flashback, part 101 of n

It was December 1988 when I received it. I don’t know why you got high school rings halfway through your junior year, but I considered very carefully and then chose 10K white gold, the only one in my class not to choose yellow as far as I know, and an aquamarine stone. It arrived just in time for the holiday season, and the combination was perfect for clear cold December nights. It looked like a piece of starlight on my hand.

More than that, it was a promise. It was a sign of greater things to come, the idea that I would graduate with honors and go away to college and finally get to have everything I was told would be possible once I got that scholarship and got out of high school. It had 1990 on the side – a date to conjure with, a new decade, a future worth waiting for. It felt like the thing that had been missing from my hand from the time I was old enough to think of college. It was my very own Infinity Stone.

And then.

It went missing in my dorm room in September 1990. I couldn’t find it for a couple of weeks, and it felt like God telling me that the old days didn’t matter, that my high school couldn’t help me now. And when I did find it, I still felt like that was true. And the magic was gone for a while. Only at Vanderbilt, when I could wear a class ring on each hand, did I start to feel like there was something there.

Time passed. I ended up with a Vanderbilt ring on one hand, and kept that as validation of some kind of smart, trying to pretend like I’d accomplished something there. But that silvery blue was always in the back of my mind. And when the time came to start dating the woman I’d marry, I put it on a chain around her neck. And when I gave her an actual ring, I got mine back – and that was the ring on my other hand the day we married.

Because it’s the only real class ring I have. The undergrad ring is obviously never going to be a thing again. The Vanderbilt ring is good for when you have something to prove, but it feels more like a species of cosplay than anything else, given the circumstances of my departure. The high school ring is the signet of the best public high school in America, and of the Redneck Hogwarts it was before that, and of two state championships in Scholars Bowl and hallway swivel chair jousting and two waterguns on your person and disco breaks in class and feeling less like a freak than I ever had to that point – or ever would again before Vandy. I earned every bit of that. I wanted every bit of that. I am every bit of that.

I’m not the lean whippy 160 lb troublemaker of days gone by, and I struggled with getting it on my finger last holiday season, and so last week I went to a jeweler and paid $225 to have it resized to fit. And so it does. I frequently find myself wearing it at Christmas time, partly because it looks seasonally appropriate under the velvet night sky full of stars the way it did in 1988. But also because it reminds me of who I was, and how far I’ve come in 30 years. Nashville, DC, Silicon Valley, London, Tokyo, Ireland, National Geographic, Apple, iPhones and hybrid cars and major league sports and AirWair boots and vintage flannel caps and friends and comrades and love.

Resized and cleaned, it still looks like a piece of starlight on one finger. It looks like the best of the past and something approximating hope for the future. It looks like the thing that, for decades, has been missing from my hand. And hopefully it can again be a talisman of better days to come.

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