Friday, February 6, 2009

The Rules of Engagement

During dinner at my friend M.'s house, she admonished, "Don’t settle for anything less than a 2 carat diamond when he proposes!” I had just told her how smitten I was with my boyfriend. “Are you serious?!” I said. “Yeah,” M* replied, slipping her ring off her finger. “This is a .5 carat diamond. Want to try it on?”

I held the ring -- a simple band with a glittering diamond embedded in the center -- gingerly. I couldn’t bring myself to try it on; her husband had meant it only for her hand. "Hmm…” I said, handing it back to her. Although I was a bridesmaid in her wedding, I never paid close attention to the ring.

“I want an upgrade!” M. announced mischievously. “For our 10-year anniversary – I deserve it after taking care of the kids!” She grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil and sketched a ring – a diamond in the middle flanked by little diamonds and more bling around the band. “This is what I want.”

Then, M. grabbed her laptop and opened the Tiffany’s website. I got up from the kitchen table and came around to her side, peering over her shoulder. “See this?” she said, pointing to a ring with three bold diamonds in the center. “That’s one for the past, one for the present and one for the future.” She clicked on an image of another ring – with a squarish diamond. “That’s a princess cut.” “And that,” she said, moving to the next image, “is the brilliant cut.” I groaned. "Eleven thousand dollars!"

M. turned to me, furrowing her brow playfully. “That’s not expensive! Patricia's ring must have cost about $30,000!”

Now I admit, I like pretty things as much as the next woman. And I like sparkly, unique things. But I've discovered that pretty, unique things don't have to cost the amount of a down payment. One of my favorite things in my closet is a tight blue shirt, with a silver dragon on the front and on the arm. I paid $5.00 for it at a Turkish market in Amsterdam. Then there's my beautiful dark blue and orange paisley scarf -- that I paid all of $7.00 for -- at Long's. Yes, as in the drugstore -- where you pick up paper towels, prescriptions, cereal. I'm moved by gifts -- whether it's a love poem from a "manly" kind of man, a flower he picked from his back yard, or a bouquet of one dozen Ecuadorian roses. It's the thought. It's the time. It's the vision of him wandering the purse section of Macy's, fending off the saleswomen, when I know he hates to shop.

It amazes me that a ring can mean so many different things to different people. Restitution for watching the kids. A status symbol (for both women and men). A sign for potential suitors to keep their distance -- perhaps a dare for them to "beat that!"

What happened to rings as a gesture of love and devotion?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Turning Around

As I tighten my grip on the Manzanita tree, I look left. Just seven feet away, the ledge ends. I'm standing more than a thousand feet above Yosemite Valley -- the pine trees are two inches high, the lodges three inches wide. "Come on!" my boyfriend, William, urges. He stands ten feet directly in front of me, unroped. Beyond him, I see the narrow sloped ledge open into a wider, sunlit one, offering a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley -- and safety.

My grip and my stomach tightens. I imagine my hand, wet, losing its grip on the Manzanita tree as I tumble down the sloped ledge, across loose acorns and leaves, falling forever, as in a dream. "I don't feel so good!" I yell back. "Come here! Hurry!" As the tears course down my cheeks, I freeze, fixated on the drop.

Then I'm aware of William standing next to me. I force myself to turn my back on the drop and crouch down. "Baby, you can do it," he says. "I can set up the ropes, and you'll be across in no time." I imagine moving across the ledge -- one end of the rope tied to my harness, the other to a Manzanita tree, just feet away from the drop. I can beat my fear of heights. I can do this. "Baby, you've got to talk to me and tell me what you're thinking." William's voice sounds far away. I don't reply. It's not worth it. I could die if something goes wrong. I've already climbed a boulder field and risked coming face to face with a rattlesnake. I've already inched my way across a foot-wide ledge, tethered by ropes, pressed against a boulder, above a 50 foot drop. Isn't that enough?

"Sweetie," William said, shaking me from my thoughts. "This isn't the best place to sit, because of falling rocks. You need to make a decision. Do you want to turn around?"

I look up at him. I look to my left again, at the drop. I want to go home. I realize I'm not ashamed to cry. And that I'm not ashamed to turn aroud. I'm so far out of my comfort zone this weekend, and for that alone, I am proud. "Yes, I want to turn around."

As we make our way down (William always ahead of me, leaping across the boulder field, while I slide down gingerly on my butt and hands), I wonder if he would be happier with a different breed of girl -- one of those women from his Patagonia catalogs -- her body ripped, her damp hair swinging as she grips the edge of a rock upside down, hundreds of feet above water. She's fearless. She's fit. She doesn't fall off logs, cry at the sight of hundred feet drops, or balk at a 16 mile hike. And part of me wonders too, if I would be happier with a man who says, "Honey, let's go to the movies today," or "let's cook lasagna tonight," -- whose Saturday afternoon plans don't involve possible close brushes with death.

But then William grabs my hand, "I'm sorry I chose a bad route for us today, and that you didn't have fun." And I say, "But I did have fun. I loved the view of the pine trees and the sky from a thousand feet up, as we ate our lunch. I loved seeing the mom, dad and baby deer family, the bobcat, and the bears on the trail yesterday." William cocks his head. "I love you." I smile. "I love you, too."

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Eleven Roses

"This is Teresa at the front desk. You have a delivery."

Five minutes later, I opened the door to the lobby. Teresa and another young woman stood there, giggling, waiting for my reaction. I turned to the left, and on the edge of the reception desk stood a garnet red art deco vase and one dozen long stem red roses bursting forth, framed by dozens of tiny white flowers and unopened pale green buds. "Wow," I exhaled, as my cheeks colored. "Lucky girl," said the girl standing next to Teresa. "What does the card say?" I gingerly opened the small, cream-colored envelope. "It's been a wonderful eight months," the card read. "Love, William."

The roses caused quite a stir at the office, which I found fascinating:

"I'd be embarrassed if my boyfriend sent flowers to me at work. Then again, why does my boyfriend never do things like that?" - The woman who sits next to me, who has been waiting for months for her boyfriend to propose.

"I got flowers, too. But they didn't look like that." - My boss, who received a "Thanksgiving bouquet" from her husband, in an effort to soothe hurt feelings after a fight.

"I told my boyfriend about the flowers. I said, 'Why don't you send me flowers at work?' He said he would think about it." - The young woman who carried my roses up the lobby.

And finally, from one of my close friends at the office, a sensitive young mother who is in the middle of filing for divorce, "If someone sent me those, I would cry."

She said this in a quavering voice, almost with tears in her eyes, and stood, unmoving in front of the flowers for a long time. I gave her a hug, reached over to the vase, and plucked a dark red rose from the bouquet. "Here," I said, "for good luck."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Smile like you mean it

To my right, a streak of moonlight cuts across the sapphire waters of the San Francisco Bay. In my rearview mirror, the sky deepens into orange.

Save some face, you know you've only got one.

Change your ways while you're young.

I'm flying across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge, singing with the Killers. But in my mind, I'm sitting in my ex-boyfriend's car, three years ago. Smile like you mean it.

"This is my favorite Killers song," he announces, backing his bright blue Acura out of his parking spot. The car squeals and cuts an arc, almost hitting his motorbike. He drives like he lives -- recklessly, arrogantly, selfishly -- cursing at other drivers behind his Oakley sunglasses, running red lights, careening down city streets.

And someone will drive her around, the same streets that I did.

I've been driving around the same streets with someone else for the past eight months. Someone who never tells me I'm "too emotional" when I cry, whether from joy or frustration. Someone who listens intently to my incessant questions -- Why do humans have to eat three times a day? Isn't that inefficient? Why do we need sleep? And to my delights: I saw a baby snake outside the office today!

So, why is it, when someone from your past hurts you unforgivably, a part of you feels nostalgic when reminded of him? A song. A blue Acura. The Thai restaurant you ducked into during a rainstorm, where he kissed you, wiped the rain from your cheeks and whispered, "I've never been so happy to be caught in a storm."