Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Ring Story (Revisited)

No longer will anyone mistake me for other girls in other classes, I tell myself after cutting my hair short during my first semester of college. I like my hair, but simultaneously hate the attention spurred by a drastic new look. I am shy, incredibly so. I sit in front row seats of classrooms and lecture halls to avoid conversations with classmates. When professors ask for volunteers or the answers to posed questions, I look down.

Every Theater 120 class, I sit in the same front row seat, stiff and forward. With a flopped confidence, Scott sits at the desk diagonally behind me, resting his black and white Converse sneakers on the metal book basket to my left and raising his hand often to read his homework, which never fails to be hilarious. An entirely new concept for me. Homework has always been a serious attempt to sound smart, but Scott performs his homework, making everyone laugh and shy from reading our own. Most days, he wears a black studded belt, a faded red tee shirt that reads “FRONTIER” in white capital letters, and on his head, hiding his avoided haircut, a standard blue handkerchief. I do not desire to date him, but I so admire his unruffled charisma.

At a cast party in November, while sitting on a sunken couch watching girls dance for one another, I see Scott walk in, and because of the three wine coolers I have swimming through my bloodstream, I decide to approach him. “Why don’t you ever say hi to me?” I ask. (On campus, when I pass him in his camel colored corduroy jacket and look for a greeting, smile or wave, his eyes never meet mine to participate. Even after the haircut.) He apologizes and smiles. And for the rest of the evening, while graduate students smoke cigarettes on the screened-in porch, professors nibble pretzels like squirrels in the kitchen and the girls continue to dance, we lean on walls talking.

A year later, after an evening of studying in my dark dorm room, I ask, “Wanna have a slumber party?” This surprises Scott into a pause. This is moving far faster than he had anticipated. But he nods his head and curls his belt and aligns his sneakers. He crawls onto my long narrow bed, fully dressed, and just as he finds the pillow, I ambush him with flustered gumption. “Where’s your mouth?” I demand in a half-whisper. He places his hand on my jaw and shows me where to find our first kiss. 

The summer of our fifth year together, I tell him we should get married. I (no longer the girl sitting idle, shy and silent) tell him to email his uncle, the jeweler, about a ring.

After a few weeks, three miniature manila envelopes appear on his dresser to tantalize me with their torn, open tops. The next day, while Scott is at work, and before my conscience notices, I dump three sapphire rings onto our bedspread. We had decided on his blue birthstone. The first ring is too bulky and flashily gold. The second is too thinly banded and plain. But the third is just right, a beautiful ring with six small decorative diamonds and one shiny sapphire. The only problem is its size. It should fit, I think, shoving it over my knuckle. But the ring sticks. Through flush-faced panic, I twist and pull the band until my finger is free. I’ll never do that again, I decide, returning the rings.

“What’s this? Are these rings?” I ask later, pointing. “You shouldn’t leave them out.” I say to Scott, who pockets the envelopes and tells me not to snoop.

But the next day I snoop and find the rings in his underwear drawer.

“I’ll bet it’s too small.” I warn him that night. “I’ll close my eyes and you put it on and if it’s too small, you can mail it back to be re-sized.” He refuses. He isn’t going to ask me until after his brother’s wedding anyway, so I should just relax and stop pushing him. Fine!

But the next day, I push the ring on and my finger turns blue with blood. I run to the bathroom for soap and warm water. After several minutes, I pull the ring off my swollen finger.

Yet even after this severe episode, when Scott leaves for rehearsal that night, I decide to put the ring on for the final time. I just need to see how it looks when I type and when I stand before the mirror casually holding my hand to my face.

I shove the ring around my rosy finger. But when I am ready to remove it, it’s stuck. I try again in the bathroom, twisting and pulling with soap and warm water. But this time, the band will not budge.

Scott and I live with my two sisters in a three-bedroom apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts. And on this infamous evening, my big brother and sisters are sitting in the living watching television. “What are you doing?” They holler after awhile. “I’m doing work!” I call back as I hunch over the bathroom sink, cursing my foolishness.

Eventually I emerge for help. “I can’t get it off.” I say to my little sister, thrusting my fat finger forward. “I found it and wanted to see how it looked on, but now it’s really stuck.” She gasps, mouth open, eyebrows raised. She cackles with a sister’s cruelty. I don’t blame her. I even laugh a little. She calls our older sister over who, with no surprise to me, joins in the laughter. This is why I have been hiding in the bathroom, I realize, as I walk to the living room to confess and ask my brother for help. He is disappointed in me, but researches a remedy on the Internet.

“Raise your hand above your head. Ice for ten minutes. Spray your finger with Windex.” He reads. “Windex?” I ask. ”Windex.” He confirms. “Then pull and twist. It should come off.” I thank him and return to the sink, Windex and ice in tow, and repeat the steps until I want to kill myself.

I call him. “When are you going to be home?” I ask as casually as I can. “In a minute.” He says. I hang up and shove my face into a pillow to wail. My little sister, no longer laughing, sits beside my bed, oiling my finger. When Scott walks in, she scrambles while my brother pats him on the shoulder. Scott looks to me, then to the open envelope on his dresser. “I’m so sorry.” I sob. “I can’t get it off.” He smiles and shakes his head.

Later on, after having dinner in the city, my parents stop by to ask if they should say “congratulations.” Someone had called for help. In the front hall, Scott turns to my father and says, “I’m sorry I didn’t ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage, but she proposed to herself.” Everybody howls at this. I smile, my hand submerged in ice water. “Soap and warm water. Just keep twisting it. It’ll come off.” My mother reassures.

But she is wrong. The ring does not come off and for two days, I waitress while it strangles my finger. Eventually, I go to the emergency room.

At the hospital, the front desk nurse crunches her face in sympathy, which I appreciate, and tells me to have a seat. Minutes later, I am led behind a thin cotton curtain and gestured to sit by a male nurse who asks, “Is this ring important to you?” I confess everything. “Wow.” He says as he saws the ring in half with a device I can only imagine was built for me. When my finger is free, he shakes his head and says, “Couple more days…” The ‘s’ on ‘days’ lingers like the smell of linoleum, urine and lemon cleaner. I look to him to finish his sentence. “Couple more days and you would have lost your finger.”

The broken ring is mailed back to be mended and before his brother’s wedding, Scott asks, “Do you want to wear it?” The blue sapphire matches the blue strapless dress I have bought for the wedding, so of course my answer is “Yes, please.” Gently, he pinches my palm and nudges the once size six ring over my size eight finger.

Married now for one year, clumsy lovers for seven. He always laughs at my impatient, excited impulses to kiss, sleep beside and marry him. His laughter, I think, encourages me to speak up and do rather than sit stiff and silent. If my seventeen-year-old self could see me now, I think she would raise her hand and read this essay aloud.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eye for an Eye

My friend, Mark, is a collector of comic books; an aficionado of graphic novels and a toy addict. Bordering his dining room table are bookshelves of Marvel action figures, Star Wars Drones and Boba Fetts standing, sitting and rope swinging on Lego space ships and miniature movie sets. In his bedroom, white cardboard boxes stand in stacks in every corner filled with books, magazines and calendars.

Mark likes fun things. He’ll buy hunting knives and buckets of G.I. Joes at tag sales way before purchasing a much-needed pair of pants. And if Hasbro Toys ever made Mark into an action figure, it’d be in a tee-shirt, a pair of hiking boots and a bathing suit (excuse me, “adventure shorts”) and the box would read: “Hilariously idiosyncratic! Mark includes a bottle of Blueberry-Lemonade Smirnoff Ice and a heart of gold!” For as much as I joke at his enormous stockpile of toys and useless knowledge of fantasy histories, I do believe it is the comic books and action movies that have shaped him into the man of righteous morality he has become. I say this despite the fact that his morals often differ drastically from mine. My morals, for instance, are based on episodes of Sesame Street and Full House and the teachings of Catholic School nuns, while his stem from Ninja Turtles, Spider Man and Wolverine. However, when it comes to the difference between good guys and bad guys, we usually agree.

While at dinner at a funky fancy restaurant for Mark’s girlfriend, Amy's birthday, he discusses this horrific crime he's been following in the news. In Connecticut, two men entered a house; locked the father in the basement; raped and murdered the father's two young daughters and wife upstairs and then burned the house down. (The father escaped through the basement’s bulkhead, which Amy and Mark discuss as peculiar. Avid crime show watchers, they say they have suspicions of the father’s possible involvement with the criminals.) The crime happened a couple years ago, Mark tells us, and still it has not gone to trial. He doesn't understand it and I don't blame him. Where’s the speedy trial? Where’s the justice?

Naturally, the subject of revenge takes a seat at our table next. Amy jokes that Mark fantasizes about avenging her death, which she fears will actually lead to Mark accidentally murdering her, leaving her dead and Mark left to revenge himself. Mark and Amy are adventurous folks. In plaid shirts, tattoos and boots, they often discus their combined desire to move to the woods and live off the land, hunting animals with bows and arrows. I laugh whenever they tell me these types of things because I know they're  serious.

On the subject of Connecticut, we discuss the punishment these heartless, murdering, child rapists deserve. “Eye for an eye,” I say in all seriousness. Everyone agrees and we all (Amy, Mark, Scott and I) decide that only the absolute worst, fully intended crimes should be faced with this ancient custom of eyes for eyes. Only when the crime is declared guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and the crime is really bad like rape, murder, arson, or child abuse. Then will the criminal be sentenced to the crime he/she has been accused of. For instance, these A-Holes (yes, capital A, capital Holes) in Connecticut, these raping, murdering arsonists would be sentenced to a raping and then a death by flames.
But who, we wonder, should rape the rapists? “Really old people? Because of the age difference between them and the little girls?” Mark suggests and all of our lips curl in disgust. “No!” We tell him. Then someone suggests, “How about big animals?” Then someone yells over the candlelit table, “Bears! A family of bears rapes them! A family of bears that have been trained to rape rapists! Then they are tied up, their bodies set on fire.” Of course, we do not have any representatives from PETA at the table defending the rights of bears while we eat our beef tenderloins and pork chops, but I think our enthusiasm for this idea could recruit even the top executives of PETA.

If a murderer thinks, Mm, if I murder that person by stabbing him fifty-seven times, then I'll be murdered by getting stabbed fifty seven times by a gigantic ape. I think his next thought would be, I'm not gonna stab that guy. Or if an abusive mother knew she’d get an elephant tusk to the face the next time she hit her child, I think she might consider a tamer discipline. I know you’re reciting that the world will go blind, but are you planning to poke anyone's eyes out? I cannot speak for victims. I have never been one, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fear becoming one. Of course, this distorted utopia isn't at all right or realistic, but I think it makes a valid point that just needs some adjustments. We know, of course, that we shouldn't train animals to do our dirty work, but what say you of robots? Raping, murdering robots. Perhaps these are all just future story lines for unnecessarily violent films, comic books or graphic novels, but this robot idea might be worth mulling over. Think about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


The sun rose behind the brittled, bent body of an elderly man and the squat, square body of a boy, making the two figures black silhouettes against the massive maple tree.
The old man’s brown, knobbily knuckled hand wrapped around the boy’s tiny tender fingers. His other grasped a ceramic mug. The black coffee rippled with the shift of his weight. The steam clouded his gold-stemmed spectacles with every lift to sip before the chilled air would transform them back to their original state of transparency. The boy, his grandson, was young. If you had asked him, he would have shown you his thumb folded onto his palm; his hand outstretched proudly before him and his four fingers up and straight.

The boy sloshed and splashed his red rain boots as they clomped down the steep dirt driveway to retrieve the morning newspaper. They walked by the pond, pointing to the ducks, and stood before the maple tree. “Why is this tree orange and red and yellow?” The boy asked. “Because the leaves are dying.” His grandfather said. “The leaves that were once green have grown old and changed color. And soon, when these leaves are done changing, they will fly from the tree’s branches and land on the grass and pile up onto the roots. Then the wind will come along and blow them away to swim in the pond, run along the road and to disperse and dance throughout the farm.” When his grandfather finished his explanation, the boy looked from the tree to the old man and said, “You are like the tree.”

His grandfather smiled at the boy’s accurate observation. The old man’s hair had gone white, as the green leaves had turned orange. His hair had fallen out, as the leaves had fallen off, and his strands gathered at the shower drain beside his strong, skeletal feet, just as the maple leaves had piled atop the tree’s raised curled roots. “Yes, I am.” The old man said. “And one day, this tree will die. And one day, I will die. And one day, many many many years from now, you will die.” The boy thought he understood and nodded his head.

The boy lived with his mother, father and two big brothers in the busy city, but the boy was happiest here on his grandfather’s farm in the clean, quiet country. During their weeklong visits, the boy’s grandfather would wake him early to walk down the driveway, around the pond and by the maple. The boy was the only person, since the man’s wife died two years before, who eagerly wanted to join him during these early morning walks.

One afternoon, two years later, the boy felt suddenly faint on the playground at school and vomited red under the yellow turny slide. His teacher ran to the school office and phoned for an ambulance. “The boy’s eyes are nearly closed,” she said before hanging up.
At the big busy hospital in the city, the doctor on duty scrunched his face and ordered the nurse for more tests, while the boy’s parents, dressed in business suits, stood by, theirs hearts racing one another.

The next morning, the doctor arrived to tell the boy and his family that the boy was sick. “Very sick.” The doctor said. “We need to transfer him to a specialized hospital across town.”
Later that day, from a white waiting room, the boy’s grandfather was called and given the news. The phone shook when he told his daughter that everything would be fine. That “the boy is so full of life. He will certainly get through this.” He returned the phone to its receiver and left to sit under the maple tree until the sun fell down. The next morning, he drove to the big city, his truck putting and crackling all the way.

Tied to the back beige bar of his hospital bed, Get Well balloons floated above and behind the boy’s pillowed propped head. The old man held the boy in a soft grip before turning to busy his wet eyes by searching for an appropriate place to plop the teddy bear he had purchased in the gift shop moments ago while he was waiting for his nerves to adjust.

Treatment began and the boy lived a nauseous existence, vomiting into plastic buckets, weeping when he saw nurses with needles and losing his dark brown locks. The boy asked his grandfather if his hair falling out meant he would die soon. “No.” The old man said. “You are different. You are young and strong.” And the boy’s mother shaved his remaining hair.

For the next several months, the old man drove to and from his green, country farm to the dirty city, carrying a deck of playing cards and plastic-wrapped comic books to read to the boy while his parents went to work and his brothers back to school. Yet after a year in the hospital, the boy could no longer take the treatment. “We could give it another try,” the boy’s doctor said with 
sympathy, “but I don’t think it’s wise.” No one wanted to give up, but more than that, no one wanted to see the boy’s poor body pinched, poked or prodded with thick metal needles any more. “I want to go to the farm.” The boy said at that moment, having overheard and understood everything. “I want to see the ducks and the maple tree.”

The next day, the boy, his brothers, mother and father did just as their boy asked. They packed five full, heavily hopeful bags and drove to the clean county. And every morning, before the sun showed them another day’s beginning, the old man drove the boy down the steep dirt driveway, to the pond’s edge and to their maple tree.

After ten days, the boy, now seven-years old, said, “I want to walk today.” The old man agreed and in the dark, the two aching bodies slowly walked their ways to the maple’s side. When they finally reached the great tree of undeniable strength and constancy, the boy laid down between two risen roots and looked up. The old man bent beside the boy, his joints cracking as they folded to sit beside him. It was early in the season of changing leaves, but just then a wind gusted through the tree’s top and several soft, floppy green leaves tore away from their branches and floated, like rocking chairs, down onto the boy’s diseased body, down onto the old man’s wearily wrinkled face. The boy’s grandfather reached over and grasped his grandson’s hand, and as the orange sun rose above the hills, the child and the man closed their eyes and waited for their bones to float and fly away.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Miniscule Massacre

The lifeless bodies of twenty gnats lay together at the deep end of our poisonous pool of red wine vinegar and lemon scented dish soap. Our plan has worked. Our enemy, defeated. No more will these gnats fly in and around our mouths and noses, onto our soft pink peaches, black and yellow bananas nor onto our plump purple plums. Never will these itty-bitty insects squat over our abandoned, defenseless bread basket, nor sneak and eat our trash bag sraps. Now they are all dead. Dramatically drowned in our poisonous pond of cooking wine and household cleaners. The Soap and Vinegar Massacre at the Fruit Dish and Cherry Tomato Bowl in the month of September, year twenty-ten, will be passed from bug to bug; recorded in teeny tiny text books and on bug blogs across the insect internet for all time.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"I make no vacation friends."

I tell Scott on our first day in Puerto Rico.

We eat lavishly all week, skipping lunches to excuse deliberately drunken dinners and a la moded deserts.

Our third night, we order a bottle of wine and watch as we walk crooked lines back to our room; fall to the hotel bed and click at the cable box before submitting to the silences of intimacy. Then a funny thing happens. Amidst our naked fooleries, I remember two days before when, in bashful fear that the maids might see, I had locked our condoms in the safety deposit box.
"They're in the safe!"
I exclaim, laughing.

Later on, after the four-digit coded foreplay, after the main sheeted, sheathed event, after brushing our teeth, and after pulling our underwear back on, we curl up together and collapse into the best kind of sleep.

"I make no vacation friends."

I tell Scott on our first day in Puerto Rico.
This is the only time when he is all mine.