By which I mean I am a lesbian who likes to look at and hold cool rocks — not that I am a lesbian into cool rock ‘n roll, but I’m sure those lesbians are great.
Once, I was a Rock Tumbler Closeted Lesbian (RTCL), which means I obsessively ran rocks through a tumbler and gave the polished stones that came out to girls. Once, I gifted a rock to my best friend Anna on the playground and said something along the lines of it’s stupid girls can’t marry each other, and she pocketed the rock and said no that would be gross.
Once, by the shore of the lake my grandpa grew up on, I sifted through the sand for rocks. Most of them, I just skipped across the lake’s cool surface. Or I dropped them unceremoniously back in the water. No one asked what I was looking for, but if they did, I would have said a cool rock.
And then I found one. A perfect Petoskey stone — the fossilized rock ground down by sheets of ice into smooth, round pebbles and deposited in the waters of northern Michigan. Mine looked like the kind you can buy in gas stations up there, preserved and as if it’d already been turned many times through my tumbler which, I suppose, it had; glaciation is nature’s rock tumbler. The stone’s hexagonal spindly pattern, evidence of its beforelife as part of the coral reef, reminded me of honeycomb. I sprayed it with a sealant to make it shine and kept it on the desk in my bedroom. For a very long time, this was my ultimate cool rock.
But I didn’t remove it from my childhood home when I left for college. I never retrieved it as I moved from city to city. I collected new rocks, slipped them into pockets, found them rattling at the bottom of bags here and there. I couldn’t call myself a collector, because I had no organized way of displaying these rocks. I scattered them about, lost track of some, designated others as anxiety tokens and kept them in specific coat pockets so I could reach for them when needed.
There was nothing inside, and she asked: What were you looking for?
I answered, without hesitation: a cool rock.
It became one of our many inside jokes, the kind couples keep, nearly impossible to render on the page for others in a way that feels remotely as funny or meaningful as it does in the private lake of love. I’d reach into her pockets, over and over, and pout at the lack of a cool rock. I slipped my hand in the back pocket of her black shorts as we walked around a lake during Pride in downtown Orlando and left it there. When I finally took it out, I said in mock disbelief still no cool rock.
We were in bed on Christmas morning, opening our stockings. Mine has a pocket on the front. We bought matching ones at Target, one for the dog too, during our first December of living together. We didn’t have a mantle then, so we taped them to our bookshelves, the ones that house our merged collections. I’d never done so many holiday things with a partner before. I brought her into some of my traditions, but we also started forging our own, her estrangement from her family deepening our need and desire to create rituals together early on, to be lovers who are also family.
It was on Christmas morning that she asked me to marry her, and we were together, just the two of us, nestled in the small murphy bed in my parents’ guest room. My parents were upstairs and knew nothing. My sister was the only one whose “permission” my love had asked for, and that felt right. It all felt right, us in our own little bubble but still close by to my family.
The ring wasn’t in a box. In the pocket on the front of my stocking, there was a bulky, sparkly rock. It was halved and hinged, and when I opened it, the two sides broke apart immediately, its clasp broken. A ring fell out of this very cool rock, which looked a little familiar. The reason became immediately clear. My love said she had placed the rock in different parts of the room in the days leading up to the proposal as she tried to work out exactly when and how she’d do it. I must have seen the cool rock but glazed over it, thinking it merely my mother’s decor even though it’s much more sparkly than her usual aesthetic. There had been a cool rock in front of me this whole time, and I hadn’t thought to pick it up, to explore its contours and, most importantly, the second rock it contained.
The hinge had broken because my love had worried it endlessly when it was slipped in her own pocket a couple days before. She’d brought it with us when we’d gone to a cute part of the city I’d grown up near with its little shops and restaurants, an area that makes me immediately nostalgic for my high school years. She’d thought maybe she’d do it there, outside, the two of us with a rare pocket of alone time away from the house full of family. But it had been so cold. My lips turned blue, little sensitive Florida baby that I am now thanks to a life with her in her home state, and I was being dramatic, screaming at the wind, arms glued to my side and hands balled in fists in my pockets. Her hands were in her pockets, too, fiddling with that rock locket, loosening its hinge.
She could have done it then. She could have proposed to me with my blue lips and my dramatics. The where and when wouldn’t have mattered; it was that cool rock that made things perfect. Not a plain, smooth black box but a glittery geode with rough edges. Something not directly bound to the institution of marriage but bound to me, to us, to searching for something to hold that never loses its preciousness.
That one personal touch sounds so small, but to me it feels enormous. I was never the girl who fantasized about a marriage proposal, but she’d still managed to extract a fantasy from my heart. Here was a cool rock, one I’d been looking for a very long time.