My wedding band came from a wholesale jeweler located deep in a labyrinth of bulk dress shops, shoe stores and any other type of mass distribution outlet that could be crammed into San Franciscoâ€™s Jewelry Mart. Anything that glistened, it seemed, qualified as jewelry.
The whole ordeal took about ten minutes, and we, my wife and I, left with a thick platinum band with milled edges. I didnâ€™t know exactly what that meant at the time. The ring just looked nice. And it had heft. That was the most important thing.
People will tell you to buy something pretty. Buy something classic.
â€œYouâ€™ll be wearing this your whole life â€” hopefully,â€ the clerk said, laughing at the joke he probably has made a million times before.
Truth be told, hopefully is an understatement. Now that doesnâ€™t mean I have no faith in our marriage. I simply have no faith in myself.
Throughout my life, Iâ€™ve owned a score of rings â€” starting with a mood ring my mom picked up at a garage sale when I was eight. I swear to this day the ring made me better at sports, even if, at the same time, it made me ripe for schoolyard beatings.
The ring had a thin gold band that was rubbed down to the width of dental floss, as if the annulus had been worn daily by a trapeze artist. Nestled under four flimsy prongs, the mood rock flashed deep blue. I donâ€™t remember it changing colors often, and maybe thatâ€™s because I mostly buried the jewel deep in my pocket.
I pulled it out only during a game of football and only when I started fumbling passes. Try as I could to barrel down the field and conceal the ring at the same time, it would soon become clear to my classmates that I was, in fact, wearing a gemstone. It was the size of Rosie Oâ€™Donnell. There was no hiding it.
â€œWhat the hell is that?â€ my friend Dwayne scoffed the first time he saw it.
â€œIt helps me catch,â€ I said. â€œJust throw me the ball, youâ€™ll see.â€
Dwayne eyed me for a long moment. He shook his head.
â€œOkay, go deep.â€
Maybe it was the way he said it, or maybe it was a sparkle of recognition that heâ€™d seen a side of a friend he hadnâ€™t noticed before and wasnâ€™t pleased. But I got the distinct impression that his instructions for me to perform a wide out post pattern were not so much an endorsement of the ringâ€™s influence on my catching abilities as they were an embodiment of Dwayneâ€™s desire for me to run very far away from him.
Nevertheless, a surge of confidence coursed through my body as we lined up for the next play. Like young boys who believe new shoes account for greater speed or higher leaps, I felt the ring would beget a safe catch â€“ or maybe even a first down.
â€œOkay,â€ Dwayne said, after I caught a long bomb. â€œSecond down. Go deep. Iâ€™ll hit you.â€
I did and he did, and the rest was history.
Until I lost the ring.
Looking back, it was really my first heartbreak. The ring was my talisman, warding off the clumsy spirits that plague childhood. I used to hang it on a nail above my headboard. I even gave it a name.
â€œGoodnight, Molly,â€ I would whisper, hoping to god my brother Jeff, with whom I shared a room, wouldnâ€™t hear.
â€œWho the hell is Molly?â€ Jeff asked once, not long before the ring vanished.
â€œMy ring,â€ I said.
â€œWhat? What ring?â€
â€œItâ€™s a mood ring,â€ I answered confidently, as if every boy on the block wore one.
Even in the darkness, I could see his face contort. â€œA mood ring?â€
â€œWell, not a mood ring, per se,â€ I retreated. â€œIt brings me luck. Itâ€™s really more akin to a rabbitâ€™s foot. A perfectly normal, completely masculine good luck accessory â€¦ keepsake â€¦ I mean, horseshoe. A stout mascot of fortune.â€
Iâ€™m not sure Jeff was to blame. I know he told my dad about the ring not long after our nighttime conversation. My dadâ€™s response was not quite promising, if I intended to keep the ring through college and into retirement.
â€œA mood what? Who the hell is Molly?â€ my dad demanded.
In the end, I woke up one morning and the ring was gone. I tore through my bed sheets, fearing Iâ€™d knocked Molly off the nail. I moved the bed and groped through the carpet. I checked the heating vent, but she was nowhere to be found. Even years later, as we all cleaned the house and prepared to move, I pushed aside card board boxes and gave the bedroom one final search.
â€œCome on,â€ my dad shouted from outside. The horn on the Ryder moving van beeped. â€œYour ringâ€™s not there!â€
He seemed pretty sure of it: Molly would not be found. But I just sat there for a moment, my fingers caressing the wall where the nail hook was hammered in so many years ago. A dust bunny curled on my lap for company during the vigil.
Sure, I learned to catch footballs like the other boys, and I enjoyed not being beaten every day. But still, the loss weighed on me. The ring had special powers, I was sure of it. And when it went missing, I lost more than a bauble. I lost that certain something that leads one to believe in the unbelievable â€“ that a strip of gold or platinum can mean more than the metal itâ€™s made of.
I was careful with rings after that â€“ and I ended up naming quite a few. Most of them were silver and most of them were purchased from sidewalk vendors or head shops. Some of them had engravings in Chinese or Japanese symbols â€“ more than likely cruel jokes played on inebriate college students.
â€œIt means courage,â€ one head shop clerk said, as she fingered what appeared to be an ancient symbol. Her stifled laugh said the ring might mean something else altogether. I named it Clarence.
But Clarence was lost, like so many other rings, when I dropped him while walking down the street. Sunlight caught the worn oval just so before it bounded down the sidewalk and slunk into a sewer grate.
Rings can never remain on my fingers, thanks to a lifetime spent nursing nervous ticks and spasms. The same force that compels me to twirl my hair or crack my neck forces me to slip the ring around a thick knuckle and curl my finger. I donâ€™t know exactly why I do it. Maybe itâ€™s the feel of pinched skin. Or maybe itâ€™s a yearning to lessen the odd weight on a solitary finger. Iâ€™m certain other fingers would want to share the burden. But when Iâ€™m bored or when Iâ€™m thinking, Iâ€™ll peel a ring down my finger, position it directly over a knuckle and then make a fist.
Itâ€™s one of the many nervous spasms that my wife, Dana, canâ€™t stand. And she knew it would lead to a lost wedding ring sooner or later.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you just buy a cheap silver one?â€ she insisted. â€œYouâ€™re just going to lose it and weâ€™ll be out a thousand bucks.â€
â€œThey donâ€™t cost that much,â€ I said.
â€œBut youâ€™re still gonna lose it is the point,â€ Dana continued.
Though I didnâ€™t say it at the time, I knew I wouldnâ€™t lose the wedding band.
It had heft.
As we searched for wedding rings in the bowels of the jewelry mart, I eyeballed the big fat ones and ignored the skinny ones.
â€œTry this one,â€ the clerk said, handing me a thin white gold band.
I frowned, â€œNo, that wonâ€™t do.â€
The clerk pressed on. â€œBut itâ€™s the latest style,â€ he said.
I snatched the ring, fitted it gently over my knuckle and made a fist. The circle collapsed into an oval.
â€œSee?â€ I said. â€œIt wonâ€™t do.â€
â€œWho wears a ring on a knuckle?â€ the clerk chirped. Dana shrugged and rolled her eyes.
â€œHere, try this,â€ the clerk said, handing me a thick platinum band with milled edges.
The ring felt like a river stone in my hand. I slipped it around a knuckle and smiled as the ring held firm under a curled finger.
â€œWeâ€™ll take it,â€ I said.
On the way home, I slid the ring around my knuckle again.
Dana rolled her eyes. â€œStop doing that. Youâ€™re going to crush it.â€
But I knew better. I had crushed all the other rings or lost them. They simply could not withstand my nervous ticks. This ring was different, and I liked that. And it had to be different, because I would wear it all my life. It deserved a special name.
During our ceremony, after Dana slipped the ring on my finger and made a dramatic, if secret, show of pushing it past my knuckle, the name simply came to me. At that moment, I realized I would be able to fidget with the ring forever, or at least until my fingers irreversibly curled from arthritis. But I also realized I possessed something sweeter again, a talisman that meant more than the metal itâ€™s made of.
Later that night, as we dozed off under the warm covers, I leaned over and kissed Dana.
â€œGoodnight wife,â€ I said.
Moonlight caught Danaâ€™s smile. â€œOh, I like that,â€ she said. â€œGoodnight husband.â€
We kissed again and hugged in the soft light.
â€œGoodnight Molly,â€ I whispered.
â€œWho the hell is Molly?â€