The Ring of Truth

Art's wedding ring

Art’s wedding ring

When I brought my first-grade pictures home from school, my parents didn’t notice anything unusual. It showed a chubby, neatly dressed boy with glasses smiling into the camera looking a little shy. It seemed to capture me accurately. The lie wasn’t discovered until three years later when, in a parent-teacher conference, my fourth-grade teacher told my parents that I often squinted in class. She wondered if my parents had ever taken me to an eye doctor. They were perplexed by the question as they had dutifully gotten eyeglasses for me at the first sign of a vision problem.   They understandably assumed I wore my glasses every day and my picture confirmed this for them. Or so they thought.

The gig was up. My teacher told them that I never wore eyeglasses in school. The truth was that I had been teased early-on in first grade by two girls and I was too ashamed to wear my glasses ever again. Every year when school pictures were taken, I’d subtly slide the glasses onto my nose. As soon as the last camera flash went off, my glasses would go into hiding for another year.

The pictures conspired with me to withhold the truth. The photographs created a certain impression of me that was false. The boy in the photographs didn’t match the reality of my everyday life.

I have recently found myself struggling with this dilemma again, though the specific shape of the situation is different. Last week I removed my wedding ring for the first time. I’m not sure if I’ll put it back on again but for the last few weeks it hasn’t felt right to me. It has felt as if my ring was telling a story about me that isn’t entirely true anymore.

For me, my wedding ring represented my marriage to Art. It represented our commitment to one another – the ideals, values and promises we sought to live by each day. It represented the fact that there was someone waiting for me at home, someone with whom I shared every detail of daily life. I loved my ring and the constant reminder it provided. I would often squeeze my fingers together so I could feel the ring on my hand and feel a surge of pride, knowing I was married to Art. I would sometimes spin it around on my finger and go into a dreamlike state thinking about him, our life together and our future. I liked to pull it half-way up my finger so I could see the lasting impression its edges made in my skin, reminding how durable our commitment was and how much a part of me our marriage had become. It reminded me that he was home waiting for me or away on business thinking of me as I was him.

Often when I’m riding the subway, I notice whether people are wearing wedding rings or not. If they are, my mind wanders as I imagine who they are married to, how they met, what their spouse looks like and what their marriage is like. Their wedding rings tell a story, even if I make much of it up myself. I wondered if any of them wondered about the story hidden behind my ring. Could they imagine their way to Art?

Lately I have noticed that having the ring on my hand doesn’t match my how I feel or my new daily reality without Art’s physical presence. Like my eyeglasses, it was telling a story about me that no longer feels true. I certainly still feel married to Art but he isn’t home waiting for me or away on business anymore. We don’t go to bed together every night. Our ideals, values and aspirations live just within me now. They cannot be expressed in a visible or dynamic way here in the physical world. After Art’s death, when I would squeeze the ring between my fingers as I had done many times, it just hurt. It didn’t release that little charge I used to feel.

Art and I discussed many things about death and life after death. We both believe that when the spirit or soul leaves the body, the body no longer really represents the person. They simply aren’t there anymore. Their spirit – their essence – has left them and the body remains behind, merely a wrapper that contained their spirit while here on earth. It has felt to me as if my wedding ring is similar. Once Art died, the spirit of our marriage was no longer contained in that ring. It became a piece of jewelry that lost some of its soul or magical powers. My wedding ring will always represent my abiding love for Art and the commitment I made to him, but the reality of our marriage is very different today.

Compared to my ring, Art’s ring tells a different story. His ring originally belonged to my paternal grandfather and we believe he brought it with him from Sicily when he came to the United States. When my grandfather died, the ring went to one of my uncles. As it turns out, my uncle was gay and had led a very closeted life until he was 70 years old. At the time of his 70th birthday he had been diagnosed with lung cancer and seemingly did not have long to live. At his 70th birthday gathering, he invited a group of his close gay friends to join our family for the first time. It was his coming out of sorts. He lived to be 75 and I think those short five years provided some healing for him. Before he died, he gave me the ring.

When Art and I married I slid this ring onto his finger. It’s a thick gold band with interlocking gold loops that form a small chain across the top. We decided that the gold chain represented the connectedness of the story behind this ring – the bringing together of generations of Gattos. It represented a place in the Gatto family that now belonged to Art and identified him as part Gatto too. It carried the first story of coming out in my family. It linked us back to my grandparents and their homeland. And when we married it represented Art’s commitment to me. In the same way the ring infused Art with this history, Art did the same in return. By wearing the ring, Art has infused it with our love story.

When I took my wedding ring off my left hand, I slid Art’s ring onto my right. When I squeeze my hand together, the ring grounds me. I know how much Art loved this ring. It seems to bring my whole life together. I have always loved the part of wedding ceremonies when the officiant explains that rings are a symbol of love and marriage as they have no beginning and no end. Now I wear the ring and it reminds me that a story is still unfolding. My family history and my marriage to Art are the most profound pieces of that story, but the ring reminds me that there is more to come. When I eventually and finally take this ring off, it will hold another chapter that hasn’t yet been written. And all the stories being represented by this ring are part of an even bigger story of love, struggle, triumph and the durability of the human spirit. This ring and this story are what are true for me now. It links me to the past and promises a future.

Taking my wedding ring off feels like another “coming out.” Coming out often happens when we can no longer pretend to be someone that we aren’t. It is a way of claiming our own truth and defining who we are – allowing all the pieces of our identity to come together in a new way. It allows us to embrace who we are in a more authentic way. Many people postpone coming out because they aren’t ready to face this reality. In the case of coming out as LGBTQ, sometimes people even loathe this part of themselves and keep pushing against the truth – trying to fake it and even deny the truth to themselves. I get it. Not a day goes by when I don’t wake up wanting to believe that Art is still with me. Though it happens a little less frequently now, every day I’m hit by waves of nausea when I fully embrace the truth. I feel weak and dizzy. I don’t want to face it and I definitely don’t want to integrate this new part of my identity – that I am a widower.

My heart is broken and keeping the ring on felt like a betrayal of the truth of my pain – a betrayal of Art and the huge gap his absence has created. Continuing to wear it – at least right now – felt as if I was acting as if nothing had changed. My grief is partly about missing the simple pleasures of sharing day-to-day life with one another. I miss the little notes we left for one another. I miss his late afternoon texts and messages telling me how much he was looking forward to me coming home. I miss making dinner together and catching up. Wearing the ring didn’t acknowledge the huge loss I feel in my daily life.

All of this has made me wonder what else in my life isn’t aligned. Do I create images or impressions of myself that are not entirely true? Do I compromise who I am or allow my identity to be altered by the world around me rather than by the values I hold dear? Are my values apparent to others and evidenced by how I live?  Am I living in alignment with all I know and feel is true about me or am I somehow faking it?  For now, I am one step closer to speaking and living my truth on my terms.  What about you?

~ by Art on March 12, 2017.

6 Responses to “The Ring of Truth”

  1. What a beautiful post, John! Thanks you for bringing your heart, your process, and your squinting little boy and clear sighted man to us – I love both of them! You paint a picture of the sort of love we all want a ring to symbolize. I want my wedding ring to mean so much that if my beloved should go before me, it aches when I squeeze my fingers together. It feels like you’ve layed your ring to rest… and the beauty of all that Art’s ring holds ~ the love, family, and history ~ can live on more fully now.

    Sending you a huge dose of love and gratitude.

    Helen

    • Helen – Thank you so much for seeing me and taking in all of what this journey means to me. I feel the huge doses of love & gratitude! John

  2. You’re something else.

    • …well much of this is your brother’s influence! He helped me grow in ways that I would never have found on my own.

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