Pearls for Christmas
When I asked Tia what she would like for Christmas this year, she surprised me and without hesitation said she wanted a pearl ring. That's easy, I thought. Over the years I've seen plenty of pearl rings in pawn shops as I shopped for precious stones. It has never mattered to Tia where a ring was purchased. What matters most is that I put some thought into it.
During one of the very earliest of our 33 years of marriage, I hadn't bought anything for Tia and had to leave a Christmas Eve party to rush to the mall where I frantically scampered through a store looking for something I could give. The red velvet hat I gave her that year was very much unappreciated. The story of the red hat is retold every year to my shame and embarrassment.
Since the year of the red hat, gifts that have been the most troublesome to obtain have always been most treasured by her. She loves to hear how I struggled to find just the right item and the agony I endured during the procurement thereof.
I spent an hour or so roaming around pawn shops but found only very ordinary pearl rings. Running short of time, I returned to Goldmaster Designer Jeweler in downtown Spartanburg. This retailer has managed to outfit Tia at my expense with pieces of jewelry each Christmas for the last several years.
“Hello, G.R.” Reena warmly greeted me as the electronic doorbell announced my annual arrival.
“How's Tia?” she asked? “And the children?”
Her husband Julio flipped up his jeweler's visor. “We've been expecting you,” he said with a wry smile.
“Are you looking for anything in particular?” Reena inquired.
“Tia's made it easy for me this year. She wants a pearl ring.”
“She's a size seven.” Reena's memory was amazing. “We have several nice pearl rings in the estate section,” she said as she escorted me to the front showcase.
I like the challenge of buying jewelry for Tia. I've always considered each item carefully. I value uniqueness, perhaps to excess as evidenced by several items which to this day remain out of view in Tia's jewelry box, never having been worn in public past the day on which they were gifted. I pondered whether any pearl ring I might choose this year may be destined to the same fate, lying cold and unloved in a felt-lined drawer instead of drawing heartfelt warmth from her finger.
In the estate section, there were two appealing rings similar in cost, both far beyond the pawn shop prices I prefer to pay. One had two eccentric swirls of gold caressing a largish pearl with a tiny diamond off to the side. I liked the simplicity of this design where the diamond was subservient to the pearl. The other ring had a gold braided band and a column of rubies on either side of the pearl. Both were unusual, and I worried that each would be a bit too unique to be liked by Tia. I couldn't decide which, if either, to purchase. And then I had an idea.
“If it's OK, I'll take pictures with my SmartPhone and let my daughters help me choose!” I snapped close-up pictures of each ring on Reena's finger, who insisted that she hold both rings for me until I made up my mind. She labeled an envelope with my name, placed the rings inside, and tucked them in the safe as we said goodbye.
Alicia was the first to see the pictures and without hesitation asserted that Mom would like the swirling pearl and diamond combo best. A few days later when I showed the photos to Alayna, she insisted that Mom would prefer the pearl ring with rubies.
I resolved the impasse with a philosophy I espouse when choosing from a selection of entrées on a buffet line: given a choice between beef and chicken, I'll get both! Life doesn't always have to come down to “either/or” choices. Sometimes “and/both” is an option.
And so, with a flourish of irrationality and extravagance akin to the “What the hell, let's do it!” philosophy of my dear friend and hiking buddy David Whisnant, I resolved to buy both rings to give to Tia, anticipating that at some point in the distant future each daughter would inherit the very ring she had chosen for her mother.
Genius! Except this time genius had its price, and that would be paying near-retail for two rings. I could only hope to soon forget the agony of paying so much money for mussel irritants.
I was greatly delayed in my purchase, not because of a shortage of funds, but a shortage of time. You see, on October 29 th , I had taken Tia to the Emergency Department of Spartanburg Medical Center with a ferocious headache. She had four CT scans and three MRIs during a ten day hospital stay, eight of which were in the Neuro ICU with a drain inserted into her right cerebral ventricle. Even after all this, there was still no firm diagnosis. With massive doses of steroids and other risky medical procedures, the headaches had relented sufficiently for her to come home on November 8 th . I looked after her tenderly until another headache severe enough to render her disoriented and lethargic drove us to the Emergency Department at 2:30 on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 17 th . Between 1-2 am, December 18 th I watched in horror as Tia gradually became unresponsive and was intubated. Sometime shortly thereafter, the Tia we know and love must have departed, leaving only a beating heart in a body ventilated artificially. The events that followed are too painful to recall here, except to say that Tia's EKG flattened for eternity at 4:47 pm on December 18 th as I was caressing her precious forehead. Daughter Alayna sobbed while clutching her left hand. Tia's sister Theresa gently squeezed and stroked her right hand.
What happened thereafter, although quite recent, is already muddled in my mind. Overwhelmed by the loss of the person I love more than any other and perhaps more than myself, my anguish was interrupted by thoughts of medical bills in amounts that I could not imagine and expenses for cremation and a memorial service at costs which I could not fathom. As I pondered all the unpleasant obligations and uncertainties of dealing with an estate, my thoughts returned to issue of the pearl rings. What should I do? What I would say to Reena who was still holding two rings for me? Now that Tia is gone, was there any need to fill her final materialistic request?
My two-ring strategy so cunningly made had assumed that Tia would live, at least through this Christmas of 2014. The neurosurgeon and neurologist had suspected that she had brain cancer and our research indicated that even in the worst case we'd have perhaps a year-long battle that would include chemotherapy, radiation, and perhaps surgery. But we were all wrong; Tia lived less than two months from the time of her first hospitalization.
On what I hope will be the saddest Christmas morn I ever have to experience, each daughter opened a present tagged for Tia. Each discovered the very ring she had chosen so confidently for her mother only days ago.
My dear daughters, when you see your mother's pearl ring on your finger, I hope the joy of recalling her wonderful life exceeds the memory of the pain surrounding her premature departure. Let not these rings lie often in darkness. Instead let those pearls, born of water, and christened that morning in our tears, remind you of the everlasting love of a husband for his wife and of a father for his daughters.
GR Davis Jr.
24 December 2014