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  • Anna Haas

Leave Me on Glass Beach

A diamond is pitiful when it falls out of its setting. If it’s not confined to its meticulously constructed enclosure, the only place it’s ever been told it belongs, that has been built to hold its shape, a shape it was chiseled into by men seeking a profit, then what is its value? No one buys a diamond, the size of a pea, to keep it on a shelf, to fidget with it between their fingers, to toss it into a lake and wonder at the ripple, or to notice the way the sunlight refracts through its form before it hits the surface. It must be confined, secured, so as to never get lost, so as to belong to someone, to remain put, permanent, perfect.

I’d always been cynical of diamonds before I got engaged. I tend to be cynical of any tradition that’s accepted by the masses without question, without a curiosity about historical context or implication.

Diamonds. Why do so many women love them, expect them, equate the value of their partner’s love to the price tag of the stone purchased, or how many tiny ones have been crammed onto the band? It’s because of their innate characteristics I suppose, the kind we learn about in chemistry class. A diamond has qualities made possible by a particular arrangement of atoms that christen it with adjectives we’ve been told we must find irresistible.

Indestructible. Strong. Forever. Transparent. These are the attributes we’re seduced with by the companies who are desperate to sell them to us, by those in our lives who have found meaning in the tradition passed through time, passed down through generations of women, most of whom had limited choice and limited voice. Metaphors about love are made that are not to be turned on their head.

We should want something unbreakable, never changing, see through, and scrupulously whittled. Then we should want to confine it and wear it on our body until we’re being lowered into our grave, at which point it gets passed on to children and grandchildren. This is the point at which it’s embedded with significance and nostalgia. It was worn for decades by someone we held dear, so to question its meaning at this point would be sacrilege.

For a woman to question the symbolism or history of a diamond ring, or a white dress, or a veil, would mean to question the patriarchy, capitalism, the historic oppression of women’s innate sexuality, the pressure to remain innocent, her potential, and the rigid binary of traditional gender roles and norms. But, the customs of our society are set in place ever just so, to keep us from asking those questions, or from creating new symbols and ceremonies for ourselves.

Ok, so even though I was doing my best to fuck the patriarchy, I still chose a diamond ring. Yes, I chose my own ring. It was a gray diamond though, “so it was different,” I justified. It was opaque. It was imperfect. It was small. It was simple. I was critical of the convention, but only took it so far. I sent my fiancé the link to the sustainable jeweler I found in New York, and he ordered it online. He eventually proposed as I was packing for a solo trip to Paris, by handing me a plastic grocery bag filled with last minute travel toiletries. I pulled out chapstick, travel shampoo, and then a ring box. He didn’t say much. It was something about how he loved me, but I honestly don’t remember. I didn’t cry. We kissed. It was sweet, very him, clever, certainly surprising. And there was the diamond, the one I picked out, staring back at me. It was what I was supposed to want. I chose it after all.

For years I told the story of the proposal, of the ring pulled from a wrinkled Kroger bag, glossing my words with romance and humor, intensely trying to justify how moved I was, that he knew me so well, a smile plastered on that must have resembled something maniacal. I’d leave out the numbing feeling of disconnect, of the disappointment I felt so guilty for harboring, the pungent taste left with me that longed for something different from that moment. I don’t know what more or else I should have wanted, but I think it was something other than plastic. That looming discontent was one of two things. I was either ungrateful, or it had nothing to do with a tiny bottle of mouthwash. I’m not claiming to know which. But, if it was the latter, it may have meant I just longed to be known.

I did the work of picking out the ring, so I wanted him to do the work of articulating why he wanted to marry me so fucking badly. I wanted a proposal that rocked me to my core. But, that may have been too old fashioned a desire. I may have made my feminist bed to sleep in.

The ring was too small, so I didn't wear it overseas.

I could have noticed many signs along the way, whispering that we weren’t the best fit anymore, if I believed in superstition like that.

With so much of our wedding planning I intentionally set out to defy practices I viewed as mindless at best, and problematic at worst. I wore a pink dress with gold beaded flowers and flapper-esque fringe. The ceremony was completely secular, with no talk of anyone belonging to anyone else. Some of my bridesmaids wore suits, though I couldn’t think of a better word than “bridesmaid.” Cocktails and jazz flowed. Someone had to go on a run for more champagne before the reception even began. Hundreds of people attended. There was a box with whiskey in it that we placed letters in during the ceremony, letters we promised to read as we sipped the liquor on our five year anniversary, or when things got hard, whichever came first. There's a point in every wedding ceremony where "when it gets hard" is mentioned, the work that will have to be done. It's protocol to cover all the bases. But, on that day, surrounded by nothing but love and celebration, endorphins pumping through you, you can't actually fathom a moment where you'll have to pull the rip cord.

We didn't have time to write the letters, so we placed decoys in the box, secretly vowing to write them on our honeymoon. They were never written, and he’s now sober. Our five year anniversary is today, divorce lawyers have been retained, and somewhere in the attic, along with art we’d never hung on the walls, there’s a wooden box with a bottle of Oban and two empty envelopes. The parachute we never prepped.

After the guests were sent home we swam with our wedding party in our underwear in the pool until the sun rose. There was a bourbon and cigar lounge, so much food, and so much live music. No bouquets were tossed, and I didn’t wear anything blue.

Why are we in such a hurry to catch the bride’s bundle of peonies? How does catching wilted flowers like a football player at the touchdown line, while ‘Single Ladies’ blares from shaky speakers, indicate that the time has come?

I’d never liked the color blue.

We didn’t make love on our wedding night. It was all about the party, and we were too tired when that was all said and done. Plus our dog was drunk from lapping up spilled beer and wine, running laps around the venue’s extravagant newlywed suite. But, it was a fabulous party indeed. It sparkled. It impressed. It was perfect. People still tell me it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to.

On the honeymoon where we forgot to write the letters, he kept saying “let’s really enjoy this, because it’ll be the last time we do something like this for a long time.” Perhaps I should have tried harder to let that meditation bring me fulfillment in the hills of Tuscany and Provence. I had imagined a life filled with adventures like these, shared dreams of travel and possibility, so the words stung, hung like a veil over the future.

He gave me a three week extravagant voyage, one he wouldn’t have chosen otherwise, because he loved me. I felt that love, I did. So when it was over, it was time for me to settle into a life of routine, because I loved him. After all, we’d create more realistic dreams than learning to make all the shapes of pasta, or hearing opera in as many halls as our bodies could carry us. Three weeks for a lifetime seemed like a fair trade.

Settle in. Settle down, which also happens to mean “calm down.” The diamond has been set. Don’t budge now. The diamond has declared you taken.

We love to say that, don’t we? “I’m taken.” “She’s taken.” “He’s taken.” Possessed. Belonging. Claimed as one’s own, and the jewel on her hand is the reminder.

She’s off limits. She now has limits. Set in place, chiseled, compliant, stable.

Unbreakable. That’s what you paid for.

Taken. But from what?

Taken from a life she could have lived?

A few months after the wedding the diamond fell out of its setting on my ring. I looked down one day and it was just gone. I panicked. When had it fallen out? Had the dog eaten it? Did it get swept up with muffin crumbs at the coffee shop? Was it being kicked by pedestrians on the sidewalk, ground into the pavement, a seemingly insignificant pebble? I scoured every square inch of the floor of our apartment on hands and knees for almost two hours. I emptied trash cans and stuck my finger down drains. Tears left a trail as I crawled. I eventually gave up, terrified as I contemplated how to break the news to my husband. I had never gotten around to insuring it.

I sat in my desk chair, defeated. Then I happened to look over to the shelf, and there it was, sitting coyly next to some books, laughing at me. I had been combing the ground, and it had been at eye level all along.

It did look pitiful, it really did. It didn’t exude as much confidence or give off quite the sheen without the context of its golden throne. I held it between my fingers and turned it around, examining it in a way I’d never have been able to if not for this occurrence. It felt tiny. It felt random. It felt odd. It felt sad.

I looked at its back, the side that wasn’t supposed to be seen, to be fully exposed or touched. It was flat, matte, rough. It didn’t seem to have been given the same care as the front when carved. This was the side that was supposed to be hidden after all, for generations. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t supposed to escape.

I put it in a drawer, and never got it fixed.

Millions of people fall in love every year. Of those millions, how many question their personal preference or expression of beauty? How many stop to ask themselves, or communicate to their partner, what their ideal symbol of commitment would be, were they allowed (and we are allowed) to choose anything? We’ve been told it must be the diamond, so the diamond it is.

Fall in love and fall in line. But, who’s calling the marching order?

In the summer of last year, when I was still photographing weddings, I went to photograph one in Mendocino, California. Our son was one and a half years old, and I welcomed the getaway. The day after the wedding, I was exhausted and spent the day meandering around Fort Bragg, the town I was staying in just north. It was sixty degrees outside, autumn in July. I was wearing a jacket and scarf, completely in my element. Escaping the brutal Tennessee summer is something I constantly seek.

I stumbled upon Glass Beach, about a twenty minute walk from the old lighthouse turned apartment I was staying in. The beach is precisely as it sounds. Instead of sand, there are tiny rocks as far as the eye can see that have been washed by the ocean so many times they’ve essentially turned to glass. There are rocks of every color and shape you can imagine, sparkling, breathing, soaked by salty sea. Some are transparent, some translucent, some opaque, all stunning. They commune to create an ever changing mural upon the earth. The water is the paint. The waves hold the brush.

The air was ripped from my chest, the umami perfume of seaweed wafting past, beckoning me to walk towards the shore. I saw a woman collecting some rocks in a bucket. I wondered what she was going to do with them, and if they would still be as exquisite when she took them away from the water.

I gathered a few rocks and shells that caught my eye, and then sat on a large boulder with waves lapping against it. To my surprise I’d collected mostly blue ones. I slowly arranged them on the stone to create a small piece of art, my breath deepening, utterly overwhelmed by their beauty, wondering about each piece’s story, how long it had existed, when it was created, how many times it had been touched by the sea, whether it preferred to be on land to revel in the heat of the sun, or submerged in a blanket of cool liquid, swimming and tumbling into the dark, before being whisked back up to the light. I suppose both the land and the sea had informed them. I wondered how they’d each began, how big they might have been, how they got their scars, and admired their unique curvatures and crevices. I arranged them in what felt like harmony, then left them there.

How long do we really need a diamond to last? Why is that so important to us? Why must it be unbreakable? Why are we obsessed with its symmetry? Why do we need to perpetually flaunt it, keep it pressed to our skin as we wave our hands around in conversations and arguments, while dancing, sleeping, fucking, birthing new life?

As I sit here now writing this, stressed about declaring my debts and assets, wondering what the future holds for myself and my baby, I think about if I were to get into a relationship or married again. I don’t think I’ll want a diamond, not even a gray one from a sustainable jeweler in Brooklyn.

What I want is a rock from Glass Beach. I want the one you find most alluring, the one you feel has been through something, the one that has been cleansed by the briny Pacific over and over. I don’t want you to make a ring out of it, put it in a cage, or put it on my hand. It won’t be able to breathe. I don’t even want you to give it to me. I don’t want that burden. You choose it. You hold it. Then tell me about it.

I’m not so sure there’s a setting that would hold its unusual physique. It’s free. So, you’ll have to tend to it, pay attention. Tell me why you find it so beautiful. Tell me what you see.

Keep it in your pocket. Check on it often to make sure it’s still there, that it feels your touch. And when it breaks or chips, and it will, or gradually transforms from the constant rubbing between your fingers over time, tell me why it’s still so stunning. Even if it breaks in two, keep both pieces, and talk to me about how that hurts. I’ll tell you how they’re still me.

Tell me the ways I’ve become more fascinating with age. Each night, set me somewhere sacred, where you know I’m safe, and each morning bring me to your lips. Try to remember often how you felt when you first found me, when I’d already been sculpted and smoothed for years, already picked up, revered by, and dropped by countless others. You may have to run water back over me, in the palm of your hand, to remember how captivating that moment felt.

If you can’t see through me, trust that I’ll tell you what’s happening inside, about the weaving of molecules, microscopic tunnels, and pockets of air that brood beneath my facade. This will take time, so let’s linger in the adagio.

Keep searching for me, exploring, discovering me in the depths. Then take me back to where you found me, and try your best to cling to me there.

If you lose me, and I fall from your grip while you’re distracted by the horizon, then leave me on Glass Beach. Know it’s where I want to be, that it doesn’t matter. No need to get on hands and knees to look for me, because in truth you were never meant to own me. You can still love me, and I can still love you. I’m still here, trust it, even if I’m scratched or shattered, even if I’ve changed, even if I’m not tethered to a finger, or nestled in metal, even if the tide carries me away.

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