It was the late spring of 2014.
Ty and I were having long and often painful conversations. If you boiled down those hours and hours of conversation, this is what you would find at the bottom of that dry cauldron.
We had one of these conversations as I was sitting in the car one day. This one was particularly long and it ended with the usual refrain.
He and I didn’t have it. And we had no way of getting it. 450 hopeless miles separated us. There really wasn’t any hope for our relationship, but neither of us wanted to pull the plug.
I looked at my hand on the steering wheel and gazed at the promise ring he had given me. It was a beautiful silver rose, encrusted with marcasite gems. The rose was elegant and long and looked like it had been made for my finger. He and I had bought it at an antique shop in North Carolina on a happy, cold afternoon in February.
I wondered what I would do with it when we finally pulled the plug. I didn’t want to keep it - it meant nothing to me without the commitment that it symbolized.
I didn’t want to sell it back to an antique shop.
Giving it back to him felt mean and spiteful.
So I left it there on my finger and trusted that an answer would eventually reveal itself.
Turns out I was trusting in the deceased grandmother of a girl named Natalie, whom I had not yet met.
It was Mother’s Day 2014.
My kids spoiled me. Buddy spoiled me, although he was half a world away He gave us money so the kids could take me for a nice lunch after church. There, the kids gave me their gifts.
Audrey gave me a fragrant box of soaps, scrubs, lotions and balms. It was so perfect for me. My girl knows how much I love my time in the bathtub.
I love that my daughter knows me well. I love that she pays attention. I love that she is generous.
And I love that she knows the difference between body butter and body lotion.
Grant gave me a $15 gift card for Macy’s and explained, “I wanted to buy you a lipstick but there were so many colors and I couldn’t pick which one you would like. But I took up a lot of the salesgirl’s time and I felt like I should buy something so I got a gift card and I thought you could go back and get the lipstick you like.”
I kissed his forehead and asked if he would go with me to pick out the lipstick. He smiled and said, “Sure.”
It was May 30, 2014.
It was close to closing time when Grant and I approached the Clinique counter.
I looked at the rows and rows of reds and pinks and corals, and I was touched that my little boy had ever dared to go into battle against this pigmented batallion. He was outnumbered from the start.
With the help of the salesgirl we eventually decided on Watermelon, and I went to the register to pay. As I handed her my credit card, the salesgirl said, “My grandmother used to have a ring just like that.”
She was talking about my rose ring.
“Really? Just like this?” I asked. It was odd because the ring is unusual. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it.
She looked at it up close. “Yep, just like that. She left it to me and then I lost it in a club last Christmas.” She looked down and to the side for a minute, as if she were regretting once again that she wore that ring into that club, that night. “It was big for my finger,” she said, “And I had kind of bent the band to keep it on, but … it didn’t help.”
Bent the band.
The band on my ring was bent.
I took it off and showed it to her and asked, “Bent like this?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed. She looked excited and happy, but then suddenly pushed that back down.
I looked at her name tag and made a mental note. Natalie. And on the way home I called Ty and told him the story.
“Clearly that’s her ring,” he said.
“And… I feel like I should give it back to her…. Would that be okay with you….?” I asked.
It felt weird to ask. I wondered if this was what it was like to be a nurse, approaching a family whose loved one was on life support, asking if they had thought about organ donation. And handing them a brochure with a blurred picture of a rose on the front of it.
“It would be more than okay,” he said. “You have to.”
So the next night I went back to Macy’s and I held the ring out to Natalie and said that I had talked to my boyfriend and he and I agreed that she should have it.
And it was like she didn’t get it.
She just stood there, looking at me.
And as I stood there, waiting for her to accept the ring, I felt an unexpected moment of camaraderie with every lovelorn bachelor who has ever been on his knees, holding a ring in both hands, waiting for her to accept it. Wondering if she will. Hoping she will say yes.
And finally she did. “Oh, thank you!” she said. And she started crying. And she hugged me and she put the ring on her index finger.
And I floated out of Macy’s, away from the Clinique counter and the salesgirl and the ring, and wondered about the mystery of it all.
Why can’t anything be just sad, or just happy?
Why do the two always have to cling to each other, wrestle with each other?
I wondered for a moment, of course, if that really was Natalie’s grandmother’s ring, or if Natalie was a crack-addict who routinely swindled unsuspecting Macy’s customers out of their jewelry using that same line. If the cosmetic salesgirl job was just a ruse that allowed her to run her jewelry racket.
And I guess in the end I’ll never know for sure. I can choose to believe what I want to believe.
Maybe I reunited a girl with a precious family heirloom.
And maybe she sold the ring in the parking lot that night and I inadvertently paid for her next hit.
I’ll never know for sure, so I can decide.
Maybe proximity matters.
Maybe it doesn’t.
We get to decide.
But here’s the thing. When Natalie put that ring on her finger, she didn’t hesitate for a second. She knew exactly what finger it fit. And it did fit. Except, it was a tiny bit big.
Exactly like it was supposed to be.
Exactly like it was supposed to be.
It was all, exactly like it was supposed to be.