Originally written in April 2010 for a grad school magazine writing class
I proposed to the first girl I had sex with. Or, perhaps more accurately, the first girl who had sex with me.
Now, to be clear, I didn’t propose because she had sex with me. It wasn’t some passion- or lust-fueled spur-of-the-moment post-coitus decision. In fact, I had proposed months before the actual sex had taken place. I genuinely loved this girl and wanted to spend my life with her. At least I thought I did.
My heart thudded in my chest, pounding so loudly I was certain her father and stepmother could hear it in the next room, through the thin walls of the trailer they lived in. My mouth felt dry and scratchy, as if coated with sandpaper, and my palms were slick with sweat. I was all fried nerves. I don’t remember my fumbling fingers pulling the ring from the right front pocket of my jeans, but I know I went down on one knee.
When we met, my America Online screen name was TheCrow331, so named for my favorite film of my high school years and the date its star was killed in an FX mishap toward the end of filming. Hers had something to do with angels. We quickly bonded over the gothic angst of our youth.
The film spawned a host of merchandise, from T-shirts and posters, of which I had many, to statues and jewelry, including a sterling silver ring etched with the film’s tagline: “Real love is forever.” Thirty bucks plus shipping and handling later, I held what would become her engagement ring in my hand.
She cried when I slid the already tarnished metal band over her finger, nodded her head. A skittish laugh lodged in her throat as she looked at me through tear-streaked glasses. She might have even squeaked out the word, “yes.”
She was a musician. Her plan was to major in music in college, though whether she wanted to get a degree in performance, composition or education, I can no longer remember.
When she applied to Youngstown State University so she could attend the Dana School of Music, one of the oldest music schools in the country, I applied, too. It didn’t hurt that the school offered a minor in creative writing and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be accepted by my first choice, the University of Iowa’s highly-regarded Writers’ Workshop.
But, even if Iowa had accepted me, I knew I wasn’t going there. I was following my girl to Ohio.
The first few months of our freshman year are a semi-vivid blur, like a VHS tape on fast forward, full of false starts and the premature giddiness of being on our own. We were clumsy and awkward, yet to find one another’s rhythm. But we’d get there, I thought. It just takes time.
She dropped out of the music program midway through that first year and moved back home to her mother’s. I don’t remember why, exactly. Somewhere between arriving on campus and when she left, she lost her passion. And with her abandoning me at a college I was only attending because of her, I lost mine as well.
We probably spoke every day, using those same screen names that had brought us together. But the immediacy and ease of the Internet couldn’t make up for the growing distance between us. Even our every-other-weekend visits were lackluster. We were already going through the motions like an elderly couple who have been together for 50 years.
The school year ended and, after one final, fervent night together, I moved back home.
We spoke once after that first year of college. Maybe twice. I don’t remember what about. We never did break up. We simply drifted apart, stopped talking.
She still has the ring, as far as I know.