- Heavy MetalAn essay on Certainty
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Jeff and I are headed east of town to pawn our gold. I have silver, too—or silver-plated plates, boxed five years ago when my grandfather died. The plates rattle in the back of my hatchback. We take the freeway, Jeff squinting into my iPhone for directions. Jeff is in his forties, somewhat aloof, in work pants and a navy [End Page 105] jacket. I don't know him all that well; he was briefly in a writing group of mine that he suddenly abandoned for reasons he won't explain. He's quick-witted and arch, judgmental and deadpan, and I feel both liked and scorned by him, an experience I find familial.
The refinery is set behind barbed-wire fencing. I parallel park between two old pickup trucks on a gravel road. I tried to research a reputable melting place, but the Yelp reviews in a city like Portland tend to focus on yoga studios and vegan cupcakes. During interviews for a journalism piece on pawnshops, I'd heard about this place and thought it sounded under the radar, efficient. A refinery. Refine, from the Latin "finire," to finish again. It almost had the sound of a fairy-tale business. Straw into gold. Or, in this case, gold into lots of cash. The rates for gold have never been higher.
The sound of thick traffic mixes with the squawk of crows and a whirgrinding from one of the nearby warehouses. My car crackles from exertion and settles onto the dust. Jeff raises his eyebrows slightly, assessing the squat, black-windowed building surrounded by barbed wire. He opens the door wordlessly and stands, the fall light on his pale face revealing the lines in his face, the soft gaps in his thinning hair.
I don't know what happened to Jeff's marriage. He's not a forthcoming person, which has the curious effect of making me divulge too much about my life. I have filled his restrained silences, not with chitchat about lunches in Portland or the weather but with how I couldn't move to Iowa with Don, my boyfriend of ten years, because I wasn't ready to move anywhere yet, to lose the fragile sense of home I'd just started to feel after a three-year career debacle.
I wanted more stability, not more moving, not more questing. I wanted a house on a foundation, a man with a plan, a child. I wanted stillness. I didn't tell Jeff all of this, just that when I'd gone to move, I'd packed one cupboard in the bathroom and then couldn't make my hands do any more packing. I literally could not move them.
Jeff raised his eyebrows. I shut up.
Jeff fell in love and fell out of love. He had the whole thing: a purchased house on a foundation, the woman with a plan (she was a doctor), and two kids. But he still wound up on this Wednesday afternoon at the refinery, his wedding ring bound for the pot.
The truth is, Jeff has been sending me highly crafted literary e-mails for several months. If I ask him to read a page of my novel, since he offered to be a reader, he writes me back in dense detail, letters filled [End Page 106] with observations, literary allusions, jokes. They must take him hours. I tell myself they are friendly, but no other friends do this for me. When I asked him to research refineries for his ring and my jewelry, he pretended to find the following businesses: Smelt Away the Memories; Heavy Metal, Light Heart.
My gold nestles in an old white box, a box I found in my mother's stuff out in Eugene in a closet that hadn't been gone through for years. In it: bat mitzvah earrings of mine, shaped like clams on steroids, so ugly that they have sat in a jewelry box for twenty-two years. Two hoop earrings of my mother's that I loved...