They’re called Venus Rings. They were supposed to fix us.
It was his idea for us to wear them together. How could I say no to something like that? How could I say no to anything he asked of me? That was the problem. Usually what he asked me for was forgiveness. Forgiveness for this thing or that. I don’t feel the need to sit here and spell out every lie and cover-up.
For once it seemed like Sam was asking something of me for the benefit of me. Of us. It felt so sincere this time. How could I say no?
“This isn’t for sex, it’s for the feeling of your breath on my neck in the morning,” he said to me as his body sent comforting heat into mine one chilly February morning, “It’s for you to know when I jump in the water, and how deep I’ve gone, and the moment I come back to the surface. That’s why we want this.”
Some days, when he would call full of excuses for being late or explanations for the days he’d disappeared, I would listen to him, mumble in agreement, and hang up always humming the same song to myself. Christine McVie begs for a break from the inevitable over classic ‘80s synth chords and one of her ex-husband’s melodic basslines. It wasn’t my favorite song before my 6-year relationship, but Sam made it my favorite song. “Tell me lies,” I ask him, and he never fails to deliver. He sings them so sweetly. How could I say no?
So I don’t deny him, and a day later there’s a box on the coffee table with a slogan on the side in a seductively cursive font reading “To be dirty at any distance…”
It’s gaudy and feels like something we would make fun of other people for doing, with dressing like a porno back when they could still be rented on VHS.
The rings are pitch black and surprisingly slim considering what they can do. Each contains two opal stones that poke out of the top like eyes, or maybe antennae sending information to the matching stones on the other hand. Both opals are like a war of color, with hundreds of hues fighting in spots and stripes for dominance as it turns in the hand. One had black at the center and the other was more of a golden yellow. That’s the one Sam took. He knew I was barely up for this plan and having to wear the more conspicuous of rings to top things off would have made me want to take it off in public. One of his whimpering attempts at coming off as considerate following all of his previous actions that proved the contrary.
From then on he could have me whenever he wanted me. From then on we played and teased like we were still the 20-somethings who met at a crowded pub in Krakow during coincidentally shared semesters abroad. I had to begrudgingly admit my ring had grown on me after some time.
The Venus Rings combine the sense of touch from two individuals into one. The manufacturer calls any set of two rings a “couple”, and any two people wearing connected rings will feel every physical sensation their partner feels. I could be watching a movie at home and feel the water running over Sam’s hands in the bathroom sink at his office, followed by the heat from the air dryer blowing them off. Most importantly, I could feel if he was being touched by someone else, or by himself.
The rings are marketed for pleasure, if it wasn’t obvious from the slogan, although a Google search reveals some conspiratorial social media posts accusing the original technology of being invented by the US military as a torture and interrogation device. The marketing for the rings makes it very clear that the only physical sensation not communicated through them is pain, so if they were ever used for such things, it’s long since been removed. I’d just as soon save some of the more intense details of how Sam and I used them for the sake of sparing my story from coming across as one written by a hot-and-bothered housewife with an eye for the pool boy.
The first day of having the ring curled around my hand left me with particularly uneasy feelings and sudden sensations from all around with no visible reference for why they were happening. There was a natural panic at first, followed by a gradual familiarity that came with interesting experimentation, like when we tried to figure out how to send messages to each other using just touch. We learned We could pat our bellies to tell one another we’re hungry and I would hold my thumb and pinky to my head in the shape of a phone to say “Call me.”
It became like a game as much as it was like a toy. A random cold on my right arm could be Sam leaning on the metallic Metro pole during his commute to Union Square, or maybe leaning on a streetlight outside while waiting for his morning coffee. Every feeling is a new question and a slew of guesses. Of course, the more titillating feelings weren’t so much a guessing game. They were a sign that he was thinking about me.
Naturally, I’d return the favor when I was thinking about him.
I was content with that. I was content to pack the dirty laundry, still rank and begging to be washed, into tight suitcases with broken latches and focus on playing in this new world Sam had created purely from desire and an ad he found on the internet. It felt like the future and the past, like something I could have and something we once had.
It was a dream of perpetual embrace. The moment when his arms are around you in pitch-black darkness, and the feeling right then like nothing could pierce those sheets or that hold you have on each other, stretched to every moment of the day. No one is between you and him in that embrace. You are together in the purest possible sense. Of course I was willing to deny the well of emotions I sat on top of, the betrayal and the woeful dread knowing Sam couldn’t help himself but to return to his previous ways again, to live in this dream for a time.
April 29th is the date of the dream’s abrupt end. April 29th is the day an earthquake struck San Francisco that came just shy of outdoing the infamous 1906 quake on the Richter scale. Sam’s office building didn’t just collapse, it fell into the earth. I’m terrified of the idea that the Earth can open up and swallow a building with floor after floor of people going about their day. The people aren’t even the point, the Earth just wants to swallow the building, and the people happen to be inside. Sam happened to be inside. To this day, he’s still listed as one of the “82 missing/unrecovered” of the nearly 400 casualties from his office building alone.
We buried an empty casket at his funeral, right next to the plots that already held his father and mother. I remember, in a way that made me feel sick, wondering why we even bothered burying anything at all. He was already in the ground, just not the way most people end up there.
I escaped the earthquake with just a concussion courtesy of hitting my head on the pavement while out for a run. Everything felt like mush in the heat of the moment. The ground rumbled, my head spun, and my skin tingled. There’s no way to know which feelings were my own and which, if any, were the last that Sam felt as he tumbled into dust and fate, discarded like waste. Concussions strip memories away and throw layers of ambiguity over the ones that remain. It’s hard to remember what exactly I felt in those moments.
I woke up on the pavement with an ambulance medic overhead asking me questions that I answered in a fog of slurred words. Everything happened in sporadic and loosely-knit moments I could barely connect. Questions followed confusion followed someone rubbing cloth over my face which touched my skin blue and came away red. It took me a long time to realize that all of my senses were singularly my own again.
Nothing came from the other end of the Venus Ring. I waited to feel even something simple, like Sam adjusting in his office chair, or the heat of warm coffee touching his lips, or the way he rubs his fingers together when he’s nervous. Nothing came.
I do remember feeling his hand rub over my stomach in the final moments before everything began to shake. I told him early on, way back in Poland, that I loved the feeling. His fingers running softly along the tender skin on my torso, tracing imaginary lines and filling me with goosebumps. It was the final genuine communication we had. From wherever he was sitting, at his desk, or in the foyer where he liked to eat during his break, he said with no words that he was thinking about me, and about those times when we would tell each other the things we enjoyed.
In the moment, though, it made me think about January 10th. Four weeks before we’d decided to get the Venus Rings. The day I got a text from a mutual friend saying things like “It’s none of my business” and “I’m sorry if I’m misreading the situation” but that she thought I should know, with the attached picture of Sam alongside a girl he told me he has a class with at the gym. Only they weren’t at the gym together, they were at the Hightower, a bar down the street from the gym. Sam wasn’t wearing his ring then, either. Not the Venus Ring, of course, or the other ring that was supposed to mean something more significant to partners.
Sam’s last touch came across my belly and I thought about the reason we were doing this all over again. The fact that those were only the latest pictures in a recurring series I’d received of him with somebody else. The fact that when I got those last pictures I wasn’t even surprised, just so, so ready for everything to be over.
It was the show that could never be canceled, and every time somebody told me they finally put an end to that piece of shit program, more episodes magically appeared on my phone, or in my e-mail, or they just walked up to my door and said, “He told me the relationship was open.”
So my last memory of his touch isn’t a happy one. It was a reminder of what he’d done to bring us to that point. All of his touches felt like apologies, even if I enjoyed them. All of his sweet words felt like they were in constant expectation of the day I would finally say “I forgive you and I’ve forgotten it ever happened.”
I don’t think that day was ever going to come, but I was clinging to the idea that maybe it would just as much as him.
My last memory of his touch isn’t a happy one, and I don’t need to feel guilty for that, because he did it to himself. But I do. Every day.
For the first couple of days after the earthquake, I never took off my Venus Ring. The rescue crews searched around the destruction for anything, dead or alive, and I kept the ring on in hopes that I would eventually connect with sensations that weren’t my own again. I sat completely still in the middle of the living room where I’d cleared a large space, trying to touch as little as possible, trying to get any sign of a feeling from the other end of the ring. I could use it to find him somehow, no matter how deep he’d fallen. All he needed to do was feel something, to make any movement.
Once the denial phase was over, I just kept the ring on as a tribute. It was a strange tribute, of course. Some people saw the ring and knew what it was, and what it was typically used for. I didn’t care. It was a memory of embrace. A memory of a good dream.
Nine days after the earthquake, a feeling began to come through the Venus Ring again.
I sprang up in the dead of night throwing the covers off of myself as quickly as I could manage. Something was on my body, slithering and writhing all over my skin. I ran over to the light switch, sloppy and barely awake, to see what could have possibly gotten into my apartment and worked its way into my bed in the darkness. Only, the light revealed nothing but my naked body on the edge of my bedroom. I was alone. But still, the feeling remained.
There is no more accurate way to describe it that I’m aware of. It was a slithering, in thousands of places all at once. It covered me from head to toe and felt like it was trying to drag me in all directions.
It felt alive, moving from side to side, like the inside of a serpent’s throat, but I struggle to get more specific as I grow more certain it’s a feeling not meant to be experienced by the living.
It stopped when I removed the Venus Ring. I couldn’t believe it was the source of that feeling, but I didn’t dare to put it back on for certainty in that moment. The feeling was repulsive and alien. It was unnatural in every way.
I left the ring on the floor by the light switch, and then picked it up the next morning imagining to myself that the feeling from the night before must have been some grief-induced nightmare. I slipped the ring back on and once again felt the embrace, not Sam’s embrace, I was surrounded by the slithers and its pulls. This time when I took the ring off, it was with such a force that it clattered down beneath Sam’s old dresser in the opposite corner of the room.
It’s still down there, too. It’s been 50 days. It’s still down there. I stew on its meaning more than I stew on my grief at this point. Maybe this is my grief. Maybe it’s impossible for the two not to intersect. Maybe it doesn’t fucking matter.
What matters is what I felt. The feeling from the other end of the ring. I sent e-mails to the manufacturers, I posted anonymous threads in message boards, I tried to find anybody talking about a feeling coming from the other end of a Venus Ring worn by a dead loved one. I got excuses in return. Explanations of malfunction and placebo and whatever other things I’m frankly not interested in reading anymore. I don’t want to keep running through possibilities and options. Theories have been keeping me from sleep for weeks since I threw that ring under the dresser.
I don’t dare approach it. I don’t understand what the feeling means. I’m scared if I touch it I may feel all of that again, or maybe worse, I may feel something else, something even further from any sensation living beings were meant to feel. What else could be transmitted from the other side? The other side of what? Is that where you are, Sam? Does it hurt? The ring doesn’t transmit pain, so I can’t tell if it hurts, only that it slithers, and that Sam may be pushed and pulled by those feelings forever. I could put the ring back on and find out, but I’m not sure I will.
I may have to feel it again one day. When the earth swallows me, like it does everyone, I may feel it just as Sam does, with the sights, sounds, and pains that complete the picture of exactly what’s on the other side.
I hope I can find him there. Maybe I’m stupid for feeling that way after everything, but I’d love to feel his embrace again wherever he is, among what slithers. If he reached out his hand to me and offered me to take it, I think I’d be with him again there. How could I say no?
Saz is a writer and musician from Asheville, North Carolina currently situated in Brno, Czechia. He has multiple options to escape but spends too much of his focus on the way the road splits. He can be found @sazbeats on Instagram.