For Valentine's Day here is a short story I wrote a couple of years ago.
I’m on my hands and knees in inch-deep tan dust in the Sunday afternoon sun, because we have returned to the campsite we had abandoned in the morning. My fingernails and my clothes smell of ground-up earth.
It’s 1969, and Marianne and I are on a weekend excursion to Mount Diablo, east of San Francisco. It is less than a year after our wedding on Treasure Island. We’re young, newly wed, and we’re camping—tent, sleeping bags, pots and pans. The talcum-like dust of Mount Diablo State Park coats our gear, our beige Rambler American sedan, and us.
After the Sunday morning pack up I’m driving toward the Bay Bridge and home in San Francisco. In response to Marianne’s sudden scream, I peel off from the herd of bumper-to-bumper automobiles and pull into a deserted parking lot in Oakland’s industrial district.
“Tim! My wedding ring! I lost it at the camp.” She thrusts her empty ring finger in front of me.
“Where did you have it last?”
“I must have taken it off when I was doing the dishes.”
I look at my ring—which has not been off my finger since she put it there—and recall our trip to Sears on Geary Boulevard. We splurged. I bought her the $9 plain gold band, and she purchased the $12 one for me. We paid extra for engraving inside: MVR to TJH 12-21-68 and TJH to MVR 12-21-68.
My ring is the possession I choose when we play the what-would-you-take-to-a-desert-island game.
In the empty parking lot we remove and open every backpack. We search in every box, pot, and pan, inspect every corner of the tent. “It’s simply not here,” I say.
“It has to be,” she says. “Unless I left it at the camp.”
We repack the car. I drive onto the freeway, aiming the car at Mount Diablo. An hour later I maneuver into our camp space. I mark off our campsite as if it is an archeological dig, and I sift the earth through my fingers as if I am a graduate student searching for Australopithecus.
A while later I turn to Marianne, my palms holding up the weight of the atmosphere. We move through the stages of grief together. I am moving more quickly than she.
“I can’t believe we didn’t find it. Keep looking,” she said.
“Why did you take it off?”
“I had to do the dishes. Why didn’t you help?”
“We’ll light a candle to St. Anthony.”
“I wish we’d never gone on this stupid camping trip.”
“We’re not going to find it, honey. I’ll buy you a new one.”
“I don’t want a new ring, dammit. I want my ring.”
I arrive at acceptance alone.
My lack of sensitivity is showing. I want to be sympathetic, but more than that I want to be practical. Our options list is growing smaller.
She doesn’t make it past anger and depression.
Maybe if I had searched just a little longer, a little harder. Should we go back? It hurts to see her hurting. I want to fix it. The angels are teaching me a lesson about marriage, I suppose. Are all lessons going to be this painful?
At home I park the car, and we lug our gear to our second floor walkup. I follow Marianne to the kitchen sink. I’m standing behind her, trying to think of something to say. Everything seems insufficient—trite.
With a sudden jerk her shoulders straighten, and her body tenses. She snatches something from the sink ledge. I think I see a yellow flash. She whirls.
We’re face to face, and she shoves her hand to my eyes. Between her thumb and forefinger I see gold and engraving: to MVR. I smile, and she grins.
She slips the ring on her finger. “See? I told you I took it off when I did the dishes.”
We embrace. I am silent. I have grown smart in my first year of marriage.
The rings endure, as does love.
The Mayan Apocalypse and our forty-fourth wedding anniversary occurred on December 21, 2012.
We survived both.
Thanks for reading.