When you are one of seven children in a blended family, everyone is cast in a role repeatedly played out, despite all efforts to break free and re-create oneself. One sister, for example, was the clumsy one, something of which she was reminded every day, which resulted in continual mishaps that ranged from minor–a bruised knee, to major–a concussion when she fell down the basement stairs. Was she really that clumsy or merely a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to being continually told she was a perpetual accident waiting to happen?
I was the one who lost jewelry, from the cheapest of plastic toy baubles to my first birthstone ring given to me by my stepfather for my eighth birthday. As the years went by, I was given other rings and pins and bracelets, most of which ended up missing just when my parents would ask why I wasn’t wearing one of said gifts. When I graduated from college, my stepfather told me he wanted to buy me a ring, but, given my history, thought a train ticket to travel across country was a better option. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and was relieved not to bear the responsibility and inevitable blame for yet another jewel torn asunder from my keep.
Decades later, when my grandmother passed, I was given a gift that left me awestruck–the very old and very beautiful engagement ring worn by her mother, my great grandmother. The ring had been given to my great grandmother by her second husband, when he proposed to her just as the Great Depression had begun. He was a doctor; a patient in need of his care offered him the ring as payment for his extensive services. I am not sure if it was a straight barter, or if he paid a nominal price for it in addition to providing the care. I do know, however, that despite its obvious value beyond anything paid, it felt priceless to all involved and dated back to the 1800s.
“Wear it, enjoy it, love it as she wanted you to,” my aunt said when, during a brief break from the sad chore of cleaning out my grandmother’s home, she gave me the glittering, most beautiful ring I had ever known.
I briefly hesitated. Then I reminded myself that I had managed to not lose my own engagement ring for multiple decades. My wedding pearls also remained secure in their black velvet box, tucked safely away. Surely, I had outgrown my childhood “loser” moniker and graduated to being worthy of keeping this gift that I would ultimately pass along to RG Daughter when the time was absolutely right.
And for three years I did just that. I wore it everywhere, except at work. I kept it with me at all times when traveling, lest the house burn down or someone burglarize my apartment. When people whom I didn’t know well complimented it, I told them that it was a fake. “Amazing how real it looks,” they’d say. “Yep, amazing,” I would agree, and then change the subject.
Last weekend, after much planning and begging others to cover our shifts, my great guy and I managed to take two full days and nights off together for the first time in months. It was literally my first day off in 18 days and 22 shifts. We didn’t look back as we headed off the rock, booking the pups into Rouletta’s former canine “country club and spa” for two nights, and treating ourselves to an oceanfront luxury hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
As always, I packed my heirloom ring in a little jewelry pouch, along with two pairs of earrings. I zipped it into an inside pocket in my purse and left it there, untouched. When we returned home, I quickly unpacked everything, both of us in a hurry to work night shifts, and I forgot to remove the jewelry pouch from my purse. Two days later, in horror and self-chagrin, I remembered. I dug through my purse, and there it was, the mesh pouch safely zipped away as I had packed it.
Except that it wasn’t exactly as I had packed it. When I shook the contents into my palm, only the two pairs of earrings fell out. Okay, so the ring must still be in my purse, I thought. But it wasn’t, despite my pretty much ripping the lining out of the thing to make sure the nightmare unfolding wasn’t happening.
I dug through every corner and crevice of my suitcase, on the off chance the ring had somehow ended up there, which I knew was impossible. I removed all my cheap earrings and $20 rings and two-for- $30 bracelets from my jewelry box and ran my hands over and over the velvet lining.
Nothing. Nada. It was gone. Vanished.
My heart pounded and I felt certain of two things: that I could no longer breathe and that I was going to throw up. Not that ring. Not that ring. Please, please, please not that ring.
I could not admit this loss to a single person, I decided. Not to my daughter, not to my aunt, not to anyone. After work and after a midnight dinner and two glasses of wine, I told my great guy.
“I’ll call the hotel in the morning, and we’ll go through the car and suitcase and everything again,” he calmly said, because he didn’t know my history–nay, my very identity–as a hopeless, dumb-ass, habitual jewelry loser.
I plodded through the following day at work at the place where I work the most shifts. I poured drinks and made conversation, and all was fine until I remembered the ring–which I remembered about every 15 minutes.
Over the next two days, I went through my jewelry box multiple times. I searched the floorboards of my car. I shook my purse out over and over again. And still, the ring remained missing.
“The hotel security office is looking into it,” said my great guy on the third day. “But nothing has turned up yet. You are absolutely sure you packed it when we were leaving for Fort Lauderdale?”
Hell, I could have unknowingly vacuumed up the thing if the ring had never made it into my purse in the first place. And if it had, and somehow it had dropped out of my purse in the hotel room, well, aloha my coveted and so-very-special ring.
“Can I talk with you?” asked one of my favorite regulars the following day–day four of the ring loss. She is an always-smiling, energetic woman who will do anything for you and does everything for everyone else. She constantly matches those with an excess something–be it clothing, an apartment, or even a broken AC unit–with those in need who are down on their luck or have to move tomorrow or know they can fix anything.
“Sure,” I said. I was doing the final paperwork before I left for the day. “Give me one second.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you at one of the deck tables, where it’s quiet,” she said. Hmm. Odd.
“What’s up?” I asked her a few minutes later.
“You know how I used to take care of my friend, the older woman?” she asked, which I didn’t really remember, but it didn’t surprise me. “Well, when she died, she didn’t have much, but what she did have I am sorting through and giving away.”
Okay, I don’t need anything, I am sure, I thought, wondering where this conversation was really headed.
“She would have loved you had she been able to meet you, because you are so cool and funny. And you wear similar jewelry to hers, believe it or not,” my regular continued. “So, I want you to take these gifts from my friend. She would have wanted you to have them and would have loved seeing you wear them.”
In my hand she dropped a tiny silver pinky ring inlaid with sapphire chips, and a pair of of dangling, antique silver-mesh earrings. I was stunned.
“But I never knew her!” I exclaimed, almost embarrassed. “Surely she has other friends, children…” I stuttered, feeling awkward.
“No, no, she had no one. Please take them, for the good karma,” she insisted. “They need a little cleaning up, but aren’t they beautiful?”
Yes, indeed. Incredibly beautiful.
“Look what one of my customers gave me,” I showed my great guy later that evening.
“Nice,” he smiled.
“Yeah,” I sighed. The gift was wonderful, but it made the reality of my lost ring more poignant. “Okay, one more time I am going through everything in my jewelry box to look for that ring,” I told him. I placed the jewelry that had belonged to a woman I had never known carefully on the coffee table. I’d add them to the jewelry box contents after I’d searched it for the umpteenth time.
I brought out the silk-covered box that had also belonged to my great grandmother and balanced it on my lap. I put on my glasses, opened the lid, and decided to take out every single piece of jewelry one more time. I reached for one of the two pairs of earrings I had packed with my ring, earrings I had already moved around in the jewelry box multiple times during previous searches. But this time, as I carefully picked up the pair, there it was–where it had not been for all the days I had been looking for it–acting as a kind of clasp holding the pair together.
“Oh my God, I found it!” I cried. “It’s right here, right here!” I exclaimed. I was utterly shocked, amazed and surprised. I had looked at those earrings so many times over the past few days. How could I have missed the ring being attached to them?
I glanced over at the sapphire pinky ring and delicate silver earrings that had belonged to the woman I had never known. And I knew right then, with complete certainty, that the spirit of this woman whom I’d never known had somehow arranged for my heirloom ring to finally be placed in plain view for me to find.
“Wow, you must not have seen it mixed up with the other earrings,” said my great guy, clearly happy and relieved for me.
“But, I had held them, moved them…” I started, then decided to let it go. Sure, sure. I must have simply missed and overlooked the ring throughout all my frantic searches. Yep, that was it.
How do you thank someone you never met, who passed before you ever had a chance to know her? How do you tell her you will cherish her tiny ring and beautiful earrings; and how they are both of a style you love and will frequently wear? And every time you wear them, you hope she hears your thanks for helping a perfect stranger find what had surely been lost forever.