“I’ll give you $4,500,” the pawnshop owner said as he studied my vintage art deco ring. He wore trendy wire-rimmed glasses, a pink Polo shirt and khaki pants and didn’t look anything like the disreputable mobster I’d imagined on my ride into the city. Our eyes locked, and I gave the preppy stakeman my best I-really-don’t-need-the-money look.
I tried to keep my voice steady. “Your assistant said $6,000,” I told him. “I emailed her a picture and the appraisal. It was an hour and a half to drive here.” My silver bracelets jangled as I checked my watch, feigning disinterest, hoping he’d ask what I wanted for them, too.
He half smiled. “$4,500, but that’s good only for today.”
“Give me a minute.” I stepped outside onto the sidewalk and called my husband. “The guy is ripping me off.”
My husband was quiet. Then, “Come home. We’ll figure something else out.”
This was not the first ring we had sold. In our 27 years of marriage, I’ve worn four different bands. Each time we’ve parted with my ring, it was because of a hardship or a disappointment — things hadn’t gone the way we had planned. We’ve never held traditional reliable jobs. I’ve worked as a flight attendant, an actress, a real estate agent and a writer. My husband was a soccer-playing child prodigy-turned-professional athlete who, when his legs wore out, morphed into a real estate agent. Money has never been steady.
Most 19-year-olds don’t marry and stay wed. Over two-and-a-half decades later, I’m still hitched to the same guy. I’m an outlier. Or perhaps my success lies in my ability to sell, or to recycle, my wedding rings. My husband has always been more attached to the rings than me. It’s harder for him as the symbolism was rooted in how he felt about himself as a man and a provider.
My mother, a fashionista and lover of fine garments and good shoes, has worn the same $12 gold band my father bought her 52 years ago. I figured I’d do the same. But when my 23-year-old future husband insisted that I should have a diamond engagement ring, I acquiesced.
“Well, then I’d want at least a carat.” I was a college student and aspiring thespian who waited tables. I was stupid, materialistic and still a teenager.
He had to borrow money from his dad to buy it. “It’ll be an investment,” we reasoned. It wasn’t quite my style, but I was sentimental about it. My husband chose the ring by himself. It was a reflection of who he was and what he thought about me. But just before our fifth wedding anniversary, we totaled our Nissan Altima and had little savings. The ring had to go.
“Someday I’ll replace it with two carats,” he said sadly.
In most Western cultures, the wedding ring is worn on the fourth finger of the left hand, the finger with the vein that leads directly to the heart. The circle indicates infinity, completeness — there is no beginning and no end. These little bands of metal and stones are one of the symbolic artifacts that separate us from the animal world. Too bad they’re so expensive.
If I’m honest, we’ve never been able to afford the rings. I went through a stage in which I wore a thick gold band, no embellishments, but then gold went out of style and the real estate market exploded. We foolishly believed there was a money tree growing in our backyard and upgraded to that $6,000 platinum art deco piece. It was gorgeous — almost two carats with lots of filigree work. I wore that one for five years. Then we hit the worst bust of our careers two years ago.
My husband drove back to the pawnshop, and we sold the art deco ring for $4,000 at the mercy of the preppy pawn dealer. My husband didn’t make promises about replacing it someday with a bigger, better ring. We’re so much smarter than that now.
The rings have been an investment. But like money, I can’t take them with me when I die. I’ll only carry the memories. The stuff we did while we were here — we grew up together, made two babies, built houses, laughed, cried, got sober and loved each other.
I wear two thin bands now. One is gold and one is platinum — they’re not fancy or expensive. They’ll be fine for the rest of the ride. They are symbols. Proof that we’ve made it through a lot of stuff. We survived and kept our vows — for richer, for poorer.