Monday, February 16, 2009

Fire Diamonds

The last time I was in San Diego, I went with my mom and my brother to the jewelry store next to our local soon-to-be-closed Circuit City. The jeweler, who seemed to already know my brother well, showed us several different styles of rings, describing various models as "classic" or "stylish" or "elegant". I thought they all looked the same, but I've never been one to care much about rings (except for the mythic and magical kinds, of course). When my brother had finally settled on a design, my mother pulled a small, grey pouch out of her handbag and handed it to the jeweler. He carefully emptied the contents into his hand. "These are excellent diamonds," he said. "They'll make for a beautiful engagement ring".

These diamonds were pretty much the only thing to survive the fire that destroyed my mother's house two years ago. A congregation from one of the local churches showed up and helped my parents sift through the rubble on the charred lot where the house used to stand. At the end of the day, the Christians left my parents with the diamonds, a slab of melted silver, and a brand new bible with golden-edged pages. For a few days, it was the only book they owned.

My brother's girlfriend—it still feels strange to say fiancĂ©e—had been there with us when we were dealing with all of that, too. She was also there with my brother and me when we decorated our parents' new house for Christmas while they were away on vacation. She came over with a bag full of knickknacks from the home decor store where her mother works, and later she brought us a holiday cake and a plate of cookies. I like her a lot.

It still weirds me out a little that my brother is now (as of this past weekend) engaged. I'm opposed to people getting married before thirty, if for no other reason than it's totally fucking creepy. I also find it weird, not to mention totally medieval, that my brother asked her father's permission before proposing marriage. It's not like he owns her. This is one of the many aspects of marriage that sours the whole institution for me. Maybe I'm just jealous that my brother has found love even though he's younger than I am. Or maybe it's because I know I'll never have a storybook romance, white wedding, or archaic ritual of my own.

There was a bowl of candy on the counter at the jewelry store. I asked the jeweler if chocolates came bundled with every gemstone purchase. He hurriedly assured me that they were free for the taking, and then he joked that I would probably be needing his services someday soon. "That depends on whether or not the good people of California decide to let me," I said. "Ah, politics," he replied nervously, before finding something with which to busy himself behind the counter.

My mom took us to dinner at California Pizza Kitchen afterward. "I know you probably won't ever need an engagement ring," she told me while we were waiting for our food. "So I hope you don't mind that your brother got the diamonds". I actually hadn't given it much thought, but when she mentioned this, I started to realize that I had been assigned a destiny somewhere outside the myth of our American family. "It's important that I be fair," my mother continued. "So just remember that I owe you something big—like a down payment on a house."

This sounded like a pretty sweet deal to me. After all, a house seems way more appealing than some shiny rocks that I would have to give away to someone else. Nonetheless, I can't help but be swayed by the romantic idea of these fire diamonds that now adorn my soon-to-be sister-in-law's finger. I don't mean romantic in the cheesy Valentine's Day way, but in the sense of the high Romance that constitutes the saga of our lives—the mythic quest from womb to tomb. My brother's journey seems resolute because he has familiar guideposts to help him on his way, but my path appears much less certain. I suppose my Romance is that of the Stranger who wanders in the dark, stumbling upon hidden treasures and writing his own unique story. My promethean soul wants to reaffirm that this is the better life, but I'm not without my doubts. I feel the temptation of a world in which the key moments have all been charted out in advance. But I know that this fantasy is deceptive, for no fire diamonds exist to guide me on my path.

I'm standing on the edge of a pool that stretches out into a dense fog. The water is thick and velvety, and I can't see the bottom. The air grows colder. The fog thickens. I dive into the darkness.

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