18: Planet Zirconia

18: Planet Zirconia

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Here Comes the Bride

Planet Zirconia

There are many sham diamonds in this life which pass for real, and vice versa.

~William Makepeace Thackeray

When we got married, Michael was a restaurant manager. I was a struggling student and a single mother, so our wedding was pieced together like a puzzle. A simple, on-sale gown for me, a rented tux for him, and a flower girl’s dress for my daughter, Virginia, made by a family friend. The reception was at a neighborhood hall with cheesy linoleum and stained ceiling tiles. We tried not to look too closely at some of the details. The food was catered by us — the bride and groom — cooked up in our shag-carpeted apartment: roast beef slices rolled up au jus, tubs of mostaccioli, and chafing dishes full of green beans.

The rings we exchanged on that September afternoon were thin bands. Going shopping, we had settled on the cheapest ones. My band slipped on right next to my engagement ring, which Michael had picked out the year before. It was adorned with gems from “the planet Zirconia,” as my husband would jest, and it became a running joke. There was no way we could afford diamonds, not even diamond dust.

Okay, so not all the pieces fit together to create a perfect picture. But at the end of the day, we were married, our friends and family had enjoyed themselves, we didn’t run out of food, and my five-year-old daughter only lifted up her dress once during the ceremony.

And over the years, we stayed at nose-just-above-the-water level. After I finished with school, I became a third-grade teacher. Michael worked, too, but our goal was never to make loads of money. What money we did make went into Virginia and then Ian, our son. Soccer leagues. Music lessons. Braces. College loans. We started in a “starter home” and never left it. We began with simple gold bands and were still stuck with them, even though we tossed jokes back and forth for the next couple of decades.

“You know, one of these days I’m gonna get a rock on my finger to make up for all this aggravation!” I’d throw at him after he did something hardheaded.

“Well, actually, the stones from Zirconia are in higher demand than diamonds,” Michael would claim. Since I was never really that enthralled with diamonds, it didn’t matter. I liked my simple gold band. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything.

When our 25th wedding anniversary rolled around, the two of us went out to dinner. It was a low-key celebration because my mom was in a rehabilitation center. Our son was away at college. It seemed silly to spend a bunch of money on a big party just to mark something we already knew: We had weathered lots of storms but were still together.

A few months later, we were at my in-laws’ house, opening Christmas gifts. Earlier that morning, I had unwrapped some books and a sweater from Michael. Not expecting anything else from him, I was surprised when he handed me a plain, business-sized envelope. When I opened it, I read a lovely poem with such sweet sentiments about our twenty-five years together.

So blown away by the sentimental words, tears started flowing down my cheeks. I didn’t even pay attention to the end of the poem, where it said that I should ask what was “hiding” in Michael’s pocket. When he prompted me, “Ask me what’s in my pocket,” I blubbered the words. Out of his pocket emerged a small box — and in the small box was a diamond ring.

Even though I never wanted a diamond, after twenty-five years, it mattered to him. In his mind, it was important to mark the anniversary with a grand gesture.

When I look at the ring — in a unique setting to mark our quirky relationship — I try not to think of what that money could have been spent on instead of an expensive piece of jewelry. I try not to think of how overrated diamonds are. When I look at the ring, what I see clearer than anything else is how we’ve arranged the puzzle pieces over the years. Sometimes, we’ve had to search for the right pieces, to the point of almost giving up. Sometimes, we’ve had to jam the pieces together, forcing them to fit. But in the end, we’ve made it work.

~Sioux Roslawski

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