The Weight of the Ring
By Nancy Davies (@nancydavies55)
The backyard deck was a mess. It had dry rot and a collapsing framework. We were heading into summer and couldn’t ignore it any longer. After getting estimates on demolition and rebuilding, my husband Tom decided he would tear it down himself. It took a few weeks of knocking down, cutting up and hauling away for the old deck to be gone. What was left was a lot of rock-strewn dirt and yard debris that would soon be covered by a new structure. Being a man who likes things orderly, Tom decided to clean up the area and rake the ground into tidy symmetrical lines. As he was raking leaves and rocks and putting them into the yard debris can, a shiny object caught his eye. A bottle cap, he thought; evidence that our once teenage children and their friends had been drinking beer out there one night when we were gone. As he reached down to pick it up, he realized that it wasn’t a cap at all. It was a ring. It was my wedding ring that I had lost 23 years earlier. At the time, we tore the house apart looking for it. We never dreamed it was outside in the backyard.
What makes this story more amazing is that we didn’t even have a deck when I lost it. This area was all grass. So for about 5 years the ring sat in the grass with kids and dogs and sprinklers and lawn mowers. Then we pulled up the grass, brought in a small Bobcat bulldozer to level the ground, laid down a layer of gravel and built a deck. And there it sat for another 18 years. Just waiting.
Twenty three years ago our son Brett was just shy of 2 years old. He was going through a phase of grabbing things off the bathroom counter and flushing them down the toilet. We’d walk into the bathroom and find toothbrushes and underwear in the toilet. A scream was let out and I’d know that one of Brett’s sisters had come upon a floating My Little Pony. I would sometimes leave my wedding ring on the counter in our bathroom. After days of searching, we came to the conclusion that it had fallen victim to Brett’s flushing obsession. It was a story I told countless times when the subject of lost wedding rings came up.
Brett must be feeling pretty vindicated right now, you say, after years of carrying this misguided accusation. Well, yes and no. Brett struggled with anxiety for years and reached a point where he was no longer able to cope. At 15 years old, he tragically lost his life to suicide.
Tom found the ring on a Sunday afternoon when I was off running errands. He was so overcome with emotion that he was shaking. He wasn’t sure what to do next. In a moment of clarity, he remembered that our anniversary was coming up. He would have the ring cleaned up and give it to me as a surprise. Over the next couple of weeks, Tom began to feel the burden of being the ring bearer. He was having a hard time waiting and on several occasions he almost let it slip. He told people at his office about his plan and they had started a pool on whether he would crack and give it to me early or go the distance.
On a Saturday night, Tom & I went out to dinner to celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary. He put the small, wrapped ring box on the table in front of me. Opening it, my confusion turned to complete amazement and then to tears. It was our own little miracle. What were the chances that this ring would ever be found after so long? What if he hadn’t stooped to pick up a bottle cap? What if he had raked the dirt in the opposite direction? What if we’d moved? Why wasn’t it found after a month or a year? Why now?
The next morning we were downstairs in the kitchen when we heard the toilet flush upstairs in our bathroom. We looked at each other; there was no one else in the house. It happened again a little later. We didn’t know what to think. Tom went up to investigate. He said there was a worn out part that was slowly leaking; he’d get a new part and fix it. No big deal. Except it is kind of a big deal. The timing to have a random flushing toilet the morning after he gives me the ring – that we thought had been flushed – seems much more than coincidental. I’m convinced it was Brett’s off-kilter sense of humor getting in the last laugh.
The other day I’m telling a friend the story and showing her how perfectly the ring survived it’s 23 years in the elements. She is amazed that everything is still intact. “It’s incredible,” I say. “The only thing that is missing is a very small gold pin that was anchoring the diamond to the band. There use to be four, one in each corner. One fell out and now there are only three.” Just as I say this, a jolt runs through my entire body and sits in my chest. There is a voice in my ear as clear as day that says, “Don’t you get it? There use to be four and now there are three.” I use to have four children and now I have three. One child is missing.
And now I am feeling the weight of the ring settling in unexpectedly on my shoulders. I have been given a gift of this beautiful little story and I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Is it a human interest story? Is it a metaphysical story? The ring was found right before our anniversary. Maybe it’s something about recommitment. Could it be a spiritual story along the lines of what was once lost is now found; the parable of digging for treasure just beneath the surface; or perhaps the prodigal son returning home after a long absence. Or is it a story about Brett, which is in part, a story about teenage suicide? And not the kind of suicide in young people that you mostly read about. He was not bullied or abused, neglected or gay. He grew up in a middle class family that adored him. He had close friends who loved him. He had a mental health issue in the form of anxiety that wore him down to where he was no longer able to survive. In a society that views depression and anxiety as a weakness, something to be embarrassed by, it’s a difficult thing to admit to. As a teenager, it’s downright brutal.
There is something inside of me that wonders if this hasn’t all fallen into place by some grand design. If the ring had been found after a week or a month or even a couple years, it wouldn’t be that unusual of a story to tell. If it had been found before Brett had died, the flushing toilet and the missing pin would mean nothing, and possibly wouldn’t have even happened. It wouldn’t be a story worth much discussion. I can’t help but think that in some roundabout way this story is meant to be a catalyst for starting a conversation about teenage suicide and the importance of open and honest conversations regarding mental health issues. What a gift to the next generation if we can open the door to talking about depression and how it’s managed as though we are talking about bed rest and fluids when we have the flu. By changing how we see mental health and taking away the stigma, I would hope that more people would seek help early on and more professionals would look into alternative ways to manage it.
I suppose my hope in putting this story out there is that in some roundabout way, there’s the chance that it might help to save a young life.
Note: The picture above is of the actual ring.
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