by Debbie Hagan

When you’re eleven, it’s all about the accessories…the fishnet stockings, the go-go boots, the leather shoulder bag, the gold hoops. Now, the birthstone ring… amethyst, ruby, emerald, sapphire, diamond.

You know right away when a girl has one. She waves her little pink hand with little pink fingers and little pink nails under your nose. The band winks in the light, purrs, Look at me…real gold.

What do these fathers do for a living? 

At home, you dig in the dirt mound behind your house and find a beer pop-top. You tear off the tab and slide the ring part around your finger. You pretend it’s silver, studded with rubies that sparkle in the light.

Your finger reddens and swells, and you panic thinking you might have to wear it to school. Fortunately, soap loosens your fake ring—yet its impression stays.

When the 1967 Sears Wishbook arrives, wedged in your mailbox, you sneak it to your bedroom and find an entire page of rings with emeralds, sapphires, opals. But the prices…$19.95 to $69.95.

You are allowed one special Christmas gift, but this is extravagant. Still you keep wishing until the ring page becomes wrinkled and tattered.

A few weeks  before Christmas, your mother asks, What would you like? You show her the Wishbook, page 204, and point to the pearl ring…just $6.95.

Your mother stares at it for a long time, saying nothing. It’s too much to ask. But she doesn’t say no.

You dance in your bedroom. You stand before the mirror, fluttering your ring hand, picturing the gold glinting under the lights at school. When Christmas vacation is over, you’ll shove your pink hand with its pearl ring under the noses of those popular girls, and, just maybe, they’ll let you sit at their lunch table.

A week before Christmas, you panic. Mom never measured your finger. Does she know your ring size? What if she gets one that’s too big…or too small? Will Sears take it back? Or will you end up with a ring that you can never wear?

Christmas morning, you and your sisters dive head-first into the shiny wrapped boxes. You tear at ribbons and papers, throw them this way and that. In one box, you find a scratchy wool sweater. In another, a garter belt with two pairs of fishnet stockings. In another, flannel pajamas. In yet another, The Best of the Cowsills. You look around, but no ring box.

You blink…take a deep breath…you will not cry…you will not. You turn to your mother, seated on the couch, and force a trembling smile. Mom pushes her lips together, looking coy. Her green eyes sparkle, and a grin spreads across her face. She chirps, “Well, maybe you should check your stocking.”

You leap like a deer, flying over presents and ribbons, landing at the fireplace, ripping the  stocking from its hook. Your hand plunges deep inside, edging past the nuts and oranges, going deeper and deeper, until you find…the ring box! Your smile pinches your cheeks. Your heart thumps loud and fast, and you’re choking from glee.

Off goes the paper. Up goes the lid. Into the box you stare…and stare....What is this? It’s not a pearl, nor a gemstone, but a brownish-pinkish rock mounted in a soft silvery metal.

“Try it on,” yells Mom.

You try not to cry. But it’s too big.

“Just squish it,” Mom says. “It’s adjustable.”

You squish and squish until your finger throbs. Your eyes burn, and you feel the rush of tears, but you cannot cry. Your mother tried. You must be grateful for that.

Alone in your bedroom, you study the salmon-colored rock. It will never shine. It’s ugly and clunky…just like the girl who’s wearing it. Even a pearl ring can’t change that.

You throw the rock into your dresser drawer. You give up on rings until a sweet boy in high school buys you one with a diamond chip. It glints and shines—makes you feel lovely—until you realize that a ring such as this comes with promises you cannot keep.