Buy the Cow

January 4, 2021

I bought myself a ring.

I know. This is going to take some backtracking. But in columns, as in life, I like to keep all the crazy right up front. It weeds out the weak ones who can’t prove their mettle by breaking through the barriers. Because if you can’t handle me at buying my own ring, you definitely don’t deserve me at three nights of sleep deprivation to create a Christmas whose memory will warm you for years to come. This much awesome comes with some issues. That’s just all there is to it.

It’s a completely flawed way of interacting with the world, I know, but it’s protective. Do not attempt to live like this at home, kids.

But like I said: crazy. Right up front.

Still. Spend an hour having an agenda free conversation with me and you may discover that there is a method to my madness. It’s a strategic and carefully curated brand of lunacy in my lifestyle.

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a feel-good New Year’s resolutions post.

I swear to you, here and now, that I will not be that predictable.

But there are some resolutiony undertones in this particular treatise, and I won’t try to hide them either. Just know that, while I didn’t buy myself a ring because to push some girl power single woman strong personal manifesto, it is an effort to remind myself throughout my days that the longest and most stable relationship I’ve ever had has been with myself. So it’s worth manifesting some symbol or another of that relationship.

I’ve lived a life defined by the neglecting of things like resolutions and goals. I tend to distrust a thing immediately once I’ve committed to dealing with it in some regular way intended to result in some measure of progressive improvement.

I can’t keep resolutions, I mean. I’m bad at them. They’re very grown up. I perform poorly in grown up things.

I also did not buy myself a ring because I long for marriage. I’ve been married. Two and a half stars on Yelp based solely on federal income tax benefits. I’m not wearing a ring on my left ring finger because I have some romantic notion of a perfect relationship somewhere in a dimension not too far from this one. I don’t long for the marriage I had back. I’m neither stuck in the past nor longing for some ideal future.

One woman asked me, the other day, if I bought myself the ring because I want to ward off potential suitors.

I laughed at her, out loud, in my head. No darling, I wanted to say, that’s what my atrocious personality is for.

There are no potential suitors to scare off, though, which is exactly how I like things. One less thing to triage in my life, which absolutely does feel like a bloody, tragic episode of Life in the ER. But the unmolested solitude would not be worth pretending to be something I’m not. Besides, what other fun can I have at my age aside from turning down probably the last requests for a spot on my dance card before the music fades and we all start going home, to everyone’s astoundment, including my own?

It’s not that I’m particularly averse to the idea of a relationship, though if I had a nickname on every single dating app known to man it would probably be something alliterative, and slightly demeaning. Avoidance Annie or something. It’s not that I don’t want to have that Hallmark moment, when the just-attractive-enough-to-be-interesting-but-not-quite-intimidating wealthy widow/doctor/horse whisperer notices me and my naked left digitus annularis at the rustic counter of a down-home country diner on Christmas Eve in a little town in New Hampshire I moved to that I may start my own Christmas tree farm and heal the emotional trauma of PG-13 troubled life.

I know it sounds this way, but my heart is actually the same throbbing bloody hunk of muscle and tissue you lug around in your own thorax all day long. It’s not made of ice. Or toxic sludge. Or the souls of abandoned kittens.

I don’t hate love. I don’t actually believe no one could ever love me, though it is a comforting fictional alternative to the reality that my shortest period of at-will adult singledom was just shy of a decade. It’s easier to pretend you’re not good enough for everyone else than to ask yourself why no one else is good enough for you.

I suppose that, my best efforts notwithstanding, hope does spring eternal and I can say with certainty that if a European farmer with enough land for me to ride off on a horse and never be seen again, with the wit and comedic timing of Bill Murray and Steve Martin’s love child and the bone structure of Jason Freaking Momoa were to express an interest in making an honest woman out of me, I’d probably humor him at least long enough to see how much land outside the US I could acquire if things didn’t work out.

But I’m certainly not going to die a devastated woman if that doesn’t happen either. I’m good alone. I’ve got my thing down. I work. I vacuum. I put leftovers in Tupperware and spend some Sunday mornings rooted firmly to the warm, soft embrace of my bed watching reality television and just being happy with myself.

Just being. Happy.

So. Now that we’ve got those boxes checked, let’s talk about why I did buy myself a ring, and why I wore it in public, and why I continue to do so, even though people think it’s weird as hell.

First of all, I like rings. A lot. I like wearing them. I like it when other people wear them. I like it when they’re chunky and silver and have deceptively inexpensive chunks of synthetic precious stones in them. I absolutely adore the living crap out of it when they look like something that was crafted with the singular purpose of being worn to one of Jay Gatsby’s shindigs.

I used to wear big obnoxious rings like that all the time. As a woman, I can say with confidence that I would never even notice your ruby necklace or your diamond-studded tennis bracelet. Not even those delicious fringy baubles quivering in your distended earlobes. But I one hundred percent will stop you in the street to admire your ring if you’re wearing one loud and unique, or delicate and fragile, enough to catch my eye.

At the age of 29, I turned in my in-your-face mall rings for a beautiful yellow gold number that my grandmother wore for the decades after marrying my grandfather. When she passed away, and then he followed five years later, my mother inherited the ring on my behalf. Even then, I knew what I wanted in a relationship and it was precisely what the two of them had created over the course of a lifetime. Tall order for a 20-year-old living on the campus of a state university.

I’ve spoken, and written, about my grandparents at great length on my podcast and in previous columns, so I won’t go back over the same tired material here. But it’s important for you to understand that my grandmother, whose ring was the only ring I wanted to wear once I finally got married myself, and her husband were my model for love as perfect as it gets in this wide, wicked world.

Even as a young woman I knew that I intended to not get married, or have children, until I could be reasonably certain that I was doing it with a man of the same integrity and grit as my grandfather had possessed. To be sure, any man of mine would need an ample and ongoing supply of both, and even then I wasn’t willing to settle for anything I believed to be less than that.

Funny thing about longing to recreate something that was never yours to begin with: you sometimes jump the gun and let yourself believe all the things you’d like to believe about a fella, rather than the ones that are staring you directly in the face. The scary ones. The ones that should always, always be disqualifiers.

It hadn’t been an impulsive decision to put that ring on my finger, but the choice to remove it crashed over me, and was acted upon, from within the midst of a trauma I will spend my life trying to reconcile in my mind. It was as impulsive a decision as the one to marry had not been. In a fit of wild-eyed rage, I tugged the little band of gold and sparkling carbon off my finger and handed it to my mother and said something immature and untrue, like “take it. Do whatever you want with it. I never want to see it again.”

My mother, for her part, honored that wish and protected me from ever seeing that ring again. Even when I begged, at a certain point, months after the fact and still stewing in my own signature funk of disenfranchised grief for a man who’d died tragically and unexpectedly, but whose body still rode past my house on his motorcycle randomly on summer evenings, or stared me down from across an intersection as a red light glared between us.

I asked several times to have the ring back. Each time, I was denied. And I get it. If I put myself in her shoes, and my daughter was asking for the ring she’d worn to signify an unhappy marriage that would never be revived, I’d probably hesitate to hand it over for a moment as well. She knew why I wanted it.

I wanted to wear it again.

Not because I wanted to pretend that the atrocious end of things had never come.

But that’s not entirely accurate.

I didn’t want to wear that ring. I needed to. On a cellular level. As the process of mourning my marriage – the very life I believed myself to have been constructing with a man I truly thought I knew – drug on and on, my body craved the hug of cool, smooth metal around that finger. On the worst nights, lying alone on the sofa, him upstairs, in another room altogether, wondering what was happening and why, and how things had even gotten to that point to begin with, I would spin that ring around my finger and picture my grandmother. Her little frown. The way she’d set the corners of her mouth down, dug in, like heels, when she was working through something really tough in her mind. I thought about the times her own mother-in-law and sister-in-law would stroll through her house commenting on her sloppy housekeeping, running fingers over surfaces to see the dust she’d left behind, implying that she would never, ever be enough. And how that night, she would lay down with my grandfather and he would tell her they were full of utter, utter crap and that she was perfect.

I knew it wasn’t the ring she was wearing. I knew it was their mutual positive regard for one another, and a uniquely Great Depressiony way of sucking it up and plodding on through hard times without feeling the need to Instagram every trial and tribulation.

I coveted that kind of strength. Just as a person. As a woman.

And I know it’s not scientific, and I know that objects don’t hold energies and crap, but I felt something when I wore that ring. It transcended my marriage. It became, at a certain point, a symbol of a commitment I’d made independent of the quality of any commitments made back to me. I felt grounded with it on me. I felt calmer in the face of anything I found myself staring down the barrel of.

And then, that day, with the county detective monitoring my behaviors and statements on my front porch and state officers tossing my house on an evidence hunt for a crime I’d never even known the man was capable of committing, I projected all my anger with him, and with the situation, and with the absolute hopelessness of it all onto that ring and flung it at my mother like it never mattered at all.

I’ve regretted doing that since the milliseconds just before I even did it.

The end of my marriage wasn’t a choice I made. It was a choice that was made for me. In that moment, I threw away the only tangible proof that I’d made the commitment I had, to the man I had, and that the intention with which I’d done those things, regardless of how tainted the marriage turned out to be, had been pure.

I took that ring off in 2013, but the little indent where it used to sit has never gone away. The process of grieving a person who is still alive, but was never the person you thought you’d known at all, is convoluted, overgrown, and icy. It is not a linear path from love to loss to integration. It’s a path you walk in jerky, stumbling steps, and sometimes you have to turn around and go back to the last wrong turn and try again.

It would have been nice, as I was making my way, to have had that ring to twirl around on my finger as I considered rights or lefts, forge aheads or stops and rests.

The whole thing felt so otherworldly. I felt so adrift for so long. It would have been nice to have had a totem. Something tangible to remind me of a woman I’m pretty sure was bulletproof in the strength of will department.

And not just in her marriage, either. When her doctor told her she had lung cancer and six months to live, and that was about it that woman gave him the finger and said “I ain’t ready.”

And then she proceeded to live another six years.

When her husband’s mother told her over and over you will never be enough she bit her tongue and climbed that high road and reminded herself, in her mind, that she already was. She’d lived a life that seemed, from childhood, beset on all sides by the looming threat of lack. Lack of money. Lack of education. Lack of opportunity. Lack of respect. But every single morning that woman put her feet on the floor of the house her husband built, for her, from nothing, out of sheer love and adoration, and I will tell you she was a scary woman.

As the most challenging and concerning of her three grandchildren even I trembled just a bit when her green eyes flashed and the end of her rope visibly frayed within them.

My grandmother was, as my grandfather would never hesitate to tell you, one tough, tough old bird.

I wanted to be a tough old bird just like her when I grew up, and for a few years in the 2010s, I wore her ring and tried so hard it almost wrecked me, emotionally, to do exactly that. And once I excised that ring from my life I felt that iron she’d infused its metal band with fall away.

It has taken me nearly a decade to build back enough of it to say with pride that this is my house, and these are my children, whom I have raised and who show me daily my own strengths and weaknesses reflected in their little quirks and mannerisms. The way they answer annoying questions with a little lift at the end, a lilt of forced patience.

The way they look away when they hear the warbling first notes of Sarah McClaughlin’s charity trauma commercials come on any television anywhere.

And the unflinching support, the unmitigated, defiant positive regard with which she braced herself to raise two kids. The rock hard partnership she had with my grandfather, which he maintained and buttressed with consistent behaviors betraying his commitment to her more brilliantly than any ring could ever have? All that has come from within me alone.

So this year, as I browsed Amazon for an anxiety ring, a ring within a ring that you can spin around like a one-bead rosary while you ruminate on your troubles and sorrows, I found this plain gold band that sort of bursts out at its face, a parapolic cuff thick and modern enough to not be confused with the real deal but traditional enough to feel meaningful. Snd I thought to myself, at the cusp of my third consecutive year of at-will singledom with no interest in changing that fact in sight, that it’s about time I quit dilly-dallying and bought the cow already.

I am a single woman, who wears a gold band on her left hand, because she is married first and foremost to herself.

That being said, if there are any wealthy local widowed doctors looking to help me get my impulsive Christmas tree farm slash character arc inciting incident off the ground, I will happily hear your pitches.

Otherwise, I have to go do my wife’s laundry so she can look pretty for work in the morning.


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