The urinal's tale
By David Feela
The ring glittered like a handheld star, its opal on fire with a radiance pulsing from within the stone. I’d found a box that fit such a tiny present, and I’d even sliced a piece of foam with my pocket knife to fit the box, so the ring would perch inside it like a professional jeweler might have had it displayed, all this without a jeweler’s price tag.
Then I sketched my own greeting card with stick figures, crafted a pun-nishingly romantic sentiment for the panel. I was new to this writing business and our marriage was still in its formative years, but I am happy to report the tradition of giving a tacky card has persisted now for 38 Valentine’s Days. The year of the ring might have been number three. I’m not sure. I certainly don’t remember what I wrote, but I know the stick figures were naked and doing something slightly obscene, a style received so well the first time I tried it, it too has become a tradition.
Over the years, she saved the cards in a shoebox she stashes, let’s just say, in a place I hope no one else ever discovers. And don’t ask her where. She has sworn an oath that if I die first, she’ll bury the whole lot. Should she go first, I’ll toss them on the pyre even before I nudge her casket in.
One other detail about this early romance I was hesitant to mention at the time: I’d found the ring in a urinal at the high school where I taught English. Some teenager, I presume, had broken up with his girlfriend and tossed it there in disgust, a fairly expensive but apparently disposable token of their love. I finished, flushed, and lifted it out with my toothpick. I couldn’t believe my luck! And if you can’t go on reading until I add this, then yes, I threw the toothpick away.
“This is beautiful!” was the first thing she said upon opening the present.
“Where ever did you find it?” was the second thing.
I still believe that love should be grounded by honesty, but back then as she slipped the ring on her finger, a hundred lies lined up in my head like mercenary soldiers, ready to storm love’s citadel. They were simply waiting for orders.
“Would you believe I found it?”
She nodded. I was, after all, the same guy who crushes aluminum cans for recycling, buys his clothing at thrift stores, has never purchased a new car, and carefully opens packages he receives, so as to reuse the wrapping paper or carton. The guy who once strapped a three-drawer dresser (missing one drawer) he’d found beside an alley dumpster to the back of his 750cc Kawasaki and hauled it home, all the way from Durango. What could be that unusual about finding a ring?
I hoped she’d just accept it as another found thing, one of the mysteries of love. Nobody should have to understand love as if it were a science. There are no proofs, only hypotheses. Every day is a further investigation.
“Unbelievable,” she replied.
I pictured myself at that moment as a modern-day Chaucer, narrating the urinal’s tale, while we pilgrimaged down a muddy lane. Not a pretty picture. And if the public could see what Valentine’s Day looks like at any public high school, parents would lock their children up. It’s really part farce, part drama, but mostly pure desire and disappointment. The secretaries’ office from opening to closing bell is crammed with floral deliveries, cards, candy and stuffed animals, all waiting to be received by anxious and unsuspecting hearts.
At least one boy at the high school where I worked would not be having a happy Valentine’s Day. His identify and his tragic story, due to more than sanitary circumstances, have been hidden from me, which is likely what he prefers.
I could have, maybe should have, let the question of “where ever did you find it?” go, buried the entire provenance under a metaphorical bushel basket, moved on toward a passionate embrace, but I decided to use the same approach which has served me for four decades: the truth.
“Okay,” I said, “perhaps there’s something you should know before you get too attached to the ring.”
“Is it a long story?”
“Yes, and a dirty one at that.”
David Feela is a retired high-school teacher who writes from Montezuma County, Colo.