Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ring, by Request

Since mybabyjohn asked for a picture of the new ring, here it is. This isn't a great photo, but it will give you the idea. To fully understand the appeal of the piece, aside from the fact that I love silver and smooth waterworn rocks -- when I was a kid, my family joked that only my back got brown at the beach, because I always had my head down looking for treasures -- you need to know that before I got to Auburn yesterday, I'd had a sobbing fit about Mom, weeping in the car and howling aloud, "I want my Mommy!" In those moments, the knowledge that she and I would never hug each other again seemed unbearable. As a church friend pointed out when I told her the story this morning, cars are perfect places for such bursts of grief.

So by the time I got to Auburn, I was primed for jewelry shopping, a passion Mom and I shared (and that my sister and I still share). The store where I bought the ring is usually way too pricy for me, but they've been adding more affordable work. The minute I saw the ring, I loved it, especially since it goes so well with these mega-cool river-rock earrings Mom bought me, at a gallery in Philadelphia, many years ago.

I tried it on my index finger. It fit. (I have small fingers, so rings rarely fit me; also, this ring, handmade by an artist in Nevada City, was substantially less expensive than other river-rock rings I've seen.) Only after I'd bought it did I discover the heart carved into the underside of the ring. My mother, who rarely criticized me, fretted throughout my life, starting early in my childhood, that I'd get hurt because I "wore my heart on my sleeve." She kept telling me to protect myself more, not to feel so much. Obviously, it didn't work -- gee, y'think? -- and I've recently reclaimed my heart as a gift rather than as a toxic supersite requiring anyone near me to wear a Hazmat suit.

Only as I write this do I realize that while Mom was trying to keep me from being hurt by the world, the message she unintentionally delivered was that I was a dangerous customer whose feelings would injure, poison, disgust or drive away other people. Of course this had to be an artifact of her own history of emotional pain, beginning with her own mother's death in a car accident when Mom was twelve, after they'd had a fight. I wonder if she felt responsible for her mother's permanent disappearance: I don't think Mom even got to see the body. The same accident put my grandfather in the hospital for six months, so my mother and her brother were shipped off for that year to an aunt and uncle. They were loving people, but the whole situation was still horrible.

Wow. You have a fight with your mother before you go off to school in the morning, and the next thing you know, your mom's dead and your dad's so seriously injured that you have to live somewhere else for a long time. No wonder my mother was so uncomfortable with strong emotions! Poor Mom!

Now I really wish I could hug her. The psychological logic seems completely obvious now. Why did it take me so long to figure it out?

And, o holy crap, now I wonder how much I internalized the idea "if you express strong emotions, your mother will die." From the time I could form a thought, I was terrified that Mom would die -- scared she'd drink again, scared she'd get into a car accident like her own mother (my grandparents' car was hit by a bus, and their lack of culpability made the event even scarier), no doubt wounded by her repeated disappearances when I was tiny and she was hospitalized for alcoholism -- and her later bouts with cancer and stroke didn't help matters. (The fact that she died sober and cancer-free at the age of eighty-four really was remarkable.) Among all the other factors, how much of my fear came from that unspoken message?


At Ken's funeral, as I think I may have mentioned here before, another cousin and I talked about how both of our parents had lost their mother entirely too early. My cousin noted that our family isn't good at healthy grieving, and traced the problem back to the accident. Yeah, no kidding.

I loved, and love, my mother very much, and I know it was mutual, but I've also had to spend quite a bit of time in therapy and other places -- not to mention this blog post! -- dealing with her alarm, and my shame, about my messy heart. So finding the heart under the ring made me laugh aloud: hey, Mom, I'm still wearing a heart, but this one's hidden next to my skin. Better?

I hope she'd approve! And mybabyjohn, thank you for asking for the photos. See what you helped me figure out? You should charge by the hour!


  1. oh, susan.

    isn't it stunning what we stumble into? makes me want to send you a rock from down by the river when i go tomorrow.

    of course tomorrow when i go i will be looking for rocks that later on in the day we will throw off of a high cliff as we mark the passing of one of those terrible anniversary days: tomorrow it will be three years since i lost the closest companion of my heart.

    i cried all the way through church (except, oddly, the parts where i laughed and was joyful, for it was THAT kind of service, with hellos and welcome homes and goodbyes and remembrances.

    but then after church and some more crying i got on my bike and went to the place he loved best and rode not as i ride, but how he rode, trying to capture his spirit.

    and i think i learned something about what he was trying to tell me, always trying to get me to ride trails that frightened me, and to use the brakes less often.

    i think later i'll write about it but for now i just want to say that i'm still following along, still wishing you well, and tomorrow i'll pick out a smooth pretty stone for you.

    let me know if you want me to send it, or if you want me to throw it over the cliff when we go.

  2. All that from one photo!!! But good for you anyway to have such an enlightenment. Sunlight through the fog. By the way, I love the ring.

  3. mbj: Thank you! I love it too!

    flask: Thank you so much for posting this. I'm so sorry you've suffered such loss. I'll pray for you tonight and tomorrow, and I'd be honored if you'd choose a stone to release back into the healing waters of the river. Oh, and by the way -- please don't forgo brakes entirely! (Be bold, be bold, but not too bold!) :-)


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