Copyright is held by the author.
“WHO WERE those people?” I pause and take some extra time to look a little more closely at old pictures — including those of me. Not a grey hair in sight. Wow. And then I look at pictures of my husband and am reminded of the old adage that I now know is true: women age but men become more distinguished with time. And, yes, while it’s true that he has gained 30 pounds since we married, he can get away with it. I am mystified.
I continue to dig and suddenly come upon an old and ragged shoebox and I recognize it immediately. It is from my youth. From my teenagehood and early womanhood. And I am a little afraid of opening it because I know what it contains. Old love letters from who knows whom, (okay I know), bound together with ribbon. Written keepsakes that I do not have the courage to read. I have the desire, but not the stomach. I am a little afraid of the me I might see.
But at one end of the shoebox is another box. It is wooden. A treasure box that I bought from an import store many moons ago. I could not have been more than 12 or 13 years old. I think my grandmother may even have been alive at the time and perhaps she gave me the money.
The box is approximately three inches wide by five inches long and maybe two inches deep — so an oblong, not a square. And I remember I bought it for three reasons. One because I liked the Asian motif on its surface. It seemed very exotic at the time. Two because I wanted some place to hide my personal treasures — especially from my sister Julie. And three because it could only be opened by an intricate pattern of shifting blocks of wood aside, down and along. If you didn’t know the code, you couldn’t crack it.
I pick up the box and think, how will I ever open this? But just like riding a bike, memory takes over. And just like I am 13 again, I push one rectangular block to the right, shift the side down, do the same to the opposite end, only to the left, and slide the top open. And Voila! My past is exposed.
And my breath is taken away. For there is the very first ring that I ever received from a boy. His name was Andy and we were in grade five or six and he gave it to me behind the school one day. He was fond of the grand gesture. And I remember thinking, This is it! I must be in love.
I used to wear the ring on the fourth finger of my right hand. But only when I was away from home. I had no wish for my mom or dad or my brothers and sisters to see it. I knew that would only end in ridicule and laughter. And so, each day after school, I would open my treasure box and deposit my ring. Then, like clockwork each morning, I would open my treasure box and take out the ring, putting it on my finger only when I was away from home base. The ring is gold and I thought it had a green gemstone, but I see it is blue, like a sapphire. Very Kate Middleton. And I am a little surprised because I am now wearing the
sapphire ring that my husband gave me — and it is on that same fourth finger of my right hand.
Within a few weeks of Andy giving me this first ring, however, I noticed that it was losing some of its lustre. The gold faded to metallic silver and the jewel lost some of its sheen. I realized then that Andy had probably got it out of a Cracker Jack box. In fact, he had given me a cheap gift and I suddenly felt insulted. By this time, however, Andy had lost all interest in me. I was doubly insulted. He had moved on — to Lisa Ipswich. She was beautiful and truly nice. And all the boys liked her. And who could blame them? She was a 13 year-old girl emerging from within an 18 year-old woman’s body. There was absolutely no competition.
I must say though, hurt as I was, I had the wisdom to recognize that Andy was not worth pining for. His affections, like the ring, were lacklustre. But I could never bring myself to throw the ring away. Finding it, however, did make me wonder about him.
The last time I had seen Andy was at the Queen’s Head pub in town. I was there with family and friends and watched as a woman kindly escorted him out the door. He was clearly in his cups and I could see that a few of his front teeth were missing. I never said a word to anyone, not even my tried and true husband. And I hoped that Andy would not recognize me and say something awkward or disparaging; I had the feeling that, in the end, maybe I had not been that kind to him all those years ago.
So the ring has gone back into the old wooden box. The box has gone into the new bin and the bin has gone into my closet. It is hidden behind some luggage and some long dresses. I am keeping it for three reasons. One because I still like the Asian motif on its lid. Two because I still need someplace to hide my personal treasures. And three because it can only be opened by me.