When is a ring more than a ring?

When it’s your mother’s—and she’s deciding whom to pass it on to, you or your sister.

The situation was this: My sister, Jen, was married with two young daughters; I was single with zero daughters. Or sons, for that matter. Our mother, getting on in years, was in a deaccessioning kind of mood, which meant sorting through her jewelry box from time to time and finding something special to bequeath to one or the other of us.

The problem was that lately, she seemed to be bequeathing everything to Jen—the thick band with a single inlaid diamond, the rose gold loop with five evenly spaced stones, the green-gray cat’s-eye set high atop spiky prongs.... The logic was clear: Since Jen had two girls, our mother naturally sent these feminine trinkets her way so she could one day pass them on, too.

All of which sounds perfectly reasonable to me now. But back then, you’d have thought my mother had left me on a mountaintop to die, such was the level of neglect and betrayal I felt. Whenever I spotted another of her baubles on Jen’s fat little fingers, my eyeballs would vibrate with rage; I worried a blood vessel in my brain might burst. (To be clear, my sister’s fingers are neither fat nor particularly little, but that’s how I was feeling at the time.) It got so bad that once, during a visit to Jen’s place, I wandered into her bedroom and quickly picked through her jewelry box, looking for yet more evidence of her secret alliance with our mother.

Eventually, I pulled myself together—partly because I didn’t want to turn our family’s business into an episode of The People’s Court. But also because I finally figured out what was going on with me: My desire to have kids, coupled with the implication that Mom didn’t seem to think I’d ever have them, was more than I could bear. I hadn’t even allowed for the fact that our mother, a kind and uncalculating person, simply wasn’t the type to keep track of which daughter was getting what.

Facing all of this (with the help of a good shrink) revealed the damnable bijoux for what they were: harmless keepsakes, of modest value and not even my style, onto which I’d projected a load of crazy. The one truly spiky, circular thing in the whole equation had been my frenzied sense of self-doubt. Thank Christ my sister was patient with me; as she says now, “In the grip of the ring thing, as I came to call it, you were in a dark place. I figured I’d better just give you some space until the fever broke, which it did.”

And then the marriage came, the babies came, even a couple of my mother’s rings came. I wear one of them, a sliver of platinum, barely visible in a stack, every day. A subtle reminder of someone I used to be.


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