I can’t believe you love me
I never thought you’d come
I guess I misjudged love
Between a father and his son
The Last Song, Lyrics by Bernie Taupin
(c) 1992 Big Pig Music, Ltd.
I once had a beautiful engagement ring. I loved it because of the stories it told. The stories began even before I received the ring.
The ring told a story about integrity and honesty. It told a story about the power of love to persevere even when the object of the love rejects it altogether. It told a story about the strength of addiction and how it can turn honest people into criminals. And finally, the ring told a story about redemption and the impenetrable strength of a parent’s love for his child.
Will you Marry Me?
The ring itself evolved over time, as does love itself. In the beginning, it started as a 1/4 carat marquise diamond. It was Christmas 1982. In November, at a pledge dance, Billy and I, both drunk and sloppy, decided to get married. We were sitting at a table with other drunk sorority sisters and their dates. I remember him looking at me through bleary eyes fueled with love and lust, and asking me if I wanted to get married. I laughed and said yes. That was it. No romantic dinner at a French restaurant. No ring at the bottom of a champagne glass. No billboard. We both knew what we wanted.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Billy’s mother went to the jewelry store to pick up the ring. Instead of giving her the 1/4 carat ring he had bought, however, they gave her a 1/2 carat ring instead. Billy told her to keep it because it was the store’s mistake, but Billy’s mom would have none of it. Billy had paid for a 1/4 carat ring, and to keep the larger ring would be stealing.
The jewelry store put her through the ringer when she tried to return the wrong. I guess they thought she was trying to scam them. First, they made her come down to the store instead of sending someone to get the ring. Then they made her wait while the store’s jeweler examined the ring. Here she was, returning the wrong ring — a larger, more expensive ring — and they treated her like a criminal. How ironic when it was her honesty that brought her back to the store in the first place. But that is Billy’s family– honest. Integrity cannot be bought by a diamond ring. You have to do the right thing in such situations; that’s all there is to it. Billy knew that too.
I learned about this later, as the ring itself was a surprise. I had an idea it might be coming, but I was not sure. To camouflage the present, Billy gave me a sewing machine for Christmas. He put the large wrapped box under the tree on Christmas Eve. I must admit, I was a little disappointed. After Billy went to sleep, I went into the living room to admire the Christmas tree. I’ve done that since I was a kid and still do it!
Anyway, I looked at my stocking, which was empty, but it looked a little lumpy. I reached down into the toe of the stocking and felt a small box.
Will you Marry Me, Again?
Fast forward to 1993. Billy and I had gotten divorced and were getting married again. We had a very small ceremony at a friend’s house in Deltaville. Unbeknownst to me, Billy had gotten the ring re-set. When the minister took the ring out of the box, I noticed he raised his eyebrows. He then smiled and apologized, saying that he was surprised at how beautiful it was.
It was beautiful. Billy had the original diamond reset in a new band. The band was wider at the top with emerald cut diamonds channel set on either side of the original diamond. I loved this ring.
Better to have loved and Lost
When I was pregnant, I couldn’t wear the ring because my fingers got too fat. I kept it in my jewelry box instead. One day, some time after Guido was born (I guess I still hadn’t lost the baby weight) I noticed the ring was gone.
We never knew who took it. It could have been a neighborhood kid or someone working in the house. Many people had access, and I never thought much about the possibility of theft. To make matters worse, when we switched insurance companies, we had not taken out a personal articles floater with the new company, so there was no insurance to pay for a new ring.
The children were young then; we needed to spend our money on our family rather than jewelry. But I missed that ring.
This next part will help explain why I wrote Have Mercy on the Criminal.
Back in 1987, Billy and I got custody of his son from his first marriage. His name was also Billy, but when my children were born, they started calling him “Brother” and the name stuck. Brother was about 8 when we got custody.
I will be the first to admit I was not a very good stepmother. I learned my parenting skills from my parents, who were very strict, and in the case of my father, controlling and unreasonable. But I didn’t really understand that when we started to take care of Brother. I thought being strict was good because it taught self-reliance. I didn’t think that kids should have everything handed to them.
Billy had been raised just the opposite. His parents were extremely generous, especially when it came to their only grandchild.
As you can imagine, our competing child-rearing philosophies created conflict between Billy and myself. It was one of the factors that lead to our divorce.
Brother graduated from high school in 1997. We went to Radford for a semester, but dropped out after one year. He moved to Mechanicsville, near where his mother lived, and worked various jobs, including as a waiter and in general construction.
The Downward Spiral
It was strange to me that even though he said he was making good money, he never had any. Billy would lend him money from time to time. We put this down to poor money management.
Most of Brother’s jobs seemed to end in some kind of controversy, which was never Brother’s fault. He moved to Texas for a job, and then came back with some weird story as to why it did not work out.
Then he got arrested along with his then-girlfriend. I don’t remember the charges. We paid for the lawyer. It was a difficult time for us emotionally. Billy was beside himself with worry.
Brother seemed to get his act together, got another job, and another girlfriend, and then things seemed to go well for him for a while.
Then the pattern started over again. No money and suspect stories as to why things went wrong for him all the time. It was never his fault. There was always a grain of truth in there somewhere, but we knew we were not getting the full story. We just didn’t know what the full story was.
Then things got worse for Brother; much worse. He got arrested for breaking and entering, several times. One time his mother was in the car. He had long since lost his driver’s license, so he had asked his mother to drive him to his employer’s house to pick up his paycheck. Or so she thought.
While she waited in the car, he went into the house. Instead of getting his paycheck, he took some jewelry. His employer’s wife caught him red handed.
Somehow, he got out of that scrape, only to get arrested later for stealing from someone else.
Why did he steal when he supposedly made such good money? Only one reason makes sense now.
Heroin. He was addicted to heroin.
He stole jewelry from me, including an aquamarine ring my mother had given me for my 50th birthday. He also stole the cubic zirconia I had bought to replace my stolen engagement ring.
We found out later he had stolen money from his grandmother and blamed it on a friend. He even stole the coffee can that was used for DFM. DFM was a game invented by Billy’s parents. They had an ancient coffee can full of coins. Every time a grandchild visited, he or she was invited to stick his or her hand in the jar and grab a fistful of coins. Grandma would count the coins and give the grandchild the same amount in paper money. Then the coins went back into the can for the next visiting grandchild. The game was called “Dive For Money,” or DFM for short.
Brother spent time in jails in Hanover and Fairfax. He was no longer allowed in our house; we changed the locks.
Brother had gotten off easy for the first couple of offenses. But he spent almost three years in prison for the last offence.
At first, Billy was furious with him and refused to visit him in jail. Stealing from his grandmother was the last straw for him.
Eventually Billy relented and started to visit him once a week, which was all that the Richmond City Jail would allow. He brought him clothes and food and funded his account at the jail’s commissary. Billy visited him faithfully every week until Brother was released.
While in jail, Brother took advantage of every program the jail offered, including a recovery program, writing workshops, and even yoga. He’s out now and living in a half-way house. He says he never wants to go back to jail. I’ve encouraged him to start his own blog as a way to help others like him.
We are hopeful he will make a fresh start. Heroin has a high recidivism rate. We will provide the support he needs. I would willingly give all my jewelry if it would ensure that he stays clean.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but love is much stronger.
And the weight of the world is off my back
When we fell, we got up
And crawled out the cracks
Excuse me if I take some comfort in that
Happy today, happy to play
With the weight of the world off my back
Weight of the World, lyrics by Bernie Taupin
© 2004 HST Management Ltd./Rouge Booze, Inc.