Paul has told me on more than one occasion that I can get an upgrade on my engagement/wedding band someday--all I have to do is ask.
Indeed, compared to the beautiful settings and platinum bands of my friends, my wedding ring is rather simple. First of all, it's gold. I apparently didn't get the memo that gold was out back in 1999, but I don't know anybody else my age who wears a gold wedding band. Not even my husband---and we're supposed to match.
The second supposed issue with the wedding band is that the karat is small. And by small, I mean it's somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of a karat. An attempt has been made to conceal the size through the setting, but it's not fooling anybody.
Paul bought the ring at the local Kay's Jewelers. He had left the military two months earlier, and was taking classes at the local community college while making ends meet with two jobs. He spent his days working with traumatized veterans at an outpatient mental health clinic, and his evenings driving a truck, picking up donations for a thrift store.
The mental health clinic was right across the street from a methadone clinic, and people would wander in occasionally, quite agitated, and perhaps needing some counseling of their own. But the addicts' demons came from the needle, not the battlefield, and Paul would send them on their way.
At the time, the clinic treated veterans of the first Gulf War, and a handful of Vietnam veterans. The issues ranged from family counseling, to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress-Disorder), to addictions counseling. I often wonder how that center is functioning today. Surely, they must have needed to hire more staff, and add more chairs to the waiting room. All those demons. All that pain.
Paul's evening job was note-worthy because Paul was the only employee that did not have a criminal record. Paul would load up the truck with members of the Aryan Brotherhood or various gang bangers. On especially magical evenings, both!
Paul is a quiet man to begin with, and he was quite happy to do his job, and keep his head low. While my husband is not a wimp, he just didn't see the point in arguing with a six-foot, two hundred and fifty pound ex-convict. Especially an ex-convict that told Paul, right off the bat, "I get really angry when people try to tell me what to do."
This was the context of Paul's life while he was shopping for my engagement ring. He found the ring, and set up a payment plan of $50 a month. He paid these payments for the entire year of our engagement, and occasionally had to work extra hours to make it work. I was a second year teacher, pulling in a salary around $23,000 a year. Times were tight.
How did I know that things would change? How did I know that Paul and I would be successful in life? When Paul talked to those veterans, he looked each patriot in the eye, listened to their stories, and treated them with honor. Despite the fact that he worked long, evening hours with former felons, Paul never complained, and never deemed himself "too good" for honest labor.
I'll always remember one evening with Paul. We were at a happy hour with some pretentious folk. One of them said, and I forget the context of the conversation, "It's like being a lumberjack. I mean, have you ever met a real lumberjack?" He spoke as if the concept was ludicrous. And I suppose, if you went to Dartmouth and never found a brie you didn't like, it was.
Paul took a sip of his beer and said, "Yes, my grandfather. And my uncle. And my aunt. Good people."
He didn't have to say anything else.
This man---who truly listens, who hates snobbery above almost anything else, who works hard, without complaint---inspires me to do the same.
I will never upgrade this ring.