The International Writers Magazine: A Very Long Engagement
Amanda Hunt Callendrier
6:00 PM My daughter says, “Mommy, what is the matter with your ring?”
My engagement ring, now twelve years old, has been more than a little worse for the wear for quite some time. It was bought when platinum was all the rage, and white gold was totally unacceptable. Our twenty-something selves did not know how platinum would hold up to years of washing dishes, changing diapers, wiping countertops, and bloated, pregnancy hands. The ring is no longer quite circular, but practically molded to my bone, in some sort of odd oblong/round hybrid, duller than in its previous life.
6:01 PM The center diamond of my ring is gone. There are four prongs gaping back at me.
I first met my husband in 1996. No one had a more romantic beginning than we did. I was studying abroad in Paris when I saw a handsome French boy at a party. We went on our first date to the Eiffel Tower at nighttime. The next day, he left a single red rose outside my dorm room door. The spring was a blur of new love and very little studying.
6:03 PM I stand up slowly, not knowing where to go, where to look. So much had happened that day; I had visited so many places.
At the end of the year, it was time for me to return to America. I had hoped to end the thing before, thinking the parting would be too difficult, but that, too, proved impossible. One sunny afternoon, my departure impending, we saw a French/American couple walking with their children in the Luxembourg Gardens. The little girl crowed, “Maman! Daddy!” My eyes welled with raw envy.
6:05 PM I had just prepared dinner. My eyes scan the kitchen counter, the spaghetti strainer, the sauce pan. The sink.
One year later, my husband-to-be had found work in Cleveland, and I was finishing my degree in New Orleans. We had kept it together for another year. There were a lot of expensive plane tickets and hard times, but we were still together. I applied to Ohio graduate schools.
6:08 PM I had changed my sweater. Slow steps upstairs, eyes downcast on each step. I check the sweater sleeves, peering into its seams, in vain.
We shared our first apartment, and had our first and last breakup. He began his first job, and I finished my next degree. At the end of my quarter-life crisis, I received my ring, The Ring, after a dinner for two at a favorite restaurant. We planned a wedding in my home town.
6:11 PM “Mommy, we will help you!” Cries of battle from my children. I walk around aimlessly, a bit numb, staring at the floor.
Nashville had never seen such a wedding. The French side of the wedding party was equally represented, and the fifty or so of them who took the plane across the Atlantic arrived ready to party. It was a terrific garden wedding, with the French cousins inviting my older aunts to dance. The language barriers didn't seem to matter much.
6:15PM Today, I went to the bakery, the grocery store, and the recycling center. The Recycling Center, where I threw hundreds of items into giant plastic bins.
Two years later, we had changed cities again and bought a little red brick house in Buffalo, New York. When we bought it, it was falling apart, but several coats of paint and a new family's optimism have remarkable transformative powers. It was home, with a sunny yellow kitchen, a red living room, and a soft, green nursery.
6:16 PM This is an impossible task, and I know it. There are too many possibilities, and I don't know where to begin. I remember seeing it during lunch. I saw its reflection on the wall when the sun shone through its facets just so.
Then, a baby girl, with a smile to melt the world and an iron will. Everything we knew had changed again, and our little family crystallized into being. Date night became a thing of the past, and staying in was no longer a choice, but a necessity. Going to work gave way to feedings, diapers, walks with the stroller, and afternoon naps.
6:17 PM I sit heavily in a chair and begin to think about things like insurance policies. I have the certificate of authenticity, the receipt. Does it make a difference if it is lost instead of stolen?
Two years later, and I was expecting again. My husband had decided it was time to move back to France. With a heavy heart and an expanding belly, I agreed to follow him. 2006 was a blur of a difficult birth, and packing up our much-loved little household. I nursed the baby, and led tours through the house that I didn't want to sell. I crossed the ocean again, too busy taking care of little ones to think about missing my home.
6:18 PM What does one do at 34, married for ten years, without an engagement ring? Buy a new one? The idea seems a little foolish.
We moved into a new house, a bigger house, and one that required more backbreaking work than the first. My daughter learned French and began preschool. The baby spoke his first words in two languages. We had successfully changed cities, continents, and languages. At times, this seemed unbearable, but in the end, was not.
6:19 PM I will not cry.
I have new friends. I have a new job. I speak French and English every day, and so do our children. The new house becomes home, too. Our children cry, “Mommy! Papa!” in the park, and our lives continue. We survive. We thrive, even.
6:20 PM I cry anyway.
I won't replace the ring. It isn't replaceable, anyway. It may have an exact value, one that I can see on the jewelry store receipt from all those years ago, but that number doesn't mean anything now. The story can continue without the ring. It will continue without the ring.
6:21 PM. I see a sudden sparkle against the dark entryway tile.
© Amanda Hunt Callendrier Jun 2010
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