When I was 3, my best friend was Ellen G. We lived down the hall from each other in an apartment building on Staten Island. I loved Ellen so much that I hoped we would get married some day. I used to trace my left hand, draw a large diamond ring on the ring finger, then draw pictures of Ellen and me on our wedding day (I was the bride in a veil and dress, Ellen the groom in a bow tie and pants.)
Flash forward 50 years. Ellen and I married other people. I have no idea if she got a traditional engagement ring, but I did, and it looked a lot like the ring I had drawn as a kid. I wear my engagement ring every day but other than automatically turning it around on the subway, I can’t remember the last time I looked at it, never mind cleaned it. So imagine my surprise when shortly after my younger son and I went on his first college visit, I mechanically went to turn the ring around, and was pricked by a prong. When had my ring become so sharp? I looked down. There was no stone! It had fallen out in New York City. We had taken two subways and walked for hours. There was no point in retracing ours steps. The stone was gone.
I was amazed at how much I suddenly missed something I had barely paid attention to. I told my husband, who emailed the insurance company. The insurance adjuster pleasantly instructed me to get an estimate of how much it would cost to replace it and gave me a budget. I didn’t have to show proof of purchase, or details of what had been lost (a good thing, since we had lost the paperwork). The thought of having so much freedom was liberating but terrifying. What did I actually want from an engagement ring at age 54? What trappings of marriage did I still need or want?
I only knew of one other person who had lost her diamond solitaire: My close friend’s stone had fallen out shortly after she was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. How could the universe be so cruel to one person, I thought, when she flashed her empty setting. I thought of other friends who had replaced their engagement rings or stopped wearing them altogether. One’s husband had an affair, and though they had reconciled, she stopped wearing rings on her left hand. Another’s husband had had a baby with another woman, and she sold off her engagement ring after they got divorced. A diamond ring represented commitment, beauty and hope, yes, but could quickly become something fungible when the commitment evaporated.
I had no illusions that marriage was a sunny picnic; it was more like a sweaty marathon. My parents had had five marriages and two engagements between them. My mother had worn three engagement rings and had strong feelings on what mine should look like: diamond solitaire, traditional Tiffany setting. My fiancé and I went to the diamond district and bought mine with cash. I wore my engagement ring proudly, happy to broadcast my love for my fiancé, though as a young Business Week reporter, I also knew that it might make me look materialistic, retrograde and ridiculous.
Twenty-five years later, what did an engagement ring symbolize? Commitment? Vanity? Love of fine jewelry?
My husband said he would weigh in after I had made a decision. I texted friends who knew jewelers, then took the subway down to meet one on West 47th Street. I tried on traditional rings with diamonds and baguettes, then spotted a bright emerald in the window. It was huge, green and flashy. It said, “I’m the queen!” It also said, “Mug me!” I asked how much it was. It was actually less than the insurance company was willing to give me. I went online and read about the emerald. “In modern times, it is said to help those who suffer from depression or other mental or emotional disorders.” Depression runs in my family; maybe the emerald would fend it off. “An emerald is one of the few [gemstones] that symbolically cover a broad range of life’s experiences and milestones, making it a good choice for reaffirming a strong relationship.” My husband and I do have a strong relationship. We drive each other crazy sometimes, but after seeing the wreckage of some of my friends’ and parents’ marriages, I know what we have is pretty solid.
I texted the husband of my friend whose diamond had fallen out, while she was being treated for colon cancer, and asked if she had replaced the stone. He texted back: “She did not primarily because she felt in her condition it made no sense to her.”
I continue to wear my engagement ring, without the stone. The prongs stick me and catch on my sweaters. My husband calls it, “an engagement weapon.” The setting looks empty and says loudly, “Something has been lost.” I remind myself it is only a stone.
There is a coda to this story, one that is not so somber or philosophical, and has more to do with good luck than good sense. After concluding that the diamond had found a new home in a Manhattan sewer or the dark crevasses of a subway track, I sat down at our kitchen table to pay bills. I needed energy to plow through them and started eating from a box of stale yellow raisins. As I was mindlessly typing out amounts to be paid to PSEG and the snowplow guy, my tooth bit down on something hard. “Oh no,” I thought. “My tooth fell out.” Either that, or this was a ridiculously stale raisin. I put my fingers into my mouth, and out came my diamond, bright, shiny and happy to see me. I sat there in shock, then realized I had dug into the same box of raisins a week before, using the raisins to propel me through some editing work. The diamond must have fallen into the box then.
I once dated a guy who said to me, “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” I had been trying so hard to be smart about losing something that had once meant a great deal to me, and felt lucky as hell to have found it again.