The Ruby Ring

Ruby Ring People of the Mind

What is freedom and what does it really mean? 

If freedom is the right to act, speak, or think as you really want without ‘hindrance or restraint’; if it means ‘the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved,’ then no, you are not now, nor have you ever been really free.

None of us are.

Even if we feel mostly free, each of us carries the limitations we have been taught and we may not even be conscious of it.


Let Me Tell You My Story

I was only nineteen when I became pregnant with my first son Nicolaus. I have keenly felt the limitations that are inherently put on us as a society, and particularly as women.

Technically a teenage pregnancy, most people felt I was throwing away my future, not just because I was having a baby but because I was not married. My great grandmother cried for me.


Secretly I felt proud of my decision to snub the patriarchal status quo knowing I walked to the beat of a different drummer, but the reality was I would not be returning to college in the fall. I WAS, in fact, throwing away that version of my future and what it would have held.


But, it was almost metaphysical for me, the certainty that I would have this child. I glowed with power and life. Overnight I became laser-focused on working and preparing.

Having bought a crib and most everything a baby could ever need with my little salary, my mother gave me some advice. She told me I better buy something nice for myself before the baby was born because I would never be able to again.


I pictured a life of wearing bathrobes and curlers as I put my child on the school bus each day, a cigarette hanging out of my mouth…

But maybe my mom was right. Maybe this was going to be my last chance to spend money on myself for the next twenty years.


So I bought the ruby ring in the jewelry store window I walked past every day to get to work at the bookstore. I had been admiring it for months.  A round ruby surrounded by several small diamonds, two rubies on the side, set in gold.

It was a decadence, possibly representing the last nice thing I would ever own.

For me it was freedom, my birthstone wrapped up with the birth of my first child, fire, independence, and hope for the future.  


I loved that ring, worn on the wedding ring finger of my left hand.

My promise to myself. 


But, it soon was moved to the right hand as a little diamond from the man who would soon be my husband replaced it right before Nick was born, both of us swearing to ourselves it was true love. 

Instantly I was redeemed; my son legitimized by the gift of his last name



We didn’t have enough money to keep the electricity on in the Ohio winter, we survived on mac and cheese made with water which we shared with the mice who lived with us.  The day came when my young husband asked me to hock the only valuable thing we had - my ruby ring. 


I agreed because we were desperate, but I made him swear to me we would get it back.

If you have never been so poor you had to sell your own blood, or pawn your stuff I’ll explain that the pawn shop gives you (generally) 30 days to pay back the money to get your item back. Kind of like a loan, but more like a ransom to free your loved one. You have thirty days to pay or you’ll never see them again. 


We left with $250 and the bitter gall of disappointment and shame poisoning my insides. Although that ring fed us and got my son diapers, I wanted it back. 



It was practically miraculous when we walked back in, nearly 30 days later, to reclaim my ring.


We got her back but three of the outside diamonds were missing. When I pointed this out the attendant said I got ‘ripped off, it was a piece of crap ring’. 


My ruby ring was broken, damaged, possibly even worthless which was exactly what I had allowed myself to become by putting my future and wellbeing (along with my son’s) into the hands of a careless man.


To me, my ruby ring was fire and strength, those lost diamonds her long-suffering. She had been traded for a fraction of her worth, sold into an uncertain future and been broken there… but now she had returned to me.

You may have guessed that marriage did not last long. 



The power of those instilled beliefs, ingrained so deep they were nearly unconscious, cost me freedom:


  • My mother’s belief that a woman sacrifices all to her children (and husband), that you will never have anything for yourself again. 

  • My father’s belief that children need a man’s name in order to be legitimate

  • My great grandmother’s tears at my ruin, thinking a single mother and her child face nothing but tragedy. 

  • My own embarrassment about my sexuality believing I was somehow promiscuous or ‘unusually sexual for a woman’. 

  • Being told if you are pregnant you have to drop out of school. 

  • My family’s belief that a woman’s value is wrapped up in her marital status and her ability to be a mother.




I tell you this story about the unconscious beliefs instilled by my family and my culture that cost me personal freedom because I want to show you it’s happened to you too.


Maybe your story, on the surface, is very different from mine but if you look closely and you are honest you will see where other people’s beliefs have cost you freedom in your life. 


We are limited as women or men, by the color of our skin, by our occupations or social status, by our behaviors or lack of behaviors, by our religious outlooks, our reproductive choices, our relationship status, accomplishments, our wealth… 


We all have our own ruby ring. 

Our own symbol of innocent hope for the future that somehow got pawned and broken, sold and traded to survive. 



If freedom is the right to act, speak, or think as you really want without ‘hindrance or restraint’; if it means ‘the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved,’ then no, you are not now, nor have you ever been really free.


But you can be. 


You just need to get your ruby ring out of hock.



What is YOUR personal ruby ring?

Leave your story in the comments below.

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