My engagement ring has been making a strange rattling sound for a few months so I stopped into a jewelry store yesterday on the way to the beach. The kids and I were lathered in sunscreen and they rubbed their greasy fingers all over the glass display cases while I explained my concerns to the owner. "I think it's loose," I say in one breath, while lecturing the kids in my next. "Use your eyes, not your hands."
I'd been meaning to do this boring errand for weeks, but taking two kids into a jewelry store is fairly high up on my List of Things I Would Rather Not Do, Ever.
The owner examines the ring while I play defense with the kids. After a few minutes he hands it back.
"You know there's a chip in one of the stone's corners, right?" he says. I nod. The chip, an accident, isn't noticeable to the naked eye but it's causing one of the prongs not to hold as well. "Do you remember how it happened?" he asks with some surprise and curiosity. Diamonds are known to be extremely strong stones, after all. "Maybe you knocked it against a kitchen counter or another hard surface?" he suggests.
I smile with amusement. I'm in a season of life where I'm using my hands a lot. There is cooking and cleaning and scrubbing and moving and lifting and pushing carts and all sorts of other little tasks to keep a family alive. So when he asks if I can remember such an incident, I can't help but wonder, which one?
The jeweler adjusts the prong and quickly cleans the ring before sending us on our way. It shines confidently in the morning light and I remember when I admired it for the first time.
It's been almost 11 years since my sweet man slipped the stone on my finger in front of hundreds of gawking holiday tourists in Rockefeller Center. I was so excited—shocked, really—that I didn't take a close look until a few hours later. I remember staring at its brilliance while the waiter at a fancy restaurant in the West Village poured champagne. ("Are they old enough to drink?" he was probably thinking.)
We hadn't gone ring shopping together, so my engagement ring was the first and only one I tried on. I let it catch the chandelier's light and scatter brilliance over the restaurant while Jonathan explained how he chose just the right one. Clarity and cut and size all meant nothing to me, but for a man who'd just maxed out his credit card, they meant a lot. He talked carats and letters, lengths and widths. Later that night I'd wake up from a deep sleep and reach for my left hand, making sure this valuable symbol of his affection wasn't just a dream. I even went into the bathroom, turning on the light for a peak at it's beauty before falling back asleep.
Today is our ten year wedding anniversary. That engagement ring still sits on my left hand, as brilliant to the eye as when I first received it, but as the jeweler reminded me yesterday it's no longer in perfect form. When I first learned of the diamond's chip a few years ago I was sad about the news. Even though the diamond still looks the same, I didn't like knowing it is probably less valuable now.
And yet as I reflect back on the last ten years, there is something about the diamond's chip that feels like an honest reflection of the union between husband and wife.
On our wedding day, our marriage didn't yet carry a single flaw. The day was a grand affair on the water with passed appetizers, a big tiered cake, and one of those candy stations because I had to have a candy station. My dad found a party-till-the-late-hours cover band, and my mom made sure all the napkins matched with the invitations, and other such details I'd overlook. The day itself was glittery, and expensive, and flawless...just like my ring.
And then, as marriage should go and did go, we jumped into real life. The everyday. The confusion about our dreams and how to chase them. The waiting for acceptance letters. The we-have-no-money moments. The law school loans. The job losses. The job acceptances! The graduation. The offer, the escrow, the remodel. The positive pregnancy tests. The terrible CT scan. The surgeries. Moving. Moving again, and again, and again. The holidays with friends, the vacations with family. The infant who won't stop crying. The wife who barely showered for awhile. The husband without eyebrows. The constantly smelly sink and the never ending pile of laundry, and the mostly funny debates about which butter to buy, and why is football on the television again, and do you really have to fart under the sheets?
Ten years later, I know the beautifully hard work of marriage. Many days, most days, my lovely ring is caked with with soap scum and diaper ointment and play dough. Underneath it all is a little crack that doesn't signify a marriage falling apart, but holding strong despite the circumstances of normal, give-and-take life. It'd be easy to feel disappointed that something that once seemed perfect is no longer so, but that chip was earned. It's a mark of all that's right, not all that's wrong. Unlike a wedding or a ring, a healthy and happy marriage isn't something that can be bought. It's a constant work in progress. I wouldn't have it any other way.