I’m fortunate that my hands work and my fingers only occasionally swell with the press of too much salt. When that happens, I grasp the rings that I daily wear and tug until they clatter on the desk. Once in a while, one rolls and slides off the edge. When that happens, I have to jockey my torso to an angle from which I can lean sideways and snag the circle with one finger. Most people would stoop or bend at the waist; my body protests at such seemingly innocuous movements.
Yesterday I groped in one of my jewelry boxes, on the hunt for a certain pair of earrings. They eluded me. In the process I managed to tip the whole mess onto the floor. I left it for the evening, when I had to sit on the loft steps and hunt for every shimmering stone and silky chain. I can’t be sure that I got them all.
I admit to having too much jewelry. Most of it falls into the costume category, though mostly sterling silver. I keep the few good pieces locked away: My mother’s garnet brooch, the tanzanite pendant that my second husband gave me, two wedding sets that I ought to sell but which instead nestle in one box. My son will have to deal with them when I finally surrender this mortal form and make my way to the next plane of existence. I hope he realizes that one of them contains a gorgeous Ceylon sapphire. It would make a nice gift for someone.
My daily wear includes a ring given to me by my father-in-law after his wife died. I understand that there had been a matching pair of earrings which went to my then-stepdaughter. After her father left me, I offered to give the ring back. She replied to my note with a terse rejection. But I did not let her slight scorn tarnish my affection for my favorite curmudgeon, who offered me the sort of fatherly love that my own progenitor only hinted at having. I wear that ring on my left hand. It also contains some lovely sapphires, my birthstone.
Next to it sits a ring made in Mexico flanked by a band crafted by a retiree in Arizona. The turquoise and coral one came from a niece who wanted to give me something in thanks for some help I provided. I didn’t want to take it. She insisted, and I’m glad, for she was dying then and actually died six months later. I take it off only when that annoying swelling forces me to do so.
Over on my right hand I wear a silver spoon ring that I’ve had for over fifty years. I got it by sending a dozen pull-tabs from Minute Maid orange juice into the company during a give-away. Lots of people have spoon rings; you can find them in most flea markets. But I am wiling to bet very few people can brag of having gotten theirs basically free, just by saving those coils of plastic that broke when you tugged at them. Now and then I think about leaving my son a note to tell him to cherish this ring but in truth, I do not want to burden him with my sentiment.
The last of my daily adornment came from a silversmith of my acquaintance in Kansas City. I found it in the discard pile of sale items. I see its flaw but like the unique shape and the smooth feel of it against my skin. I have other, better rings but none so sleek, none so clearly the work of someone’s trembling fingers. I bought this ring in 1980, my first year in Kansas City — before my second marriage, before my law degree and subsequent stumbling career, before I moved to Arkansas, before I met my son’s father and fled back to Missouri with my toddler in tow. This ring signifies the hope of my early adulthood, and wears its tarnish about as well as I do.
I own lots of rings. A gold and garnet one that my sister gave me to go with our mother’s pin which I got at her death. A little blue topaz that I bought for ten dollars somewhere. My second husband’s wedding ring from his first marriage, which I no longer recall why I have. A moonstone, a fancy dinner ring with an astonishing cluster of sapphires, a garnet that I had made under circumstances that don’t bear discussion. I have others, too numerous to mention. In fact, I own a ridiculous, embarrassing number of rings considering that I only have the ten digits.
I suppose the shape of rings fascinates me. Perhaps it’s just their beauty. Perhaps it’s the symbolism that we attach to rings: Promise rings, wedding rings, class rings, the ring of an important person over which one would bend in times of old. So many unbroken circles. I take my rings off; I slide them back onto my hands. I gaze with fascination at the glitter of stones and the bend of metal. They seem so perfect, and absolute perfection is something to which, I admit, I aspire in vain. I cannot attain such beautiful, breathtaking symmetry as the circle; and so I wear these bands and wonder whether anyone else will understand their appeal when silence falls around the box in which they wait to be discovered after I am gone.
It’s the third day of the one-hundred and twentieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.