When I graduated from college, I got a job in Kansas City. Moving there from St. Louis was no big deal other than that it was my first apartment far away from home. My boyfriend, Nick had another semester and would then be going home to San Diego. We’d only been dating for about six months. He was struggling to become a pilot in a post 9/11 world. I drove the four hours back to St. Louis almost every weekend to see him. In October, he’d finally finished all of his flying courses and was heading back home. We decided to have one last weekend together. I drove to St. Louis to pick him up and we drove back to Kansas together. He would fly out of the Kansas City Airport the next afternoon.
During our last few hours we went to a nearby Wal-Mart to pick up snacks for his long flight. Right at the entrance was a display of rings, proudly displaying their price: $9.
“I should buy you a ring,” he said. Amused and pleased, I picked out a purple one—my favorite color. It was very simple. Just an emerald cut “amethyst” and a silver band. I proudly wore it every day, on my left ring finger, certain that someday it would be replaced with something a bit more sparkly. Two years passed and Nick and I maintained our long distance relationship with a trip out to see one another about every three or four months. Soon, I decided that I was never going to get him to move to Kansas, so I’d better get myself out to California. I found a job and an apartment not far from where Nick lived with his parents. It was a rough transition, but we loved being together like a “normal couple”.
His flying career was not going well. He went into the Navy—even having the required laser surgery to correct his vision, but after seven weeks of grueling Officer Candidate School, they determined that he was too tall and sent him home. It was devastating for him. He’d always dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a Navy Pilot. But we lasted through it, planning to get married some day. As soon as he could afford a ring, he’d say.
“But I already have a ring,” I always replied, displaying my $9 ring proudly. But he wasn’t satisfied with it. I wore his ring every day, taking it off at night and placing it on the table beside my bed. The silver band had changed to gold and sometimes turned my finger green. Often, I’d find it on the floor in the mornings where my cat had amused himself with it sometime in the night. But everyday, it graced my finger, holding a place for one that I knew would some day be there.
One morning, however, to my horror, the ring was gone. I found my watch on the floor by the table where I left it, right next to my ring. Assuming my cat was the culprit, I searched everywhere around it. I dumped out the trash and crawled under the bed, but still no ring. I was sure it would eventually turn up, but days later, it never had. Oh well. My $9 ring was gone. I tried not to be upset about it. It was just a cheap old ring. But I had come to love it. It was a promise that someday, the man I loved would fulfill. I was on reserve and my ring was a reminder of that. My hand felt empty and off balance without it.
My office was right near the beach. On occasion, Nick would come to visit me for lunch. One such June Thursday, Nick came up to meet me. We went out to lunch and returned to find a deserted office. Most everyone had left early, so I decided to leave as well. Grateful for my spontaneity, Nick suggested a nice walk along the beach since it was so close by. We’d been talking about a day at the beach for a while and now we had the opportunity. I took off my heels and stockings and we walked barefoot in the sand. It was a gorgeous summer day.
After a nice long walk, we stopped to look at the water. The sun was reflecting off the waves—it was beautiful. Nick stood behind me and put his arms around me.
“You know when I first started thinking about flying as a civilian?” He said. “I was at a baseball game with my uncle and I couldn’t see the scoreboard. Laser surgery wasn’t an option then so I knew I’d probably have to find some other way to become a pilot.” I listened closely as he spoke into my ear. After four years together, I’d never heard this story. “That was the first time I’d looked into colleges for aviation. I’ve often wondered why God would put this desire to be a pilot on my heart and then make it so hard. But if I hadn’t had trouble seeing that scoreboard, I’d never have looked in to Saint Louis University. And if I’d never gone to Saint Louis University, I’d never have met you.” He pulled my $9 ring out of his pocket and slid it onto my finger.
Astonished, I said, “you found my ring!”
“No, I stole your ring. I want you to be my wife.” I was speechless. Here was my ring that I was sure I’d lost, back on my finger where it belonged. He took it, knowing I’d blame the cat. He took it so that he could propose with it. He was serious! He was asking me to marry him!
“Of course I will.” We went to a jewelry store after that to get my “real ring”, which he’d had already picked out. This precious little trinket had been a promise for almost four years and he wanted it to be the ring he proposed with. It means much more to us than the 2-karat diamond that now sits on my finger. But there’s still a place for my $9 ring—it’s on the ring finger of my right hand and I still wear it every day.