by Leilia Dore
Years ago, I was given a ring. It’s gold, and the band is thin, as if hollowed slowly over time; the day-to-day twisting of a finger like a spoon taken to the belly of a pumpkin. A garnet at the centre of a circle of hearts blinks black in most lights but occasionally glows red for a moment or two. This happens unpredictably; I like to think that it is powered by something other than a particular angle of sun, or a harsh kitchen strip light. I wear it every day, so I imagine it knows me well; maybe sometimes we communicate, the ring and I.
My ring came to me with a story. I was told that it was bought by a woman deep in grief as she mourned the loss of her husband. My godmother’s mother, Vera. Her love had bought her all the jewellery that she owned over their lifetime together, piecemeal symbols of admiration and consistency, apology and promise. She had nothing that didn’t echo him back to life. Nothing that didn’t break her heart a little, every time she put it on. So she bought a ring for herself.
This origin story plays itself out often my mind’s eye. Vera walking alone through Brighton, past window displays, through the smell of chip shops and sea salt. She passes through a doorway chosen at random from the many jewellers lining one alley and buys something for herself alone. My ring. An adornment she can wear without her heart cracking. A promise to herself that life goes on, that she will be happy again.
I lost the ring, once. The fish-hook of its absence tugged at me whenever I looked down at my finger without bracing myself first, like thoughts about an ex you weren’t ready to lose. I knew it was just a piece of jewellery, but my bare finger refused to keep things in proportion – it was the loss of a promise, too. I scanned my memories for when I had last owned it, called the inhabitants of rooms I had slept as a guest in, peered through cracks in floorboards lit in slivers by my phone torch. One morning more than a year later, I found it nestled in the pocket of an old handbag. I cried for twenty minutes with relief on those dusty floorboards. Now whenever I take it off, I feel a little anxious. I wonder when it might leave me again.
Have I embellished what was handed down to me so that a ring I love to wear has a meaning that makes my own life richer?
But it’s a funny thing. My godmother doesn’t remember the mythology I attach to the ring the same way I do anymore. She tells me, many years on, that it came from Brighton but that she thinks Vera most likely bought it before her father died. She doesn’t know where I heard the story about her mother committing to her own future, and there is no one else I could have heard it from. Has she forgotten what she once told me, just one of many stories she has to treasure about her mum after a life shared slipped away? Or have I embellished what was handed down to me so that a ring I love to wear has a meaning that makes my own life richer? Either way, it’s a kind gift. It’s a memory of someone I knew, once, when I was a child. It’s a beautiful ring. Does it matter if the meaning I have given it is not a fixed point of reference?
But it sticks, the idea of a woman wriggling rings over knuckles then tugging them off because they make her heart hurt. The idea of Vera pulling her shoes over aching feet and stepping out into Brighton to pick out this piece of gold, this black garnet that sometimes glints red. I don’t want to lose it, the story I’ve been wearing for a decade. I’m so sure it’s the truth. I’ve told it so many times when people admire the ring that it’s become a part of me – I am a woman who wears a ring that helped another woman decide to keep going, decades ago. It reminds me to keep on loving myself. It’s hard to let the story go.
I’ve always thought of an inheritance as a simple thing – the passing of a baton. A gift, given once the giver no longer needs it. But that’s not quite right, is it? My ring has a complex story that has shifted over time; it has held different meanings when Vera bought it for herself, when my godmother decided to pass it on to me, when I received it in a little black box and slipped it on, when I lost it and found it and sat down to write about it this morning. It is like a whisper sent down a line of people without expectation of a reply, the syllables shape shifting between ears.
Recently, I bought myself a ring. It is gold, and the band is strong. I wear it on my other hand. I expect that one day it will be thin too, the wear and tear of decades of lifted boxes and held hands and absent-minded twisting waiting for the kettle to boil or listening to someone I love telling me about their day. It has a sapphire in the centre nestled between two diamonds. Light on cold water. I bought it after a long period deep in a grief of my own, to remind myself of my strength and resilience. I like to imagine that one day, a young person who I love will hold my hand in theirs to examine it, ask me where it comes from, beg to try it on. I imagine them admiring it on their small finger, reluctantly handing it back. Maybe one day I will gift it to them. I wonder what stories I will tell them about it? I wonder what they will remember? Who knows. Maybe it won’t matter. The love will be there, anyway.