The night before I left for Windsor, Ontario to visit Lita, my without-any-hesitation friend who was attending college there, my boyfriend Billy gave me a diamond ring. It was a solitaire sparkler. I had no idea what it meant. I was seventeen years old. It slipped on my finger in a chilly rush and spun three times until it was right side up. I looked at it with regard—my left hand held at arm’s length, pressing against Billy’s heart. What do you think?
On the plane the next morning, I was anxious. Rain streaked against the tiny port window. I put the ring out of my mind, even though it was still there—all glittery on my finger. After all, I was going away—away from parents, friends and otherwise. I was going spend the weekend with Lita, and we were going to have a good time. She promised and laughed her daring chortle, which always meant look out.
I landed in Detroit, and took a bus across the bridge to Windsor where Lita met me at the border. All connections went without a hitch and I was so glad to see her. Her blue eyes, wide with mischief. Oh yes, we were going to have a real good time. Are you ready? she asked. We’re going to a wedding. Not a real wedding. A faux wedding. An excuse to have a big party, with food and drink and a whole lot of dancing. And guess what? She linked arms with me. I’m fixing you up with this guy. He’s a bit shy, but nice, really. It’ll be okay. Okay?
His name was John C., originally from Detroit, and most recently had finished a tour of duty in Vietnam. He was close to my height and as slender as I was. We could see each other, eye to eye. He had dark eyes, dark black hair, smooth olive skin. He was my blind date, and Lita laughed at my panic. It’ll be okay, and she pushed me out the door.
The wedding was held on the top floor of a modern high-rise dorm. Six appointed groomsmen hoisted the bride and groom on a makeshift litter and carried them on their shoulders, corridor to corridor until the procession of 100 party-goers dressed in flannel and muslin and patched denim and army boots and beads and bells spilled into a lounge that served as a chapel and banquet hall. It was pageantry at its best. The ceremonial vows of undying love were followed by dancing and eating and reveling until it was time to go to a basketball game. This was college. This was the typical Friday night. What would happen on Saturday?
Saturday came, and we were all still cranked, having crawled from gym to a residence in town. The old brick home housed at least eight roommates, and had a cozy common room with working fireplace and oversized throw pillows, scratchy mohair sofa and armchair. It was 3 in the morning when we settled down on the pillows, talking and not talking, watching the flicker of the fire in time with the music playing on Lita’s reel to reel. People started to disappear one at a time, leaving John and me alone. He was nervous around me. Nervous made a comfortable distance. The glass of wine gave us small talk until we both fell asleep in front of the fire.
Only the tick of a mantel clock, only the sound of light snores; then surprise— rapid pop-pop of the backlog breaking apart—embers flying out of the grate. John suddenly awake but not awake, his bowie knife pressed to my throat. My hands locked on his wrists, my legs frog kicked to push him off, screaming JOHN at his stone gargoyle face until he snapped out of it and let me go. He sobbed for a long time— inconsolable as I listened to him, trying to make sense of what happened. Nothing made sense. When I got up to get him some water, he slipped out, and I was there alone, looking out on a deserted wintry street.
Much later that Saturday, he came back, wanting to talk. I wrung my hands unconsciously, catching a glimpse of the diamond ring that didn’t seem to give up its light, and nodded, okay. He gave me a small white box. What is this? A bead chain necklace, with a metal peace sign that was missing a piece. I can’t fix last night. I want you to have this. Don’t think less of me, okay?
What was I thinking? The weekend was slightly horrific, mostly surreal. This was college. My body ached. The plane ride was bumpy; yet not enough turbulence to shake my confusion. I closed my eyes and pressed my forehead against the coolness of the window. I couldn’t wait to get home.
Monday morning. Back to routine of an all girl catholic high school: Mercy. I couldn’t explain the peace sign around my neck or the diamond ring. Everyone asked, even the gym teacher. Any answer would be giving into gossip’s dirty work. What did I know? I wanted to be left alone.
Later that evening, Billy came over unannounced. The dog barked and barked. I’ll only be a minute, he said. Not I missed you or how was Windsor? No, he said, do you still have the ring? I said, yes, and he said, it’s not my ring to give you. It’s my sister Marie’s ring. I need it back. He was nervous. I slipped it off my finger and felt a world float away. Good night, Billy, I said. You aren’t angry? he asked. No, I understand, I understand completely. I looked at his worry and watched it slowly unwrinkle. I said good night again; my left hand opening the door, certain that it would be okay.
Engagement ring by Cytherium (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AEngagementRing.JPG) via Wikimedia Commons.