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.