John and Jill were college sweethearts who often kidded about their names,just shy of Jack and Jill. There was sure to be an upcoming lifetime of jokes thrown their way,since they planned to be married,and had decided to give their kids J names too,like Joe,James etc.
If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.
John saved money for over a year to buy Jill the perfect engagement ring,and the date that followed her tearful acceptance took place at their favorite hangout,the Arboretum.
Specifically,the overpass above the swimming hole,where they’d spent many happy hours over several summers,sitting and talking and just being together,maybe watching the jumpers and the action below,and of course plunging hand-in-hand into the murky water whenever they were moved to do so.
The night of the proposal was their last time together at the arboretum,for John died in a freak accident just a week later,when piping from the back of a pickup truck crashed thru his windshield on I-5. He died instantly as his car slowly rolled to a haunted stop in the middle of a river of cars whizzing by.
He’d spent that afternoon with his older sister,who he’d just dropped off at the airport. She lived in Oakland,and had flown into town on a quick afternoon business trip. John hadn’t updated Jill on that.
So when a friend of Jill’s prematurely called her,to report seeing John cozying up with another woman at a restaurant,human nature kicked in and Jill became suspicious.
Initially it wasn’t a deep worry,for she and John had a very strong bond and her intuition was that there was an easy explanation. But when he was late for their date that night and she couldn’t reach him on the phone,she reached for something else. The bottle of wine she’d been saving for dinner.
What followed might be dismissed by the older and (sometimes) wiser as an act of impetuous youth,and impetuous it certainly was,but it was also life altering,perhaps more so than even John’s death.
Jill polished off the bottle quickly,and in an inebriated rage stomped in near-lockstep the ten blocks to the arboretum,ending her march at “their” spot on the overpass. Her fury hardened by alcohol-fueled imagination,she tore the ring off her finger and flung it into the misty night.
As a leading pitcher on her softball team,this assured the ring traveled quite far,and since Jill could not hear a splash,perhaps it had even landed on the spit of land some distance off.
In any case,once that was done,Jill reversed her direction and marched back home,this time less forcefully. Soon the effects of the wine were wearing thin and she was feeling regretful. When she arrived at her doorstep to her waiting parents’ tear-stained faces she knew she had made a terrible mistake.
Then they delivered the news.
The next few days passed in a grief-stricken blur. After the funeral her father hired some divers and they spent two days filtering through the arboretum muck for the ring. Friends and family combed thru the thick brush on the little peninsula in a sort-of search and rescue,to no avail.
Summer ended and Jill postponed her next school semester and went to visit a close girlfriend in Boulder,Colorado for a few weeks. Once there she decided to stay,enrolled at the University and eventually graduated. Then there was law school and becoming a popular attorney in her adopted college town.
But the ring never left her mind,not for a day,as if it had been a beloved person itself. On visits home over the years she would spend at least part of every day,rain or not,trudging thru the swampy arboretum shore. Sometimes,during especially mournful visits,she continued hiring divers.
Seventeen years passed. Jill did not find love again;perhaps she hadn’t looked or wouldn’t have noticed if love stared right at her. Aside from her grief of course,was a powerful sense of guilt and regret. She’ll tell you now those concerns caused her self-esteem to wallow in the cellar.
Sometimes clichés are clichés because they hold such a perfectly put simple truth. Perhaps Jill felt she didn’t deserve to love again?
In her late thirties Jill took a job at a Seattle firm and bought a little bungalow in Madison Park. This put her right back in the center of the ring (no double-pun intended). It was intentional. She knew,whether she did it herself or got help,that she had to deal with the obsession.
Two days after arriving she took a casual walk to the arboretum. It was sunny but cold,and there were few other visitors. The stretch of park where the ring might have landed is off the beaten track and thru thick underbrush,so one has to have a reason for being there. Usually that means a couple of lovers have found a private spot,or somebody has their dog off leash. Sure enough,this day Jill ran right into a tall handsome man,looking for his dog.
Again,sorry about the clichés,but if a story has them they must be used. Yes,they literally ran right into each other. And,to get it out of the way immediately,his name was Jack.
I won’t go off the deep end and say it was love at first sight,because it wasn’t. Jill was still Jill. But I will say it was “like-a-lot at first sight”. They laughed at their meet-cute and sat down on the shore to watch some kayakers. The dog,a big fluffy Newfoundland,found his slobbery way back,and the three of them had a very pleasant visit,which stretched until evening.
Jill says this was the first time in years she went hours without thinking about the ring.
Over the next few days,and then weeks,they dated. Jack was a widower at 45,a professor at the University,with the dog as his only family. There was a shared sense of tragedy with them,but they didn’t dwell on it,or even bring it up much. Jill mentioned,but did not go into details about,the ring,and Jack didn’t offer much about his wife’s illness and death. Maybe there’d be time for that in the future?
As it turned out,there would be time,because they fell deeply in love. Jill ended her two-decade long search for the ring without noticing it. Visits to the arboretum became joyful times with her partner,who then became her husband. When they went to the shore where they’d met,her association of the place became him,not the ring.
While it would be pushing it to say that Jill was eventually grateful for her long-ago recklessness,clearly the profound love she had in her life now was directly related to that.
That might even be the perfect way to end this story.
But the better ending is what really happened. On their first anniversary,the couple took a picnic and the dog to the spot where they met. As Jack gallantly kicked a few pebbles out of the way so his wife could have a comfortable spot to sit,something popped into the air from under a rock.
It was the ring.
They both knew it right at that second,but the events of the past year had so diluted the discovery that all Jill could say was:
“Well,what d’ya know?”
Then she placed it in her pocket,and they had quite a nice dinner and lovemaking spell there on the sand.
By Peter Hansen