On my birthday, after screwing twice and before eating sushi, you point to a box on the table in your kitchen. A note on top of the box instructs me to wear me. Inside the box is a necklace, and on this necklace is a key you have been wearing on a necklace around your neck. The key, you told me, is the key to your childhood bedroom door.
I love it, I say.
I hope so, you say. You’ll be wearing it forever.
OK, I say. I can do that.
No, you say, you don’t understand. When we get married, I want to melt the key and use it to make your ring. You will wear my past on your finger as a symbol of our future and life together.
Our bands won’t match, I say. This is the only thing I think to say.
I don’t care, you say. I want you to have my past. I want you to have my future. You have it all, rabbit. You know that.
So are we engaged? I ask. We have been together about 10 weeks. I want you to want to marry me because I want to marry you. I love you; that should be enough.
Not yet, you say. I’ll let you know.
You don’t know that I am already married.
At an Evelyn Evelyn concert in Cambridge, you on one knee tying a shoe, and a woman walking by gasps and says, loudly, he’s about to propose.
You look at this woman and then you look at me, and I am looking at you, and you laugh and I laugh.
No, you tell this woman who now looks embarrassed; I’m just tying my shoe.
Later, during an intermission, I am behind you and I wrap my arms around you.
You know, I say, when you propose to me, you’ll have to propose to me and Avery.
I know, Will, you say. I plan on it.
You don’t know that I am already married. You don’t know that this woman to whom I am married is pregnant with a second child.
In my car, near Central Park, on a Saturday in May. You and I and Avery have come to meet two comic book artists – my request – and then we played in Central Park – your request, though really Avery’s request, since he knows you give in to his demands more often than I do.
I am about to pull out of our parking spot, and I am waiting for a police officer on a horse to pass, and you say, oh, I have something for you.
You pull out your bag, and you reach in, and you pull out something that I can’t see.
Give me your hand, rabbit, you say, and I reach for you with my right hand.
No, you say, your other hand.
I reach my left hand over, and you put a plastic ring on my left ring finger. The ring is gold.
I saw that and thought of you, you say.
Thank you, I say. I don’t know what else to say but thank you.
I wear that ring for the rest of the day, and that night, when I go home with Avery, I take off the gold ring and put it in my ashtray, which is where I keep my wedding ring when I am with you.
Three days before the Fourth of July, and I’m going to a wedding in North Carolina tomorrow. Holly and Avery are coming. You aren’t, and you’ve stopped asking because you’re tired of me telling you that you can’t come. How do I explain to my colleagues, because several of us are going to North Carolina to see a woman with whom we work marry her long-time boyfriend, who you are? How do I explain to Holly who you are?
I let myself into your apartment. You gave me keys about four months ago, and later that week, made me your emergency medical contact. We hadn’t yet celebrated our three-month anniversary.
You are in bed, and I take off my shoes and get into bed with you.
Hi, I say.
I’m going to miss you, rabbit, you say. You wrap your arms around me. I wish I was coming. I don’t like when you go away.
Well, I say, I’m never far.
I reach into my pocket, pull out the ring, and put it on your finger. The ring does not fit. You turn your hand upside down. The ring slides off. You look at it and then at me.
It doesn’t fit, I say. I’m sorry.
Rabbit, you say, and you stop talking. You don’t know what to say. You are crying, and you are looking at the ring, and then you are kissing me.
I can get it re-sized, I say.
I love it, you whisper; I love you.
You unhook the necklace you are wearing, put the ring on the chain, and re-clasp the necklace around your neck.
Will you marry me? I ask because I have to ask; the ring is not the question – the ring, and me with you, is the answer. Asking Holly to marry me did not feel the way asking you to marry me feels. Asking for forever doesn’t seem nearly long enough.
Your voice cracks when you say yes.
I’m sorry it doesn’t fit, I say.
On my way home, I text that I want to spend the next 57 years with you. I want to wake up next to you, and go to bed next to you, and take care of you, I text. I want to see the life our children will have. I want adventures, and I want to travel. There will be hard days, and there may come times when we want nothing more than to walk away. But I promise you that I will always come back. I believe in us. I believe in you.
You know you will have to tell me all of this in person, you reply. I will not settle for a text-message proposal. I won’t even settle for a bedroom proposal while we are in bed. I want you there, on one knee, and I want to see you cry, you say. I want it in public and messy. I don’t want you to ask me safely. I want to know that you mean forever when you ask me for forever. And when I say yes, and I am definitely saying yes, then you will know that I mean forever and that no one else will do. I want to look into your eyes when you are proposing, and I want you to look into mine when I say yes.
Does this mean we’re not engaged? I ask.
No, rabbit, you say. I love you, and I want to marry you. We’re engaged.
You said yes, and now I have to tell Holly, and several times while I drive us to North Carolina, I turn down the music on the radio. Holly is in the backseat with Avery. You love Avery. You know about the second child. You say you will love this second child, even though you yelled at me for not telling – no, asking – you before Holly and I conceived.
Each time I turn down the music, I turn it back up, and I look at my family in the backseat, and sometimes Holly sees me watching through the rearview mirror, and she smiles at me, and I smile at her, and I think that we have not taken a road trip in a very long time.
I asked her to marry me on December 4, 1998. She was about three weeks from turning 20. I was 21. We had been dating for about five months, though we had known each other for about a year. I couldn’t afford her engagement ring, so had had to buy it with a credit card. I needed a year to pay off that bill. She cried, and then she said yes, and then she called her mother, who yelled, not just because Holly was young, but because Holly is Jewish and I am not, and marrying a non-Jew was out of the question. Holly hung up on her mother, and cried again, and then she and I went to the movies and saw the remake of Psycho. We ate popcorn and shared a soda. She sat on my right, so when I held her hand, I could feel the ring on her finger.
Years later, when I didn’t need to use a credit card to buy an engagement ring, I offered to buy her a bigger diamond, but she said no. She liked her engagement ring. Still, the diamond in it sparkled.
Holly and I drive back to Boston on the Fourth of July. After each 100 miles, I think that in the next 100 miles I will tell her that I love you and want a divorce, but when I drive across the border of Massachusetts and I still haven’t told her, I know that I will not tell her. Not right now. Not like this.
You text several times. You know we are coming back today. You want to know when I’m coming over. You miss me. You miss me. You miss me. Exclamation points. Several. Missing. And I don’t reply, and I turn off my phone, and I don’t reply and I turn off my phone because I don’t know how to tell you that I can’t come over because I don’t know how to tell my wife that I am engaged to you. Or that I want a divorce from her. But let’s share custody of the kids. Thanks. And, by the way, you’ll love this man with whom I want to spend my life and raise the children. Don’t worry. Trust me.
But she won’t love you. She doesn’t even like you. She thinks you’re my best friend. She knows about your drug use. She knows how your drug use makes me feel. She doesn’t want you around Avery. She knows about the Saturday when Avery and I showed up and you were stoned and your bong was out on your desk and how you didn’t understand why I left. I’m not that high, you had said, and I had said that your not being that high didn’t matter. Not around Avery, I had said, but what I didn’t add was, and not around me.
Holly won’t ask me to stop bringing Avery to your apartment. She’s tired of fighting. We’re going to have a second child. We don’t want to be those parents.
You’re working on the fifth, and I come over and leave some shells that Avery and I collected on a beach in North Carolina. The ring is in its box on a shelf in your room. I take back the ring. I tell myself that I take back the ring to get it re-sized.
When I see you later that night, after you’ve gotten home from work, you tell me that you’re mad.
I expected you here last night, you say. I waited up as long as I could, and when I woke up, I was sure you would be there, and I was disappointed that you weren’t here. I feel you no-called-no-showed on our relationship.
No-call-no-show? I ask. I do not work with you. Do not treat me like I do.
You are silent and I am silent and then I am not silent.
I took back the ring, I say.
Are you going to give it back.
I’ll get it re-sized, I say.
So should I consider the ring mine or not?
Consider the ring my promise to spend the next 57 years with you, I say.
I didn’t really answer your question, did I?