Back in August, I related a couple of remarkable events from my life and mentioned a few more (see this post). Today being Halloween, I thought it would be a good time to tell another one of those stories, one that qualifies as a legitimate ghost story. It's an experience that made me stop being an atheist and turned me into an agnostic.
I've been married three times, the first time to a woman named Katherine when I was too young at 21. We met working at the same restaurant in Victoria, though she was a Vancouver gal at heart and we eventually moved to Vancouver before getting married so that she could attend Emily Carr and I could start my undergrad at UBC. When I proposed, Katherine wanted me to do the traditional thing and ask her Dad's permission. I wasn't crazy about it but agreed, and when I asked him he answered by giving me his wedding ring and saying I should use it to marry his daughter. This was Keith, an immense man of Scottish heritage, with Popeye forearms from working as the owner and skipper of a couple of different commercial fishing boats. He couldn't wear the ring while working on the boat, "So you might as well use it."
We had a big, traditional wedding and I indeed used the ring. Now we need to flash forward about four years. Katherine has graduated Emily Carr, specializing in computer animation and graphic design. She got a job with a start-up creating interactive computer kiosks for tourists and the like. I was at UBC, having started a Masters degree in Forensic Psychology. We'd been living on a boat moored at a marina on the Fraser River in Queensborough for a few years and life was okay but not great. It then came out that Katherine has been having an affair with her boss at the start-up, and so we got divorced. No kids, I keep the boat, she keeps the car - relatively amicable and easy.
A month or so goes by, and one summer night I was sitting on the stern of the boat, having a beer and a smoke after an evening up at the marina pub playing in a weekly darts tournament. It was calm and warm with a fat moon, and my gaze regarded the wedding ring that I was still wearing, Why was I still wearing it? I didn't want her back, I was glad it was over. It was true that I liked the ring and liked wearing it, but it was time to move on. Impulsively, I took it off and threw it in the river. I can still hear the splash and recall the spreading ripples through reflected moonlight. "Good riddance," I thought, my beer buzz keeping me from thinking about the wisdom of that decision too much. As a recovering alcoholic, it's very instructive now to notice just how often that happened in the past, the buzz helping things slide without examination. Throwing away my ex-father-in-law's ring in fit of pique is definitely an example of it.
Time went by. About a year later, I met a new someone and, some time after that, I moved in to her place and sold the boat. This was Aileen, perhaps the most upbeat and gregarious person I have ever known, and very different from Katherine. One day, I got a call from Katherine telling me that her Dad had died in a fire aboard his boat, and could she have the ring back?
I'm not proud of the fact that I didn't tell her that I had thrown it into the river. Instead, I took the cowardly way and said I would look for it. A week went by and she called again. No, I still hadn't found it. This went on for another month, until I found myself promising that I would do a thorough search of everything. Ridiculous, I know, and more than a little craven. I've changed a lot since then.
I did do the search, just so that I wouldn't be lying about that when I next talked to her. As I started looking, I felt doubly pathetic because I had recently gone through all this stuff when I had recently moved. I was literally opening boxes and rifling through them when I had done exactly that same thing a few months ago. I was reflecting on this when I opened a drawer and pulled out my "jewelry box." This was a silver-finish cardboard box with a lid that had once held a pocket watch or something of similar size. It had a fitted cotton pad inside, and under that was a small stew of earrings and tie clips that I didn't use anymore. I had opened that box during my prep for the move, and I remember then lifting the pad and stirring the contents around, wondering if any of this stuff was worth keeping. This time when I opened the lid, the ring was sitting there, on top of the cotton pad, right in the center of the box.
I gasped and gawped, jaw hanging open, for what I'm sure was a very long time. During that period, I was reconsidering some pretty fundamental core beliefs about the world and reality.
I called up Katherine and told her I had found the ring. She came by to pick it up and I confessed the whole thing - my lying and cowardice, how I found it, everything. She just narrowed her eyes and frowned while I told her, examining the ring closely before putting it in her pocket. "Don't fuck with my Dad," she said, and left.