Some time in Elementary School, I attended an older cousin’s wedding and saw how much they loved each other, how good and gentle they were to each other. I took home a party favor full of mints, tied together with plastic silver rings. I kept those rings for so long, sometimes wearing them after pretend wedding ceremonies, saying “I do” to my teddy bear or best girl-friend. I dreamed of a man to love me and take me away from my unloved reality. I used to wish for someone to love me when I blew out my birthday candles each year. I still have those plastic rings in my old jewelry box.
In high school, many of us girls had Claddaugh rings that we would wear on our left ring finger and flip over when we had a boyfriend, as a symbol we were taken, or to announce our freedom (even if just to other girls, as boys were busy looking elsewhere ). I bought mine with my own money, mostly just to fit in with the other girls that did this, never particularly cared for it.
After I told my mom about dad’s abuse, and moved in with her when I was 16, she took me out to buy jewelry. I think she didn’t know what else to do and wanted to make some grand gesture of apology. She told me anything I wanted. Whatever. I was kind of numb then. I picked out a swirly gold ring, with fire opals, and diamonds. It looked both wild, free and strong. I have no idea what it cost, I said I liked it so she bought it. My first love, he was a senior and I was junior, thoughtfully bought me a matching pendant for that ring for Christmas. They are both in my jewelry box.
My senior year of high school, my now-husband, then-boyfriend, took me out on Valentine’s Day. It was about our third date, but we had been close friends and study buddies for months. He picked me up and presented a huge teddy bear, some roses, and a small black velvet box. I freaked out. Terrified, I opened it slowly, and saw a sweet little pair of gold heart-shaped earrings (sweet, but not my style at all, more like for an 8 yr old). I seriously thought he was psycho and a ring would be in there. I was so happy it wasn’t an engagement ring that I didn’t notice how it was all still too much. I had given him a generic card which he seemed to love. I was still pining for my first lost love and didn’t care much about this new guy – he was just a friend to me, but I clearly saw how much more I meant to him.
I went away to college, on a full scholarship to a great private school, and my now-husband, then-boyfriend, followed me out of state, enrolled in another college out there, and got himself an apartment on the same street as my dorm. He offered me an antique gold band as a pre-engagement ring. I was freaked out by this, I was only 18, and promptly dumped him. But after a few weeks of feeling lonely, he won me back and I wore that ring happily. It helped that it was gorgeous, like pirate treasure, really yellow gold and rough cut rubies. It helped that I was sinking into depression, withdrawing from the world, and liked the idea that if I had him, I didn’t have to date anyone else, or even make friends. I felt safe, like that ring meant people couldn’t hurt me anymore. And I felt guilty for not loving this man this moved out of state to be with me. I thought maybe he was the man sent to love me, my answer to my birthday wishes. Maybe this was love? Maybe first love was not true love, since he had left me? It seemed that this man would not leave me. And he was older, 4 years older than me, so surely he knew what he was doing, and wasn’t just a kid like me? But what was wrong with me, that I still kept thinking of that electric spark and longing for my first love? More guilt.