Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ring

This past week, P and I have been frantically running errands trying to make headway on our incredibly long 'to do' list. It is difficult to believe that we have lived in New Haven for nearly a whole year as we still feel like newbies on many fronts. Much of the past 11 months has been spent in survival mode-- just get done what is necessary for that particular day, not much movement on life beyond that. Therefore, we are taking advantage of this week with both of us home to mail the packages that have been sitting on our dressers for months, bring the loud-screeching vacuum to the repair guy, get boys' health forms completed for day camp, etc. Today, we brought my wedding band to the jeweler's to get re-sized-- finally.

I guess P got tired of seeing it sitting on the windowsill above the sink where I had put it after wrestling it off my finger some time ago. The truth was that the band was always a bit small, but ten years of marriage, three kids, and too many pounds gained to name on a public blog later had made it incredibly uncomfortable. Taking my wedding band off was no literal or metaphorical statement about the state of our marriage. The truth is that my wedding band just no longer fits me. I did find it interesting that the skin beneath the band had grown white and puckered, just a little bit raw, certainly worn and changed. Maybe that's a general metaphor about marriage, but I think of when I got that ring--- I never would have taken it off. Never. Not for anything. Now with our marriage partnership coming up on ten years, with three sons, three moves, the deaths of both my parents, one huge career change, a potentially big health issue, somehow the physical ring doesn't make me feel any more married. It's these other things, intense shared experiences, that make me married.

Please don't misunderstand. I love my ring. It suits me perfectly. I love its history. I love the story behind it.

P and I became engaged as Peace Corps volunteers serving in the Philippines. We had met the first week of training. We arrived in Manila on a Sunday, kissed by the following Friday evening (in a crazy bar called the Hobbit House that was staffed by little people, but perhaps we'll save that story for another post), and that was pretty much it. When we went off to our respective sites, we wrote letters to one another--lots of letters-- mimicking, perhaps, an old-fashioned courtship. Thankfully, we were posted on the same island so were only eight hours and three buses apart. We made that trip whenever we could, and I remember Sunday mornings when he visited me at my site, walking him to the bus stop and shedding incredible amounts of tears, thinking about not seeing him for two weeks, maybe three or more. Sitting on the jeepney back to my home after his departures were some of the most desolate trips I ever took. I imagine the Filipinos, witnessing this pale, tall, white woman, with her knees crunched up on the small seat benches, with red-rimmed eyes, calling out "Bayad-do" in a small, croaky voice, must have thought I was quite a strange foreigner indeed.

After landing in the hospital for the second time thanks to some cheeky parasites who made themselves at home in his intestines, P headed back to NYC to check in with a doctor there. When he left, we didn't know if he would return. He wanted to fulfill his two-year commitment to the Peace Corps, but it was unclear if his GI track or the Peace Corps health advisers would allow it. I remember thinking that this was the first time, really the first time, I would ever contemplate entirely altering my plans for a guy (and I was 28!). If he couldn't return, I would be faced with a dilemma. To steal that well-known line from The Clash, I kept thinking, "Should I stay or should I go" if he couldn't return. I had been raised to never quit anything; no matter what, you stuck it out. I had worked hard to make connections with people at my site, but here I had found P and I couldn't imagine being separated from him for a year-- really, really physically separated.

Thankfully, I never had to make that decision and we were both incredibly joyous when he returned. Our kind program director had scheduled us to train the incoming volunteers in the same week so we could be together, which happened to coincide with P's return. We ran our workshops, schmoozed with the new PCVs, enjoyed spending time with our former language instructors, but were happy when our commitments ended so we could head off for an overnight trip to a tiny, beautiful and lush island off the coast of Dumaguete, where the training happened, called Apo Island. We had visited Apo once before with our fellow batchmates during our training, when our relationship first blossomed, so this was its own sort of coming-home. We were the only tourists on the island that night and we chose the best nipa hut, octagonally-shaped, situated on a slight hill, overlooking the beach and water. That evening, over warm Coke and bad corn chip (Chippies), with the sunset being blocked by a large and poorly-situated rock, P slid a small jade box with a red ribbon across the table to me. Assuming it was a birthday gift as he had been back at home on the day, I was surprised to find the white gold band and even more surprised to hear the "Will you marry me" question-- so much so, that my first, far-from-eloquent utterance was (and I am not proud of this fact), "Are you shitting me?"

P went on to tell me that this had been his grandmother's wedding band, and knowing that I wasn't a diamond girl, he thought it would suit me well. I never met any of P's grandparents, nor he mine, but I knew two things about this grandma: 1). She and her husband died three days apart. His grandfather, at P's grandmother's funeral, said he didn't know how he would live without his wife and he didn't, sinking into my mother-in-law's arms mere days later. 2). She must have been small. Really small. We call my mother-in-law The Elf Queen, in part because she is under five feet tall so I gather that neither of her parents were particularly tall. So here it was relatively remarkable that I could get her band on my finger in the first place. I wore the ring on my right hand for the year of our engagement and switched it to my left hand during our wedding ceremony. And it has sat on my hand these past nine-and-three-quarter years (as my five-and-three-quarter-year-old boys would say), until it became so tight, I soaped it up and yanked it off my finger, and sat it upon the windowsill over the kitchen sink.

Now, we suddenly seem to have hit a stage in our lives where we have a few friends begining separation and divorce proceedings. And I have to admit, I get this--not because I think we are headed there-- but I get how complicated and tough marriage and partnership are in ways that I never did during my teens or the easy times before children. And I stop for a moment to be thankful that I got lucky enough to meet P when I did, when the time was right for both of us, and remain somewhat awed at how well-suited we are for one another. And I am thankful that he's been a true partner in this crazed adventure known as parenthood, in ways well beyond most men I know are, even the progressive, involved, sensitive ones.

And so as my wedding band sits with a jeweler for the next ten days to be heated and stretched--surely a metaphor in that one-- I say good-bye to P for the next 18 days, the longest time we have ever been away from each other since we married. He's off to Ghana on an incredible adventure, but one we can't share together due to three little people living in our home that need us. I will look forward to slipping the now-fitted band back on my finger, and I will look forward to having P home again.


Anonymous said...

I too understand divorce now. THe stronger our marriage is, the more I understand how difficult it is to be married.

deborah said...

ohhh...i never get tired of hearing this story. and i lived it! it's perfect.
i can't believe it has been 10 years...

Andrea said...

You've got me all weepy...soooo romantic. You and P are a couple to be admired!