I used to wear a citrine ring. Until that day, five years ago in June — at a family wedding.
The night of the wedding, after a good many glasses of champagne, my mother had pulled a coveted piece of jewellery off her finger and handed it to me.
Here, she said, I want you to have it.
My father tried to stop her, but he couldn’t. The ring had belonged to my grandmother — my father’s mother — and upon her death, she’d gifted it to my mother. Possessed by some charitable demon, my mother wanted to give it to me. Seizing the opportunity I knew was not likely to come again, I accepted. But in the process, I had to take off my own ring — an unremarkable, cushion-cut citrine — which was promptly…lost.
My (second) cousin Lara sometimes reminds me that we come from a line of remarkable women; tall women; women who were brave before their time. I aspire to be like them. There is a black-and-white photograph in my parents’ house of our grandmothers together — both prematurely white-haired; stately; impossibly beautiful. Both having endured love and life and loss. Both having carried on.
I thought about my grandmother quite a lot after my mother gave me the ring. We had never been close. I hadn’t even known much about her until one Thanksgiving when my father pulled me aside and told me that she’d been a woman of character; integrity; grace. An independent woman who had travelled when women Did Not Do That; a woman who had worked and been successful when women stayed home.
Ironically, she and my ex-husband had shared a birthday. And I had worn the citrine piece — November’s birthstone — until that day that my mother had gifted me the jewel.
Even after I lost my citrine, and even after I got divorced, I still wore orange-yellow stones in some shape or form. And I have written before about the ways in which we keep the people we care about close — I had always chosen the permanence of stone. Though perhaps it was, as Paul Simon once sang, a habit/like saccharine. And upon reflection now, I wonder if it was more out of a sense of trying to cling to the shreds of an identity that was no longer mine.
Then, one day late last year, I took the orange rocks off my wrist. I still wear my red ring, though. I rarely take it off.
I think often about symbols and signs. I think often about what things mean and don’t mean. I try to make sense of a chaotic world. Because…how else can we survive it?
And it wasn’t until just a week or two ago that I recalled that the red stone on my hand was the birthstone for July.
July is strange — with its stinking, sucker-punching morning heat, and hazy New York City blue dawns where the sun comes up like a bruise spreading over the East River. And July has its red and gold nights where the light aligns just-so through the buildings on the Streets. It is when I always tend to go back to old and awful habits.
But I remembered, last year, that it was also the month that my mother’s father was born.
I loved my mother’s father — the man I called “Bop.” When he died, I was furious because it was the week I finished law school. I wanted to be fetted; congratulated; not forced to rush to the airport; not made to run to Florida. But when I arrived in the swampy south, I’d found that his whole room was just mementos of me. Photos; clippings; my graduation speeches. Letters I’d written in my loopy little-girl hand.
They were tangible pieces of A Big Love. So he’d left me something bigger, better than merely a phone call on my graduation day. He’d chosen a graceful exit for himself; he’d left me evidence of the greatness of his love for me. For years to come, and to this day, he finds a way to make himself known whenever the well of answers runs dry.
That is Big.
Relatedly, I had once talked about love with an old friend, and we had agreed that loving someone meant always loving them. That it meant getting on a plane and going at a moment’s notice. But we were both do-ers, and go-ers, and leave-ers. We were both the sort for whom getting on a plane was spectacularly easy.
And then I said that maybe for me, getting close to someone meant being willing to sit still. Getting up and going is a breeze when you are the sort who is always in motion. Sitting it out is far harder.
And so I wonder, often, about Big Loves. Symbols and signs. I wonder about being in motion and sitting still. Being in the right; being wrong. Waiting. I think about what it means to be Brave, and to be the sort of woman who lets the right things go, and keeps the right things close.
I think about being loved and loving; being part of a family of do-ers and show-ers; about being the kind of woman who wears this red ring.