by B.J. Stolbov
Today, in a shop in the public market of Siem Reap, Cambodia, I bought myself a wedding ring.
I had a wedding ring already, which I had bought last August in a jewelry shop in the Philippines on one of the hottest days of the year. My hands had been sweaty and swollen when I made the purchase. But as the days cooled, and my hands dried and shrank, it became obvious that the ring was too big. I would often find it dangling at the end of my finger, barely hanging on by a nail, only one intense instant away from eternal loss. I'd catch it and push it back on again.
I didn’t bring the ring to Siem Reap. It just didn’t fit.
It also didn’t fit because I wasn’t sure that I wanted it to fit. I had been married for 20 years and single for more than 10 years. I had slid easily into relationships and had slid easily out of relationships. Until Grace.
I first met Grace more than a year ago, after I was assigned by the U.S. Peace Corps to the Philippines (not my first choice), to Northern Luzon (way up in the hills), to Quirino Province (which no one, including me, knew where it was), to Cabarroguis (the small provincial capital), to Zamora (a tiny village at the outer edge). My second week there, I was invited to attend the United Methodist Church (although I am not Methodist) in Gundaway (another faraway tiny village) for an early morning Sunday service (even though I didn’t want to get up early). There, leading the Women’s Choir, was a good guitar player, a lovely singer, and a beautiful woman. I couldn’t take my eyes off her; she looked at me once, then again, and then shyly returned to her singing and playing.
After the service, it was raining, and she was having trouble walking across the muddy ground while carrying her guitar, her purse, and her umbrella. I offered to hold her umbrella and I walked with her to the jeepney (a small local bus). I was supposed to take another jeepney going in the opposite direction, but it was raining and muddy and so I just got in the same jeepney with her. Grace and I talked for the whole ride. She spoke perfect English, she wasn’t too shy, she was funny, and bright. At the end of the trip, I asked her if she would show me a C chord and she asked me if I wanted to learn how to play guitar, and (although I already knew how to play guitar) I said, “Yes!”
It still strikes me as amazing how this long, winding string of timely events brought Grace and me, who had been 10,000 miles apart, together.
I shyly asked her for her cell phone number, and she gave it to me. That night I texted her and that night she replied. We became “text-mates” and then friends. Six months later, we became engaged. And two months later, we were married in a private ceremony. In her family’s house, we stood side-by-side, together with her family, our friends, and the Methodist Minister, and then, Grace and I exchanged our vows. We gave each other rings that we had picked out the day before, on the hottest day of the year. The ring slid on easily.
That evening, for the first time, I had to deal with the problem of the slipping off, almost disappearing, ring.
Some days, when it was hot and humid, the ring would fit fine. Other days, I would wear it on my middle finger, but that looked odd to me. I know I could have had it resized, but I didn’t want it cut. That didn’t feel right to me. I know I could have put a piece of tape on it, but that made it look broken. But it wasn’t broken. The ring was just too big! I could not wear it if I had to do anything in water. It would have slid off and drowned, gone, somewhere, never to be found.
I knew that something needed to be done. But I didn’t know how to tell someone with whom I’ve exchanged rings that the ring doesn’t fit. That announcement would have a lot more connotations than just that simple declarative statement. I knew it, and yet I didn’t know what to do about it.
That is until today, in a small shop in the public market of Siem Reap, Cambodia. (Grace was in the Philippines, taking care of her elderly mother.) My hand feeling lonely without it, I bought myself a wedding ring. From out of a long row of rings, this one called out to me. I tried it on. It didn’t look exactly like the other one. The other one was silver and smooth; this one is shinier silver with geometric engravings that always sparkle in the light.
But, it fits. It looks good on my hand and it feels good for my heart. It feels right that I have committed to my relationship in a closer, more personal manner. My new wedding ring is a public statement of my commitment. And it fits me perfectly.
B.J. Stolbov is a writer, poet, essayist, novelist, short story writer, travel writer, and technical writer and editor. Currently, he is serving in the U.S. Peace Corps in Northern Luzon in the Philippines, teaching English to high school students and to future teachers of English at college. When he completes his service in May 2013, he will be available for teaching and writing positions. Click here to contact him.
[Siem Reap photo By ND Strupler via flickr.com common license.]