It’s the kind of cheap metal ring made in Hong Kong that behind handprint smeared glass sits waiting with Chinese finger puzzles, bouncy balls, and Tootsie rolls to be bought with thirty or so arcade tickets. It was pink, originally, with concavities around the band to reflect light, making a two-cent product look more luxe than it could possibly be. Little girls flock to those rings, I know now, because I have a little girl.

Little girls and seventeen-year-old girls in the heady swirl of first love, that is. That high school boy didn’t pick it out for me; we were simply together at the miniature golf course and arcade when I happened to choose it with my tickets. The logic of some seventeen-year-old girls must, as far as I can tell, go something like this: if he’s with me when I pick it out, the object takes on a bit of his essence (magically!), and therefore it is a prized possession representing our time together and his commitment to our relationship, yadda yadda, QED.

In time the ring came off, sooner rather than later. I tucked it in my boxes of jewelry from my youth, and it sat with Minnie Mouse earrings, a Christmas charm bracelet, a necklace made of a whole walnut in its shell painted to look like a pumpkin from my Girl Scout leader, and myriad other relics from a childhood gone past. The pink ring itself I all but forgot about and numerous times, too, though in moves I would see it now and then always with surprise and with a phrase that could be intoned a variety of ways, and was over the years: “Oh, I remember that.” I rarely purge my things, and in anticipation of my daughter who might one day decorate herself with such baubles, I kept the ring.

Sure enough, Katie found it, played with it, and then it managed to sit atop our red wall shelf in the hallway that leads to the garage for about a year. It ended up back with my jewelry somehow after that, and I didn’t see it again until my son Eric got ahold of it toward the beginning of this summer.

Ever since he became aware and talkative, he has asked about my wedding and engagement rings. He wants to try them on, but: “Oh no, I’m sorry, Eric. I never take those off. Daddy gave them to me when we were getting married, and I will keep them on for always.” Eric knows that his daddy is my best friend, that I will love Bill forever, and that “married” means always being together.

So Eric did what Eric does, in the sweetness that characterizes most of his decisions. He married me. He took the pink ring, put it on my index finger two away from Daddy’s rings, and married me. And in the past few months, I never take it off.

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All the pink has worn away, and the dark grey scrapes of use show. But I never take it off. Rings on more than one finger on a single hand is a style I like for myself sometimes, but it’s not the classic look which I often prefer. But I never take it off. It hardly stands up to the pool water, and sand, and long run sweat, and cooking, and gardening this summer—but I never take it off. He’s watching, you see. That I wear his ring means I want to be with my Eric for always: he knows that. He talks about the ring he gave me. He notices. “Who gave me this ring right here, Eric?” And in his young four-year-old voice, he always answers, “Me!”

When I swim laps in the early mornings after my daily run (really, really early now, since Bill leaves for work at 6:55 AM at the latest), I find myself thinking about many topics and landing frequently on this ring. As the laps go by—25…50…66…80…100—I find myself marveling at how a single object can change so thoroughly in symbolic meaning. It meant one thing, years ago, and now it means another.

It also has the symbolic meaning, therefore, of changed symbolic meaning. The symbolism becomes nicely recursive this way. A symbol of a symbol of a symbol…and here is 200 more chlorinated yards done, as everywhere I am surrounded by blue.

I am tempted here, of course, to delve into semiotics, Ferdinand de Saussure, the way meaning derives from signifier and signified, the objective vs. subjective and their relationship, and how meaning evolves or is constructed and reconstructed over time, but then I think it’s enough to say for now: my son’s pure and magic heart imbues this object with a meaning quite different than ever it had. What is this process by which we imbue meaning? Or do we imbue it? Where does meaning come from (and is come from even an appropriate term here)? Or is there any such thing, in reality? I am currently obsessed with these questions. The ring means, now, not only the bond that he and I share; but also this ring means that, if we are lucky, we get to evolve from the people we once were and learn what it means to live and love truly for the happiness of some little person’s mighty heart, a person who looks up at you with absolutely unconditional eyes and has every reason to believe that all love is like that in return.

As I write, Eric is sitting beside me in bed. I read and write often on Saturday mornings, public or private, while Bill watches our children. I usually read to Katie for about half an hour before she goes down to Daddy, having been awake reading my own books for awhile. After she leaves, I start writing, and Eric usually is so excited to play with his sister that he does not miss me. Part way through this entry, he came into my bedroom and is cuddling beside me. I am giving him kisses frequently. I sought his input, too, after telling him my topic this morning.

“What does this ring mean, Eric?”

“It means I love you.”

I love you. It’s so clear and easy for a child’s heart. Nothing could be so bright and simple as to love. I hope he always feels that and knows it.

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Eric on his fourth birthday, August 8th.

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His little heart is love… He wanted to help make biscuits the other night. It was his idea to cut them into heart shapes, for love, he said.

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My beautiful boy

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He asked for a cheerful rainbow cake for his birthday. This is so him.

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This series was taken at Newport Beach before his birthday and his haircut. (He asked a few months ago to grow his hair long, “like Rapunzel’s.” Sure, why not, buddy? But then he started not liking it in his eyes and asked to have it cut on his birthday with Boppa). Here, he had just caught his first fish on his drop line. He had caught sting rays previously, and we threw them back. He was, however, crystal clear about wanting to eat his fish…which was surprising. Sure enough, he helped to cook it. The rest of us had some bites, and then he had all of the rest and even licked his plate, he loved it so.

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Glee.

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Eric’s favorite hobby lately has been to take anything apart. I mentioned to him a week ago that anything that has a screw can pretty much be taken apart. “You can find out what’s inside things,” I said. He has been an unstoppable force of curiosity since. We took apart an old telephone together and reassembled it to be a “trick phone.” Then Bill gave Eric an old computer stack… I come by to see new computer parts in Eric’s wigwam in the living room quite frequently. There are often screws in various places on the floor—watch out if you use bare feet in our house!

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My astronaut, Commander McGaugh

This is the boy who married me, well, one of the two. I have no doubt his father was very much like this, too, growing up. I see this magic in Bill’s heart and mind, and in his sweet blue eyes.

Yes, I will love you forever, my Bill. Yes, I will love you forever, my Katie. And yes, I will love you forever, my Eric. I never will leave you, not really, not even in my age.

I wear your ring to show you that promise.

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