I bought my own engagement ring in college. I got it at the hippie mall, downtown, at the classy junk shop, Chi-Chi’s, the one that sold wooden African earrings and tiny plastic timers set to go off the day George Bush would finally be out of office.
I did it because things had changed. The night before, he’d tucked my hair behind my ear, the same old trick, but this time, he kept talking.
You knew the commitment, he said.
I thought you could get out of it, I sobbed.
I don’t want to get out of it.
I’m going to be a terrible war widow.
It’s ok, he tucked. I’ll only be a B+ corpse.
Now, today, we’re on the phone. We are always on the phone. My job and my friends, my shampoo and my shoelaces, my half-decafs and my houseplants, they are only real when recreated. Reality is in the connection between his ear and mine. As soon as I hang up, items that are actually tangible become less so.
This cottony mist feeling comes with a noise. When you talk to someone who is standing on the other side of the world, you hear a faint buzzing on the line. Sometimes I wonder where it got picked up. What part of space it comes from. Is the sound some kind of large reverberation from those marbled, looming planets? Or just the dry static in between stars.
I like to paint my nails while we talk. I change the colors every day and go through so much acetate that the tips of my fingers grow weak and thin. I have to double-bag my trash because the chemical eats holes in the plastic. I have begun to use nail strengthener to prevent fractures. This too, I remove and replace.
What’s going on? I say, as music begins to blast through the phone.
Ha ha, I say. Ha ha, my heart says. Haha. Haha. Haha.
Chris and Taylor are got back from the weight room.
Tell me they’re not playing Eminem.
I’m eating M&Ms.
Slim Shady? Really? That album is ancient.
We prefer the term “pre-war.”
Remember how often we listened to that freshman year?
I don’t ask if he means that we listened to it too much or that he remembers it too much. Early on, I asked those things. Now I stroke my peeling nailbeds and try to forge emotional connections with my furniture so that neither party becomes a ghost.
We are silent. I want to hear him breathing, but I can’t. I want to hear him focus, but I don’t. What I want is to hear him want to come home. Instead I get Eminem’s world—his innocence, his tenderness, his angry white trash.
These are the results of a thousand electric volts, he raps softly.
A neck with bolts.
Nurse we’re losing him, check the pulse!
Nausea rolls in my stomach like a gentle, private earthquake. The strain of maintaining his safety with my mind is exhausting. I have been keeping him alive with my thoughts, just as you can keep an airplane aloft by willing it not to crash. I quickly erase the phrase “we’re losing him, check the pulse” from the universe’s memory.
Are you opening something? I ask.
You really are in throwback mode today.
I’m tempted to make you feel bad and say something like, “I’m here fighting in this terrible war and have nothing else to make me happy.”
Don’t burn yourself on the hot water, baby.
I hum with Eminem and start my second coat. I’m remembering us in his dorm room at 6 a.m. He is going to ROTC rehearsal. I can never come up with the actual word for it. Training. Practice. Drills. Something.
We’d gone to a foam party the night before. He talked to his friends while I rearranged the magnetic words on the fridge. Head full of mountains / go under for the best tomorrow / suck my dictionary, you.
He walked into the kitchen and lifted me on the counter, rattling dirty dishes in the sink. I remember feeling how solid he was, how muscled his arms. So strong, so down, so rooted. Next to us, food continued congealing.
At 6, he didn’t want to go to ROTC rehearsal. He used me as a blanket. I felt very patriotic when I cast myself off.
You have to eat something.
I’m gonna puke it up.
Y’all are so tough.
Fine. Are we out of bananas?
You say “out of” like your dorm is a grocery store. There’s only ever been Easy Mac and beer.
I made it—two packs of mix to one pack of noodles, just how he liked, and I was proud to know this tiny, intimate fact about another person. He dressed. He ate. I gave a fake salute and watched him watch my breasts jiggle when I threw my arm forward. As I stood in the doorway and he jogged down the hall, I noticed a line on the back of his neck, grime leftover from the foam party the night before.
Wait, I said, snatching a washcloth and waving it like a hanky from the bow of a massive ship.
Come back, I called. Wait!
He’s never alone there, so we often lapse into silence. Sometimes we’re so comfortable being silent that I grow worried. I wonder whether he calls because he doesn’t want to be a person without someone to call. In that case, it doesn’t matter whether he talks. In that case, all that matters is that our phone tendrils meet each other in space.
I wonder if he just doesn’t want to be the guy alone on his bunk, listening to another man’s music.
You know the problem with Eminem, I say.
Aside from the violence, misogyny, and obsession with drugs?
He doesn’t say the word “cock” enough.
Sweetheart, you’re so right.
Actually, not enough rappers say the word cock. They all just use dick.
It’s a travesty.
Can’t we write a letter to someone?
We need to take drastic action!
Yes! Call in the Arm- oh.
You made that joke on purpose, he says.
I made that joke on purpose, I say.
I have Eminem stuck in my head now, but it’s there in a weird way. I can’t get to any content except the refrain – HI! My name is, HI! My name is, HI! My name is
Later, I fake a dial tone in my head, because cell phones don’t do them for you. They should bring that back, the empty, metallic bawwwwww. I look at my hands on the table. Nails done. I can feel the burn on my skin beneath, so I know they’re drying.
I look at the ring on the table; it’s the one I bought, but he imbued it with joint power the first time he left. I don’t want to slip it on again. The cotton mist creeps around corners when I wear it, the buzzing becomes addictive. I have faith and a sinking feeling that someday, I will speak loud enough to take it off for good.
We sit and stare at each other, the ring and I. It’s not clear who’s going to blink first. For the life of me, I cannot remember why I bought it in the first place.