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Two Cougs, a ring, and The Coug

Go Cougs.

She said yes.
Ryan Hiller

I laid awake with the clock nearing 2 am. I should have been asleep, but my daughters decided that staying in a hotel meant bedtime is no longer relevant (they are mostly right). After finally putting them down, I was in a familiar pre-sleep position with a glowing device in hand, scrolling through Twitter. I reflected on the day that had just unfolded while thoughts manifested externally as a series of sappy tweets fueled by alcohol and euphoria.

It’s not as if I shouldn't have been tired. I hopped out of bed as my alarm sounded the previous morning, something that is always easier when you never even touched your REM cycle. That particular flavor of insomnia was the product of anticipation. For a month and a half, I had planned for this specific day.

As far as my partner Amanda knew, we were taking a random summer trip to Pullman with our dear friends Marnie and Cory. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. We all love visiting Pullman, and there’s a certain appeal of heading to the Palouse without the day being centered around a football or basketball game.

Of course, this day was built on its own major event, one of my own designs. As we packed the car, I tucked a ring box into my backpack and thought of the friends and family that would be waiting for us at The Coug.

Marnie and Cory were a perfect choice to join us on this trip. They were there when our relationship began, they are our friends from WSU that have lasted, and they have a deep connection to Pullman. The couple met at one of those forced mixers between dorms the first week of freshman year and started dating shortly thereafter. In the present, I view them as a prime example of a loving and healthy long-term relationship. When we were 18, I saw their love as nauseating and seemingly implausible. I just didn’t understand it, and I wouldn’t until years later when I fell for Amanda.

I have known Amanda, or at least known of her existence, since I was five years old. We attended the same school from kindergarten through college. However, we were never in the same classes until sixth grade, when kids were separated by perceived math aptitude.

Still, I did not know Amanda well until we were randomly paired together in our senior year “Current World Problems” class. We hit it off—we were both fans of sarcasm, and she was a fan of me knowing all the answers to every quiz. That partnership worked so well that when given the chance to switch partners midway through the semester, we decided to carry on together.

There was a crush, I know from my end and have since confirmed from hers. However, there was no relationship. Frankly, I was 17 and had a crush on any girl that talked to me.

We’d both go on to attend WSU, and it was there that our friendship grew. We dated other people but stayed in the same circle. We once had a fight over something while playing Taboo, and to this day Amanda is still wary of playing any board game with me (for good reason).

We ended up together at the tail end of our senior year. It’s a good story, but it’s one that requires several drinks for me to tell. What I can say is that I fell head over heels for her, and my poor coworkers at the SESRC that summer could not get through a single conversation without hearing me singing Amanda’s praises. My most played song at the time was, of course, Boston’s “Amanda.” Nauseating.

By December, after finishing my student teaching, I moved over to Seattle to live with Amanda. Well, technically I was moving over to Seattle to live with her until I could save up enough to get my own place.

I still haven’t moved out.

Our progress to Pullman got off to a rocky start, and we found ourselves so far behind and at times at risk of not making the trip at all. In frustration and to bring about a sense of urgency, I tearfully spoiled the surprise. We had to get to Pullman, I told her, because I plan to propose and there are people waiting for us at The Coug.

Now, she had a good idea that the proposal was going to happen in Pullman before I spilled the beans. I had asked her what she wanted in a ring two months prior, and the timing of when the Pullman trip was planned made things pretty easy to decipher.

What she didn’t know about the day was the surprise party. I was saddened to give that away, but as we made the drive I realized that she didn’t understand the scope of the party, and how many people would be there.

A surprise engagement party at The Coug was not the original plan for the weekend. At first, it was just going to be the proposal on campus followed by some drinks at The Coug with Marnie and Cory (and our four combined kids).

About mid-June, I began to worry that The Coug might not be open on July 31, my targeted proposal date. I sent them a message to ask if that day would fall under their typical closure between the summer session and the first semester. This was the answer:

“Owner Bob Cady said yes, we will be open. Plan was to close end of day on the 30th but we’ll extend a day and close end of day on the 31st.”

I was floored. Then I had an idea—how about I make this worth The Coug’s time? I started messaging friends and family and within a few days, many had committed to driving to Pullman. I kept in contact with The Coug to update them on numbers. The total group grew from the original eight to 27. At some point, The Coug offered a free photographer. This had become a full-blown engagement party.

One of the last to commit was Amanda’s best friend, who rearranged prior commitments to make it happen. The scene was set.

“Why aren’t you married?”

I have fielded that question for approaching a decade. Sometime around the five-year mark of our relationship, any new person I would meet would ask why Amanda and I are still not married. Interestingly, Amanda didn’t get the same persistent questioning, perhaps that is a commentary on the culture of marriage.

When someone asks you that question, it is often one-sided. People commonly thought Amanda was desperate to get married and I was depriving her of that milestone. The truth is, our decision to stay unmarried was mutual.

There was talk of marriage early on, in the first handful of years. As we moved across the country first to Nashville for Amanda’s grad school, then to Vermont for mine, then back to our home state, other parts of our life took precedence. Then we bought a house and had kids. Marriage wasn’t really discussed anymore. We were never against it, which is what many assumed, we just didn’t get married. It wasn’t that complicated.

One thing Amanda does enjoy is shiny jewelry and that was always her primary lament (in partly jest) about not getting married. In fact, when I asked her to pick out a ring and said “but don’t look too much into it,” she assumed I was just buying her the sparkly object without the attached proposal.

There is a combination of factors in why I decided that it was time to get married. I had brought up with Amanda that it might be cool to get married with our daughters in attendance, and she agreed. I also saw how happy it made my parents when my sister got engaged, and I know deep down they desired those special days where their kids tied the knot. For a while, it seemed like my sister Stephanie and I would just be happy with our unmarried partnerships, and our parents had accepted that as fact.

Finally, after going through the past 18 months, navigating the birth of a child along the way, I started to feel like a celebration of our love and what we have accomplished together was appropriate. I also love a good party.

We arrived in Pullman about two hours later than initially scheduled. I told Amanda that we had 15 minutes to get the kids ready and head up to campus. It was hot and smoky, and knowing that we’d have many pictures taken that day, I suggested we drive and park near The Coug.

Marnie, Cory, and their two daughters were waiting for us outside Duncan Dunn—the dorm that Cory and I both lived in as freshmen. Cory wanted to take a picture, I obliged but reminded him that people were waiting for us. The weight of the moment started to hit me.

I corraled the group and headed to the spot—near the old library across from Bryan Hall. It was the same spot where we took the picture to announce Amanda’s first pregnancy. It’s an iconic WSU scene, and it’s also an easy walk to The Coug from there.

The story was that we were headed to that spot because I wanted to take a follow-up picture to the first pregnancy announcement, with the two children in our arms. I then did the thing, got down on one knee, hoping to get my three-year-old to ask “Mommy, will you marry Daddy?”

Like any three-year-old, she refused to comply. I had lost sleep many nights over the previous weeks wondering if the kid would be in the right mood. After half a dozen attempts met by half a dozen “nos” I finally turned to Amanda and asked the question. She said yes. We kissed and hugged. Marnie handed us champagne. After 14 years it had finally happened—Amanda had her shiny ring. Now it was time to celebrate.

The proposal.

From that moment on, everything was a dream. We arrived at The Coug to a cacophony of cheers, and not just from our friends and family. There were football players (one who thought he was cheering for my baby daughter’s first trip to The Coug), students, and even the guy with mug No. 00, all clapping and yelling. I was overwhelmed with joy and appreciation.

Amanda, always one to avoid being the center of attention, sheepishly moved through the crowd. I spotted her best friend before she did. I pointed, and she let out a happy exclamation. One surprise had survived.

I expected to get into the bar and start buying drinks. Everyone there had used a precious summer weekend to drive out to the far corner of the state. But before I could finish hugging everyone, my Dad shoved a beer in my hand. Then his wife shouts “you aren’t buying anything, it’s on us.” Throughout the day I was handed beers, shots, a pitcher of Bodhizafa from Mr. 00, and iced by my future brother-in-law. I had to sneak away just to buy one beer so I could start a tab, profusely thank the staff, and leave a tip.

Dad made sure I had a beer to celebrate as soon as I entered The Coug.
Ryan Hiller

The staff could not have been more accommodating. It began with the preparation, where I worked with Lance Lee to arrange everything and Ryan Hiller who took some amazing photographs. The staff running the show on the day were on their game and made an important moment in my life even more memorable.

The Coug was already a special place for us. I wrote “Flyckt + Powers Rock ‘07” back in 2007 in the men’s bathroom, and it’s still visible. We spent many nights there in the early part of our relationship, and like many Cougs, we go back there whenever we can. As with WSU and Pullman in general, it’s just a place of comfort. We already missed The Coug the next day when it was closed.

The union of location and company could not have been better. I spent the next several hours with a grin on my face, taking in the moment as I talked with family and friends—even a couple of OG ZZU CRU buddies who are lucky enough to live on the Palouse and a basketball coach.

We continued on after the kids had to leave The Coug at 8 pm, commandeering the pool and courtyard areas of the Residence Inn with a stack of pizzas and some additional beverages. Jeff, his wife Sarah, Cory, and I also may have taken a late-night trip to Etsi Bravo to check out their “New Year’s” party (because they didn’t get to have one on actual New Year’s Eve).

After celebrating fake New Year’s, I returned to my hotel room ready for bed, and was greeted by a “Hi Daddy!” My oldest daughter was still awake. Then I heard her baby sister crying. Apparently, they wanted to be the ones to cap the night with me. I was in such a good mood, I couldn’t complain.

After some negotiation, my five-month-old and three-year-old finally went to sleep. I was exhausted but I wasn’t ready to let the day go, so the sappy tweets came.

At one point earlier while we were at The Coug, Amanda came over to me, put her head on my chest, and said “thank you for putting this together.” I told her I couldn’t believe how easy it actually was to pull off.

It was a perfect day made possible by dear friends, family, and The Coug. I am so happy I decided to have this major life event happen in Pullman. Throughout the day I felt the love, the community, and that thing that we just can’t explain about what it means to be a Coug.

Celebrating with Marnie and Cory.