Once upon a time, I gave Tommy a ring.

He was eighteen and about to move away to college; I was seventeen and about to be left behind. It seemed like the sort of life event for which one might reasonably give mementos. Also the sort of life event that would enable the recipient to avoid one for the rest of his life, if it turned out that one was bonkers and really shouldn't have done that.

This was terrifying. I did not have a good track record with sentimental gift-giving. Affection was weaponized in my house; there was the obvious Pavlovian conditioning in effect, and also the sort of profound narcissism that led my 'loving' parents to more or less ignore whatever I did unless it suited them to pay attention.

In grade school, I once gave another girl the other half of those matched-set "best friend" necklaces. She looked at it rather skeptically, awkwardly said thanks, and I never saw it again. Important lesson here: If your parents have to tell you that you're best friends, you probably aren't.

(I complained to my mother that I didn't have any friends. She told me I didn't need friends. She never had any friends, and she turned out fine! Then she launched into tales of the things she got up to in high school. With her friends.)

The ring I got Tommy was a claddagh. Mainly jewelers push them as wedding/engagement rings, but traditionally they're used as sort of general tokens of attachment. The heart is for love; the hands, for friendship; and the crown, for loyalty. The design is unisex and his family is as Irish as mine is, so I thought it would be appropriate -- or, at least, about every third thought was that it would be appropriate, interspersed with all the thoughts that I was mad for thinking anyone would want to remember me after they successfully left me behind, and that I was making an utter fool of myself for pretending otherwise.

Given the DEFCON 1 levels of terror involved, it was not my brightest idea to try giving him the thing in the middle of the auditorium after a performance. I was maybe not good at planning as a teenager, come to think of it.

The best result I thought I could expect was that Tommy would accept it graciously, throw it in his luggage, and every once in a while run across it in the back of a drawer somewhere and spare a thought for me. I bought myself one, which I fully intended to wear; I could get away with that, I figured, because Tommy wouldn't be around enough to notice or think it was weird. I'd already long since gotten used to quietly thinking of someone as a friend from off in a corner, where I couldn't bother them with it, and I didn't owe anyone an explanation for my choice in jewelry.

This, as it turns out, was wildly uncharitable to Tommy. Probably the best commentary on why is to note that he did wear the ring I gave him, right-hand, emblem facing out. Most references will spend half a sentence admitting you can use claddagh rings as tokens of friendship before giving all the various meanings in terms of single/dating/engagement/marriage, which annoys me no end. Tommy wore his in the fashion they say means you're single, despite at the time having a girlfriend (not me) and a best friend (in retrospect, very definitely me). The real meaning is "my heart is open" -- that is, that you welcome new people, and the possibility of new attachments.

That was one of my first concrete lessons in the fact that perhaps my parents were bonkers, and perhaps I was not a completely unlovable loser. The original set of rings have long since been lost somewhere, but Amazon does have a selection of them, and I do have a debit card.

(Moggie, if anyone is wondering, gets cat tchotchkes, and books on murder. It's weird, but hey, whatever makes her feel loved.)

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