Memoir Monday: The Secret Sparkle Society

Some people at work got engaged or married over the summer, I wrote in my journal on the first day back to school that August. Engaged and married people are aliens—not bad aliens like Neil Clark Warren, just different. They all walk around with flashing rings and seem to have a tacit understanding among one another. The maddening part is that they make it seem easy.

Note the vacuous expression. Fucking alien, obviously. What is she looking at? The mother ship?
Note the vacuous expression. Fucking alien, obviously. What is she looking at? The mother ship?

Seeing a woman’s sparkling solitaire always crushed me. The diamond meant that she’d joined a secret society of women who no longer had to worry about being alone forever. I remained on the periphery, afraid: What if every relationship turned out to be wrong?

All signs pointed to me never becoming a giddy, diamond-ring-sporting, newly engaged woman. First, there was the obvious unsuitability of all my previous boyfriends. Obsessed with Czech military aircraft? Check. Offered me his dead mother’s wig? Check. Unwilling to purchase engagement ring because of supposed moral opposition to abysmal working conditions in South African diamond mines? Check. Willing to spend money on pot, but not on car repairs, the electric bill, or clothing other than plaid golf pants from the 1970s? Check.

Then there were my hands. Even if I were to meet a marriageable man, I couldn’t wear an engagement ring. Nature gave me an official stamp of weirdness; I was born with a hand deformity that needed several surgeries to correct, leaving me with thick scar tissue and a vague feeling of mutancy.

After I had been dating Gills-and-fins for a few months, a colleague met him and said she “just had a feeling” that we’d get married. “You know,” she told me, “since you don’t wear rings now, you should at least go get sized, and buy a cheap one, to get used to the feel. You should be prepared.” She looked at me pointedly. “I think he’s the one.”

Taking her advice, I headed to the mall one winter day for a romp around the jewelry stores. My intentions were innocent, but I felt as if people nearby were looking at me and knew the truth, that I wasn’t a bride-to-be. I stopped in two stores and got sized at each, but left unsatisfied. It wasn’t my size I was after. I wanted the right to try on shiny rings and watch the light dance on their perfect stones without feeling that I was a fraud. I wanted the right to feel beautiful and loved. I hoped that the next store I entered would change everything, that my fingers would suddenly become slim and perfectly formed, the kind of fingers befitting platinum and diamonds.

When I spied a salesperson standing idly behind the counter at Helzberg, it occurred to me that maybe a woman needed another woman in this endeavor. I did the well-practiced casual walk by the counter of diamond solitaires until she asked me if I needed help.

“Oh,” she said, when I explained my hand surgeries. Interested, she took my hands. “Well, if you’ve never worn a ring before, then I am honored to introduce you. Are you looking for an engagement ring?”

“Not yet, but hopefully soon.” I smiled weakly. My heart pounded.

“You’re a seven,” she said, twisting off the sizer. “Would you like to try some on?”

Immediately, I broke into a sweat. Perusing Modern Bride at the grocery checkout, or browsing the latest dresses online, was one category of deceit. Getting sized for a ring was slightly bolder. But actually trying on a diamond ring seemed like outright fucking with destiny. In my twisted psyche, trying on an engagement ring guaranteed that the very next day, Gills-and-fins would either dump me or meet one of many horrific ends I could imagine. Would he get flattened by an oncoming train? Whisper his last words of love sweetly as he expired from blood loss, having been gored in the loins by a bellicose boar? Waste away from a pernicious cancer? Or worse, in retribution for my intellectual snobbery, suddenly start saying “nucular,” thus rendering himself completely unmarriageable?

It took a tenth of a second for all of those scenarios to flash through my brain, during which time I smiled and said, “Yes.”

The parade began. Angela, as she introduced herself, was having fun. She put on bands with many little stones and bands with three big stones. She put on round shapes and princess shapes and marquis shapes and pear shapes, skinny bands and fat bands. It was like we were best friends giggling and experimenting at the makeup counter. Only we weren’t giggling. I was sweating profusely and had a pounding headache. And we would probably never see each other again. Other than that, it was like we were best friends.

The psychological equivalent of me wearing a diamond solitaire
The psychological equivalent of my wearing a diamond solitaire

The truth was, I was faking it a little for Angela’s sake. The more rings we tried on, the more discontent I became. Every time she shoved a ring on there, it was like putting a collar on a ferret. I just wanted to get the thing off. She said I could get used to the feeling. Maybe, but I couldn’t stand seeing the gorgeous, high-grade diamonds looking so out of place on my misshapen stump of a finger—an uncomfortable reminder that I would never, as hard as I tried, be accepted as a member of the Secret Sparkle Society. I figured that even if I ever managed to get engaged, I’d probably forgo the ring.

By the time Angela finished and handed me her business card, I was exhausted from sweating, concentrating on shiny objects, taunting higher powers, and loathing myself. Only one cure for that kind of exhaustion—ice cream! As I treated myself to some Oreo gelato, my head was still throbbing, but my mood began to improve. I sighed with pleasure as my blood sugar spiked, positive that no diamond could possibly be as fulfilling.

That mall trip was six years ago, and now, as I sit here wearing a lovely, modest wedding band on my index finger, I can say I’ve learned two things:

1. Ice cream IS way more fulfilling than diamonds.

2. If you’re weird and alienated from others when you’re single, after you get married, you’ll still be weird and alienated from others. But you’ll have a partner who understands you and buys you ice cream. So it all works out.


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