When I was in my first semester of nursing school, by the time we had reached a mere four weeks into the semester, I was completely stressed out. I suppose the expression of my stress could have focused on the several hundred pages a week of technical medical reading I had to do, or the fact that I typically had 2-3 tests every week to study for. My care plans usually ran about 20 to 50 pages in length. Instead, the stress found an outlet in the oddest of places: the dress code.
One of the rules was that we could wear a single wedding band if we were married, but it could not have any milling, designs, or stones in it. This makes sense. Bacteria can hide in the milling or the settings, and a stone set in a pronged setting can rip gloves or tear fragile skin if you’re not careful. However, I had worn a ring for around seven years at that point. Both my engagement ring and my wedding band had stones set in them, so I had taken them off and they had been carefully placed in my jewelry box.
“My finger feels naked,” I wailed to Arthur one evening when the stress finally began to bubble over. “I feel like I’m losing some part of my identity.” He held me as I sat and sobbed for awhile.
A few days later, when Arthur got home from work, instead of coming over and giving me a kiss as usual, he came over and got down on one knee. He pulled out a box. With a huge grin, he said “Will you stay married to me?”
“What? Of course,” I responded. With a flourish, he opened the box and pulled out a simple, plain, narrow gold band. Arthur placed it on my finger. It fit perfectly.
“Now your finger doesn’t have to feel naked,” he said, smiling. “This one meets the dress code, right?”
“It does,” I said. “I know we don’t have any money with me being in school, though. Where did you find it?”
“On sale,” he replied. “It was only about $30, and I thought for a decent 10 karat gold band it was worth it.” Ever since I had made the comment, he had looked for something within our very limited budget that would work.
When infertility hit us, I mentioned several times to Arthur that I thought he should find someone who could give him children and leave me. I’ve known since Arthur and I started dating over fifteen years ago that he wanted children very, very much. It wasn’t a healthy response, but it was all I could think of. How could he want to stay with me when it was a distinct possibility that I might not be able to give him those children?
Arthur, to his great credit, told me that was crazy. “I married you for lots of things other than your ability to give me children,” he said. He has had to repeat this several times over the course of our struggles, and probably will have to a few more times.
Recently, we attended a wedding. As the bride and groom began to recite those age-old vows to each other, I felt myself tearing up. “For better or worse…for richer or for poorer…in sickness and in health…until death do us part…this is my solemn vow.” When Arthur and I had gotten married eight years earlier, I had said those vows to him and he to me. While I had recognized at the time this was a big commitment, I had not really understood what they meant.
Arthur reached over and squeezed my hand. I knew he was thinking exactly what I was thinking. That we had made those vows on our wedding day, not necessarily knowing the depth of what they would mean for us. Now, though, as the bride and groom pledged their love and devotion, holding Arthur’s hand, we silently remembered, affirming our commitment anew with the knowledge and sorrow and happiness we had known in the past eight years deepening and strengthening the bond.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t still have bad days where I wonder why Arthur stays married to me. It doesn’t mean we don’t have times where we’re both exasperated or angry with each other. It just means we do the best we can.
That simple ring still graces my hand today. It’s the ring I wear every day. Oh, I still have my ‘real’ engagement and wedding bands that I’ll wear every once in a while for fancy occasions, but the plain band means more to me than just about anything I have. That simple ring was given not on a grand moment or with hope. It wasn’t at our wedding where we were both just excited to get married and hopeful for our future. It wasn’t at our engagement when we had what felt like unlimited life and potential ahead of us. It was given during a tough time, a sign of love and devotion even when I wasn’t at my best. Today, that ring means more than any of my others.