If you live by stories, then everything is something and nothing can ever be nothing. Even a simple stone will have a story. And if the story is sturdy and alive, it can have several meanings, as it goes along.
Start with a stone, one of six or seven, carried in a chamois bag by a jeweler, second cousin of my soon- to-be mother-in-law. The cousin came one Wednesday night and shook the stones gently out of their bag onto a little velvet pad he had brought. They all sparkled. He turned them this way and that with the end of a pen, as I recall, and pointed out the merits of each, their flaws and their relative values and sizes. I couldn’t tell one from the other, but we all selected the one he said was the best, biggest, most perfect diamond. When it appeared, four weeks later, in a Tiffany wishbone setting, guarded on each side by a tapered baguette, it seemed to me that we had chosen the best stone. It was expensive (though a bargain, we were assured, because of the family connection) and I flashed it appropriately, as engaged girls did in those days.
It meant everything to me then: it was a way to tell the world that I was “spoken for” by a husband- to- be who was traditional enough to know the importance of an engagement ring and substantial enough to provide one (even though he went into hock, which I didn’t know but if I had probably would not have cared at that point, it being still his money, not ours).
For years, the ring hardly ever left my hand. I washed my hands with it. I slept with it. I cooked with it and washed dishes afterward without even thinking about it. Once in a while, when I mixed up a meatloaf with my hands, say, I would slip it off my finger for that brief time, into a pocket, but then put it back on again. Occasionally I moved it from my right ring finger to my left to sit up against my wedding band, stacking chronologically, engagement ring first, then band. I never thought about it; it was just there, on my finger, all the time. Hardly important. Just there.
Then it disappeared and it was everything again (though mostly because of the lost monetary value it represented.) I searched every pocket. For a long time I felt sure it would turn up, and once in a while, say at the end of one season or another, as I was putting away winter clothes and bringing out spring ones, I would feel sudden and momentary hope as I plunged my hand into a promising pocket. I think it was this repeated hope and its withering that turned my feeling for the lost ring into love. Like an -ex suddenly appreciating the marriage once the divorce begins. I constantly rubbed my ring finger, feeling for the ring that wasn’t there.
Then I forgot about it.
Four years later, as I was coming out of a reading from my new book (wearing a silk jacket I hardly ever wore), I put my hand into the pocket and there it was. Imagine the joy! Maybe the book gods had rewarded me for finishing the book? I definitely felt a little kismet involvement there, and to show my ring some appreciation, I took it to a jeweler for a good cleaning. It sparkled in its wishbone setting. Two weeks later, digging my hand into a freezer case at Cosco, I somehow shook the stone loose — had all the gunk the cleaning took away acted as glue? –and did not discover it until I got home. I went back, searched the freezer case, retraced my steps, but the stone was gone. The ring was still there, but toothless.
In the intervening years, I replaced the diamond with a pale green gemstone which I hated so much I never wore the ring. I considered having the platinum ring and baguettes re-modeled into something I could wear around my neck but M argued me out of it so it sat in my jewel box like a recrimination.
M wanted to replace the diamond. Of course, we didn’t: buying diamonds when there are mortgages and weddings to finance seemed foolish.
Eventually, I replaced the stone with a CZ (they used to call it a zircon), a fake. I didn’t care. I just wanted to wear my beloved ring again. And sometimes when I put it on, I forget it’s a fake at all.