I know this place. Through the back door, over the small wooden bump in the ground of the doorway, onto the cool, smooth surface of our kitchen floor. I can feel the gloss of our table beneath my soft, warm hands and the sharp corners where I so often bumped my head as a child. I sit in my favorite of our five white chairs. The back leg wiggles a little as I sit, just as it has always done.
Flowers adorn the table, a myriad of colors and sizes, a reflection of our family, bold and bright. I glance at the coal stove piled with breads and ripening fruits in the colorful bowls my mother has collected over the years. I think of my mother, standing beside the sink, eating a ripe nectarine. The juices slowly pour over her slender, boney fingers. Another bite, and the sweet, cold liquid moves further down her hand, covering her ring–a bright gold band with a large black stone in the center.
I remember looking at the ring as a child, wondering why all the other mothers had diamonds on their fingers, while my mother chose to settle for this plain, black stone. It didn’t sparkle in the light. It wasn’t worth any money. It didn’t make rainbows when the sun moved through it in just the right way. It was so ordinary.
I knew she deserved more. My mother, who had kept the monsters away in the middle of the night, who had made every birthday special, and every wound heal. My mother, who I knew understood everything about the world and who I loved more than anything in it. My mother, who was my hero and my confidant and my best friend, had only this black, commonplace ring. It made me so sad for her.
As a young girl sitting in her lap, I wrapped my fingers around the stone. It felt so round and smooth beneath my small fingertips, like hardened silk. It was cold in the warmth of my hand, but inviting, like the relief of soft rain on hot summer days. I wanted to dance in her ring the way I danced in the rain, fearless and free. I looked up into her eyes, into her infinitely dark pupils. My face reflected back at me in their darkness. I smiled, and returned my gaze to the stone.
Years later, I found myself on a pebble beach in England, in the small town of Budleigh Salterton. I wandered down over the pebbles, making my way to the quietly breaking waves. I picked up a dark stone from beneath my naked, aching feet. Passing it from hand to hand, I rubbed it against my soft skin, feeling the weight of it move between my fingers like the tide; back and forth, back and forth. It held secrets I would never know and answers I could never find. I stared at it for a while, delighting in the depths of its wisdom, and then I smiled, and threw it back into the waters that had made it shine.
As a teenager, on a cliff overlooking the lake, I unfolded my sleeping bag to prepare for a much needed rest. I stared up at the night sky in silence, admiring its beauty and intensity. It was so dark, so deep, so endless. I wondered if it felt as round and smooth as the stone in my mother’s ring. I looked at my friends beside me, wondering if they felt the comfort that I did in that moment. I wondered if their mothers had rings that shined like the ebony sky. I wondered if they too, felt home. I sat there staring upward, breathing deeply, wondering, as I drifted off to sleep beneath a blanket of burning stars.
When my mother came to visit me for the first time at college, I looked down at her ring as we ate lunch together. It was different than I had remembered. It didn’t seem so plain, so ordinary. I looked up into her eyes. I thought about how beautiful she looked at that moment, how beautiful she had always looked.
I looked back at the stone. It was beautiful, like my mother. It was as dark and vast as the pupils of her eyes, as the night sky in the wilderness, as the depths of the endless ocean, as the pit of the nectarine she devoured with such tenderness between her sticky fingers. The black stone was simple and graceful and dignified. The black stone shined.
My mother isn’t like a diamond. She isn’t sharply cut with limitations and borders. She isn’t transparent, relying on light to fill her. My mother is full. She is round and smooth, solid and endless, whole and complex. She is filled with wisdom and love. She is strong. She is a stone.
Sometimes I wander barefoot outside, feeling the soft ground beneath my feet, the give and take of the soil as I make imprints of my toes. I pick up stones as I go, passing them back and forth between my hands, matching their smooth curves to the slant of my fingers. I look at them in the palm of my hand. I see my mother’s ring. I see the depths of her eyes. I smell her scent in the soft wind. I feel the comfort of her love as we embrace.
I know this place, I think to myself, and I smile, knowing that I can always find my way back home.