My engagement was memorable to owners of jewelry stores within a two-hour driving radius of my home. I’m no celebrity, but apparently I’m a well-recognized…type. As unforgettable as the feel of grit on sandpaper, some might say. I didn’t set out to earn a reputation. I’m simply a person who struggles to find meaning, and since there isn’t an occasion more meaningful than a wedding, I struggled a lot. In public.
Perhaps the jewelers would have been more empathetic if I’d told them the whole story—that I’d done this all before, eighteen years ago. That it hadn’t ended so well. That my new beau recognized me as a potential life partner right away through the newfound honesty with which I expressed my vision for my life—a vision that almost word-for-word echoed thoughts he had written down himself, years before. With that knowledge, certainly anyone could understand my need to find the perfect ring, right? Past childbearing age, why remarry at all unless the union adds meaning to your life?
Since the average length of each store visit was already bumping the one-hour mark, I spared jewelers the narrative and picked my way through dozens of rings that any less demanding woman, they’d quietly inform me, would be thrilled to own. Dating had offered a similar quandary—it’s hard to find the right one when you have no idea what “the right one” looks like. The ubiquitous answer: you know love when you find it.
I loved my first engagement ring, a round-cut diamond with two smaller stones on either side, and kept finding myself attracted to similar rings. But wasn’t this why I’d sought therapy after my first husband’s suicide? To break the habit of seeking out the same old relationships? I forced myself to look at styles to which I’d never before been attracted—marquis and pear cuts, unusual shapes that required a matching band, estate jewelry, different kinds of stones.
While shopping for rings that spring of 2000, one exasperated chain store owner told me to come back later—much later, in July—for his setting event, when he would have a thousand different settings to choose from. “It’s your only hope,” he’d said with a smirk. Dave and I had planned a September wedding—call me old-fashioned, but I’d been hoping to have the ring on my finger for longer than two months.
“If only you could describe the ring to me,” said another, plopping down a pile of catalogs. If only. I half-heartedly flipped through one of them. I knew one thing—I wouldn’t find it on paper.
Weeks later, I was trying even my own patience. Dave had asked me to marry him in March, and we were coming up on May. While telling those who knew my story that I’d gotten engaged, I’d been touched to see their faces light up with hope for my sons and me, but the “Let me see your ring” part was getting old. I began to see a “setting event”—or two, or three—in my future.
Dave actually loved this about me—my perseverance, my search for meaning, my recently discovered, don’t-settle-for-second-best attitude. With four children representing a range of skin colors and a divorce that had registered on the Richter scale, he knew that not all journeys followed a straight path. “You’ll find the ring you’re looking for,” he affirmed.
Note the “you’ll”—even he had dropped out of the search.
I finally stopped in to see the local jeweler from whom my first husband purchased my engagement ring. I’d hoped to avoid the location (reference breaking old patterns, above), but short of daytrips to larger cities, which my schedule would not support, my options were running out. I ordered a ring on spec—a round diamond surrounded by a gold swirl that required a matching band. It was a little different, a little artsy. Since the first ring had been bought there, he offered to give me about half of the original purchase price with a trade-in.
But I had settled, and the relief of calling off the search wasn’t enough to keep that knowledge from eating at me.
That night an acquaintance from church, also recently engaged, told me about the place where her fiancé had bought her ring—a store that had somehow ducked beneath my radar. Slapping on a smile to brighten my voice, I told her that I was done looking.
“You should try Engle Jewelers,” she said. I hadn’t heard of the place and had no intention of listening to her advice. I’d seen her ring and didn’t particularly care for it. She and I had little in common. I was on a search for meaning; she was known to be superficial and flighty.
“I just told you,” I said. “I ordered a ring today.”
There was a moment of silence. When she spoke again, I’d swear her voice had deepened.
“Go to Engle Jewelers.”
This time, as if reverberating with God’s own authority, her words begged notice. They pierced my skin and rang like a bell in my soul. By morning, I’d convinced myself that perhaps the entire reason for the unlikely merging of this woman’s path with mine had been to set up the delivery of those four words. (An effect underscored in retrospect, since her engagement soon broke off, she moved, and we lost touch.)
I was waiting at the door when the jeweler unlocked the next morning. Whether to heed a command or to rule out the only jeweler I hadn’t visited, I wasn’t sure, but I was damned curious. I scanned his display—by now, all rings were blurring into variations of the same half-dozen styles.
And then, in the back corner of the case, I recognized what I’d been looking for: a braided gold band in strands of yellow, rose, and white. A symbol of a blended family. I hadn’t seen anything else like it. The matching engagement ring had an oval cut solitaire.
Mr. Engle suggested the ring was a lifetime commitment; I shouldn’t take the decision lightly. He offered to let me borrow the wedding band for a week, wear it, make sure I liked it. At dinner that night, I showed it to Dave, explaining the meaning it held for me. When I asked him if he would wear a matching band, his answer held as much emotion as mine did when I said I’d marry him.
Dave and I went in to place our order for rings the very next day. But when we saw the cost, and I looked at Dave, my spirits sank. We couldn’t afford them. That’s when Mr. Engle said he would honor the full purchase price of my first engagement ring as a trade-in. In that moment of incredible grace, I was so shocked that I blurted the fact that the original jeweler would only give us half. He said, “That’s not ethical. Diamonds don’t lose their value.”
It was hard to part with my three-stone ring; I had loved it so. But there was meaning in that, too—offering up the best of what had come before to strengthen a new foundation.
Twenty years later, my ring still reminds me that we must take the best of the old and keep weaving it in with the new. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t feel our hardships deeply, because it’s only through understanding our emotions that writers can use them to drive engaging stories. But if we hope to persevere in an industry that will be forever changed by the coronavirus, we must choose to see our losses as fertile, our rejections as galvanizing, and our dreams as achievable, one word at a time.
And all the while, may we all be guided by messages with the ring of truth—those we receive in life, and those we deliver in fiction.
Have you ever experienced a “voice of God” moment, where some incidental character spoke up with surprising authority, or can you think of an instance where you read such a line in a novel? Would it work to include such a moment in your current WIP? Think about how you’d build toward the line so it could deliver the intended effect without relying on italics.
As concerns weaving the best of the old in with the new, what has this time of isolation taught you that you will carry forward in your post-coronavirus writing life?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!