I bought a diamond.
It was what she wanted. She told me that much. I knew that to be true. This was probably the easiest birthday present I've ever bought for her. She was always so difficult to buy for, both because she was impatient and because she was just so—weird. There was no one hobby that I knew I could buy something to contribute to. No cake pans for a baker, no knitting needles for a crafty woman, no stamps for the collector. And even if she did see something she liked, she would go and buy it for herself. She liked a million things and liked nothing all at the same time.
It sometimes felt like she was depriving me of the privilege of seeing her face light up when I bought something PERFECT. Perhaps I felt that way because so often she handed me a small box wrapped messily in newspaper and electrical tape that took me hours to peel off. And it was always something perfect.
Perfection was something she didn't strive for, and yet so easily attained, it made me sick. Yet, nothing really ever seemed perfect to her.
I bought a diamond.
This wasn't one of the glassy ones that they keep at the Wal-Mart in gold bands that are liable to turn your finger green. And yet neither was it one of the huge rocks they sold in blue boxes that said everything by their size and garishness. (Why of course you're in a stable relationship! Why else would he spend thousands of dollars convincing you that marrying him will be worth your time?)
She hated those things. She thought they cheapened they sanctity of gift giving and love and the meaning of a ring.
“Don't you understand? It's a circle, and a circle is eternal in a way nothing else is. There's no beginning and no end. Well, I take it back. Only love has an eternity like that. You don't really start loving someone, you only come to realize that you loved them the whole time. And you never really stop, you only don't let yourself say it out loud anymore, because loving them hurts you so bad it will make you burst on the inside. You lie, because if you don't live in a lie, you'll have to lay down and die. I mean, you get over it, eventually. Well, you don't really get over it. It's like cancer, it goes into remission, but you live with the knowledge that it's always there, inside of you, and it will eventually eat you from the inside out.”
Love was dangerous. She alone made me understand that. When I told her one day that I didn't understand why we bothered to love, she just looked at me the way a mother looks at her child when he asks why flowers die.
“It's the same reason that people snort cocaine. They fall in love because they need to. They are at a place where if they don't fall in love, they are going to fall apart, and falling apart means you'll never be put back together the same way.”
“But doesn't the same thing happen to every addict?”
“I suppose. The writing is different, but the stories all end the same way. I think when you fall in love, the tragic ending is just a little bit sweeter.”
So I bought a diamond.
I bought this diamond at the antique mall that she had spent so many hours haunting, wandering about in. She would touch all the dusty bits of old finery, flip the molded pages of diaries that were long lingering after their authors.
I knew she'd like this one better. It had—character. History. All things that she had wanted so badly in her life.
I carried the ring, ever so slightly tarnished, back to my house, clutched in my palm with my fist in my pocket. I carried it past the threshold I still found myself waiting for her to cross. I sat on the couch that her smell lingered in, sat next to the afghan she had stayed up all night finishing.
I stared up at my mantlepiece that she had found so charming and romantic. She was there, of course, both frozen in the pictures of her youth and the urn I had so carefully picked out for her. Black and faintly Gothic looking, a choice she would have made for herself, I thought.
I hadn't been able to bury her in consecrated ground. They never let suicides do that.
I cross the room and set the ring carefully on the lid. For the first time in three days, I smiled.
I had, after all, found the perfect present.