“Will you marry me?”
“Oh, God. It’s beautiful.”
“Just say yes, and I’ll make you so happy.”
One Mississippi. It’s a heart-shaped diamond, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so stunning or expensive up close before.
“Are you surprised?”
“I think I need to sit down.”
Two Mississippi. Yes, I’m surprised. We’re only eighteen and nineteen and six months out of high school. Right now though, I’m mostly cold. I wish you wouldn’t insist I wear skirts all the time. My knees are freezing. We sit down on a park bench under a street light. Every word brings a cloud of steam in the cold night.
“You love me, don’t you?”
Three Mississippi. I remember you asked the same thing after senior prom, when you convinced me we should have “our first time together on a special night.” It was terrifying, and painful, and oddly boring in the end. I went to the women’s clinic the next day. Sometimes I wonder if other girls are always having to prove their love.
“Let’s see if it fits.”
Four Mississippi. I pull off my gloves and the biting cold reminds me of ice. Again I can feel the coldness of the shoulder I had to ice down for an entire weekend, after you shoved me against a wall. You bought me a huge box of chocolates to eat while I recovered. I still get queasy when I see that particular brand. The ring fits beautifully, and I hold my hand up under the glow from the street light to watch the diamond sparkle. Despite being the right size, the jewel looks oddly out of place on my hand, like I’m playing dress up.
“It’s a perfect fit, and just as beautiful as you.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“What do you mean? Just say yes. It’s not that hard.”
Five Mississippi. I reach into my purse for a tissue to dab at my tears. Instead I find the letter I meant to show you at dinner. I’ve been accepted to college out of state. I know you can see the school logo on the envelope. I hold the letter out, hoping you’ll read it and congratulate me.
“You’re not going to need that letter now. You’ll be able to just relax and look pretty…you know until the kids come along.”
“Um, wow. I guess we should have talked about this.”
“I’ve got a good job. My folks said we can live in the apartment over the garage until you find work, or we need something bigger.”
Six Mississippi. I breathe a sigh of relief that I never told you about my appointment to go on the pill after prom. In my head I can hear my mother’s “I don’t like that boy—you’re too young” speech. I start to cry harder. Between the idea of children living with your temper and the realization that my mother was right, I bounce back and forth between fear and humiliation.
“Don’t cry. You’ll smudge your makeup. We are going to be so happy.”
“Aren’t we a little young for this? Aren’t you scared? Don’t you want to go to college, or move away from here, or I don’t know…grow up before we get married?”
Seven Mississippi. Your face changes instantly. That muscle in your jaw starts twitching, and I can see you clenching and unclenching your fists. Suddenly I’m glad you thought the town square was a romantic proposal spot. You’ve never hit me in public. I might be freezing, but as long as we’re in the open, I’m safe.
“You don’t think I’m a grown man? Do I need to prove it?”
“No, no that’s not what I meant. It’s me. I’m just not ready for this.”
“Just say yes already. We can work everything out once we’re married.”
Eight Mississippi. I might love you. Maybe. I’m not sure anymore. I want this conversation to be over. Taking the blame on myself is the fastest way to sooth you, so I’m ready to say “it’s my fault” in as many ways as I need to. I’m scared. My heartbeat is thundering in my ears. I slip the ring back into the velvet box and put it on the park bench between us. You glare.
“Look, you know no one else is ever going to love you like I do. Let’s make it official.”
“You’re my first love, and I’ll never forget you, but no. No, I’m not ready to get married.”
“You really think going away to college is going to make you a better person? You think you’re going to find someone better than me?”
Nine Mississippi. I reach into my purse and text my dad. I use the emergency quick code “pig” that he insisted on ages ago, and I insisted I’d never need, along with my location. I know he’ll be here in about ten minutes. I realize that you are debating whether you can grab the phone from my hands without making a scene. You pick up the ring, and snap the box shut. You stand up and grab my arm. It hurts when you jerk me up, but I don’t flinch. Not this time.
“Just get in the car. We’ll talk about it later. You know we belong together. You’re just feeling confused because of that college letter.”
“My dad’s on the way here. It might be best for you if you leave first. I hope you find the right girl someday.”
Ten Mississippi. We both know you and my father “had words” in the past when he spotted a bruise on my arm after a picnic date. I covered for you, but he didn’t believe me, and you know you’ve always been one misstep away from a visit from the sheriff. I turn to walk back to our regular restaurant, well the only nice restaurant in town, to wait for my father. I can hear you cursing and what I’m sure is the ring box being slammed to the ground. My tears have stopped. I’m so glad I said “no.”