For a while – several days – I thought I’d lost my wedding ring. I eventually found it, but while I was ringless, I discussed the situation with a friend. She was dismayed, at first by the possibility that I’d lost my ring, and then by my lack of concern.
“It’s your wedding ring,” she said, as if maybe I’d missed the most significant detail of my own story.
“I keep thinking it’ll turn up.”
“What if it doesn’t?”
I shrugged. “I guess I’ll get another.”
For a second, she just stared at me, incredulous. Then she had me mentally retrace my steps, which didn’t help, but did give her something to focus on that wasn’t slapping some sense into me.
She thought a wedding ring should hold more sentimental value. She thinks I’m broken. She could be right.
I got married in April of 1987. Seven months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, we moved from an apartment to a condo. We rented a U-Haul, and in a single day we packed it with everything we owned, cleaned the old place as if our lives (or more accurately our cleaning deposit) depended on it, and arrived at the condo in the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning. Our new neighbors were asleep, and we were exhausted. Deciding to unload the truck at a more reasonable hour, we grabbed our cat, a couple of blankets and some pillows, and slept on the floor of our new home.
In the morning, the truck was gone. I will spare you the details of my husband’s frantic attempts to convince me that he wasn’t playing a practical joke. I will tell you this. It takes a while to wrap your brain around what it means to be missing everything. When they found the truck a few days later, it was parked outside a dump, empty except for some hangers and an old box spring.
We went to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner in a daze. They gathered their own things, gave us some pots and pans, some dishes, a grocery bag filled with Tupperware. My mom loves Tupperware. That night, we put the clothes we’d been wearing for two days into the washer. We sat on the floor, naked, wrapped in blankets, and watched all the clothes we owned spin themselves clean.
We replaced things little by little, bought at first just enough clothes to get us through a week. I threw temper tantrums, hating all the empty space. My stunned numbness had turned to rage, and I grieved ferociously for all that was missing. It was worse than if we’d been robbed, because it wasn’t selective. They didn’t just take what was valuable monetarily, they took photo albums and shoe boxed memories, yearbooks and journals and a bald, blue-eyed doll I slept with as a baby…
I remember lying awake at night trying to recall, item by item, all the stuff we had. I’d make lists in my mind, mourning the loss of each thing – a cigar box of bad poetry from my first boyfriend, hundreds of LPs, art projects from elementary school, letters from relatives who were now gone forever. I think I was a little bit crazy during that time. Grief stricken, indiscriminately angry, bewildered.
Ultimately I had to tell myself that it was just stuff. I said it aloud. Firmly. Over and over again. “We are okay. We still have a roof, each other, our cat. That’s what matters; the rest is just stuff.”
I learned that lesson well. It’s how I moved through the loss, and it’s part of me now – for better or worse – my expectation of impermanence. When the truck got stolen, I learned about endings; I learned to let go. I learned there is no point in holding onto what simply does not exist anymore. I learned that trying to hold onto it makes you crazy, sleepless, enraged. Isolated.
So yeah, it might mean that now I’m a little broken. It might mean that I don’t emotionally attach myself to things like wedding rings and keepsakes, and honestly I think there is something sad in that. But it also means I know when to let go. I know not to torture myself with “what if” and “if only” and “remember when.” I know not to rage against what cannot be changed.
And I know how to move past endings because I know absolutely that there are beginnings on the other side.