Pretty things

December 2012: One of the low points in my life. I had lost my job earlier that year and now it was almost Christmas.

I wanted to hide away from the world. Not only because of the embarrassment and shame that accompany hard times, but mostly to focus on getting my life back together.

I took my daughters to the Family Dollar Store to buy some packing tape. Possibly the most depressing store ever.

I found two kinds of tape. One was $2.99 and the other was $1. I joked to the clerk that I was too poor to afford the $2.99 roll as I paid for the $1 roll. After we left, my older daughter (who was only 10 at the time) said “Mommy! Don’t tell people we’re poor!” Clearly, I had embarrassed her.

A week earlier, I created an eBay account. Being out of work meant I had to start selling some personal things. In just one week I had sold two items. I was excited, until I got to the post office and spent $18 for postage on an item I had only charged a $3 shipping fee for. Live and learn.

As soon as I got home, I immediately readjusted the shipping fees on all my other items.

Which brings me to the rings. Years before, my ex-husband had given me a beautiful 3-stone engagement ring. One large center diamond, representing the present and two smaller diamonds on either side, representing the past and the future.  The other was a beautiful custom made engagement ring given to me by a man I dated for 4 years after my divorce. A beautiful 1.5 carat cushion cut diamond, surrounded by beaded diamonds and a diamond wedding band to match.  It was beautiful. I tried to return it to him after we broke up, but he insisted I keep it. Both gifts from men who had loved me at one time. Now gone, but with memories still attached.

I never imagined I would have to sell such things, but I never imagined a lot of the hard times I’ve faced in my life. Sometimes things just happen. Reluctantly, I posted both sets on eBay. The custom set alone was worth well over $5,500, but I asked for less than half.

Being new to eBay, I assumed no one would buy them, so I took them to a local jewelry store. The appraiser took all four rings (two diamond engagement rings, and two bands) to a room at the back of the store. A few minutes later, he returned and offered me only a small fraction of what they were worth. I knew his offer was unfair, but before I could think, I heard myself say “Okay.”

As I left, I suddenly felt sad. It wasn’t that I would miss the rings (I hadn’t worn them in years), but that each one had a string of memories attached. Like the warm spring day when my ex-husband got down on one knee to propose, and all I could think about was how corny he looked. (Maybe I’m just an awful person.)

Or the December day, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, and lost my engagement ring. We had been Christmas shopping all day. I never realized it was gone until after we’d returned home. We spent hours that evening, driving from store to store, retracing every step and scanning the parking lots, searching but never found it. The next day, on Christmas eve morning, I took the dog outside for a walk.  And there in the grass, reflecting in the morning sun was my ring.

Or the day my ex-boyfriend threw the ring box at me and said “Here. I got you something.”  A gorgeous engagement ring, custom made just for me and how he threw the box at me. So terribly romantic. Anyway…

I had always imagined passing my rings and all my other pretty things, down to my daughters. Not that I owned anything spectacular, but each piece had meaning.

And now they were gone. And that made me sad.

But when you’ve been unemployed for 6 months, and it’s 3 weeks before Christmas, diamond rings don’t seem all that important anymore. Not to me, anyway. I used the cash the man at the jewelry store had given me to buy Christmas presents for my girls.

Gifts for two deserving little girls who still believed in and were expecting the arrival of Santa? Or a few rings?

To me, the answer was obvious.

To most people, a ring is a symbol of everlasting love. But to me, a ring is simply another pretty thing that you can wear. Perhaps nothing more.

I’d give up a hundred rings to have just one person who won’t abandon me when things get tough. Someone who will always be there to support me, no matter what.

No material object – and certainly not any kind of ring – can ever replace that.

I’d rather have a man strong enough to hold me when it feels like my entire world is falling apart. Or when it feels like I’m falling apart.

I’d rather have the love and support of my best friend and lover holding my hand, every single day. Because rings and objects don’t mean anything when you’re alone.

In the end, all that really matters is having the people who you love, standing beside you.

And no piece of jewelry could ever be worth more than that.

 

Photo credit: the-collectiveonline.com

Photo credit: the-collectiveonline.com

 

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Knowing When to Walk Away

He was a decent husband.  He was successful. He was a good provider.

Each time I came home with a pitiful new stray animal, be begrudgingly accepted it into our home.

But he was too busy with work and hating his job to appreciate the beautiful home I had made for us.

He chose working overtime over spending time with our 2 beautiful daughters.

After Hurricane Katrina, my dear friend Rose and I packed a tent and drove her Avalanche to New Orleans to volunteer. The HSUS had turned an equestrian center outside of the city into the largest animal rescue facility to date. We set up our tent outside the humongous FEMA tent.  It reminded me of a giant circus tent. We woke each day at 5:30am, and by 8am, we were exploring the barren streets of New Orleans most devastated neighborhoods. Dumping giant bags of cat and dog food, leaving water and occasionally rescuing a stray dog or cat, when we were lucky.

Rose and I befriended two FEMA firefighters. Two men: one was married, one was not.

Ryan, the single one was adorable. A big friendly smile. And the fact that he was there to save animals was attractive to me, a fellow animal lover.

Ryan and I hit it off immediately. I told him about my 2 girls and husband back home. I even showed him the pictures of our happy little family.

He talked to me. He listened. He was interested in me. Something that was lacking in my marriage.

Each day, Rose and I spent every daylight hour searching the streets of New Orleans. We dumped food. Left water. Witnessed the devastation. Found dead animals. Found starving animals. We cried. And sometimes we would laugh at ourselves. And then we would cry even more. It was heartbreaking.

Each evening we would find our 2 new firefighter friends and drink beer. Compare stories. Feel sad. Drink more beer. And try to forget.

That week, Ryan and I became close. We bonded over our sadness. It was easy to be attracted to someone who was so attentive.

I had been feeling so unloved, so neglected at home for so long. The attention was nice. And he made it very clear that he wanted me.

I was married. Unhappily married. But still married. Rose was put off.

She was happily married. And she knew how unhappy I was.

She was sympathetic, but slightly judgmental.

I kissed Ryan that week. And even though we had many opportunities to, I never took it any farther than that. But technically, I cheated on my husband. In my eyes, even just kissing was cheating.

I felt like a horrible human being.

I’m not proud of what I did, but no one is perfect. Certainly not me.

Ten days later, my husband was waiting for me at the airport when I returned home. He was beaming with excitement. He had missed me. A lot. It showed.

I had not missed him.

It was not that I wanted to leave him for Ryan. In fact I wasn’t even sure if I was interested in Ryan at all. It was the fact that time away had made me realize I needed more.

I deserved more.

I was unhappy.

I desperately wanted to be happy again.

He could see from my face that things had changed between us. That week, I asked him for a divorce.

He fell apart.

He cried and begged for another chance.

I agreed and we saw yet another marriage counselor.

The fact is, we had gone to four different counselors over the years. We had even attended a Marriage Encounter weekend. The ME weekend was actually fun.

He and I bonded that weekend. It breathed a new life into our marriage. But that was only a temporary fix. Two weeks later, things were back to normal again. And normal for us meant he was never around. And when he was, he was miserable. And that made me miserable.

[2.5 years earlier]  We moved into our new home that Christmas. The house was completely empty. The heat was not working. It was cold and empty. But it was ours. We were happy. A new home. A new fresh start for us. A new chance to make things work.

I remember sitting in our living room a few weeks later. On our shabby old couch. The house was still bare. We had not purchased any new furniture yet.

He walked in the door from work. More complaints. He hated his job. It seemed that was all he ever wanted to talk about.

I asked him to sit down. I told him I was unhappy. I asked him for a divorce. He begged me to try. Again.

I agreed. Again.

We found yet another counselor. She suggested a trip. Maybe spending time together alone would help us?

We booked a hotel and drove to Florida. Two days before we left, 911 occurred. We thought about cancelling our trip but we decided to go anyway. The Disney parks were barren that week. The entire country was mourning the devastating losses of 911. We tried to enjoy ourselves.  We used wine to numb the pain.

We had dinner al fresco on Disney’s boardwalk one evening. It was a beautiful night. We laughed. We had wine. I felt happy.

A fortune teller had a small kiosk set up along the water. After dinner, he suggested I have a reading done. He knew my fascination with that sort of thing. She read my palm. She shuffled her Tarot cards. I giggled. It was the wine.

But the one thing I vividly recall her saying to me was: “You will have a daughter that is exactly like you.”

He and I had not had sex in ages. Sex had been the last thing on my mind in all those unhappy years.

After strolling along the moonlit boardwalk and more wine, we had sex that evening in our hotel room.

One month later, the pregnancy test came back positive.  I was shocked. How could I be pregnant? 

We only had sex once. One time in over a year. Maybe TWO YEARS? It had been so long, I had lost track.

It must be a sign. We were ecstatic to have a child.

We decided we would stay together and try to work things out. [end of flashback]

Things never did change. And 6 months after I returned from volunteering for Hurricane Katrina, we filed for divorced.

Looking back I know I gave him everything I could. I did everything in my power to make it work.

Counselors. The Marriage Encounter weekend. More counseling. More chances. More time…. More tries.

You get to a point when trying is all there is left.

At one time I adored him. But over the years, adoration turned into resentment.

I resented him for working so much. I resented his refusal to communicate. All he ever did was complain about work.

I resented him for not appreciating the beautiful family and home we had created.

But yet, I still tried and tried and tried again.

The saddest part is that I know he still loved me. But he stopped trying.

When I finally decided to walk away for good, I knew in my heart I had done everything in my power to make it work.

I also knew I no longer loved him. He stopped trying. He had destroyed the love I once had for him.

And when there is no love left, that’s when you know it’s time to gracefully walk away.