One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to bind them; One Ring bought at the mall when careless schmucks can’t find them.
Summary of Part One: Suffering searing back pain after hurting myself in a softball game my wife warned me not to play, with the added mental stress of losing my wedding ring, I was faced with a conundrum. Rest up, and then admit my crimes when my wife got home from work? Or spend 12 hours on a ring quest filled with mayhem and adversity? I decided to go Frodo.
Instead of The Hobbit, I was The Hobbled. It was Saturday, so I couldn’t call the Park and Rec department to see if anyone found my ring on the softball field. I was on my own.
“DAD, WANT TO WRESTLE? CAN YOU CARRY MY TOY BOX DOWNSTAIRS? CAN I RIDE ON YOUR SHOULDERS?”
Oh yeah – not completely on my own. I had our rocket-powered 3-year-old son. As soon as my wife’s car was safely out of the driveway, I laboriously loaded Michael into the car. He was thrilled when I asked him to go to the park, but didn’t know today’s trip would not involve the usual heartwarming father/son catch.
I’ve played a lot of league softball. McCaskill Park Field B is the only small town park I have ever played on that is completely surrounded by 10-foot chain-link fences and padlocked gates. Were they worried people were going to steal the massive chunks of infield-coated bubble gum? There was a narrow gap in the fence small enough for Michael, but there was no way I was getting through without a blender.
I looked up at the fence, 10 feet looking like 100 thanks to the muscle spasms. Still, the prospect of explaining both my back injury and the missing ring to my wife seemed more dangerous. After securing Michael’s guarantee that he would not move from that spot, I began to climb the Appalachain-Link Mountain.
Every move brought a surge of pain. I hadn’t climbed a fence since I was a kid, and didn’t consider the challenge of trying to insert adult sneakers into the small footholds. I wished for my cleats, now yard-miles away in the trunk of my car, but there was no going back. I managed to reach the top without an oxygen tank.
As any kid knows, you want to propel over the top of a chain-link fence to avoid cutting yourself on the exposed wires, then bend your knees to absorb the shock when your feet hit the ground. Instead of leaping, I planned to heave myself with slightly less momentum so I could flop over and hold the top of the fence while lowering myself gently.
Here’s what did happen. My reduced launch was met with a sharp twinge that numbed my leg. As I swung my second leg over the precipice, looking like a Tourette’s Division pole-vaulter, the crotch of my jeans snagged on the wire.
RIP! I twisted violently and fell to the ground in a crumpled heap.
R.I.P.? Not quite. I remember bending my knees, but I’m still not sure what hit first: my feet, my head, or my dignity. I lay on the ground with a destroyed back, no wedding ring and ripped pants. But I was still alive, with perfectly functioning eyes and ears to witness the cackling three-year-old on the other side of the fence, full-body laughing and jumping around at the funniest thing he had ever seen in his short life. He’s 10 now and I think the record still stands.
I stood with the grace of a newly born Frankenstein monster and pulled Michael through the gap. It was difficult with him laughing so hard. I didn’t have time to be mad. I was hunched over in a public park with exposed boxers and a young child. Now I had to worry about the police too.
As an infielder I shouldn’t have had to cover a lot of ground, but since I had warmed up in the outfield before the game and was busy on the bases during it, the search territory was substantial. Once I positioned it as a treasure hunt, however, I had a willing partner. After I told Michael the bounty and that he shouldn’t tell mommy, it took him less than a minute.
Thrilled, I sprinted over to him … with the speed of a 90-year-old wearing a LifeCall necklace. It was only a bottle cap. This continued for the next hour.
“I got it!” Sunglasses lens. “Dad, come quick!” Sunflower seed wrapper. “Woo hoo!” Tobacco tin.
The discoveries were getting less valuable and more disgusting, and I felt ashamed for dragging him into this mess. We went home with sorrow in our hearts and holes in our pants. Fine, just me. Michael was as happy-go-lucky as ever.
My naked finger felt more awkward now than it had the first time I put the ring on. I had risked injury for a brief return to my glory days, but I felt like an inglourious basterd for being inconsiderate of my family and I was paying for it mentally as well as physically. The finger would have pointed at me accusingly if I weren’t trying so hard to hide it.
I must have looked Charlie-Brown pitiful when my wife got home late that night, because her infamous glare was gone and I could tell she felt bad for me. For the first time that day I remembered that my wife wouldn’t fault me for accidentally losing a physical symbol. She had reassured me when I proposed that it’s not the ring that counts, but the emotional bond. While she rubbed Icy Hot on my back, I confessed the whole story. She laughed in all the right places, which was even more comforting than the massage.
The next day, we went shopping for a new ring. Symbolic talisman or not, my wife still needed to let the world know that this limping lummox, terrific at softball but a sorry liar, was spoken for. I picked out a plain, gold band nearly identical to the original and she put it on me at the jewelry store. Standing in front of a salesperson at a glass counter is hardly comparable to standing before a man of the cloth, but we were still in the presence of God. It felt absolutely right being bonded to this woman again, for better or for worse. I had felt both this weekend.
When we returned home I put the receipt for the second ring in my wallet. Though I could barely bend over, I opened my nightstand drawer, threw the wallet on top of some loose papers, and heard a strange, metallic clang. I moved aside the papers and saw the first ring staring up at me, right where I had placed it for safekeeping.
You see, when I play sports, I sometimes remove my ring. These days, both of them. Maybe I was wrong about the significance of rings as symbols, because each time I put the two rings back on, I think about that day and I’m reminded why I love my wife twice as much as before.
 The Lord is within us and all around us, and also works Sundays from 11-6 at Belden Jewelers now that the blue laws have been repealed.