Rings – Heidie Raine
In Byron, Illinois in 1989, young state scholars and linebackers and thespians communicate their affection for their girlfriends with opal rings. Delicate, fragile, luminescent. Stones that can’t get too hot or cold or they’ll shatter. They have to be cared for, much like the girls’ hearts. I don’t think 17-year-old boys make the poetic connection. Some guy probably buys his girlfriend one that he sees in a Macy’s ad to birth the tradition. Decades later, it’s a legacy. My mother is twirling Alicia Morgan’s between her pointer finger and thumb as she tells me these things.
The opals look like dragon eggs. They have rainbows tucked inside of them. Pastel angelic pearls. Polished.
When Jason and my mom broke up, she didn’t want the memories, and neither more did the recently-liberated Miss Morgan want hers. They swapped rings, and my mom held on. A whispering nod to her first love.
She puts down Alicia’s ring and picks up painted wooden beads that seem like they should cascade down the walls of a Party City. But they’re tired, flaking. A 1970’s New Orleans’ Mardi Gra relic?
Great Grandma Shirley’s beads. I only remember Shirley from her schizophrenic years in assisted living. By then, she’d forgotten her best practices, like doubling the sugar in Koolaid and oil painting autumnal fields. She just sunk into her rocking chair, into the elastic band that approached her deflated breasts.
In her prime, she was crazy and warm. She’d watch birds and can fruits. And she’d wear these beads, religiously enough that my mother waded through her hoarder-estate after she’d passed, crunching the Japanese beetles dead under the shag, searching for a strand to keep in her jewelry box. I forget Shirley’s husband’s name.
There’s a tangle of earrings. One pair turquoise and mystic on titanium sheets. Parcelled back from a 1985 Mexico vacation, now residing in my jewelry box for special occasions. See also: The black hills gold teardrop earrings that iridesce my grandfather’s thoughtfulness. They cost $49 at the time. That’s $126 today. The only present my grandfather ever picked out for my mother, and he didn’t skimp. They’re her favorite thing in the box, still resting on the peeling velvet she received them in. I’ve never seen her wear them.
I want to see what’s in the ring box, but I don’t feel like I can ask. It feels like asking about a scar. But I’m systematically working my way through the rest, pointing at chains and bracelets and charms, narrowing down to the box.
She takes a bit longer than I think she will when we reach the sapphire and diamond necklace, a heart pendant, stones folded in yellow gold. She puts the necklace by the earrings she wants me to have. They match the marquis-cut band on my left pointer finger: a set, purchased for an anniversary with my father. Sapphires for September, their wedding month. She thinks there are matching earrings somewhere to accompany but isn’t sure. I ask if he bought her much jewelry, and she says no. Just her wedding stuff and the sapphire stuff.
The wedding stuff is next. She raises a golden box chain with a smaller heart than the sapphire one oscillating on a honey apex. I’ve seen her wear this one, but back in the era of white ankle socks and Keds, of different last names, of singular Christmases. He bought it for her when he asked for her hand; he really wanted her to say yes. I cradle it in my uncalloused palm. He loved again, even with the memory of Tammy’s humid and then dried-up exhale in his ear. My mom loved again, even after Jason and opals and Scott and diamonds. My parents marked their retry with this pendant, now screaming its antique-ness so loud that my mom has to close it in a box in a drawer in a nightstand. The diamonds are cloudy.
We don’t look at the ring box, cowering, peeling in the corner. She puts everything back in and shuts it away and wishes me many memorable sapphire wears.
She walks into the living room the next day with palms cupping brown velvet.
Her wedding rings only fit my pinky—I’ve outgrown them after their 15-year hibernation in a sticky box. These were her second. I’ve never seen the first, and she daily sports the third.
Her engagement diamond is marquise-cut, like my sapphire. And I know that somewhere deep in home videos, there are clips to prove I’ve seen these before, but I have no recollection. Nothing. Lost to the non-existence of a two-year-old’s memory. I want to know when in the process she took them off: before, during, or after. Did I ask why? Did I even notice? I want to know if my sister remembers this yellow gold set. I don’t care to see what my father’s band looked like.
I ache for the turnover in her life. Can a spouse be your deepest love if you have a fireproof box filled with custody paperwork and asset splits and a prenup? It feels arrogant to assume my sister and I have been her most consistent loves. I think we have.
She’s holding the box open, not rushing me, but offering me an out, and I’m dripping salty tears onto her annulled covenant. I’m thinking about the times I’ve gotten the mail and seen her old last names (plural) peppered amongst the envelopes. I’m thinking about how I don’t share any name with her.
I’m thinking about how Alicia Morgan has Jason’s opal. I’m thinking about the men who could have been my fathers. I’m thinking about the number of retirement accounts my mother has split, and how my inheritance will be a conglomerate. I’m thinking about how my parents’ matrimony seems prehistoric, and how I am wearing these rings that point to everything that contributed to the making of me, and how I want to swallow them whole so I can keep them forever, embedded undetectable in my bones.
The opal is delicate and the diamond is strong and she kept both. I am weeping over the deceit of diamond strength because it is broken, broken, broken.
And I want the rings, but not today. Not so overtly. The set slips off my pinky and back into the box into the drawer into the nightstand. And that’s where it is, encased in the home she shares with the man whose rings she wears. I know their gleam. They look like home, fortified by the princess cut and their constancy in my memory. They’re what we’ll bury her in. The velvet box—it houses a blur of something else, something that could have been but was cut off and was better off not being.
Heidie Raine is a Cedarville, Ohio, based writer who works primarily in creative nonfiction. She is currently experimenting with different recipes for avocado toast, and her favorite book is “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. Heidie has works forthcoming in Channels and The Cedarville Review.