The Ring

by Ignatius Aloysius

My wedding ring is twenty-two years old. This is special to me in more ways than one. But here’s a fact: My ring isn’t affixed to the fourth finger on my left hand permanently like some folks wear theirs throughout the day or night, even when the ring apparently presses into their flesh, like a waist belt will do after a successful meal or Indian buffet. Let me explain—I am light-boned, with tapered hands and elongated fingers. A piano player’s hands, a guitar player’s hands. I got those, and play guitar mostly these days. But in 1994, I didn’t want my wedding ring to be made with a tight fit, because I have noticeable knuckles the ring must slip through first, and my left hand seems a bit more sculpted than my right hand, with fingers that are slightly narrower and closer together. A ring that fits on one hand does not suit the other equally, and I hadn’t paid attention to this dilemma before. My wedding ring will come loose if given half a chance, for reasons also related to my poor body weight and the effects of time and diet on my conscience and pocketbook.

My wife Cynthia and I designed our rings at a private jeweler, and I insisted then on having a wedding ring I could slip off or switch out when I slept at night or did heavy work, although I’ll admit that heavy work isn’t exactly my thing. I am a writer, designer, and musician not prone to high activity, but I face the responsibilities of a homeowner. Who, I ask myself, will lift those paving stones or haul my music gear?

So, the wedding ring. It’s a simple and solid band, not thin, and made with white and yellow gold. It feels heavy at times for my finger; and, looking back, I cannot understand why I designed a thick ring, although it is beautiful with its stark simplicity and single leaf on top. It matches my wife’s more elaborate ring that has little diamonds around her band. The better-looking ring. Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before my marriage, I regarded any ring on my finger as a novel idea, and did not wear rings until I reached adulthood. I’m often at a loss to explain precisely why that is so or what that choice meant to me, except to admit that I once associated these symbolic and sentimental objects with the adversity of my childhood, growing up destitute for too long in Mumbai, India. You see, my parents sold their wedding rings early on to put food on our table, to pay their growing debts, and perhaps to even covertly serve my father’s vices. May god rest his unsettled soul.

Cynthia and I took a much-deserved summer vacation to Kauai in 2007 and made a beeline for beautiful Poipu Beach on the garden island’s southern coastline, a popular destination for tourists. We liked to visit friends on this Hawaiian island as and when time and money allowed, and we both agreed that a visit to Kauai might do us good and help us turn our attention to living and to our mutual wellbeing. We are teachers. Work and life started to weigh us down, and we’d begun to feel the strain on our marriage. The decade turned out to be anything but stellar up to that point, with death, and personal and financial struggles that tested us and made us question our commitment to each other, and yet we held out as a couple for a light on the horizon and some unstated promise of advancement. We deserved this vacation.

More than anything, I experienced a period of emotional darkness, coming from ongoing news of my parents’ continued indigence in the homeland and then the sudden loss of my father around 911. He and I had not been on speaking terms for ten years before that, and I did not get a chance to see him before he left.

My wife and I got off the plane at Lihue airport, still tired but spurred on by our arrival on the island at last, and we picked up our rental car then drove southwest on the only two-lane highway skirting the island. We checked into a rental garden apartment we’d booked ahead of time in the neighboring town of Koloa then settled in for the evening with a simple meal of poké, rice, and haupia (a coconut milk dessert resembling flan), which we purchased on the main street in town, an area buzzing with tourists like us. Shops sold food, clothing, art, and goods. Historic attractions informed us of the town’s once-thriving sugarcane industry.

We made a plan to visit Poipu beach the next day, hoping to glimpse the occasional seal or two basking ashore as we enjoyed the warm air, sand, and saltwater. More than anything, we also wished to locate the small memorial on the lava rocks at the beach that our Chinese friend Susan had made to honor her ex-boyfriend, Kaui, a skillful and kind local fisherman, who worked as a lifeguard at the popular waterfront of Poipu Beach Park. He’d died suddenly in his apartment from a weak heart after a day of hand fishing just a few months before our arrival. Susan had met Kaui there and they fell in love with each other, and she left Chicago to be with him. Everyone respected Kaui and liked him, she said.

Wearing light clothes and flip flops, Cynthia and I drove to Poipu Beach Park around eleven the next morning, after a light breakfast of rolls, coffee, and fresh fruit with lime, and we went looking for Kaui’s memorial on the porous lava rocks right away. We saw no seals on the blonde sands, and crowds from Marriott’s Waiohai Beach Club and neighboring resorts hadn’t stormed the stretches of sand yet, an area shaped like the rounded bottom of a lowercased ‘w’. Just ahead, at the center point of the w-shaped beach, black lava rocks came up from the water’s surface a foot or more in places, and, my guess would be, about a hundred feet from the curving shoreline. The rocks made a shape like a large triangle and behaved like a natural breakwater, rising gradually from the sand and more evenly at the corner closest to the beach. Visitors to the beach often waded through clear, waist-high seawater to approach this mound of rocks to look for shells and other beach finds. Two opposing but non-threatening currents faced off there, pushing the sand up high enough between this beginning corner of the rocks and the main beachfront, making it possible for visitors to wade across both points of land without difficulty. Even children went through in the warm water, watched by accompanying adults. Like everywhere, blonde sand cupped this eastern point of the rocks that faced land.

Little else grew in this triangular expanse of hardened lava rocks, with the exception of small crab, crustaceans, algae, and baby fish inhabiting pockets of trapped water. The rocks spread west about two hundred feet in a bubbled mass and looked like an old worn down brick-paved street in some historic mainland town. Susan had the location for Kaui’s memorial planned well, because we could not find the memorial easily, and perhaps she’d intended this to be so. We eventually located Kaui’s plaque and shells near the remote areas of the bubbled mass, far enough west so that visitors wouldn’t tamper with her work. We held our silence there, and called Kaui’s name a few times, asking him to acknowledge that we had come and that we thought of him and missed him. Then we turned around and took our time walking back. I felt at peace with the world, with the knowledge that we had said our goodbyes. We faced the curved shoreline and absorbed the sound of hissing seawater as it rose and fell between the rocks and around us.

We soon found a good place to sit on the small head of sand at the onset of the lava rocks. Seawater lapped the area gently and at our feet, inviting us to settle in. We applied our sunscreen; I slapped on my SPF 45 generously and wished I’d left my wedding ring behind in our room, as the lotion threatened to loosen the ring, which turned around on my finger. I had nowhere to conceal the ring safely now. I’ll watch it, I thought under the intense afternoon heat. I’ll keep an eye. It isn’t going anywhere past my knuckle.

By now, tourists and locals settled on the beach. Many swam, a few paddle-boarded, snorkeled, and surfed on thin boards. This irresistible shore. Cynthia and I let ourselves down in the wet sand, so the warm, shallow water touched our bodies, our clothes. We leaned back with knees up, content and glad we came. I sat to her left, on the inside, now between her and the beachfront. We faced east and took in the direct sunlight and heat as we propped our bodies up with our arms behind us, palms pressed in the drenched sand. Heavenly! We wore hats and sunglasses. Spectacular, smart! The seawater lapped about us, moving the sand casually and allowing us to sink into it a little bit more, so that we cooled off as we enjoyed getting wet but not soaked. Such a pleasure. What a treat!

I’m not sure how much time went by. I’d say we sat there for nearly twenty-five to thirty minutes or so appreciating every second in the open together. My mind drifted, light as a wisp of salted air. We remained oblivious to the cries of children playing nearby and to our left. Adults talked, we could hear them, too; and few people passed behind us as they waded between the shore and rocks, but we paid them no attention. Despite my anxiety about wild, deep waters, I appreciated the profound beauty and power of the seascape. My feet touched ground, and this calmed me. Nothing else mattered.

But then in our silence, I suddenly remembered my wedding ring, and moved my left thumb under water to feel the ring on my fourth digit while I kept my arms locked behind me. No ring. No longer on my finger. Gone. Gone? How could this be possible? I know I kept an eye on it, I know I did! And yet I doubted myself. Did I really? Then I felt an alarming rush of panic cut through me for my carelessness and forgetfulness. Do such things happen to most people? Where did I put the ring? I thought I had it on when I put on my 45 SPF sunscreen, but I could not be sure now. I should not have applied so much lotion. Did I experience heatstroke? Did I leave the ring in the room before we arrived at the beach? Where did the ring go? Had I drop it somewhere else by mistake? I checked the pockets of my shorts. Nothing. I felt a shiver, like something I often experienced in a Chicago winter, and I could not think a straight, good word nor could I speak it correctly. I pushed my sunglasses over my head and opened my mouth to speak.

Did I give you my ring? I asked Cynthia. Did you take it from me before we got here?

No, she said, turning her head to face me. I’m sure you did not give it to me. I’d know it if I took the ring from you.

It’s not on my hand now! I said.

Then I dug my fingers in the wet sand all around me, desperately hoping that the water’s mild current hadn’t hauled it off like a clever airport pickpocket. By now, my panic and searching had breached all the peace I maintained until then, and my body caught fire as I became more excited and agitated. Did Cynthia notice my unease? I suddenly resented being out there in the hot sun. Where did my wedding ring go? Where did it go? The questions frustrated me and I became visibly upset, searching, searching uselessly, disturbing the sand.

Cynthia stirred. She pulled back her arms and sat up. She moved her left hand underwater in my area to help me, but even she did not locate the ring. And I felt a shadow of defeat move about me and through me with a message that I had done the unthinkable that day. This expensive wedding ring, and the consequences? I could never forgive myself, I thought, failing to imagine what she had to say in the next hour, or later, after we’d given up and gone back to our apartment without the ring, declining lunch. A vacation spoiled, for sure, even as it just began! I might blame my fatigue, but did this moment presage our marital future?

Cynthia suggested that she ought to look to her right, just for the sake of doing a thorough search, and I began to argue—I argued with stupid logic!—that the shallow, calm water didn’t have enough strength where we sat to carry a heavy ring off like that. It couldn’t go anywhere but sink in the wet sand near my left hand. Why did she not listen to me? In any case, she dropped her right arm into the water beside her and dug her fingers in the sand as far as they would go. Brought up a fistful, water pouring out from between her clenched fingers. Then, as I looked, unbelieving, she opened her hand with the tight wet sand in it, and she loosened the sand carefully. And there, right there within her palm—the very ring I lost!

I simply could not believe it! How could this be? Her first attempt. The opposite side, no less, the improbable side at her right. I remained dumbfounded. This inexplicable movement of power and energy coursing through unconscious time. How could such a thing happen? I believed in miracles, I did. I’ll confess, I once served as an altar boy in our Catholic church in Mumbai and attended regular services and novenas, but I’m less religiously inclined these days as an adult, believing more in the faith of spiritual goodness and otherworldly possibilities. Something extraordinary happened here, I knew it. Something truly extraordinary, a miracle!

Kaui, I said, It’s Kaui. Cynthia took off her sunglasses and looked at me, and our eyes locked in acknowledgment, as if enlightened, as if she too recognized some mystical and spiritual sign from beyond our understanding, a sign of grace and assured bewilderment far superior to our human logic. And she raised her eyes to the sky, the clear blue sky, and spoke without raising her voice, Thank you, Kaui. You know we’re here. You heard our prayers and now you’re speaking to us.

The shame, awe, and relief I felt at that moment of realization. At once, all seemed well with the world again. We might yet enjoy our vacation, but I knew this incident marked a unique moment in our relationship, fueled by my panic and the pleasant outcome of the adventurous wedding ring. A memory, a hiccup etched in time. We sat there by the lava rocks saying little until hunger moved us, and then we got up and waded through waist-high water to return to the beachfront. We stayed on the curve of wet sand to the right, and there about thirty feet or so in front of us, two large blubbery seals had pushed ashore beyond our view. They rested and dried off next to each other in absolute beauty, nostrils rising and falling, their weary eyes oblivious of the three children and a pair of adults who stood around them, talking away as if they stood in a living room. And like Kaui would likely have done were he alive, the lifeguards of Poipu Beach Park ran blue caution tape around the protected mammals and dropped a warning sign in the sand near them. I stepped up to the tape and Cynthia came and stood beside me. Kaui returned my ring, I thought, and now he brought the seals to us.