Tiny Shipwreck


And so I threw my ring over the side of the ferry into the Puget Sound where it will never be seen again sifting down through the underwater valleys and ridges, the basins and sills to a depth of at least 600 feet. I’ve resisted those deep water impulses for years and kept the ring on my finger. I picked the ring, I paid for it, I thought it was free from the marriage undertow and that because I loved it so I would keep it. It suited me. But no.

Coming as I have from my parent’s marriage, a thing more dead than alive, I am the most unlikely candidate to have been married for thirty years. Even as a girl I sensed my parent’s marriage was a monstrosity, a cruel bargain struck, not a love match. I couldn’t see what love had to do with why my mother and father were together. If it wasn’t a love match but a bargain, a deal struck, an exchange of sorts, did it work out to anyone’s satisfaction?

I told him I lost my ring. I said it must have fallen off weeding that ivy yesterday and I didn’t notice. He asked, did you just notice? And I said yes. I noticed when I didn’t have a ring to take off to wash the dishes after dinner. It never fit properly, I said. He said, I told you to get it fitted a million times and you didn’t. You wouldn’t. I liked how loose the ring was. I don’t know why. Something about the way it slid on my finger and didn’t grip too tightly. It was ok as long as I was vigilant about taking it off before swimming or washing dishes or taking showers or anything having to do with water. And weeding. I should have remembered to not wear the ring weeding because the ring could easily slip off without my noticing. I said that’s what happened. And of course it would be impossible to find it now. He said, we’ll have to get you another ring. That was unexpected.

As the only child of my parent’s marriage, I absorbed their unhappiness. Marriage should be a stage on which the people involved can be their best selves. My parents were their worst selves with one another. I felt doomed, deformed by the ruin of my parent’s marriage. How they turned away rather than towards each other, both of them brittle and hard and ready to snap. I feared that I would be like my parents whose perverse radar picked out from the crowd the one person who would make them the most miserable.

How many rings have I discarded?

There was the first ring we picked in Seattle. I threw that one away in East Lansing during a snow storm, down a drain on the corner of Bailey below a street light glowing through all the white stuff coming down. I don’t remember the fight, which I suppose is interesting but telling that what the fights are about never matter, it’s the fight, the way it goes, the way it builds, the moves it makes, the metaphorical blows struck, the way I come to inevitably feel pinned to a wall, skewered, unable to move or land my own blows, until finally I can’t take any more, I’ve lost every point, gotten nowhere, certainly no where I wanted to go, and I have to leave, depart, that’s when I break a cup or a window, hurl a plate, or if I can’t break something I walk out, it doesn’t matter if it is snowing or raining or howling with contempt, whether it is 3 in the morning or 8 at night, out I go, with no destination in mind, just out, just away; that night it was snowing and cold, although the snow was beautiful,  light and fluffy, not biting or edgy, and it sparkled on the ground and especially around the streetlights, round and round the blocks I went, never getting far, just up Orchard, around Collingwood, down to Bailey, around and around until finally I pulled off my glove and wrenched my ring off my finger and hurled it down the drain.  Of course there was the immediate regret after watching it disappear and my realization I would not get it back, it was rushing along through the underground channels of the sewer never to be seen again.

What did my parents carry with them from their parent’s marriages into their own? I inherited a propensity for romantic failure the way we accept that some people inherit a genetic predisposition for alcoholism or high blood pressure or a hole in the heart. I couldn’t see what skills I had learned that would help me chart a successful marital course. I had defined marriage through my parent’s example as: a zone without mercy, a flow chart for the end of hope, a mid-century museum piece with a couple installed behind protective glass, a horse entering a well-lit room, a slab of reheated steak, a grim pile of peas and a whooping cough of instant mashed potatoes, the same piece of luggage come round and round on the conveyer belt, a tiny theater where plays a tragedy that begins and ends in the same manner each time it is performed, a four volume meditation on the color beige, a sestina using these six words—storm, broken, window, tears, alone, again.

There was another ring and another after that, not exactly wedding bands, but rings I wore on that finger and I threw them away too.  Finally, I bought myself a ring, I did not consult him, I picked what I wanted and I wore it on my wedding ring finger although it was part wedding ring and part not wedding ring; it was rose gold with swirling roses and a small diamond in the middle of a star.  I took great pride of this ring, protecting it rigorously, anxious when I forgot where I put it; I thought it represented something about my feelings about being married, that sometimes I don’t want to be married so ferociously that I have to do something that acts out my desire, my refusal to be married all the while continuing to be married.  I believed that this was a ring I would never throw away. But I did and I threw it away just in the same manner that I threw the first ring away, in a fight with him, a fight that so exhausted me for its familiarity and never-ending-ness,  I believed in that moment that this fight with him would never end, we would be married forever and the fight we had been waging since the beginning would never lessen, never be resolved, never turn into something else, never stop, and I would never win, I would never be able to make a difference in how we fought, we were stuck in it and I’d never be able to walk away either, not really, not walk away into some other life, no this marriage and this fight were mine forever, my trouble, maybe everyone has a trouble that defines them and this was mine, there were other troubles to be sure, but those troubles seemed small, or smaller than the trouble of marriage, I don’t say the trouble of love because I don’t believe that is what I mean, I mean the trouble of marriage, marriage as something we undertook because we loved, but marriage is something different from love, marriage can ruin love, can turn its rose to rust, marriage is what we made and could not master, and I threw away the ring I thought I’d never throw away, not after throwing away so many rings, and picking this ring myself, but I did, I got up from the bench where we were sitting looking at the skyline of Seattle, the dazzling lit up Ferris wheel and the buildings all aglow, the water shiny and that blue black ribbon of evening, the beauty around us almost unbearable, everything I had wanted, I got up saying I was cold and left him sitting on the bench where he remained looking at the water and skyline and being cold or not being cold and I walked around the stern of the ferry and looked at the churning wake and then kept on going to the other side and the black of the water and before I knew it, before I could count to 3, I had slipped off my ring and thrown it overboard, into the Sound.  I didn’t think about what I did, didn’t think I want to throw my ring overboard, no I simply slipped my ring off and without hesitation threw it. No one saw me. At least I think no one saw me. It happened in less than 60 seconds, the act, the old familiar act, an act that boils up inside me as if it comes from an ancient impulse as instinctive as the push of labor and the tides and I have to expel the ring. I don’t think about the ring, what it means, why I’m choosing it as the symbol I must rid myself of though all of that is true and motivates me.

And just as in former times, immediately after seeing the little fleck of rose gold glitter through the night and drop and disappear, I felt regret, a horrible pang of regret, the kind of regret I feel when I think of how I would feel if I lost him, if somehow he walked away or died, how a great howling madness would come over me to lose him, lose the man I have fought with tooth and nail, pitted myself against all these years. I wanted my ring back, I wanted it back on my finger, wanted to feel its weight, on my finger, to slide it this way and that, to look down at my hands typing and see it glinting but this was not to be, my hands were empty, fingers bare, like child’s hands that had not gone out into the world and gotten touched and bruised and held and loved so completely they were remade. My ring was like a tiny shipwreck, so tiny no one would ever find it.