeteria to the foreign language building became our thing, accompanied by non-stop texts and phone calls as we grew closer. Haley’s gifts for this stop were a framed cross-stitch with the infamous words outlined above, and a bonsai tree later named Benny the Bonsai. I felt like a cross-stitch was the perfect way to blend a traditional home staple with our one-of-a-kind story, and Julie Jackson at subversivecrossstitch.com delivered a truly perfect stitch. The bonsai tree is a perfect metaphor for “planting the seed,” which is exactly what happened that day in the cafeteria almost eight years ago!
H: Before I got Carroll’s first clue, the girls asked me where I thought we were going next. I said, “If I could think of any one “Harroll” location, it would be Gulf Breeze High School.” They looked at each other and grinned, knowing what was to come. At that moment, my phone chimed with the first of four Instagram notifications (talk about Insta love) and lo and behold there was a picstitch of the high school.
We hopped in the car, poster in hand, and headed off to our next stop: the dolphin statue. The first thing I noticed was a frame of something, and when I got closer I realized what it was. I absolutely love the cross-stitch and can’t wait to hang it up in our new house. Also, I now realize why he casually asked me about a month ago what this type of craft was called–sneaky sneaky! Grace had to explain to me the significance of the bonsai tree, but as soon as she told me I thought it was absolutely precious! All of this excitement made me realize even more how much I missed Carroll and couldn’t believe I had to wait until the next day to see him. All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around his neck and thank him personally for all this unnecessary sweetness. Still to me none of this was suspicious; this was just Carroll being Carroll: thoughtful for no reason and asking for nothing in return.
Nails by Lynn
C: This was by far the trickiest stop on Haley’s hunt. I always thought that if I was going to make my proposal a true surprise, which I absolutely wanted to, I needed to find a way to sneak in a manicure for her. That’s not to say that she needed a manicure (because she didn’t, she’s absolutely stunning). Knowing her though, she was going to want to send all of her besties pictures of her wearing the ring, and she was definitely going to want freshly painted nails on that hand.
I was really worried though that she would immediately know what was going on when she sat down for a manicure. I tried to mask my true intentions by saying the gesture tied back to an old gift (OPI’s ‘Come to Poppy’–get it?!?) and a rather unfortunate event that took place at my cousins graduation back in December. While playing around–like always–in the kitchen of my aunt’s house, I accidentally stepped on her pinkie while holding her upside down (how does this happen? I have no idea.). That nail has finally and completely grown back, so I told her it deserved a fresh coat of paint, just in time for the next LSU graduation.
H: As Carroll stated before, this would have obviously been too revealing if it weren’t for my next love letter explaining the reason for us girls getting a mani. He won’t admit it, but he surprised Grace and Sallie by including them in the pampering as well. We picked out our colors, sat back, relaxed and chatted like it was just another Wednesday. After sending Carroll a picture of our freshly manicured nails, we were on our way to the next stop of the most thoughtful scavenger hunt ever designed.
C: When I decided to leave New York City and move home to pursue graduate school, the absolute first thing I did was get drunk enough to build up the courage to text Haley. After arriving at the appropriate level of liquid courage, I pulled out my phone and realized that I didn’t even have her number. Being the resourceful young man I am, I resorted to Facebook and thus began the months-long buildup that would lead to our first time seeing each other in a while. That fateful night took place at the Casino Beach Pavilion, where we met up on a Tuesday for Bands on the Beach.
The first time I saw her again was exactly like the first time I ever saw her. I got nervous like I hadn’t been in years, tuned out everything else going on around me, and focused purely on the gorgeous girl walking towards me. It was the moment that would begin anew the romance that would last a lifetime, so I clearly had to commemorate it. I put together a few CDs with songs (twenty-two in all-her lucky number) that chronologically traced our relationship, from the country-soaked days of high school to the 150-beats per minute of pure bliss that is “Starry Eyed.”
H: We pulled up at the Pavilion, which always brings memories of that night at Bands on the Beach two summers ago flooding back to me. Grace pulled out the CDs full of our songs and we immediately put the first one in so we could listen as I read my next love letter. For some reason, this letter–maybe because my subconscious was telling me something big was happening, or maybe just because his words were getting sweeter and sweeter and making me miss him even more–instantly made me tear up. I have never physically felt a love so pure and so deep simply from reading words on a page. Sallie immediately handed me her aviators so I could take a picture to send to Carroll without being a red-eyed mess. In response, I got what would be my final clue, and would subsequently change my life forever.
C: I would first like to thank Gary Michaels and Mark Lee for providing the beautiful condo that would be the backdrop for an even more beautiful moment. I left for the condo to begin setting everything up and practice the perfect knee bend when the girls left to pick up Haley. The girls were keeping me updated on their every move, and I experienced the most serene calm in those hours leading up to Haley’s arrival. The first thing I did was lay out a line of rose petals and seashells leading out to the balcony, although as you’ll soon know, that did little to direct Haley’s actions. I also set up my Jambox (an anniversary gift from Haley) to play our very first song, “Stay with Me (Brass Bed)” by Josh Gracin, when she walked in. I then showered, got gussied up, and relaxed in the cool air until it was time to go.
My plan was to start the song as soon as she walked in the door and wait quietly in a bedroom off the balcony. When I heard her open the sliding glass door from the living room, which was at the end of the rose petals, I would open my door and walk out onto the balcony to meet her. I hadn’t planned anything in particular to say because I wanted it to be spontaneous and whatever I was thinking in the moment. After I’d popped the question and (hopefully) gotten the answer I wanted, I had one final letter to hand deliver. After smiling and wiping away tears of joy, I was going to call down to our families (who had been waiting downstairs) to come up and celebrate with champagne before dinner at Grand Marlin.
H: When we pulled up to the condo, the girls stopped at the front door and told me to go up while they parked the car. I almost said no, but then I realized something was going on. I got butterflies in my stomach thinking that Carroll was possibly waiting upstairs to surprise me. I hurried to the tenth floor and completely ignored the beautiful views surrounding me, because I was solely focused on getting to the door.
After opening the door and stepping cautiously into the condo, I saw the rose petals and my heart instantly jumped into my throat (so much so that I did not even recognize the seashells that were crunching beneath my shoes). I walked through thinking I would immediately see Carroll, but as I got into the main room and looked out onto the balcony, there was no one around. I looked to the right and saw another bedroom (completely ignoring Carroll’s intended path, clearly marked by rose petals and the aforementioned seashells) so I decided to step inside with hopes of FINALLY seeing him! There he was, hiding by the balcony door, shocked to see that I hadn’t followed the rose petals. I was so excited, but the look on his face let me know that I had spoiled his plan. He told me to go back to the living room and go onto the balcony. After all, it wouldn’t be a Haley surprise if it went off without a hitch. When I got outside, he was waiting for me; I ran up to him and wrapped my arms around his neck. I asked what he was doing here and couldn’t help but wonder what was coming after everything that had already happened. I could tell he was struggling to find words and as he took my hands in his, tears began to well up in his eyes. I honestly can’t recall everything that he said, but I do remember his soft, sweet eyes and his gentle voice. The next thing I knew, he was down on one knee asking me to marry him. I instantly said yes and didn’t even give him time to put the ring on my finger before once again wrapping my arms around him and holding him close. After I finally released him, he showed me the ring and it absolutely exceeded all of my expectations. The stone is gorgeous and so radiant, but by far my favorite part is the Harroll touch on the bottom side, our double infinity. Even after he slipped it on my finger, none of it felt real. It wasn’t until our families came up and joined the celebration that it all finally started to sink in. We are engaged and I can’t wait to start planning our wedding! We popped a few bottles, went to our favorite restaurant (Grand Marlin) and soaked in the entirety of the rest of the night together.
Happily Ever After
We have both been blessed with such wonderful new in-laws and cannot wait for everything to come. Carroll is most excited about channeling his inner designer and choosing our color scheme, my bridesmaids’ dresses and my bouquet. Haley is excited about choosing which lagers to have on tap, how many different types of red meat will be on our buffet line and which drinking game will determine who gets the garter belt and bouquet. Options are keg stands, flip cup and a quick six.