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The Weight of a Ring . . .

A version of the ring Hershal is making me

Closer to the Heart by Rush from “Rush: Gold”

I have gotten my share of looks in the last year or so that I know people have tried to subtly throw in the hopes I won’t see them.  I see them, and I just don’t see fit to make an issue of it.  It’s not a selfish or lustful look, it’s actually thrown just down to my left hand.

A little over two years ago I started to gain weight.  Not a small amount of weight, quite frankly, for me a staggering amount.  Sure, there were a couple reasons I could throw at you: I injured my back, putting me bedridden; My wife didn’t move around much like she used to because her knees had gone out, she’d gotten problems with her liver and other organs that caused her to gain a substantial amount of weight; the pain medications I was on for my back were inherently slowing my metabolism causing me to burn fewer calories per day.  I could use every single one of those excuses, but the reality is I just should have known better.  I went from a 34 waist to a 38 in my blue jeans.  Higher in khakis.  Suits I’d worn for years no longer fit . . . when my grandfather passed away I had to scrounge up the money to buy a suit for the funeral.

Speaking of my Grandpa, I gained weight much like he did: in my belly.  I get it, I know, it’s the absolute worst kind of fat; it leads to major heart diseases; I can have bigger problems beyond just being heavy.  No preaching to the choir, please, I know it all already.  I’ve actually gone down one full pant size and lost a great deal of the weight.  Not as much as I need to but still going in the right direction.

But this is about the glances to my left hand.  That day I made the realization I can’t button my pants any more or wear the shirts with the tails tucked in, I realized something far worse: I couldn’t fit my wedding ring on anymore.  This damn ring had been a bone of contention since before I got married.  My then-fiance Andrea was big into the whole traditional wedding.  She had to have all the bridesmaids she did – to the point they ran out of the color of fabric for their dresses and her maid of honor wore an ivory colored dress.  She had to have the diamond engagement ring, but the one she wanted, with at least so many carats, etc…  She had to have the flowers, cake, all of it.  We got into so many arguments planning the wedding that I was certain that marriage would have to be a cake walk if we could survive the damn planning stages.

I was angry, for quite awhile, that I had saved, scrimped, and even cheated a little to get her the ring she’d looked at.  I couldn’t afford the diamond she wanted, so we had a replacement with the promise I’d get her that carat size when we could afford it.  (I wasn’t able to until about a year before she died)   So when it came time for my ring, she never bought it.  I wanted, in this wedding full of tradition, for her to pick out and find a ring she thought would fit me.  She never did.  It came down to the end and I was buying my own ring and I was so upset.  I bought a gold, cheap band because it was all I could get last-minute and I had some resentment that she thought so much of all this planning and putting together of materials and demanded a certain ring . . . but wouldn’t take the time for mine.

The planning and resentment came to a head with the floral arrangements.  The flower she’d indiscriminately chosen for my lapel I hated.
“It’s the most sought after, it’s really expensive,” she kept telling me.
“I don’t care, it’s ugly and I don’t want it!” was my loud response.
“For God’s sake why?!” was her response.
“Because I want a rose.  It’s the first flower I gave you and it’s what I want to wear.”
It was at that point – that exact moment during the planning – that she started to come off the whirlwind tear she was on planning everything with her Mother only and not me.   It was then I realized that she was being pushed and forced into so many things by her family and was being told she didn’t have to consult me on anything.  This one thing, the push to change to a flower that “didn’t match” because it meant something, wasn’t part of a pattern, finally got through to her.

I wore that first ring ever day, until the rigors of journalism took their toll.  The gold bent to an oval shape and  cut into my skin because I carried so much gear around with me every day.  It got scratched, lost a small diamond, all of it.  Eventually, I told her I wanted a strong, solid, silver band: something that would withstand the job or I’d have to quit wearing it.  I had someone at my Dallas job ask me why I didn’t wear a ring before then and it was simply to avoid damaging it.  I wanted something I could still wear and withstand the bumps and bruises.  I got that ring.

There were times I would take it off.  At night, so it didn’t cut in or hurt her when we held hands.  When I gigged I took it off.  You will think I’m nuts, but when I wore the ring I got hit on and propositioned constantly.  Me.  The guy who couldn’t find a girl at 2am when the bar was closing at the beginning of his musical career was now getting notes thrown up on the stage in the middle of a set.  Take off the ring, the notes stopped.  I took off the ring, no matter how much it angered and frustrated my wife.  I figured it was better to get the ire at that point than to get it while trying to fend off cute drunken women at the martini bar.

So when I gained all this weight, the battle-scarred silver ring sat there, in my drawer, waiting for me to come to my metabolic senses.

At the funeral, I tried, but couldn’t even get the ring around my knuckle.  I couldn’t wear it to her funeral and it’s bothered me ever since.  It bothers me more now that I see those looks, stolen glances, and stares at my hand and not my eyes.  I get it, there’s confusion.  Am I over her?   Am I callous?  Did I get frustrated or angry?  Why would I stop wearing my ring so quickly after she left?

I didn’t do it on-purpose.  Now, though, it’s such an awkward time I didn’t really know what to do.  I’ve come down a pant size, the ring still doesn’t fit, and I’m just as determined that I want to wear it.  I just can’t.  On top of that, to suddenly appear with the ring on my finger may cause as much or more confusion than before.

But then an email conversation with a man named Hershal solved my problem.  Hershal Wiggins owns a small jewelers named Clearly Jewelry.  He had the answer to my problem: a Roman Numeral ring.  He has a design for a ring, not extremely dissimilar from my wedding band, and he says he’ll put the date – 03/26 . . . III XXVI . . . on the ring.  The day my marriage began and ended.  It’s fitting, and while it may cause some glances, I’ll be able to say this is a fitting tribute.  The ring is a size higher, just so I can wear it, and if I lose the weight I need, I’ll put it on my right hand and still continue to wear it.

I know this puts a lot of value and thought on a simple band of silver, but it’s more than that.  I made a big deal at the age of 23 about something that, really, was no big deal.  I threw a fit, held onto resentment, and carried all that around with me.  The weight of that ring was a burden at times because of the things I’d put onto it.  Now I have a chance to reclaim that, if just a little, and carry the ring with me and lighten that load.  I loved Andrea, like no other, but I want to show that no matter what happens: if I never love again or even if I somehow find myself able to date someone or find another person, I will wear this new ring.  It’s special.  It fits this theory of mine, the old story ending and the new one beginning.

The ring is heavy, but it is permanent.  The band and the date are significant, but the fact that one story ends and another begins on the same date, the latter writing only because of references to the former.  I smile now thinking I might be able to wear it again, hoping somehow it makes up for all the times I didn’t.

I’m often amazed at how she loved me, in spite of all the reasons I gave her not to; the problems I created or resentment I held for too long.  More, I’m amazed at the way I really need her sometimes.  It’s just a ring, but to me, it’s so much more.

…Things Have a Way of Growing Downward.

It’s funny the way our brains and emotions work, it really is.

I mean, things are crazy.  It doesn’t just rain, it’s rain forest monsoon pouring.

I have one child that is now marked – he can’t even be near trouble at school because the tendency will be to assume he’s part of the problem even if he’s just standing on the corner of the playground with nothing to do with the fight.  I have another that has showed me her planner for all her assignments but actually didn’t write them down, so I wasn’t even able to see all the assignments she had NOT turned in.  She doesn’t turn in her homework.  Now, she’s at a point where the possibility of her even moving on to another grade is in question.  That’s on top of facing the fact that my oldest daughter is dealing with her raging pubescent hormones and trying to figure out life in a public high school surrounded by both sexes.  All of this is occurring on the busiest, most stressful time of year for someone in TV, the buildup to the November ratings period.  Due to family dramas I’ve had to take a week’s vacation I didn’t have, burn sick days that didn’t exist and take at least 2 days without pay.

Remember that scene in “Romancing the Stone” where Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner have the ground fall out from under them and get swept down a cliff on a rushing river of new water?  That’s me right now.  I’m at the point where fighting the current has pushed me against so many rocks and tree branches that I’m now getting hurt just trying to fight the raging rapids.  It took me too long to realize I need to just ride out the water.

And we’re exactly a week from Andrea’s birthday.  She’d be 41 this year.  So I must just be missing her so much that it makes my head explode, right?  Well . . . yeah, that’s right, but not the reasons you’re thinking.  Not the reasons you’d suspect looking at the way things are playing out above.

I miss her more than anything, but it’s not that she would have backed my discipline.  It’s not that she’d have a great, amazing idea to fix Hannah’s lack of academic ability.  (She would, by the way, so don’t think it isn’t on my mind)  It’s not even that she would know just how to handle the life of a 16-year-old because she knows just how to handle everything and help our daughter get through all the problems and now how to flirt and figure out how to be the amazing young woman I know she is.  She’d be all that, absolutely.

No, the curious thing I am missing most isn’t really tangible.

I miss that feeling.  I was never a fan of the Righteous Brothers, and excuse my bastardization of their intellectual property, but I’ve lost that fuzzy feeling.  That fuzzy, hazy, warm feeling that grows inside you as you get closer to someone you really love.  It’s not that intense butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling you get when you’re first dating someone.  Sure, that’s a wonderful thing, but I’m way beyond the age where puppy love really approaches enjoyment, don’t you think?

No, I mean the happiness I got knowing I am about to see the person I love, and knowing full well she really does love me.  I had a long time coming to terms and belief that it was true, but you get past that.  You throw everything at them and they at you.  Not that you’re pushing them to take on your stresses from work but that you need to talk things out and there’s just nobody who gets what you’re going through like they do.

Andrea and I took way too long to get there, by the way.  It’s not that our marriage took us on a long winding path.  It was getting to engagement.  Understand, our friends and family all think we met, love at first sight, and loved each other madly.  Sure, I think that love was there, but neither of us acted on it right away.

I miss the things that should be ingrained in my DNA: how her lips felt on my cheek; the feel of her arms when they wrapped around my waist or neck; the press of her skin as she lay next to me in bed.

I can remember so many random things, things from early on that are burned into the back of my retinas so I can seen them when i close my eyes.  I can remember the first time we went out. I’ve said that the first “date” we went on was to see the band Rush at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha.  That wasn’t the first time we’d gone out together, though.  The first time was very different.  Andrea started her life in television doing Entertainment for the station where we worked in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  The particular day I remember (one I’ve chronicled before in briefer form) involved her review of an Alec Baldwin movie.  I arrived early to work, which was typical for me, and she was heading out the door quite late, which was typical for her.  I was painfully shy, and she was insanely beautiful, so I was not able to muster much in terms of trying to flirt or make conversation.  I was able to ask how it was going, polite as part of my Midwestern upbringing.

But she just wasn’t having any of it.  That simple line, the phrase I knew was absurdly pathetic “how’s it going” was not going to be enough for her.

“I’m so late, I have to review this awful movie, I have free passes, and I have to get going all the way to Indian Hills!”  If you ever made it to Omaha in the ’60s through the millennium, you’d would know that we were sitting a good 20 minutes inside Iowa, then having to drive from there, across the river, and another 90 blocks to the West side of the city to a theater that had several screens and was showing an advance screening of the film.  Andrea stopped herself, looked me in the eye and said with a mischievous grin, “want to come with me?”

I was the only director.  I’d come straight from school, had no place else to go and was planning to get to work on a school project.  It was close to noon.  If I didn’t make it back by 3pm my life would be hell if I tried to put an entire newscast’s pre-production together in that time frame.  No sane person would even think about it.

It’s precisely why I said “yes”.

I knew I looked silly, by the way.  My hair was awful, I wore a dress shirt with a colored t-shirt or concert shirt underneath (typical for the era, though I didn’t pull it off well) and topped the fall look off with a black trenchcoat that I thought made me look like Dickey Betts on the cover of the latest Allmann Brothers record.  She drove with me in a rose-colored 1985 Oldsmobile that I owned and happily drove along.  She had shoulder-length blonde hair that a stylist the station had a contract with convinced her to put in a perm.  She hated it, telling me so during the drive, but I thought it made her look amazing.  She had a black blazer covered in white polka-dots and silk pants that flowed very well behind almost like a Westernized version of Ali Baba pants and they accentuated her height.  (She was tall, 5 foot 10)  She had a tendency to wear t-shirts from Express, a store where she worked to supplement her income, with what they called a “sweetheart” neckline.  I am slightly embarrassed to admit that the very neckline drew my attention, but she was amazing in how she just blew through the formalities of being with someone and just talked like we’d been fast friends for years.

The movie, coincidentally, was a horrible flick called “The Marrying Man”, an excuse for Alec Baldwin to get in a movie with then-wife Kim Basinger.  I remember nothing about it.  I remember, though, watching her, taking notes, sitting next to me, the looks in the audience amazed at the woman and who she was with.  I remember her grabbing my hand, laughing at some lame joke.  She bent over to pick up a notebook and looked up to catch me looking down at her as her t-shirt bloused outward just a little.  Instead of chastising me she smiled at my red face, made more silly by my olive skin.  She was absolutely brilliant.

There are more intimate memories.  The night we first kissed . . . she’d spent the entire night talking with me, about where I came from, why I played music, how I ended up here.  About how she met Leslie Stall, towering over the woman but feeling 3 inches tall next to her.  How her Mom was from Nebraska, even lived down the street from my grandparents during WWII.  We talked about our families and she brought up a problem her sister was having.  She laid her head on my shoulder, upset by whatever it was her sister was going through, a tear coming down her cheek.  I already had my arms around her.  I kissed her forehead, and she looked up at me, a moment I truly wish I could just freeze and live in for eternity, those amazing greyish-blue eyes looking through mine like they could see inside me – see the person who really was sitting there, not just pandering to her to get her to like me.  It was a moment filled with wonder, and I didn’t, for the first time in my entire life, have to think or try or anything.  I had this amazing woman looking at me, so close I could feel the brush of her nose against mine . . . and I kissed her.  I can’t imagine it was a phenomenal kiss worthy of note to most people, but I thought it was amazing.  And that’s all we needed.  In fact, that night, it’s all that happened.  We had stayed up talking all night, drank a couple too many Miller Lites, it was late, nearly 3am, and I had kissed this amazing, beautiful woman.  She fell asleep in my arms.  I know this all sounds too silly, romanticized to the point of being maybe a bit too romantic.  It’s too contrived to be true, but it’s absolutely how it happened.  I can close my eyes and see it all.

That’s the problem.  I have to close my eyes to see it.  I don’t see her in my dreams like some people have told me they do.  I don’t feel a brush on the back of my neck and think “She’s standing there watching me”.

I am truly here, without her.  I didn’t get the “grow old together, love each other, sickness and health, watch each other as our kids grow older” lifetime.  I had it good and perfect for awhile, but that was it.  Awhile.  I don’t get the rest of our lives.  I got ’till death do us part.  I don’t get to come home and feel that warm comfort of knowing that those eyes will look into mine again.  I remember these amazing moments and it kills me that I write them down now and never told them to her.  Did she know what those moments meant for me?  Were they as insanely amazing for her as they were for me?

Sure, I see the pieces of her, the brilliant parts of Andrea that walk around in our kids.  It is a comfort to have them around me and know that they don’t think I’ve screwed up too badly, even though I have – for their school, for personal projects, financially, emotionally (for Noah especially) but they don’t come at me like I’ve hurt them too badly, or strayed so far off the road that it’s not within sight anymore.  I just don’t have the person waiting for me at home, the warm feeling I got, the closer I approached my house, waiting to feel her arms around me, that has left a terrible emptiness.

The attached song has hung over me a lot this last few days.

In my life, things have a way of growin’ downward.

So I don’t know if I can watch myself be a coward . . . again.

I only use this line because she made me a better person.  She made me stronger.  It is so true, I don’t want to watch myself turning onto that fork she veered me from.  She can’t save me again, she won’t be around.  Why did’t I ever tell her that?  Why didn’t I remember all these amazing things about her when I could say them while looking inter her eyes?  What do you do when you face the hard reality that you have nothing but your own two feet?  I have to find out, I just don’t want to right now because I’m afraid what the answer might be.

11 In My Life by Gov’t Mule, from the album Life Before Insanity