I took off my wedding and engagement rings about three weeks ago. Something had bitten me on our vacation -- right under those bands. So I wrestled them over my knuckle and carefully secreted them away in a zippered pocket of my purse, where they've sat ever since.
At first I was intermittently aware of the spot where they used to be. I had a band-aid around it for awhile so that the swollen, bitten place could heal. Then the dry, chapped skin around that area called attention to the missing band for awhile. It was like a red, discolored negative impression of the ring that used to be there.
Gradually the finger healed. Now the negative impression was the opposite -- it was the place where my skin was lighter than the rest of my hand, not as tanned by the sun. I also noticed the missing rings less often, although there was one reliable time when I was always brought up short by their absence. In the morning when getting ready to leave the bedroom after getting dressed, I would frequently notice in the mirror that I had neglected to put on my watch and earrings. The bareness of my left wrist always seemed to highlight the bareness of that hand.
Today I reached in that pocket and put the rings back on. It was startling how easily they popped over the knuckle and back into place. I'm used to having trouble getting them on and off, leading me periodically to worry about whether I'm gaining weight or need to have them resized. And then once on, I felt them intensely for the next half hour. My left hand felt abnormally heavy. I caught the glint of the metal and the stone every time the hand entered my peripheral vision.
I like having them back on. I felt periodically bare without them, like I was inviting awkward questions about my marital status -- like I was a failure, where the rings had previously announced a life accomplishment. In the movies, taking off the wedding ring is a sad admission of an ending, a ploy to entrap someone, a triumphant return to independence, or a moment of guilt akin to turning a picture facedown before doing something you shouldn't. Something of all those emotions seemed to be mixed up in my ring's absence, imported wholesale from those pop cultural meanings without regard to their lack of relevance here. I often joke to students who get married that they are now part of the club -- the married people's club. Without my rings, I felt like I'd lost my password to the club, even though nobody else even noticed as far as I could tell. Now that they're back, there's an unexpected satisfaction -- a wholeness I had barely even registered as missing.