It was after the fifteenth wedding she had attended in her lifetime, in the autumn of her thirtieth year, that she began wondering if her left hand was beginning to wither away.
It happened while she was on the subway, holding on for dear life to one of those "Oh, Jesus" poles, as in, you know, "Oh, Jesus, I'm about to fall over," when it's standing room only and the train operator hits the brakes.
One of her many subway diversions was to glance at the left hands of strangers. After a while, it became almost compulsive. Thinking, in the deconstructed approach consistent with early morning, "Ugly. Why?" and, in the more detailed, slightly more alert analysis late in the evening, "My God, he is dull and unattractive. That face would crack if it laughed. Someone walked down the aisle with you?"
Cruel, maybe, and so perhaps she deserved her accidental observation that day, as she glanced at her own left hand and realized it looked different from her right. Drying, struggling to regain usefulness without its proper place; wrinkling, old-maidish, and lined like a map?
It wasnít long before she made the connection between her own left hand ≠ the showcase for the married ≠ and the fact that the ring finger on that hand was so brazenly bare, stubbornly naked.
She found it so very ugly, suddenly. People had always said she had beautiful hands. For playing the piano, for example, something else she had never learned to do. Or, as many observed, "Oh, you're a writer, that's perfect."
Like it takes long, beautiful hands to write long hand, to caress the keys in just the right way to make them sing about oh, the humanity. Like there's some genetic predilection to being a writer, which all boils down to a set of lovely hands, something that is meant to be.
Many had remarked that her hands were made for rings, with their pale, long, slender fingers. And she possessed plenty of rings. Puzzle rings and poison rings, thumb rings and pinkie rings. Sparkling diamonds, rubies and emeralds, but they all rang of an emptiness somehow.
Not one of her rings had any claim on her. They could mean many things, fun, perhaps, love -- love from her parents, maybe even love for herself, emblematic of her own vanity. She was loved, she could be pretty and adorned, maybe even adored, and she was alone.
She usually forgot to wear them, quite frankly. They all sat in a drawer. Like memories of old lovers, dusted off sometimes. Nice to have around, but in her absent-minded way, she generally forgot all about them in the morning. Her hands shouted out, naked, that she belonged to no one.
It wasn't as if her life had lacked love. She had loved many, she had even been in love once, twice, three times. A lady? No, she took what she wanted, on some sort of search and destroy mission approach to romance. Times have changed was what she was all about, as she became huntress for the perfect man. This usually seemed to translate into dreams that culminated in men whose imperfections were very nearly sublime.
Pointed, aggressive, You, I want you. It usually didnít last for long, though, that wanting part. On the one hand, she would engage in the gigantic, adrenaline-laced flush of the chase. It wouldn't take long for the masks to drop, and then each great man would fall like some huge oak, the crash of machismo and swagger and some "how can you resist me" attitude, when she was already over it. She created these men with her exuberant infatuation, then she would climb back out of the commitment, snap out of the smoke and mirrors dreamland of her own making, and feel that she had escaped some great, deep, sucking black hole. It was as if she would make that desperate escape, then, when it was all over, wipe her brow and gasp, "Whew! That was close!"
On the other hand (and that would be the lonely left hand, of course), the ones she truly loved always ran away and just kept on running. They never completely left though, running to the outskirts of her life, around and around, and forever remaining on the cusp of her mind, like those people who donít quite fit into the wheel of astrology due to some fluke of birth and timing. They never quite fit anywhere delegated to normal people, but they are there, just the same, perhaps more important, more interesting, because they occupy some strange and unexpected place, all about always and never.
There was one in particular; isn't there always? Soulmates, they drove each other absolutely insane. Soulmates, they were made for each other by birthdays, at least if you go by the book ≠ so how could they piss each other off so much? They could agree on nothing, least of all who they were -- neither who they were together nor who they were apart.
Are you two brother and sister? It was a common question for strangers to ask, whenever they were together.
No, but maybe in some other life.
But you look alike.
He was there, starring in her dream, when their names were something else, and they were blonde, and it was the long-ago past. The thing that was obvious was that one of them hurt the other very badly, because in this life, it was just manifest destiny, dusted before it began.
Those recurring dreams never told her what happened at the end, but she had a pretty good guess how it went. And he never told her what his dreams said to him, what they meant, who they searched for.
Give me your hand, he said. The other one, I mean. There's something wrong with "now."
The eyes have it, sparkling into her. Lost, but not forgotten. He constructs strong walls, the kind she could have built a life with, if they weren't meant to keep her out. She smiles at the fortress, as it was built for her, in memorial to the enemy. It doesnít matter. Falling in love isnít always as easy as some people believe. Itís not always all about getting married, sometimes it's everything and anything but that. With some of us, marriage might be the path where you are less loved. That's because you realize that you canít force it to work, you canít make it stay.
And thereís a tragedy: you find him, he's perfect for your heart, but he isnít really quite there. He's totally somewhere else. He's definitely your right-hand man, and isn't that lovely, but he's not in love.
And so, she found herself nearly convinced her left hand was withering away, and completely useless. Most far gone, the finger reserved for The Ring, of course.
So much for that sparkling, unworded boast, "Someone wants me. Someone treasures me. Someone owns me, loves me and chose me over every-fucking-body else."
She thought about that empty display, that wasted energy, feared it was paralyzed and impotent, wondering, "There it is. Hide it, it's ugly. What the hell do I use it for?"
Then she remembered, and it was the simplest thing: the keys, to her existence, as a matter of fact.
The ring finger on her left hand is for the w, for the x, and most importantly, for the s.
It's strong in that way. Because without it, how would she get "sex," or "existential," or the beauty of winter? Dear God, how would she ever get "sassy," or "wicked," or "wanton"?
And where would any of us be without the wail of the saxophone, the waxing of the moon?
What it all boiled down to was the written word.