For most Americans, November 22 is a national day of mourning, but for me it is a day that will live in infamy. It was the day that Ray first said, "Guess what?"
I, of course, played dumb with Ray, which is always a real stretch. There is a reason I have an "I am blond but not dumb" sticker on my car. "That should be a great concert," I said, while my first thoughts were: Is Neil Diamond still alive, does he still wear those leather jumpsuits, does he still wear his shirts open so that you can see his hairy chest?
Slyly, Ray replied, "Neil Diamond. You know -- the famous singing star. You know Neil Diamond." He then opened up his hand and displayed two tickets to the concert.
I was amazed that my Ray, the cheapest guy I'd ever dated, would buy concert tickets for New Year's Eve. The same Ray who cuts mold from his bread with a knife, who offered on a date to split a hot dog for dinner, and who never buys anything that is not on sale. He'd bought concert tickets without being nagged. My faith in the universal order of things was forever broken. I was floored. Ray puffed up like a blowfish.
As I drove to work the next day, the true meaning of what Ray had done came to me. Ray and I had been living together for a year and dating for three years. Lately, I had been constantly on him about an engagement ring. The diamond ring had become a symbol of my personal, unrewarded bondage. Ray hardly ever spoke, but when I talked about a diamond ring, his mouth became as airtight as a hamster's butt. Now I had an epiphany. How stupid could I have been? Ray had said "diamond" over and over again, so there had to be a connection. I should have known what he was up to by the look on his face.
I was instantly certain: He was going to give me a diamond at the Neil Diamond concert. I was so excited I could hardly breathe. I got on the telephone and called everyone I knew. Guess what, I said, "Old cheapskate has a real heart. He is going to surprise me New Year's Eve...Yes, it is so romantic...I feel like a new bride already."
This feeling was heightened by Ray's frequent mentions of Neil Diamond. Christmas came, and I received a bottle of no-brand perfume that smelled a lot like the disinfectant they use in roadside gas stations. I told myself over and over that Ray had spent all of his money on a diamond ring, so it was only natural that he wouldn't have any extra Christmas money.
New Year's Eve, we parked minutes before the concert and walked in from the Pepsi Center's outer lot. Normally, walking so far in heels would have bothered me, but that night I thought Ray was the sweetest person on the planet. We held hands all the way to the entrance. The tickets were for seats three rows from the roof, behind two of the largest people I had ever seen. I suffer from a fear of heights, and it seemed like we were sitting on the side of a cliff. Behind my head, the speakers were so loud that my ears hurt from the sound.
When Neil Diamond came on stage, he was a miniature stick figure. From where I was sitting, I didn't have to wonder if he was wearing a leather suit or had a naked hairy chest; he could have been totally naked and I would not have been able to tell. His voice through the speakers whined like a car starting up on a cold morning.
Ray said nothing but seemed pretty proud of himself. I was in agony! It was near the end of the concert when I finally said to him, "What about the ring?"
He said, "What ring?"
"The diamond ring. You know, Neil Diamond."
He said, "That is the real Neil Diamond."
I panicked. "No, did you forget to give me the diamond ring?"
"Diamond ring? Are you crazy?" he replied. "These tickets cost me eighty dollars."
I staggered to my feet and slowly made my way down the steep stairs. I began to cry convulsively as I heard the crowd around me shout, "5...4...3...2...1...Happy New Year!" and then everybody got up and hugged and kissed and old Neil began singing "Auld Lang Syne." I was hysterical as I pushed and shoved my way out of the Pepsi Center. Behind me, Ray walked as if experiencing shell shock. We said nothing to each other all the way home, and for the best part of the next week, we made a real effort to avoid each other.
My New Year's Eve was a disaster! But more than that: a very public embarrassment as each of my friends called me the next day to congratulate me on my ring.
It has been four years since that night, and even now when somebody mentions New Year's Eve and Ray proudly boasts that he once took me to see Neil Diamond, I instinctively look around the room for a heavy object.