The Tourmaline Ring
So it’s twenty and a half years ago. Peter and I have decided to get married.* All the important stuff has already been decided, like that I’m going to emigrate.** But that means we have to get married: the fiancée’s visa only lasts for six months. That’s not a problem: we’re both old-fashioned: we want to get married, and I’m the kind of old-fashioned that furthermore wants a proper ring to go with the deal. Hey. I like jewellery.
I’d originally assumed we’d find one suitably old and hoary and glamorous and possibly mad in an antique shop somewhere for an engagement ring; wedding rings to be practical need to be plain and could be dealt with separately when we knew what the flashy one looked like. We spent some time in this pursuit*** but we were finding nothing nearly unique and fabulous enough, I had to finish DEERSKIN and we wanted to get on with the moving and the new life and so on.
I can’t now remember who recommended this jewellery designer to us. But we went to see him and explained we wanted something definitively Maine for me to wear in England. He suggested Maine tourmalines—I think I didn’t know about Maine tourmalines at that point—and we eventually agreed that he’d design and make not only an engagement ring with the tourmalines, but wedding rings that would all fit together as part of the same design. Peter felt this was mostly my show† and I did try to tell the bloke the sort of thing I liked: flowing lines, mainly, swirly or woven or floral. Maybe sort of art nouveau. I liked the stuff in his shop. And I liked the idea of the Maine designer working with the Maine tourmalines.
We went back to see the stones when they arrived. I don’t know if the designer bloke asked for triangular, or if that was what he could get. Okay. This would make it unusual. And pink and green are excellent.
We never saw any designs. We saw the rings themselves when they’d already been cast (if cast is what I mean) and although they weren’t finished yet it wasn’t like we could go backward and say, uh, no, I meant Charles Rennie Macintosh, not Cecil Balmond.†† The wedding rings had these little hooks in the middle like the two ends of a twist tie bent together—and with the squared-off ends sticking out up and down your finger. Can you say CATCHES THE FRELL ON EVERYTHING? My tourmaline engagement ring fit down over the top ensnaring bend of my wedding ring, but that still left the sharp bottom edge to cause havoc and mayhem. They were certainly . . . different. But they were not sensible, and while many of the details of that whole era of the beginning of my life with Peter are blurry with exhilaration and terror, I do remember Peter telling the bloke that he works with his hands a lot, he spends hours every day in the garden, doing carpentry and cooking and he needs a ring that won’t get in the way.
The man smiled and nodded. These creative types. They’re so in their own little world.†††
But part of the swoop and breathtakingness of a runaway romance like ours is that you do kind of want it to glide as far as it can before it founders on some ineluctable aspect of ratbagging reality. The wife in the attic. The outstanding warrant. The gerbil fetish. The chocolate addiction . . . And I don’t think the designer bloke was cheating us in any overt way: I think we paid an honest amount for his time and his materials. He just didn’t listen.
Almost the first thing we did after the wedding was over was . . . run to the nearest ordinary jeweller and buy two utterly plain smooth gold rings and wear them. The barbed designer versions came out for fancy occasions and the rest of the time lived in my jewellery drawer. Sigh. This had not been the plan . . . and while the plain gold ones worked fine as wedding rings‡ I was rather wistful about my Maine tourmalines wasting their glory in a drawer.
I think it was around our tenth anniversary that Peter said, for our twentieth, we’ll have the tourmalines reset.
So that’s what we did. And this time we went to a jeweller we’ve been going to for . . . twenty years. He listens. He made my fabulous silver whippet belt buckle.‡‡ And we saw designs. We saw several designs. I wanted my new ring to look like it fit next to the plaited-gold-with-tiny-diamond-chips ring that was my fiftieth birthday present‡‡‡ and which I now wear as my wedding ring. And it does, doesn’t it?
This time it worked.
* * *
* And our friends and family are all going, what? Well, it was a somewhat precipitate decision. We’d known each other maybe sixty hours in total.^
^ I’ve told you how we met, haven’t I? I was on a Literary Tour of England and he was one of the speakers.
** Somebody had to. Peter originally suggested we divide our time, but I knew—and I’m sure I was right—we’d both hate it. And Peter had lived in this area of Hampshire over forty years at that point, had four kids, the first two grandchildren, three brothers and their families, eight first cousins and . . . I had a whippet, and a background as a peripatetic military brat.
*** This was the occasion of one of our most important Bonding Moments. THELMA AND LOUISE had been bigger than god, Spacelab and Boris Yeltzin for months, and it was playing at a theatre in Portland, Maine, where we’d gone to cruise antique jewellery shops. I’ve told you this too, haven’t I? We walked out. We walked right after the dumb one spends the night with Brad Pitt the robber on the lam AND THE MONEY IN THE FRELLING DRAWER while the smart (!!?!??) one goes off to have a deep, sensitive evening with her supportive boyfriend.
† He’s got a much better eye for jewellery than he thinks he does—see: silver whippet belt buckle, below—but it’s true that this was my Big Symbolic Thing about leaving Maine to live in England with him.
†† http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-14027083 Okay, I don’t know what Balmond was doing twenty years ago. Designing engagement rings, possibly.
††† I do wonder if Designer Bloke already had this idea in his mind and he wanted to use it, whether the triangular stones inspired it, or what. But he sure wasn’t too interested in the interface with his clients.
‡ Anybody aware of the standard behaviour about such things of English gentlemen of Peter’s vintage will be gobsmacked that Peter wears a wedding ring at all. Well. Yes. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that he wouldn’t—I wanted us both to wear them—and that’s what happened. It wasn’t till later that I realised that Peter was humouring me about this too.^
^ I tell myself that if I have to choose I’d rather he wore a wedding ring than remembered to shut the door behind him.+ I perhaps tell myself this rather often. But romance over practicality? Sure. Why do I have sixty rose-bushes in a garden the size of a large ping-pong table?
+ This includes refrigerator doors. Just by the way.
‡‡ I hope I’ve told you this story. I told Peter I wanted something significant and wearable for my fortieth birthday.
‡‡‡ Also bought in Maine. Hmm. My sixtieth is next year . . .
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.