Most people know this about me: I was a single mother. I raised my son alone, without one dime of child support from his
deadbeat father. I was tired a lot, I worried a lot, but every minute of those years was a blessing. Evenings after I got home from work, after dinner and homework was done, the dog walked, the cats fed, I’d turn the radio to Delilah’s sappy love songs and my son would work on Lego creations or read and I’d curl up on the couch with the dog and read, the lamplight turned low and soft so that everything in that smallish apartment looked magnified and special, cherished.
Hours passed this way, until it was time for snacks and then bedtime for my son, and after I tucked him in, I’d wander back to the living room, sit down at my desk, and write. I wrote furiously and urgently, the way we often write when we know we have limited time. Most of the stories and poems I wrote back then were self-conscious and forced, but I was laying down the groundwork, I was putting in the time and familiarizing myself with the rhythms of my own words. As I raised my son, part of me was also growing: the knowledge and power of my own voice.
One year, I think my son was in first grade, we were shopping at the Walmart for cat food. It was late and my son was riding in the cart and I was irritable because I wanted to be home curled on the couch instead of out buying food for the two stray cats I had unwittingly adopted months earlier. As I furiously wheeled the cart past the jewelry counter, my son suddenly tapped my hand.
“Mom,” he said. “How come you don’t have a ring?”
“A ring?” I wondered if we needed toilet paper or orange juice, and had I used the last of the soy milk at breakfast?
“You know, all the other kids’ mothers wear those rings.”
“Oh, you mean wedding rings. It’s because they’re married.”
“You don’t have a ring.”
“I know, honey. I’m not married.”
I wheeled over to the pet department, threw two boxes of cat food into the cart and headed for the checkout. A moment later, my son tapped my hand again.
“But you need a ring, Mom.”
“It’s okay, honey. I’m fine.”
“All the other mothers have them.” He scrunched up his face, thought for a moment. “I’ll buy you one.”
“You don’t have to do that, sweetie.”
“No, I’m going to buy you one.” His voice wavered for a moment, as if unsure. Then he sat up straight. “You really need a ring, Mom.”
I wheeled the cart back to the jewelry counter and my son picked out a small ruby ring for $79.95.
“You can take it out of my allowance,” he as I handed my credit card to the tired woman behind the jewelry counter.
I almost bawled. I wore that ring during the years I waited tables at a Mexican restaurant and when I went back to school to get my graduate degree and when I began working as an editorial assistant and then journalist.
The ring followed me through my life and before long it became so familiar that I didn’t even notice it.
But the ring was too big and it slipped around on my finger, and one day I looked down and realized that I had lost it. I searched the house and car but never found it. I like to think that it fell off in a store or on the sidewalk or in the middle of a hiking trail and that some other little boy picked it up and gave it to his mother because he knew that she needed it. That’s probably not what happened, but still, that’s what I like to imagine: that inexpensive but very important, very precious ring on another’s mother’s finger, the small ruby shining throughout the years.