Friday, September 3, 2010

Wedding Band: Lost and Found

Less than two weeks before our 12th anniversary, and less than a mile away from where we exchanged vows, while stretched out on a sandy beach enjoying some (very) rare childless time, my husband lost his wedding band in the sand. Earlier, I noticed him wearing it on his pinkie finger instead of his ring finger and teased him, joking that he was trying to erase the tan line. He gave me a crooked smile, and then rolled over to tan his other side and put on his noise canceling (aka) wife canceling earphones while I went back to reading my mystery novel.

We were on our second day of vacation and it was the first opportunity we’d had to get to the beach. We were alone – something that in the last nine years since having kids, almost never happens. So when the grandparents offered to take our girls, we jumped at the chance for some grown up downtime. After a few hours, we realized we needed to get back to the house to relieve the grands, so David got up and started to brush sand off of his legs. But the brushing motion caused his wedding ring to fly off of his little finger and into the sand.

The moment the ring hit the sand, it vanished. David stood motionless, fearing that if he moved his feet, he might step on it and bury it further. At first, I didn’t know why he was standing there, legs apart, frozen. Then I saw the naked finger on his left hand and immediately started scouring the ground with my eyes for something small and gold glinting through the sand.

Two retired ladies seated not too far from us put down their summer reads and asked what was wrong. The moment I explained that my husband had lost his wedding band, one of them asked if we were newlyweds. David and I both laughed. Almost 12 years into it, the honeymoon had been feeling over for sometime now. “Newlyweds or not,” the retired lady said, “It’s a wedding ring, it means something, and we have to get it back.”

My cousin Karen, an engineer, joined us at the beach and helped in the search, making suggestions on the direction the ring might have gone based on the motion of his hands. Next, a father of a young boy stopped their beach football game and they both joined in the hunt. Another man came over and shared his strategy for searching, warning that if we didn’t find the ring by high tide, it might wash out to sea.

David knew I was truly upset because of what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t yelling or saying I told you so, I wasn’t nagging him about why he was wearing the ring on the wrong finger in the first place. He explained that he put his ring on his little finger because it had been feeling tight (the result of vacation noshing) and that he had moved it to his little finger so he would be more comfortable. I was surprised at how deeply I was saddened by the loss of his gold band. After all, it was just a piece of metal. I could be replaced, right? But it wasn’t just metal, it was more than that. I continued to search frantically, in silence, and pushed back my sunglasses so no one could see that I was about to cry.

Forty minutes later, we were still searching. We had to get home. I gave up and as we headed back to the car, told David to call our insurance company, tell them what happened and see if and for how much we were covered.

On the ride home, I realized how close this was to our anniversary, that we were on Martha’s Vineyard where we got married, and that the minister who married us might even be on the island and willing to remarry us. I had wanted to renew our vows on our tenth anniversary when we went to Hawaii, but David had been hesitant, didn’t understand why we needed to, saying, “We’re already married, why do we need to do it again?” His response disappointed me. Maybe he didn’t need to, but I wanted to, and that should have been enough for him, but it wasn’t. So I said aloha to my dream Hawaiian vow renewal.

But now, it seemed that the marriage gods were in collusion – the lost ring, the location, the timing, there was no way he could say no this time. That night I fell asleep planning the where, when and how of the renewal ceremony – when would we get the new ring and have it engraved, what bouquets of wild flowers would I carry, what would I dress the girls in given that I’d packed them nothing but shorts and t-shirts for days at the beach and quiet family nights at home playing scrabble. I wanted us to say our vows in the historic campground just outside the church where we’d actually gotten married. The campground is surrounded by tall trees, has a grassy lawn and is circled by quaint and colorful gingerbread cottages which haven’t changed much in over 150 years. It would be simple and perfect – a wonderful place to rededicate our vows. It would be a chance to recommit ourselves to our marriage and to each other, to rekindle the devotion and passion which, although may not have eroded over the years since we said “I do” the first time, have definitely been strained by the day-to-day of being together, being parents, taking care of house and health, and following our own individual goals. The lost ring was a chance to find each other again.

The next morning, David got up and left the house early – something which is very rare, especially on vacation when he likes to sleep in until ten or eleven. He went back to the beach to search one last time before calling the insurance company. He hoped that maybe the tide had come in and made the ring more visible.

Instead of being gone for an hour, David was gone for three, interrupting the plans we had for the day. Usually, that would have pissed me off, but I knew what he was doing, even though I thought it was futile. A ring lost in sand was the beachy equivalent of a needle in a haystack. We waited, but finally, kids bouncing off the walls, I packed a picnic lunch and took my youngest daughter to a different beach to go swimming. We were in the water when David arrived. He was talking to us for several minutes, explaining why he had been gone so long when I realized that the ring was back on his finger! He explained that he went to the police station to see if they could help and they told him where to get a metal detector. He’d driven half way up island, rented it, returned to the beach and started to look again, but still couldn’t find it. As he was about to pack it up and go, a man approached him and offered to help. The man explained that metal detectors were tricky and that even if you didn’t know what you were looking for or where it was, there were subtle nuances in knowing how to look in order to find what you wanted. Within a few minutes, this stranger helped David zero in on his ring. The machine beeped rapidly and David dug a few inches or so down into the salt and pepper, pebbly sand and there it was, a braided gold ring with David’s initials and our wedding date engraved on it. David admitted that he went back to try to find the lost wedding ring again not so much to avoid a renewal ceremony – although I’m sure that was part of it – but because he knew how much it meant to me and how hurt I was that he’d lost it.

As we all rode home from the beach that afternoon, the girls in the backseat, covered in sand, their bodies tanned despite the SPF 50, singing along to the music pounding in the car, I looked over at David, wearing the wedding ring I’d given him a dozen years ago. It was sparkling in the sun as he drove, one hand on the wheel, the other hand thumbing his iPod like a happy DJ eager to fulfill yet another a song request on the kiddie playlist he’d lovingly and painstakingly created for our daughters, and I realized I didn’t need to renew my vows either. Losing the ring was like finding the things that were good and valuable to me about my marriage all over again. When David lost the ring, and we started looking for it, it was just like using the metal detector, sometimes you don’t even know what it is you are looking for or what you will find. What I found wasn’t a ring at all, it was a reminder of the importance of our marriage, our feelings towards each other, our commitment to our family. Finding the lost ring, was finding each other. And it didn’t take a renewal ceremony to do that. Yes, I’d still like to renew our vows one day, but I don’t need to…Maybe on our 30th anniversary…or if I lose my ring next summer.

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