A fleck of light stung my eye, begged for attention as I walked past the mirror attached to the second-hand dresser in my bedroom. Sunlight had reached through the window and ignited the brilliance of the stone hanging from my ring finger. I paused the search for my earrings, focusing instead on my left hand's reflection. As I watched the mirror-hand move, I admired the weighty diamond bound to platinum alongside its matching wedding band.
I’d lost track of time as I puttered around my rental, sorting piles of little boy laundry, changing the sheet on the queen mattress they shared. There were still morning dishes to wash, a grocery list to make, earrings to find, and art supplies to unearth from one of the boxes that lined the edges of every room. Paint, glue, and glitter were needed for my older son’s school project. There were also sandwiches and a salad to assemble and deliver to my other son’s preschool for the mothers who had helped that morning.
All of that fell away as I admired the rings. I wondered how long I had been wearing them. Not long – maybe 20 minutes. But much too long. I barely remembered putting them on, pushing the cold bands over the knuckle to settle in on their former home. The blue velvet box, open like a hungry mouth, waited to swallow those jewels and the past. I ignored it, though, reflecting on the first time I’d seen that box all those summers ago.
Just days before the first anniversary of our Boston to San Francisco move, my boyfriend suggested we go out to dinner. It was something we did infrequently because the city was more expensive than we’d expected, even with two full-time salaries. Bundled in fleece jackets, we walked the few blocks to our favorite salad place on Chestnut Street. Instead of holding hands, I looped my right around Ken’s left bicep, just as I had always done. There was a line out the door, so we decided to try the new Italian place around the corner. While sharing the tiny table, we talked about the three articles I’d written that day, his efforts to grow a team of software engineers, and our theater tickets for the following evening. Then he broached a topic that was hard for me.
“That girl we went to see Lawrence of Arabia with in North Beach, do you ever have lunch with her?” Ken asked as we waited for our appetizer to arrive.
“No, she sits in a different part of the office.” I stared at the table. Realizing how silly my reply sounded, I added, “We just didn’t click.” Making friends was probably the most challenging thing about being in San Francisco. I lived with my boyfriend, and most coworkers were either the same age and single or several years older with kids. I wasn’t sure where I fit in; it was so different from college.
Avoiding his gaze, it felt like I was being quizzed, even though he was genuinely trying to understand, to help. He wanted me to have friendships to help me feel connected to this new place. He knew that by moving to San Francisco, I had given up my dream of moving back to Colorado after graduating the previous year. I had lived there during a six-month internship my senior year when he and I were not a couple. “What about the copyeditor and her roommate that we had brunch with a few weeks ago?” he asked, trying to problem-solve the loneliness that resulted when he worked long hours.
“Last time we were together, she told me that it feels like she’s the kid and we are her parents. You know, with you having a big, important job and we have a car and go backpacking all the time, like we’re older than we actually are.” I was twenty-three in my first real job out of college, and he was twenty-six and was on his way to becoming chief technology officer of a publicly-traded company. “I like them, but we just don’t really connect.” I just didn’t relate to being twenty-something and single. I wished we knew more couples to hang out with.
“You should call Kristina,” he suggested, as he soaked bread in the olive oil and balsamic vinegar left on our salad plate. Kristina was the girlfriend of Ken’s childhood friend. She was also from a small town outside of Buffalo, also went to college in Boston, and had also recently relocated to San Francisco. “Yeah, I should…” I said, trailing off nonchalantly, but wishing that he would take the initiative to get the four of us together so that she and I could get to know each other.
After our entrees were cleared, he ordered an espresso for himself, a decaf coffee for me, and dessert to share. As we waited, he nibbled at his cuticles, a habit he’d had for as long as I could remember. As I watched, I thought about what I’d given up, remembering big dinners and long hikes with my neighbor and his large co-ed network of friends. I thought about the room I’d rented in a furnished condo, the shaded balcony overlooking the stream, road trips. Then I shook that romanticized view away, remembering the bad dates and how alone I was much of the time when I wasn’t working at either of my jobs.
“No backpacking for us this weekend,” I said, changing the subject, referring to our Shakespeare at Stinson tickets. Hiking and backpacking consumed most of our weekends. The city was expensive, and heading into nature was a cheap way to experience the beauty of the Bay Area. Point Reyes was our favorite destination, and we always looked forward to catching California quail taking dirt baths and spotting the occasional albino Tule elk on our ten-mile hikes. If he and I didn’t go hiking every weekend, maybe I would have spent more time with Kristina. Maybe we would have done more things as couples.
“You have me, you know.” He reached across the table to take my hand. He held my eyes with his gaze, and after a moment said, “And you’re my best friend.” The life I wanted unfolded in front of me. Most of my week was spent amassing bylines, taking photography classes, and being in love in a new city. The drives to and from the trails and the hours walking together nourished our friendship and solidified our relationship. My boyfriend and I lived together. We loved each other. We spent quality time together. He was my best friend. I would eventually find deep friendships, move into a bigger apartment, get married, and maybe get a dog someday.
“You’re my best friend, too. But you’re no fun to go bra shopping with.” He laughed as he twisted the lemon peel that came with his espresso and rubbed it along the rim of his cup. After signing the receipt, he suggested we go for a walk around the neighborhood after grabbing another layer from our apartment.
With another jacket, we stepped back onto Chestnut Street and assessed our options. Turning left would take us up into Pacific Heights where we could see downtown skyscrapers and the bay that wrapped around the northern and eastern side of the city. Turning right would take us directly to the marina. We turned right. The sky was mostly blanketed in clouds, but bits of blackness peeked down on us. We meandered along side streets before strolling along Marina Boulevard. Windowed mansions were on our left, the bay and the Golden Gate Bridge to our right. The iconic bridge was still captivating a year later, but it was no longer a novelty. I wasn’t a tourist anymore.
As we turned away from the bay onto Baker Street, golden light emanated from the Palace of Fine Arts and its reflection in the man-made lagoon that surrounded the massive concrete structure. Protected from the wind inside the arched walkway, his fingers touched my cheek.
“I know I work long hours,” he said, running his palms down my arms. “But I’m happy…”
“…and grateful that I moved here with you?” I said, cutting him off playfully. He looped his limbs around my torso, pulling me in.
“You know me better than anyone ever has or ever will.” His voice was hushed, but each word radiated warmth into my hair, my ear. After holding each other for a while, we lingered in the rotunda and marveled at the 80-year-old structure.
As we meandered, we passed gigantic pillars that lined the walkway, many of which were topped with giant stone women with bare shoulders and flowing gowns. Imagining their cold skin, I adjusted my scarf and zipped my coat. It was Northern California summer, and it was far colder than any television show had ever led me to believe. An empty bench facing the water beckoned us. It was quiet aside from the male frogs serenading their mates and the nearby rush of Friday night traffic.
We sat in comfortable silence for a long time as we watched evening lights dance on black water. I could tell there was something he wanted to talk about. “Are you okay?” I put my arm around him, squeezing him, then rubbed circles on his back. “You seem a little off tonight.” By off, I meant less talkative than normal. He was an avid reader and filled with an encyclopedic knowledge of current events and trivia and science and technology. I drank up his stories, the ones he acquired from the stack of magazines and books piled on and next to his bedside table.
Before answering, he swiveled his body around, landing on one knee. He pulled that dark velvety box from his jacket pocket and cracked it open like a clamshell. “Suzanne Galante, will you marry me?” I looked at him and smiled at the monumental moment.
“You’ve had that in your pocket this whole time?” I said, raising my shoulders in confusion and delight.
“I got it after dinner when we stopped back at the apartment,” he said, shaking his head, an expectant smile curling the edges of his mouth. “Now are you going to answer or what?” My eyes went from his face to the box covered in shadows. The idea of getting married to this man was what had made giving up Colorado easy. We had known each other for seven years, and meeting him again my senior year was a second chance. I always felt like we had met each other too early in life the first time around. That single diamond on the plain platinum band waited for my answer. That was twelve years ago.
The sound of garbage trucks grunting along my street returned me to the mirror in my bedroom. I regarded my face and waited for an explanation about the rings. It studied me cautiously before toying with something that looked like: This is what you wanted and No one said it would be easy. After what felt like a staring contest, my expression softened to compassion before a sigh escaped my lips. Then, gripping the rings that had acted like a time machine, I wiggled them over the knuckle, placed them in their cushioned cave, and returned them to the back of my sock drawer. From there, I picked up the basket of little boy laundry and headed to the washing machine.
Welcome to the twelfth issue of Six Hens.
A fleck of light stung my eye, begged for attention as I walked past the mirror attached to the second-hand dresser in my bedroom. Sunlight had reached through the window and ignited the brilliance of the stone hanging from my ring finger. I paused the search for my earrings, focusing instead on my left hand’s reflection. As I watched the mirror-hand move, I admired the weighty diamond bound to platinum alongside its matching wedding band.
I’d lost track of time as I puttered around my rental, sorting piles of little boy laundry, changing the sheet on the queen mattress they shared. There were still...