1989: An Engagement Ring

Today at the mall, instead of walking past the toy store so I can visit Malibu Barbie, we immediately walk into Littman’s jewelry store.

Dad says to the clerk, “Hi. My wife wants a marquise diamond. Could you show me something nice?”

While we’re waiting, I notice that Littman’s is special because you don’t have to walk in a door. The store carpet and mall tiles join together. Separated only by several large rectangular marble pillars. I lean against one of the cool pillars and notice how the white grey marble swirls together with the darker grey parts. One day you will build your whole house out of marble. It will be a castle. And daddy can live there too because he loves marble so much.

The salesman pipes up, “Okay sir. This is a one of our most popular one carat settings in 14 karat gold.”

Dad nods his head, “Beautiful. How much does that one run?”

“It’s $8,188.”

Oh my gosh. I’ve never seen $8,000. How could we ever get that? Is that what my mom needs to be happy? Will this make her love my dad and want to live with us?

Dad assures the man, “That’s not bad. I could buy it today.” Patting his pocket, dad says, “ I have the cash on me now, but I want to make sure this is the one my wife really wants.”

Later that night, Dad calls California from our motel efficiency room. It’s another temporary place to live while Dad waits for an unemployment check. We’ve been here for a month now after the owner of a motel a few miles up the road kicked us out for not paying rent.

I lay belly down on the bed beside Dad while I color on the back of a hotel brochure so he won’t realize how much I want to listen to their adult conversation.

Dad pulls the beige rotary motel phone from the nightstand to the bed, “Deborah? It’s Thomas.”

Mom’s high pitched voice is easy to make out. “Tommy? Where are you calling me from? Where’s Jenny Penny?”

“We’re here in Lake George. I got us a nice efficiency.”

After doodling all over the brochure, I pull out a picture taken 2 years earlier, when I was 6. It’s the only picture I have of my mom; she’s holding me and beaming. We are seating around the convent kitchen behind 3 enormous lemon meringue pies that my dad baked.

“Oh ok. Well I hope you are not feeding Jenny Penny candy and soda.”

I glance back at our small table where dinner awaits: two Slim Jims, a pack of Twizzlers and a Crunch bar. We don’t drink anything but soda. Usually grape, cream, or root beer. 

Dad assures her, “Nah. Don’t worry about that. I called to tell you that I found the diamond ring that you want today…the marquise.”

“Thomas, get real. You don’t even have the money to buy a decent car. You’re not going to buy me a diamond ring.”

“No Deborah, listen to me. I know that you still love me. I can always tell by your voice. I took Jenny today and we saw the ring. I already spoke to the man about it. It’s $8,188. But don’t worry, I will have the money.”

I turn the picture over. I take a black felt tip pen from the nightstand and write 8188 on the back of the photo. This is our new goal.


“Come on Deb. Come home and I promise to make everything right! See you’re crying. I knew that you still loved me.”


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