Yeah, I’ve got one.
We had only been in Tanzania for about a month. After her two-week, bare-bones project orientation in Dar es Salaam, we were driven down south and dropped in this village and left there to struggle. More often than not in those early days, we simply failed. Food, water, language, electricity, everything. It was wild, lurching back and forth across the delirious line between adventure and nightmare.
Now, we’ve only been here a month, but it’s about to be her birthday. I’m trying to get her this expensive jade ring to replace the one that broke, the one I got her when we first met. Problem is, I have to contact an old friend in Taiwan — who I haven’t kept in touch with — and have it bought at the jade market and mailed to me.
The birthday arrives, and no ring, and I’m at a loss. Everything here is crazy and difficult and completely overwhelming me. Everything. I spend the morning making a card on white paper with pencil while she’s at work, then cook a couple scrambled-egg-on-white-bread sandwiches, in a beaten-metal wok over a little portable gas range, on the floor of the empty kitchen, in our decrepit, furniture-less house. It’s not much and I know it.
I start to walk to meet her, to have a picnic outside her building, but she’s already walking home and doesn’t want to go back. My lone plan is shot. So we go back to our crumbling house, eat the sandwiches and have a fight. I give her the card, mid-fight, and it’s whatever and forgotten. The whole thing is pretty indescribably awful; we both feel wronged, and angry, and everything is terrible.
Fast forward a year and a half. Much has happened. I went home and came back, a second time, to go on safari with her parents. We’re on Zanzibar fighting like cats in a bag, because that’s the obvious outcome for two co-dependent addicts living in isolation together. Drinking all day and all night, ending each night with a fight, but still sometimes curled up in each other, still sometimes sweet; still kissing, still fucking.
I now have the jade ring with me. My friend in Taiwan finally came through and it just showed up one day, a year later, at my parents’ house. I give it to her and in surprise she tells me she thought, way back then on her birthday, that I was going to propose. She thought I was going to propose, and then because of that fight, I just put the ring back in my pocket. She carried that inside her! She thought that in silence for a year!
Now she has the ring, on a chain, and it looks lovely there against her skin, but I can’t help myself. Everything is terrible and I have to ask: “If I had proposed back then, on your birthday, what would you have said?”
There is a pause.
“Yes,” she says.
“No,” she says, lying naked in my arms.
I miss her every day.
I guess this story is about death after all.