Discover more from Hugo Schwyzer
Four Lost Rings: Divorce, Metal, and Memory
Two quick notes:
First, mama: there is a sexual reference in this story. Be advised!
Second, if you like this writing, I would be so grateful if you’d consider a subscription for yourself or as a gift. It makes a huge difference.
December 1992 Sherman Oaks, California
In an office near the top floor of a high-rise, Alyssa and I sit together on a green corduroy couch. It’s been five months since we separated, and two months since we started seeing Pam, our therapist. Today is our last session.
Alyssa came to Pam hoping to save our two year-old marriage. I came to Pam hoping to find a safe place to make it clear that the marriage was over.
Because he who wants it less always wins, I won. By Thanksgiving, Alyssa has accepted the inevitable. There is one last bit of unfinished business. The rings.
When I left her in July, Alyssa begged me not to take off my wedding band. I’d agreed. Though I could have slipped it off my finger anytime I wasn’t with her, I kept it on. When you’ve failed at virtually every obligation of marriage, it’s satisfying to have one request you can honor.
“Are you ready, Alyssa?” Pam asks.
Alyssa nods, already on the verge of tears, and takes some papers out of her purse. She takes a deep breath, shoots me a brief, pained glance, and begins to read.
My dear Hugo, today is the day I am ready to take off our rings. I am ready to let go of you as my husband. I am ready to stop thinking of myself as your wife. I will not fight any longer to preserve what is gone, and what maybe never really was.
First, though, I want to tell you what this ring has meant to me.
She begins to tell a story, starting with the day we bought the matching gold bands. My chest gets tight, and as her narrative moves to the wedding, my tears begin to flow, matching hers.
Do you remember when your brother couldn’t get the rings out of his pocket, and at first we thought he was joking, but they were really stuck? I laughed because it meant I was meant to wait one extra minute to be your wife. What’s one extra minute, I thought, for a lifetime?
And on it goes like that, for ten wrenching minutes, both of us sobbing, sharing a box of tissues. I look, and Pam is crying just a little too.
The letter comes to an end. Alyssa puts it down. She looks at me, and says, “I’m ready. Can we… I’d like to do it together.”
“Yes, please. I’d like that.”
There is no ceremony for this. We slip off our rings at the same time. Alyssa drops hers in her purse, I put mine into my pocket. There is a moment of almost unbearably painful silence, and then we burst out laughing.
She hugs me. I hold her tight for a few seconds. We will never touch again.
Six months later, I will sell the ring for $30.
June 1996, Pasadena, California
I am inside Ali, and we are lying on the floor of the storage closet. We are fellow residents in a sober living in East Pasadena. I moved in six hours ago, met Ali three hours ago, and first kissed her 30 minutes ago.
Six hours in a sober living, and I’m already drunk on my favorite drug of all.
I am also on the downslope of a second marriage, to a woman named Sara. A month ago, Sara threw me out after I relapsed. I’d been hoping to save the marriage, but now an alternative vision is opening up before me.
Ali and I have not had time to take off many clothes. Her skirt is bunched around her waist, her underwear pulled to one side. My shorts are no lower than my thighs. Urgency wins out over comfort.
Ali spits in my face. It’s playful and arousing, and I grab her wrists to pin her. Ali’s look changes.
“Wait a second.” She looks at my left hand holding her wrist. My platinum wedding band is still there, which is understandable, given that I only decided to end the marriage about five minutes ago. Ali pulls the ring off my finger. My knuckles are swollen, and I yelp as she yanks it off. My knuckle starts to bleed.
She tucks the ring in my shirt pocket. “If you want to touch me, keep that where I don’t have to see it.” Ali runs her fingers under my shirt, digs her nails into my back. Her South Carolina accent grows stronger. “Hurry up sugar man, it might be last call.”
I drop my mouth onto hers.
That night, I put the wedding band in a dresser drawer in the tiny bedroom I share with two other guys. The next day, I call Sara and tell her I want a divorce. The day after that, I have a drug-induced psychotic break at 4:00AM. I destroy the sober living common areas with a baseball bat, slash my body with a broken salad dressing bottle, and swallow all my medications.
I’ll spend another two weeks in the hospital. When I come back to the sober living to collect my things, the ring is nowhere to be found.
October 2002, Pasadena, California
On our first date, Elizabeth and I ate Indian food. On a Thursday night, we’re back at that same restaurant we first visited two and a half years earlier.
Everything about that first date in February 2000 was easy. We got each other’s jokes, shared each other’s worldview, felt a nearly instant kinship. Elizabeth and I were engaged six weeks after we met.
We did have kinship, but our bond was more sibling than sexual. As dazzling as our conversations were, our physical chemistry was non-existent. Maybe, we thought, sex isn’t all that important. We are so perfect in every other way, we said.
You can’t cheat Eros. You know how this story ends. The mercy was that we ended it after only little more than a year of marriage.
On this October afternoon, we’ve gone to see a lawyer about filing the divorce. We’ve filled out some paperwork, written a check, and then walked to New Delhi Palace.
“Mild, medium, or spicy?” The waiter hovers.
Elizabeth and I look at each other.
“Spicy!” We say in unison. The waiter is suspicious. We are so white and so preppy; we don’t seem like the types who would want spicy. But oh, how we do. It is our sweet, sad, little joke that the couple that can generate no heat in the bedroom share such an intense enthusiasm for almost unbearable fire in the kitchen.
We’re halfway through dinner when Elizabeth puts down her beer. “Let’s do this,” she says, and without waiting, pulls off her platinum band and her engagement ring. She slaps them down on the table. I pull off my band and put it next to hers.
We toast to the divorce. We look at the rings, and I feel a twinge of sadness, but only a twinge. I remember taking off the rings with Alyssa. This is ten years and a world away from that. “Thank you for making this so easy,” I say to Elizabeth.
She raises an eyebrow. “What were you expecting? Drama?”
Elizabeth pats my hand. “Drama wouldn’t be us, Hugo.”
There’s our charm, and there’s our tragedy. We eat well, and take our own rings when we go. A year later, I lose the ring in a move.
July 22, 2013 Beverly Hills, California
I am in the midst of the worst mental breakdown of my life. Eira has discovered the first few of my affairs, and I know she will soon find ut more. She has thrown me out.
I am living in my car and showering at the gym. That’s not the worst of it. I am starting to hear things again, voices that aren’t there.
Eira still wants me around the children, and on a Monday afternoon, I’m playing with my 14 month-old son in his room. The thoughts that have been intruding for weeks suddenly burst through, and with complete calm, I realize I need to jump off the Vincent Thomas Bridge later that night.
I kiss my son’s forehead, and walk out to the living room where Eira is working. I tell her I need to be hospitalized right away. “We’ve only got a few minutes,” I say. I know from experience that it might be less than that.
There’s no time to drive me. Eira calls 911. She tells the dispatcher that her ex-husband is suicidal. It is the first time I’ve heard her call me either of those two things.
Heloise and the nanny walk in the door, home from a play date. I kiss my daughter. Part of my brain is full of blood and fire, part is still placid and paternal. Eira hangs up, speaks to the nanny in Spanish, and the nanny and Heloise go to my son’s room.
Eira and I walk outside. We say nothing. The calm part of my brain was 50%, and now it feels like 25%, dwindling away. I have a vision of running into traffic and getting killed. Go away, bad vision, I’m a dad.
I hear sirens. Two squad cars and an ambulance approach, stopping half a block away. I’ve been through the procedure enough to know why. They don’t want me to get spooked.
The fire and blood has 90% of my mind now.
A clear thought comes, and I hand Eira my wallet. She hands me back my driver’s license. As the cops slowly approach, I slip off the wedding band too. “Take this too,” I say softly. She nods.
“Sir, would you mind raising your hands for us?” an officer calls out.
I raise ten naked fingers to the sky.
“Abba, come here!” Heloise calls from her room. I walk in and find my daughter and her brother holding hands.
Something gleams on their fingers. Heloise has her mother’s wedding band, and Chuchi is trying to keep mine from falling off. I haven’t seen those rings in three years.
“Where did you find those?” I’m astonished.
“Ima keeps them in a drawer. She says they’re for us when we’re older.”
Memory is a funny thing. It is only now that I remember handing my ring to Eira as the cops closed in. I’d assumed I’d lost it in the hospital, and as someone who has mastered the art of losing to a heartbreaking degree, figured it wasn’t worth mentioning to Eira.
“We’re getting married!” my son declares. Chuchi is very proud to be his sister’s groom, and nothing would be more unnecessary than to tell him it can’t be so.
Heloise reads something in my face. “Don’t worry, abba. We’re not getting married for real. It’s just pretend.”
“So why do you need real rings if it’s just pretend?”
Heloise purses her lips. “Because the best pretends are always with real things.”
An earlier, shorter version of this story appeared on Medium in 2016.