Elisabeth: For Sentimental, Complicated Reasons

Remember the ring saga, how I designed a ring made of sand and then it wasn’t waterproof and then I lost it in Queens, and then I got a stand-in ring that was the Pleiades constellation depicting a starry summer night (I actually didn’t tell you that part), and the moral of the story was that a Ring wasn’t really important to me? Yup, I remember that too.

Weren’t those the uncomplicated days.

About a month ago I asked both of my parents, who are divorced, about family heirlooms. I had some yet unformed notion that I might like to wear some sort of family something when K and I got married. My family does not tend towards jewels, but I just wanted to check, in case there was something in a safety deposit box that might want to come full circle. Just in case. Both of them thought about it and said they’d check, and then I went back to watching Nashville.

A few weeks later, my mom handed me a wrapped present, and when I saw what was in it, we both started crying. Nestled in the box was a diamond ring, over a hundred years old. My mom had worn this ring when she was married to my father. Family lore is murky, but either this ring belonged to my paternal great-grandmother or perhaps a great-aunt, both much beloved women. A great-cousin of mine couldn’t say Grandmother when he was a baby, so he called my great-grandmother GoGo instead, and the name stuck, and apparently GoGo had great taste, because this ring, you guys. I can’t stop looking at it. It’s like handsome crinkly-eyed Patrick Dempsey waiting in Tiffany’s late one night to surprise Reese Witherspoon with her heart’s desire (don’t even pretend you haven’t seen Sweet Home Alabama; even though they aren’t meant to be together, that scene alone probably doubled DeBeers’ stock that quarter). The ring is a beautiful, sentimental, diamond and sapphire treasure.

And I want to wear this ring, oh my gosh, I want to wear it so badly. But the complications, they pile up like wedding decorations on a Pinterest page.

For starters, I just wrote a scant few months ago that I feel uncomfortable slipping on such a visible heteronormative tradition, and that hasn’t changed. Our wedding and our marriage won’t be the same as a straight one. Will the ring feel like pretending?

And what about the fact that the last time this ring was worn, the relationship ended in divorce? I love both my parents, but I don’t want to replicate their marriage. Is that weird, to slip on the ghosts of relationships past? I realize this logic is a little unfounded, since one of the biggest reasons I feel drawn to the ring is the idea being part of a line of women in my family who have worn it, and of course not all family history is happy. Maybe a sage cleaning ritual would help?

And what happens if I lose it? Can I be trusted with something that is both deeply sentimental and valuable? I row on the Harlem River with a master’s crew team several nights a week. What happens if that stunner flies off during a Power Ten? This ring is literally irreplaceable; why would I want to give myself that kind of responsibility?

Most problematic of all, though, is the fact that this ring has nothing to do with K, and it feels a bit strange to wear something celebrating this next step that doesn’t symbolize us. My friend sympathetically suggested I turn the ring into something new and give it to K instead. She said, “It’s so romantic, sort of like proof that this is super permanent and you just sealed it with something extraordinary from your family’s history.”

The problem with that plan is that K will never wear a jewel. Wearing a wedding band is going to be a novel experience for her. She’s allergic to most metals, for one thing, but more importantly, her gender expression does not include GoGo’s ring, although she lived in New Orleans for a long time and looks very fetching in glitter and fake eyelashes, sort of like Your Carhartt Boyfriend in drag. The other night she did mention she liked Jay Gatsby’s tie tack, but even if I made the ring into cuff links (sob), she’d politely request a sensible pair of steel and concrete forged ones instead.

She also is deeply uncomfortable with wealth, and this ring sure looks like wealth. I appreciate this very much about her, until I want to order takeout many nights in a row. She grew up in a self-identified hippie family, where wealth was a sign of systems of oppression, and systems of oppression are bad, and that how you spend your money is a manifestation of your values. My family, while not rich, takes great pride in tracing back to our 1600’s arrival in New York State. Those are some deep WASP roots.

This has inspired some hard conversations (up till now, we hadn’t talked much about rings, except to speculate how much our wedding bands could resemble tree bark before they started feeling scratchy). She wonders why it’s important to me to wear something that seems to her like an unnecessary luxury, and I want her to understand and support how deeply I am connected to my family.

I think she’d be fine with me wearing the ring as long as we agreed it was not about us, but about my connection to my family. The ring has everything to do with them, and I am proud of them, and I would love to wear such a sentimental and beautiful piece of jewelry, but it still doesn’t feel quite right. I’m not sure where we’ll end up, but I sometimes still take it out of the box and turn it around in the light, imagining my great-grandmother standing in the airy kitchen of the house on the hill, doing the same thing.

Photo: Calin + Bisous

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