The Lost Claddagh Ring of Playa Juanillo

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESToday’s date is October 4th, 2018. If, while combing Juanillo Beach outside Punta Cana, Dominican Republic or snorkeling or just wading around, you’ve found a man’s ring matching the one pictured (that’s a golden Claddagh design with a woven, encircling braid over a platinum band), with an inscription on the inner band that reads S.L.B. to E.M.E. and the date March 2nd, 2002 within, oh….1-60 years of today, please contact me through emerdelac@gmail.com. It has great sentimental value. It’s the ring I was married in, you see, and I wore it as I held my three children for the first time. I’d love to know it turned up.

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If you’ve happened upon this ring at some later date, maybe in the far flung future….well, you might be wondering what the story is behind it. I put this up as a courtesy. I don’t know about you, but I dislike untidy ends and unresolved mysteries.

IMAG3644I’m Ed Erdelac, and I write under the full name Edward M. Erdelac, to differentiate myself from my father, who is Edward Gerald Erdelac.  As of this writing I’ve done thirteen novels, and short stories all over the place, a couple times for Star Wars, if that’s still a thing. If this is a complete digital footprint, you can see all that elsewhere on the page. I set out to be rich and move mountains, but I’m just about the most outwardly unlucky person on the earth. You will probably think me losing my wedding band after it riding sixteen years safely on my finger is evidence of this. Here I am, pictured the day before. The ring is out of frame and I am blissfully unaware of the disaster impending. It was actually my birthday on the 28th. Hah!

IMAG3669I lost it clowning around in the waters off Juanillo Beach. It was our first trip out of the United States. My wife was a bridesmaid and we accompanied a dear friend and her family on a big honeymoon excursion to the Caribbean.  Funny enough, the bride joked to my wife to go and check on her new husband, see if he had lost his brand new wedding band yet. We’d had about a half-dozen pina coladas a piece and were just horsing around. I was trying to master a paddle board when my wife waded up, wearing that red swimsuit pictured here, and with a look of shock and a bright smile, held up her hand and pointed to her wedding band.

It took me a minute to figure out what she was trying to say, then I looked down and saw the white stripe where my ring had been since the day we’d married at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois during a blizzard, surrounded by a handful of our closest and most steadfast friends and family at the time. I’ve spent nearly seventeen years with that ring. Sure I’ve taken it off, but it’s never fallen off. I’ve swum every day of the summer with my kids and it hasn’t slipped off. I’ve surfed in Los Angeles and it stayed with me.

I sobered immediately, no longer a besotted Bilbo, but a mumbling, wide-eyed Gollum. I got the groom’s snorkel and mask and went to my hands and knees. I think I must have spent thirty minutes crawling along the bottom of that stretch of beach, clawing at it with my hands, praying to God it would somehow show up, knowing it wouldn’t, the only sound my own breathing and the occasional invocation of ‘Jesus.’  Today my back is lobster red and starting to raise into boils. I tried like hell to find that thing you’re holding.  I sifted through the muck of sargasso piled on the beach for another ten minutes, until the excursion guides from our hotel, the Al Sol, told me we flat out had to go. They took pictures of my wife’s ring, assured me that would keep an eye out for it.

I was the last one to leave the beach.

My friends consoled me, telling me we could get a new one made, they had connections to good jewelers, etc.

We’re not well off people by any means, so the monetary loss is almost as significant as the sentimental one. I have no idea what it costs to make a ring like that today. I’m not a successful writer by any visible measure. I think, if you’re reading this from the far future, it may be a more difficult feat to find a copy of one of my (lucky) thirteen novels than it will have been to have extracted this old wedding band from the piles of wet sand at the bottom of the Caribbean, or under eons of Dominican beach.

But, that’s who I am, or who I was. I liked telling stories, and this was the story behind that mysterious ring.

IMAG3674Oh also, my wife and I designed it. We wanted a Claddagh and a winding knot to represent the interconnectedness of our two lives, how we were weaving them together.  Claddaghs only came with a plain band. Funny enough, on the boat ride out to Juanillo, we explained all this to the groom. We were proud of the design. Moreso because we had a guy in Los Angeles make them for us, and a couple years later Seth Rogen’s character in the movie Pineapple Express gave it to his girl. When my wife Sandra stopped in the jeweler’s later, she saw the musician Vince Neil pictured with one behind the counter.  She asked in amazement if that were our design, and the jeweler sheepishly admitted it was. I guess he thought we were gonna sue him or something, but we just sort of laughed it off. It was a good story to tell, and I like telling stories, like I said.

Now let me tell you the best story out of this whole thing, which is not a story I told, but the story my wife told to me as I sat tearful and crushed on a rowdy bus of drunks heading for Hoyo Azul, The Blue Hole, a 300ft deep subterranean pool at the foot of an I-don’t-know-how-tall cliff at Scape Park, our final destination that day.

I had wanted to give those rings to our grandchildren someday, and I had, in my mind, ruined it.  I’d lost a precious heirloom and though I didn’t say it to her, I felt like the whole incident was emblematic of how I had regarded my marriage and my life up to that point. I had taken it for granted, not paid it enough attention or appreciated it, and it had slipped away.

I’m not a great husband, you see. I’ve never been unfaithful to my wife; this isn’t that kind of story. But in my heart, I have been selfish, or self-centered. I live out lives in my mind. I daydream. And between worrying over those inner worlds, and raising three kids, and just occupying my time with trivial things to wind down, I think I am very often a neglectful husband. I am sometimes short tempered, and befuddled by the world. I half-listen, and I miss things a lot.

But this I heard.

Sandra told me that our marriage wasn’t a piece of jewelry. She said that when she came out in the water to pester the groom and then saw the lack of ring on my finger, she was only sad an instant. She looked at me, and at the ocean around, and the waves on the beach, and instantly accepted that it was gone. Even as I started cursing and snatched the groom’s mask and snorkel and dove into the water, she knew I would be there till the bus left, because that was how I was, and what I had to do. She resolved not to interfere, but was already going over in her mind how to replace it.

She’s practical and unflappable like that, and that’s maddened me and others around her in the past, but we’re all wrong.

On the bus later, holding my hand across the back of this pretty Brazillian guy taking endless selfies with his just as pretty boyfriend, and much later at a dim outdoor restaurant, she told me, in answer to my sobbing lament that I had wanted the kids to have our rings, or their kids to have them, she told me the rings were just metal, and we put too much worth into material things. What matters is the stories behind them. The stories are how our children will remember us to our grandkids. Stories remembering love with humor and irony and affection and even sadness; those are the things our descendants will treasure, long after the last person to touch that lost ring is gone.

So we got off the bus and we held hands and walked through the jungle, and one of the bridesmaids told me we could have a party and renew our vows when the new ring’s made, and that now we had a reason to return here, and I said, “Yeah, with a metal detector.”

Sandra said we will melt down her ring and use a portion of it to cast the new one for me, so it’ll still be the sixteen year old metal that we joined our lives with symbolically.

Sandra’s story is a better one than mine, even though she’s never written a book yet (she’d probably nail it if she did). She grew up in the housing projects of Chicago where she had nerve damage in one ear from some kid shooting off a pistol too close. She lost her mother at sixteen, had a son by a boy who didn’t stay around, her father went off elsewhere. She raised herself, and her son Jonathan, got her GED, and a university education around the time we met. Early in our marriage she got her Master’s, and she spends her days as a Marriage and Family Therapist opening a heart as big and warm as the Dominican sun to total strangers, helping them sew their lives back together like the interwoven band on our wedding rings. I actually learned over the weekend that the bride, her first boss here in California, hired her having been impressed by her story. She handed out custom made robes to her bridesmaids, with nicknames she had given them. Sandra’s is ‘Bootstraps.’

She’s the strongest, loveliest, wisest woman I’ve ever known.

And that’s why, despite all my outward misfortunes, despite being an unsuccessful writer and losing my wedding ring in the ocean, I’m the luckiest man alive.

We dove off that whatever it was height into that icy blue water, the cleanest I have ever known, which the guides told us could turn back the clock ten years if you stayed in for a half an hour. When I came out, the hurt over that lost ring was fading a little, though today its imprint hasn’t quite faded from my finger.

I have not lost our love, after all, just a ring. My wife Sandra Lynn Botello is the queen of my heart, and I keep her inside, as the two hands of the Claddagh touch the crowned heart of the ring.

So if you’re reading this from the future and we’re gone and you’ve found this ring, I hope it brings you joy. Buy yourself a good life with it if you can, or give it to someone who matters to you. Tell them the story behind it, and make a good story with it going on. It was actually Sandra’s idea to post this all over the place. She said I should leave a good digital trail for whoever finds it in the future.

So pass this around.

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Hasta luego.

ADDENDUM:
(I’ve got an update to this post now….read here)

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