Monday, October 17, 2005

An eleven-hour engagement

It happened like this.

Robert came home from work on Friday night at eight o'clock and we went to the gym down the street. Standing next to each other on eliptical machines, I listened to my headphones and didn't speak to him and after twenty minutes, I walked across the room to stretch out on the floormats. He followed me after a little while and sat down next to me and apologized for being late, explaining that he'd had a horrible few days in the markets, losing money.
I said, "I'm not angry at you, Robert. I just don't know what I'm doing here. Maybe this is very naive of me but I believe that when you have an out-of-town guest, no matter where that person is coming from, you are obligated to make them feel welcome. I'm here for four days. We see each other one week out of every month."
He said, "I need to do better. I will."
"But you've said that before," I said. "Last Friday night, one week ago, you told me you would call at a certain time, and you didn't, and I had to call you hours later. And you apologized and told me that I deserved better. And two weeks before that, you kept me waiting on a street corner for forty minutes on Friday night. I am always waiting for you."
"Do you think that would be different if we were engaged and married?"
"Yes!" I said. "At the very least, if we were married, I hope we'd be living on the same continent and I wouldn't be visiting you and feeling like I was in a one-down position. I wouldn't have traveled across the Atlantic for the weekend and been disappointed by the fact that you had to work. Right now, our relationship is determined by how the markets are doing. And I can't even talk about this to my friends anymore. It's the same story, over and over."

We came home and showered, changed clothes, and took a taxi to Nobu, where we stood at the bar and I said, "You don't make me happy anymore. I feel that you treat me like a dog."
"No," he said. "A dog?"
"The only difference is that if I were a dog, I'd have to go to the bathroom on the floor."
Over dinner at the sushi bar, the conversation didn't improve, not in an attitudinal sense. I felt checked out, distanced from him, from this, and I realized that I'd been lying when I told him I wasn't angry. I was, at it turned out, more than a little embittered. But I didn't cry and at the time, that seemed like something to be proud of. I had grown so weary of crying over this man.

We took a bath at home and I started to cry. "I feel like a failure," I said.
"No, don't," he said. "This is not your fault."
"But I can't make you love me any more than you do," I said. "And this just isn't enough for me."
I looked at his naked body in the water. He pulled me towards him and I pressed my nose against his shoulder and smelled his skin.

In bed, I turned off the light and Robert snuggled up next to me, kissing my neck, kissing my face.
"Do you love me?" he said.
"Of course I do," I said. "You know I do."
"How much?"
"I love you more than anyone in the world," I said. "Do you love me?"
"How much?" I asked him in turn.
"This much," he said. And in the dark, he handed me a tiny box.
"Oh my god. Robert, are you serious?" I sat up and opened it to find the most perfect ring I've ever seen. I flipped on the lamp.
Robert reached out and flipped it off. He now lay motionless with his head turned away from me.
"Do you like it? Does it fit?" he asked.
"Yes, it's beautiful," I said. "Robert?"
"Will you ask me?" I said.
"Robert?" I said again.
"Will you marry me?" he said softly.
I said yes. I asked him when he had bought it and he said, weeks ago, the beginning of September. I said I was overwhelmed and surprised and suddenly full of hope. He kissed my mouth then and we made love and I hugged him to me, on top of me, and looked at my ring in the dark, disbelieving, and told myself that everything was going to be fine now.
Afterwards, I said I wanted to call my parents. "No," he said. "Why don't we wait until the morning?"
"Are you happy?" I asked. "How do you feel?"
"I'm shocked," he said. "I'm paralyzed and terrified."
And we went to sleep.

In the morning, we made love again but there was the same disconnected feeling. I knew that he wasn't happy, not in the way that I was, and his lack of joy weighed on me. I felt that if he wasn't happy, there was nothing to celebrate -- but I kept trying to put on a good face. "I'm so honored," I said. He looked, in the moment, like he would rather be anywhere else in the world. "What made you do this?" I asked.
"I knew it was important to you," he said. "It was time."
"Do you feel ready?"
He shook his head. "I don't know if I'll ever feel ready."
We went for a walk in Regent's Park, sitting on a bench with his arm around my shoulders and my hand on his leg, both of us looking at this new ring on my finger.
"Do you want to call your sister and Simon?" I asked.
"Not yet," he said. "Let's just keep it between us for awhile."
"It doesn't seem real, does it?"
"No," he said. "I can't believe I did it. It hasn't really hit me."

We walked to the cheese store and bought some goat's cheese and some brebis, like the sheep's cheese we ate on Corsica last summer. The total came to just over nine pounds and, outside, Robert said, "It's not cheap, is it?"

We went to the grocery store and bought eggs and hummus, a jar of olives, a green pepper, one liter of semi-skimmed milk, fresh coriander, spinach, cherry tomatoes, thin-sliced ham, smoked Alaskan salmon, raspberries, apricot yogurt, and a copy of the weekend Financial Times. At home in the kitchen, Robert cooked scrambled eggs and I set the table.
"Do you want to celebrate?" I said. "I want to tell everyone. I want to drink champagne and make toasts and celebrate."
He took a bottle of sparkling wine from the refrigerator and opened it, poured two glasses. He looked horribly upset.
"This ring," I said, "means that at some point in the recent weeks, you were sure about wanting to marry me."
Before we sat down, I made the toast. "I know you are afraid," I said. "But I love you. I love you so much and I know that we are going to have a wonderful life together."
Halfway finished eating our eggs, we put down our forks and looked at each other.
He said, "This doesn't feel right to me. It's not you but I haven't done this for the right reasons. I don't want to do this."
I went to the bedroom and wept with my face in my hands and then splashed water on my face. I slipped the ring off and put it back in its box, came back to the table and set it down before him.
"Getting engaged," I said, "should make you feel elated. It should -- and one day it will -- make you feel like the luckiest man in the world. It wasn't designed to induce paralytic terror."
"I know," he said. "I'm so sorry."

It was such a funny thing, you know, because I had wanted it so badly for so long. And then when I got it, the ring felt like a very empty gesture and I didn't want it anymore. Like a shiny piece of fruit that turns out to be rotten.

And Robert makes the best scrambled eggs in the world. I remembered how he'd come to Tennessee in March, to meet my parents, and we had cooked breakfast on Sunday. He'd made these eggs and it is such a small thing but I felt so proud of him that weekend, I remember feeling blessed by his humor, his stories, his deep affection and love. The thought of eating his eggs now, eating anything, made me feel sick.

I asked him to change my plane ticket. I said I wanted to go back to New York. I went into the next room and started packing. He stood there in the doorway, unmoving, and then came to where I stood and said, "I can't do this. I don't want you to leave. I can't lose you."
We went outside for a walk, strolled through the Egyptian wing of the British Museum, and then turned back towards home.
"You know," he said, "I feel so relieved. I felt like I was acting out of a tremendous feeling of pressure and that just felt wrong. But the only thing I'm sure of is that I want us to spend the rest of our lives together."
I started to cry again. I wiped my nose on a torn-up piece of toilet paper in my pocket.
I said, "You don't know what you want."

At home, I went into the bedroom with the phone and called a friend in New York, who didn't answer. I could not imagine telling my parents. I felt exhausted. I wanted to leave. I couldn't think of when I had last had a sip of water.
Robert came into the bedroom. "I'm ready now," he said. "Let's go get the ring sized to fit you. I want you to be my wife."
"Please," I said, "please don't say that right now. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

I asked him again to call British Airways and he did so this time and then told me that we would have to buy a new ticket, the old one could not be changed.
"Don't worry," I said. "I'll stay until Tuesday."
In that moment, I chose not to cause inconvenience. I wanted to stop this drama and this pain but I felt relieved not to be leaving him. I still loved him. I still do.

We spent the rest of the weekend talking, mostly about this. We went to the park again, we met his sister and her small children at a playground and talked about Marcos' eardrum. We ate lamb sandwiches at the farmer's market. We read aloud to each other, we watched The Graduate and The Motorcycle Diaries, and last night we ate fresh lobster and stopped, on the way home from the gym, to sit outside and have a glass of red wine. We have shared a bowl of edamame and gone to Starbucks, twice, to sit across from each other and read the newspaper while I have a tall Kenya coffee and he has hot chocolate with no whip. I have felt particularly tired for two days, as if, at any given moment, I might just lie down on the floor. This morning, I got out of bed at eight forty-five and at ten, we cooked eggs. I set the table again, I cut slices of lemon for our water.

Everything has changed, in a way, but everything else is very much the same. I don't know at all what I want anymore.


Blogger Unsane said...

You write well, but sometimes your passages are a little hard to read because the lines comes in with white spaces obliterating the type, kind of like when the printer is running out of ink.

I feel your writing probably has wide appeal, and you could fix this by using a different blog interface.

9:50 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Thank you.

Do you think it's an Internet Explorer thing? An advantage of is the easy, easy layout. But is there something else you'd recommend?

9:47 PM  
Blogger Unsane said...

Don't know why it is happening. When I highlight the text parts that are invisible and then remove the highlighting, the words that were previously invisible appear.

I haven't seen this on any other blog -- so I'm not sure what you can do about it. Maybe try a different font (if you can actually see the effect I'm talking about--I'm not sure it appears this way to you.) You could also try messing with the formatting in the template. maybe alter the margins a bit?

5:03 AM  

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